"One cannot always tell what it is that keeps us shut in, confines us, seems to bury us, but still one feels certain barriers, certain gates, certain walls. Is all this imagination, fantasy? I do not think so. And then one asks: My God! Is it for long, is it for ever, is it for eternity? Do you know what frees one from this captivity? It is very deep serious affection. Being friends, being brothers, love, that is what opens the prison by supreme power, by some magic force."
-- Vincent van Gogh, letter to his brother, July 1880

I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have.

I was born with spondylolisthesis, meaning a bottom vertebra that parted from the other vertebrae, struck out on its own, rebelled. (It’s the main reason for my pigeon-toed walk.)

Butterflies are funny. Some days they make you run to the toilet. Other days they make you horny. Other days they make you laugh, and long for the fight. Deciding which type of butterflies you’ve got going (monarchs or moths) is the first order of business when you’re driving to the arena. Figuring out your butterflies, deciphering what they say about the status of your mind and body, is the first step to making them work for you.

The tennis bag is a lot like your heart—you have to know what’s in it at all times.

I hear every word she refuses to utter: Enjoy, sa- vor, take it all in, notice each fleeting detail, because this could be it, and even though you hate tennis, you might just miss it after tonight.

He wants the balls that shoot from the dragon’s mouth to land at my feet as if dropped from an airplane. The trajectory makes the balls nearly impossible to return in a conventional way: I need to hit every ball on the rise, or else it will bounce over my head. But even that’s not enough for my father. Hit earlier, he yells. Hit earlier.

My father says that if I hit 2,500 balls each day, I’ll hit 17,500 balls each week, and at the end of one year I’ll have hit nearly one million balls. He believes in math. Numbers, he says, don’t lie. A child who hits one million balls each year will be unbeatable.

Though I hate tennis, I like the feeling of hitting a ball dead perfect. It’s the only peace. When I do something perfect, I enjoy a split second of sanity and calm.

Such moments, and many more, come to mind whenever I think about telling my father that I don’t want to play tennis. Besides loving my father, and wanting to please him, I don’t want to upset him. I don’t dare. Bad stuff happens when my father is upset. If he says I’m go- ing to play tennis, if he says I’m going to be number one in the world, that it’s my destiny, all I can do is nod and obey.