I take tennis classes right now. Beginner's tennis. If I phrase it just right, it comes out like "I play tennis in college" and then some people start respecting me more. I also walk around with two rackets on my back, which somehow looks more official.
I like to play with one in each hand. ULTRA TENNIS PLAYER.
The second racket is actually for another classmate who doesn't have one of her own, so I bring Taylor's racket for her use. But no one questions why I carry double. Two rackets should raise an eyebrow, but instead I get an appreciative nod like "We're proud of your service to the school", or actual conversation starters such as "Oh, I didn't know you were on the team!"
'Fraid not, friends. Coach doesn't even know my name. In fact, Coach gave up memorizing our names halfway into the semester, so now we check off our names on a printed role list as we enter the court.
One of these days as I was dutifully headed to tennis class to mark myself as one of the many nameless faces, an opportunity presented itself to me.
You see, the path to class is a matter of 10 minutes of flat walking ground, and then another 15 eternal marriages on a pebbled rock road at a 48 degree incline facing the day sun. Say that three times fast. The first part of the walk I don't mind. I get in my social tallies for the day visiting with all the old people who sit on their porches watching traffic. The second part is horrible. The pebbles make the road slippery. The sun beats down in glee, gratified in its wretched burning. By the time I make it to tennis, I'm out of breath and ready to curl into a ball and sleep a while. Or maybe die.
Another thing about Virginia country is that there are secret paths everywhere. Everywhere! From pipe bridges to beaten trails in between people's houses, there is no shortage of shortcut magic. All one needs is a little creativity and willingness to forge the path, so to speak.
On this fateful day when I was about to begin the Hike of Trials up to tennis, I thought I saw one of those beaten paths up the forested hill next to me. Halfway up was a drain pipe and a ledge above that. It was a steep walk getting to the ledge and then the trees beyond there. If I could take that route, though its hardships, I could avoid the sun's wrath and come out of the forest like a regular Frodo triumphant.
That, I thought, is something that a cool person would do. And I've always wanted to be a cool person.
I ditched the rocky road and took the path less traveled, quoting aloud Robert Frost's poem that Mrs. Parish from Bennion Elementary beat into me in the sixth grade. I could still remember the words. Nicely done, Mrs. Parish.
There was an semi-embarrassing moment while traipsing through the forest to reach the drain pipe. I came to a point that I could no longer walk on two feet if success was truly what I desired. I had to crawl up the hill, getting real personal with the horrid buggies of the earth, while balancing a backpack, two tennis rackets, and a thick finance textbook on my back. Then I remembered cool people don't get embarrassed so I stopped caring.
(Plus, I'm quite certain the only person able to witness me was the elderly Mrs. Goldsmith down the street, and I know she thinks I'm a gem no matter what I do or say.)
On all fours did I reach the drain pipe, and at that drain pipe did I learn another one of Virginia's forest traits.
It's full of optical illusions. There was no ledge.
Without the movement of stepping forward, my feet started to slide back down the hill. All the weight on my back could not mean good news and cherries, so there was no choice but to continue upwards. This was done with a touch of pending regret and a mad respect for Frodo as he climbed the Mordor stairs.
I finished scaling the side of the mini mountain on all fours, and found a resting point in between many trees. I was close enough to the top that I saw another classmate, a young man, headed to the courts. I took a step forward to join him just as I came within eye level of a four pairs of eyes.
Whipping my head back, my eyes zeroed in on the spider and its large web. Large may be an understatement. It's telltale markings are the 6 foot tall webs and a zigzag pattern in the web design. An actual web design, mind you. As far as spiders go, I would say these kind are pretty chill, but I've also never tested their patience by jumping headfirst into their nest.
No problemo, I thought. I'll just try another tree.
... only to have the same problem. In between Tree 1 and Tree 2, there was a spider guarding it's taller-than-Taylor web. Neighboring in at Tree 2 and Tree 3 was another giant spider web accompanied by an eight legged fellow.
I really took a step back and discovered another one of Virginia's fine optical illusions: every tree before me was covered in webs and spiders.
Every. Single. One.
I made some sort of squeal of fright. The classmate of mine looked up from his phone at my noise. He waved with a "hey, how's it goin'?" without pause in his gait. It was noted that he was dressed in brand name athletic clothing, a nice tennis bag, and hair too pretty to be in tennis practice for the day. He went back to his phone as if it wasn't too out of place to see a weight-burdened woman standing somewhat off in the trees surrounded by spiderwebs.
I tried again to find another escape. I noticed that one web had been built high enough for me to duck under. Figuring it was that direction or taking an afternoon nap with spiders, I took a breath of courage and went under the web.
I didn't duck far enough.
My squeals of regret and fright again caught the attention of my classmate. He looked back over at his shoulder. Our eyes met as my arms flailed trying to wipe off the sticky steel from my arms and forehead.
He kept walking.
I never want to be a cool person.
With sticky arms and a broken pride, I made it to tennis class. I strolled past the gate 89% sure there was a spider in my hair and 110% mad at that the cool kid. The set up was perfect: I was Frodo, trapped by some horrid nasty spider and a gajillion webs. Cool kid was supposed to be Sam, leaping in, slashing webs and rescuing me! HE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE SAM.
Come to think of it, maybe cool kid was Gollum instead. After all, Virginia is full of these optical illusions.
Oh well. I'll likely never know even what his real name is, whether it be Sam, Gollum, Chris, or Jake anyway.
He doesn't bother marking the role sheet.
He doesn't bother marking the role sheet.