As shocking as this was to me, bullies don’t disappear after we graduate from the schoolyard. Just about a year ago, I came face to face with one at my gym.
I was just learning a new sport — beach volleyball — and had discovered that my gym has perhaps the only indoor sand court in New York City. Luke and I began to play at the informally enforced intermediate time — Tuesday and Thursday nights. The men alternated 2 1/2-hour blocks of court time with the women.
All was fine for a few months until a woman began showing up who was thought to be much better than all of the other Tuesday/Thursday women. Adrienne was from the west coast, where the caliber of players is much higher than in the east and admittedly, she was a much more experienced and skilled player than I was.
One evening after a match, Adrienne said she needed to talk to me. We walked a few steps away from the others and she said, “Jeanhee, you just aren’t a good enough player. It isn’t fun for me to play with you. You should not show up anymore.”
“Well, Adrienne, I’m sorry that you feel that way. But I am a paying member of this gym so I will play here when I want to. You’re just another member of this gym, too, you can’t tell me what I can do here or when.”
At this point, Adrienne began getting emotionally agitated. We were sitting on the edge of the court and she began to gesture more dramatically as she spoke, hitting the sand, raising her voice: “I am a THOUSAND TIMES better than you! I am even better than the men. But they don’t let me play with them. It’s not fair! And it’s not fair that I should have to play with you.”
She continued. “If you continue to play here, I won’t play anymore. I will NEVER play on any court with you. Everyone here agrees with me. We don’t like playing with you. NO ONE likes playing with you. If you try to play again no one will play with you. Don’t show up anymore.”
This went on for a while. But I had my back up. I didn’t raise my voice, which seemed easy at the time because her behavior was so bizarre. I felt like I was calming a mental patient, and yet at the same time, defending myself. I walked over to the other women — who I assume could hear most of Adrienne’s rant but had done nothing — and said, “I will be here next week at the same time we always play.”
Since they were silent, I had no idea whether what Adrienne had said was true. But I figured if they refused to play, they would only be spiting themselves as I intended to workout, do drills or practice on the court — alone if I had to — during the women’s time until there were enough other players to have a game. I knew that I was right, but that was small comfort.
Of course, the next five days passed agonizingly slowly, but as I had promised, I showed up the next week and the other women, minus Adrienne, were there. And no one wanted to talk about it. It was terribly awkward for me, but I can be stubborn. Over time, the awkwardness dissipated, and my playing improved, as I knew it would, from practice. Adrienne resigned her membership but remained friends with the other women, who often asked her to show up as a guest to play. From what I could tell, she refused.
Well, lo and behold, Adrienne showed up last night. Of course, we did not pair up as partners, so my first game was against her. I am a notoriously slow-to-start player and my first game is usually my worst. This was true last night as every shot I made missed the perimeter of the court by at least a foot. We lost 21-16. However, I felt pretty good because as I got warmer and loosened up, our game improved, and we had shrunk our deficit from being down eight points, to five.
Having lost, Judy and I had to sit for the next game. Once we got back on the court, though, we were more warmed up and played well together. We won our second game handily, 21 to 5. Our third game was once again against Adrienne’s team. This time, the nerves I had felt were calming down. I served aggressively, often directly at Adrienne. Not only was my serve effective, but it also allowed Adrienne — by far the best offensive player among us last night — an opportunity to spike the ball. I wanted to win, but I didn’t want to win by training all my shots at her weaker partner.
Judy and I won decisively, 21 to 15. And we beat them once more before the night was over. Our record was four wins out of our five games, by easy margins. I was very, very pleased with myself. Not only had I executed many of my newer offensive skills — spikes, cut shots, rolls — but I had defended the court very well. Several of Adrienne’s shots — and her partner’s, for that matter — did get by me, but most did not. I even managed to pick up some shots that came over my head — my weakness.
Did I think Adrienne brought her best game last night? No. She looked out of practice actually. But it didn’t matter. My own playing was really what mattered to me. Under pressure, I controlled my nerves and managed to perform my best. That was an accomplishment!
When I got home and told Luke the story of my night, he asked if I felt I had gotten my revenge. I had. And it did indeed taste sweet.