My best friend recently moved back to New York after having lived and worked several years in Hawaii. For me, she is a quintessential New York girl! Robin has been to both Forest Hills and the West Side Tennis Club, the site of the US Open for many years, and Flushing Meadows where the tournament is now played.
When I was young and followed everything I could about tennis, I read my friend’s name in a leading tennis publication of which she was its youngest ever editor although I had not yet met her. On my first full day in Hawaii after I moved here, in the first 20 minutes of my new job, I was introduced to her. We became fast and great friends. I miss her like crazy.
Robin went back to Flushing Meadows yesterday and sent pictures. That took me down memory lane. The US Open was the first major tournament I attended. Had Robin not become a great writer and editor, she probably would have played in the Open. To this day, her backhand and volley are as natural and graceful as any I’ve ever seen.
I only made it to the Open because I was a kid who graduated early from journalism school. Instead of landing a job as a reporter, I was offered a position as an assistant for attorneys who worked in estate matters, mostly in German. I took it for the bold adventure of living in New York, working in my heritage language, and, as I realized much later, because I enjoyed learning about estate laws and tracking genealogy records at the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and other places. The best part about living in New York for that one year, though, was going to the US Open.
There was another reason why I left college as soon as possible. When I was a student at Syracuse University, it was tough to be gay even though I wasn’t yet out to myself. I needed another decade before that happened. Times are different now. I had wanted to go to Sarah Lawrence College and become a professional poet or practice much harder on the bassoon and maybe join a small orchestra. A few people in my family, though, thought a solid Upstate New York setting and a university with a wonderful journalism school would be the right ticket.
As I wrote in an earlier post, I would not have survived Syracuse were it not for the tennis team. (I also wrote that it turned out half of us were gay although we did not know that fact until years later.) I rushed through Syracuse as quickly as I could to escape the orange crush. (Syracuse students were known as the Orangemen and Orangewomen.)
I once tried to make my way to what was called The Gay Students’ Association for a wine and cheese party. Before I reached the last steps of the building I turned back. In three years at Syracuse that was my one foray into a world I knew nothing about but wondered if I belonged there. Many others certainly thought so. For most of my time at Syracuse I felt safe in only three places: the library, on the tennis courts, and in German classes. Long dorm halls where everyone seemed rowdy, relaxed, and the life of the party were difficult for me to navigate. After one evening of making my way from my room to the shower area and hearing “fag” yelled at me twice with lots of snickers as grace notes, I began to wonder if it would ever stop. Fortunately, one of many miracles in my life soon happened after that.
By my final semester, I did I let myself miss my one and only class in three years. I played golf with my best friend. But by then I knew I would receive my degree and could leave with considerable relief. I was ready for a different setting. I returned to Syracuse only twice after that, once for my best friend’s graduation, and a few months earlier to receive a letter of recommendation that helped me earn a Fulbright. There were angels at Syracuse, and I will write about a few of them tomorrow.