When home is not home anymore and How playing a 10k in Italy decided my future
After travelling for 21 hours straight, crossing an ocean and having two lay-overs, I would have expected to drop dead of tiredness not have an epiphany. Yet, as I found myself over Los Angeles, looking through the little window of the plane, I felt a shiver down my spine and a warm feeling inside of me: “I’m coming home” was all I could be thinking.
This past week, I was technically closer to home than anytime before in the past 8 months: in Europe, with my parents. However, that is not my home anymore. In my parents’ house, where I’ve lived for 12 years, stands my empty room and that is a place I’ve been wanting to leave for at least 10 out of those. Seeing my parents for the first time in such a long time, I expected to be at least content. I wasn’t. I was annoyed at their joy of seeing me, at their smiles, at their hugs. I couldn’t stand their poor English and their insistent question and thirst of hearing and seeing me. I didn’t want it to be that way. I certainly felt bad pretending, smiling and telling stories, in order for them to indulge my every wish, which they did, without even thinking, just because they finally had their daughter back.
I don’t know yet if Los Angeles is my home. I haven’t exactly lived in the city for on campus, in a shielded bubble. However, I know for sure that it is not where my parents are anymore. Flying to Italy, I was excited: I would play tennis at a tournament again, I would hear a foreign language, I would eat delicious food and I would admire good-looking Italian men. It was the excitement of discovery. Flying back to the US, I was excited: I would be back, start anew, ready to take on a new quarter, change my life, motivated. It was the excitement of coming home, recharged, with grand plans. 8 months ago, I remember being on the same flight to LA, but having the exact opposite sentiment, the first one I described: the shiver of experiencing something new. I was a bright-eyed little girl going on an adventure, leaving home behind. Now, I come back here, almost an adult, content to have explored something new, but happy to be home.
But now, a little about Italy.
This was the first $10,000 I played in almost a year and I had no expectations. I wanted a reminder of the level I would need to be at if I wanted to take this path and a check on my current level. I knew I hadn’t had a coach in as long and didn’t experience any competition. The only advantages I could think I had were speed, as I had been playing on hard courts for so long, and confidence, as I had lost so few matches since I starting playing club tennis. But those would count very little against older women, who were training daily and who were playing for their life. I knew I wasn’t prepared, but that wasn’t the point. The training before matches started went great. I was on par with the girls and despite realising the power they were hitting with, I could match it ball by ball. My hand was full of blisters, but I felt I was there. But then, my match came and along with it all my fears and my anxiety. I forgot the feeling. Not being able to move, to properly extend your arm, to actually hit the ball with the power you do have and focus on the game and not have a million thoughts beside the point your playing. Oh, tennis at a competitive level: how different it is than simply hitting around or even practising. I was stunned and I couldn’t do anything. My opponent was good but definitely not better than the girl I had been training with, who was 800 WTA. Still, I couldn’t gather my mind and I couldn’t move my feet. I lost ridiculously bad, 6-1, 6-0 a score I hadn’t experienced in a while.
Luckily, I left the court different than I used to. I was upset, of course, and disappointed, but I was also motivated and very cerebral. I realised everything I could have done, reminded myself that my level is not that far away from hers, but that my physical condition is and swore in my head, that I would do anything it takes not to experience such a defeat again. I do realise that there is no chance of me reaching the level of the girls who played past the qualifiers, in the quarter, or in the final, without a coach and without training daily. But as I’ve seen I can take little steps and at least maintain my own level until I can go back to being a professional tennis player. Yes it is hard, yes it is difficult, being a full-time student at UCLA. But it is possibly, and I have no choice.
Not after feeling the thrill of being in an ITF tournament again. Not after feeling in my heart, that that is my place and perhaps that that is where my home truly is: on the court. I will indulge my parents, as they are right in their own way, and I will finish my studies. But I will do so while training on my own, and graduating early in order to get back sooner at what I want my life to be: the one of an athlete.