DAYS LATER, for reasons I can’t begin to comprehend, the Olympic afterglow is gone.
A new low. Fine. I can handle this. I can actually get comfortable here. I can settle in. Rock bottom can be very cozy, because at least you’re at rest. You know you’re not going anywhere for a while.
There is a moment of regret, followed by vast sadness. Then comes a tidal wave of euphoria that sweeps away every negative thought in my head, every negative thought I’ve ever had. It’s a cortisone shot to the subcortex. I’ve never felt so alive, so hopeful—and above all, I’ve never felt such energy. I’m seized by an urge, a desperate desire to clean. I go tearing around my house, cleaning it from top to bottom. I dust the furniture. I scour the tub. I make the beds. I sweep the floors. When there’s nothing left to clean, I do laundry. All the laundry. I fold every sweater and T-shirt and still I haven’t made a dent in my energy. I don’t want to sit down. If I had table silver I’d polish it. If I had leather shoes I’d shine them.
I’ve played this game for a lot of reasons, I say, and it just seems like none of them has ever been my own.
we get high a lot. It’s a welcome change to have energy, to feel happy, to clear away the vapor lock. I like feeling inspired again, even if the inspiration is chemically induced.
After two days of being high, of not sleeping, I’m an alien. I have the audacity to wonder why I feel so rotten. I’m an athlete, my body should be able to handle this. Slim gets high all the time, and he seems fine.
Then all at once Slim is not fine. He becomes unrecognizable.
I should sleep on the flight, but instead I stare at the back of the seat in front of me and think how fragile it all is. The next six months will tell. To which of us does that dire statement not apply?
the gap between us appears genuinely, frighteningly wide, like the gap between good and bad. I’ve often told Brad that tennis plays too big a part in Pete’s life, and not a big enough part in mine, but Pete seems to have the proportions about right. Tennis is his job, and he does it with brio and dedication, while all my talk of maintaining a life outside tennis seems like just that—talk. Just a pretty way of rationalizing all my distractions.
We ain’t continuing like this. You’re better than this. At least, you used to be better. You either need to quit—or start over. But you can’t go on embarrassing yourself like this.
You have game left. At least I think you do. You can still win. Good things can still happen. But you need a full overhaul. You need to go back to the beginning.
You’d need to train like you haven’t trained in years. Hard core. You’d need to get your body right, get your mind right, then start at the bot- tom. I’m talking challengers, against guys who never dreamed they’d get a chance to meet you, let alone play you.
I stare out the window at the Stuttgart traffic. I hate tennis more than ever—but I hate myself more. I tell myself, So what if you hate tennis? Who cares? All those people out there, all those millions who hate what they do for a living, they do it anyway.
OK, Brad, I’m not ready for it to be over. I’m all in. Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.
Time to change, Andre. You can’t go on like this. Change, change, change—I say this word to myself several times a day, every day, while buttering my morning toast, while brushing my teeth.
the idea that I must change completely, from top to bottom, brings me back to center.
I won’t fail this time, I can’t, because it’s change now or change never. The idea of stagnating, of remaining this Andre for the rest of my life, that’s what I find truly depressing and shameful.
And yet. Our best intentions are often thwarted by external forces—forces that we ourselves set in motion long ago. Decisions, especially bad ones, create their own kind of mo- mentum, and momentum can be a bitch to stop, as every athlete knows. Even when we vow to change, even when we sorrow and atone for our mistakes, the momentum of our past keeps carrying us down the wrong road. Momentum rules the world. Momentum says: Hold on, not so fast, I’m still running things here. As a friend likes to say, quoting an old Greek poem: The minds of the everlasting gods are not changed suddenly.
crystal methylene is a clear case of Class 2. Recreational drugs.
I think: Recreation. Re-creation.
My name, my career, everything is now on the line, at a craps table where no one wins. Whatever I’ve achieved, whatever I’ve worked for, might soon mean nothing. Part of my dis- comfort with tennis has always been a nagging sense that it’s meaningless. Now I’m about to learn the true meaning of meaninglessness.
I try to imagine how it will feel to be publicly shamed, not for my clothes or game, not for some marketing slogan someone hung on me, but for my utter stupidity, mine alone. I’ll be an outcast.
Still, though I’m in pain, during the next few days I don’t panic. Not yet, not quite. I can’t, because other more harrowing problems crowd in from all sides. People around me, people I love, are hurting.
I slide the inner tube under Kacey, positioning her head in the center, then blow it up until it gently and gradually lifts her head without altering the angle of her neck. A look of pure relief, and gratitude, and joy, washes over her face, and in this look, in this courageous little girl, I find the thing I’ve been seeking, the philosopher’s stone that unites all the experiences, good and bad, of the last few years. Her suffering, her resilient smile in the face of that suffer- ing, my part in easing her suffering—this, this is the reason for everything. How many times must I be shown? This is why we’re here. To fight through the pain and, when possible, to re- lieve the pain of others. So simple. So hard to see.
WE START FROM THE BEGINNING, as if I’m a teenager, as if I’ve never worked out, be- cause that’s how I look. I’m slow, fat, frail as a kitten. I haven’t picked up a dumbbell in a year. The heaviest thing I’ve lifted is Kacey’s air conditioner. I need to rediscover my body, add gingerly and gradually to its strength.
I’ve never been so disgusted with myself.
Where you’ve been, he says, doesn’t matter. From now on, we’re all about where you’re going.