The summer after my last year in elementary school - having survived four of my more miserable school years - I discovered a passion for tennis. I loved the power, the feel of the racket in my hand, the "thwack" of the ball against it - even when I was just practicing - hitting the ball over and over again against a cement wall in a covered area on the left side of the school I had escaped.
I had changed schools and neighbourhoods at the end of grade three, leaving behind a core of friends - only to find myself in an already cliquey collection of girls in what are arguably some of the more awkward years of the transition out of childhood. The fact I was as round as I was tall was not a huge plus in my favour - and I spent an inordinate amount of time trying and failing to gain hold in the closed social circles that existed. At that age, there is a significant amount of what parents would refer to as teasing, which now would fall under the category of bullying - and many days the prospect of setting foot in the door would fill me with anxiety to the point of making myself sick at the prospect and begging to stay home when morning came. The other day, while thumbing through the pages of a diary I kept at the time, I discovered a little note on orange paper stuffed in a corner and when I unfolded it in small letters I saw the words "some days I really hate myself". I found the prospect of that feeling and the fact I wanted to hide that thought in a little folded note made me cry.
So when grade seven was over, the prospect of junior high school not yet fully dominating my thoughts, tennis became the perfect outlet to exorcise some of my pent up anger and frustration and by the end of the summer I could hold my own with some of my sister's older friends who as a courtesy offered to take me out on the court.
It altered me in some big and small ways - and then came the moment toward the end of the summer when my mom took me back-to-school shopping and we ran into an acquaintance of hers - someone we both found rather intimidating - the effect that very stylish aggressive women seemed to hold over both of us - in the now defunct Woodward's department store. After looking at me up and down, she remarked to my mom how much weight I had lost and how much better I looked. It was innocuous enough as remarks go - and in reality - the effect of getting a little bit taller that summer combined with more exercise largely enhanced the illusion. But for years that remark stuck with me - while I stuffed academic awards earned in school under my bed as if they were dust mites meant to annoy me - that carrot - that potential to be recognized in that way that all the teen magazines and TV shows reinforced - that thin was beautiful and anything else was unacceptable - held me captive. One stupid remark - from someone who didn't particularly care for me - had that kind of power - power that I willingly gave away along with what was left of my self-worth.