From André Agassi's "Open: An Autobiography"
begins page 253 of book; page 212 pdf
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, less as a warning than as a soothing chant. Far from depressing me, or shaming me, the idea that I must change completely, from top to bottom, brings me back to center. For once I don’t hear that nagging self-doubt that follows every personal resolution. 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 momentum, 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.
Weeks after Stuttgart, walking through LaGuardia Airport, I get a phone call. It’s a man with a gruff voice, a voice of judgment and condemnation. A voice of Authority. He says he’s a doctor working with the ATP. (I think what those letters stand for: Association of Tennis Professionals.) There is doom in his voice, as if he’s going to tell me I’m dying. And then that’s exactly what he tells me. It was his job to test my urine sample from a recent tournament. It’s my duty, he says, to inform you that you’ve failed the standard ATP drug test. The urine sample you submitted has been found to contain trace amounts of crystal methylene. I fall onto a chair in the baggage claim area. I’m carrying a backpack, which I slip off my shoulder and drop to the ground.
Yes. I’m here. So. What now?
Well, there is a process. You’ll need to write a letter to the ATP, admitting your guilt or declaring your innocence.
Did you know there was a likelihood that this drug was in your system?
Yes. Yes, I knew.
In that case, you’ll need to explain in your letter how the drug got there.
Your letter will be reviewed by a panel.
If you knowingly ingested the drug—if you, as it were, plead guilty—you’ll be disciplined, of course. How? He reminds me that tennis has three classes of drug violation. Performance-enhancing drugs, of course, would constitute a Class 1, he says, which would carry suspension for two years. However, he adds, crystal methylene is a clear case of Class 2. Recreational drugs.
I think: Recreation. Re-creation.
I say: Meaning?
Three months’ suspension.
What do I do once I’ve written this letter?
I have an address for you. Have you got something to write on? I fish in my backpack for my notebook. He gives me the street, city, zip code, and I scribble it all down, in a daze, with no intention of actually writing the letter.
The doctor says a few more things, which I don’t hear, and then I thank him and hang up. I stumble out of the airport and hail a cab. Driving into Manhattan, staring out the smudged window, I tell the back of the cabdriver’s head: So much for change.
I go straight to Brooke’s brownstone. Luckily, she’s in Los Angeles. I’d never be able to hide my emotions from her. I’d have to tell her everything, and I couldn’t handle that right now. I fall onto the bed and immediately pass out. When I wake an hour later, I realize it was just a nightmare. What a relief.
It takes several minutes to accept that, no, the phone call was real. The doctor was real. The meth, all too real.
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 discomfort with tennis has always been a nagging sense that it’s meaningless. Now I’m about to learn the true meaning of meaninglessness.
Serves me right.
I lie awake until dawn, wondering what to do, whom to tell. 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. I’ll be a cautionary tale.
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.
Doctors need to operate a second time on little Kacey’s neck. The first operation was clearly botched. I arrange for her to fly to Los Angeles, to have the best care, but during her post-surgery recuperation period she’s immobilized again, lying on her back in a hospital bed, and she’s suffering terribly. Unable to move her head, she says her scalp and skin burn. Also, her room is unspeakably hot, and she’s like her father: she can’t take heat. I kiss her cheek and tell her, Don’t worry. We’ll fix it.
I look at Gil. He’s shrinking before my eyes. I run to the nearest appliance store and buy the biggest, baddest air-conditioning unit they have. Gil and I install it in Kacey’s window. When I turn the knob up to Max Cool and press Power, Gil and I clap hands and Kacey smiles as the cold air pushes the bangs from her pretty round face.
Next I run to a toy store, the swimming section, and buy one of those tiny inner tubes for toddlers. 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 suffering, 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 relieve the pain of others. So simple. So hard to see.
I turn to Gil and he sees it all, and his cheeks are glistening with tears.
Later, while Kacey sleeps, while Gil pretends not to sleep in a corner, I sit in a hardbacked chair at her bedside, a legal pad in my lap, and write a letter to the ATP. It’s a letter filled with lies interwoven with bits of truth.
I acknowledge that the drugs were in my system—but I assert that I never knowingly took them. I say Slim, whom I’ve since fired, is a known drug user, and that he often spikes his sodas with meth—which is true. Then I come to the central lie of the letter. I say that I recently drank accidentally from one of Slim’s spiked sodas, unwittingly ingesting his drugs. I say that I felt poisoned, but thought the drugs would leave my system quickly. Apparently they did not.
I ask for understanding, and leniency, and hastily sign it: Sincerely. I sit with the letter on my lap, watching Kacey’s face. I feel ashamed, of course. I’ve always been a truthful person. When I lie, it’s almost always unknowingly, or to myself. But imagining the look on Kacey’s face as she learns that Uncle Andre is a drug user, banned three months from tennis, and then multiplying that look by a few million faces, I don’t know what else to do but lie.
I promise myself that at least this lie is the end of it. I’ll send the letter, but I won’t do anything more. I’ll let my lawyers handle the rest. I won’t go before any panel and lie to anyone’s face. I’ll never lie about this publicly. From here on, I’ll leave it in the hands of fate and men in suits. If they can settle it privately, quietly, fine. If not, I’ll live with what comes.
Gil wakes. I fold the letter and step with him into the hallway.
Under the fluorescent lights, he looks drawn, pale. He looks—I can’t believe it—weak. I’d forgotten: it’s in hospital hallways that we know what life is about. I put my arms around him and tell him I love him and that we’ll get through this.
He nods, thanks me, mumbles something incoherent. We stand in silence for the longest time. In his eyes I can see his thoughts circling the abyss. Then he tries to distract himself. He needs to talk about something, anything, other than the fear and worry. He asks how it’s going with me.
I tell him that I’ve decided to recommit myself to tennis, start at the minor leagues and work my way back. I tell him that Kacey has inspired me, shown me the way.
Gil says he wants to help.
No, you’ve got your hands full.
Hey. Stand on my shoulders, remember? Reach?
I can’t believe he still has faith; I’ve given him so many reasons to doubt. I’m twenty-seven, the age when tennis players start to fade, and I’m talking about a second chance, and yet Gil doesn’t frown, doesn’t arch an eyebrow.
Let’s throw down, he says. It’s on.
WE START FROM THE BEGINNING, as if I’m a teenager, as if I’ve never worked out, because 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.
But first: We’re in Gil’s gym. I’m sitting on the free bench, he’s leaning against the leg extension. I tell him what I’ve done to my body. The drugs. I tell him about the pending suspension. I can’t ask him to lead me out of the depths unless he knows how deep I’ve fallen. He looks as crushed as he looked in his daughter’s hospital room. To me, Gil has always resembled that statue of Atlas, but now he looks as if he literally shoulders the weight of the world, as if he’s bench-pressing the problems of six billion. His voice chokes.
I’ve never been so disgusted with myself.
I tell him I’m done with drugs, I’ll never touch them again, but it goes without saying. He knows this as well as I do. He clears his throat, thanks me for being honest, then pushes it all aside. Where you’ve been, he says, doesn’t matter. From now on, we’re all about where you’re going.
Where we’re going, I say. Right.
He draws up a plan. He outlines a proper diet. And no more Mr. Nice Guy, he says. No more lapses, no more fast food, no more shortcuts.
You’ll even have to cut back on the booze, he says.
Above all, he’s going to keep me on a strict schedule. Eat, exercise, lift, hit, at precise times of day.
As part of my new ascetic lifestyle, I’ll be seeing less of my wife. I wonder if she’ll notice.
I PUT IN A FIERCE, rugged month with Gil, every bit as rugged as our mini boot camp in early 1995, and then I go to a challenger, the bottom of the pro tennis ladder. The winner’s check is $3,500. The crowd is smaller than the crowd at a typical high school football game.
The venue is UNLV. Familiar territory for such an unfamiliar moment. As Gil and I pull into the parking lot, I think of how far I’ve come, and how far I haven’t. These are the same courts I played on when I was seven. This is where I came the day Gil quit his job to work with me. I stood right over there, outside his office, hopping on one foot because I was so excited about the road that lay before us. Now, just a three wood from that spot, I’m playing hackers and has-beens.
In other words, my peers.
A challenger is the definition of small-time, and nowhere is this more evident than in the players’ lounge. The pre-match meal is airplane food: rubber chicken, limp veggies, flat soda. Once upon a time, at slams, I would walk up and down the endless buffet line, chatting with white-hatted chefs while they made me feathery omelets and homemade pasta. All gone.
The indignities don’t stop there. At a challenger, there are fewer ball boys. It makes sense, since there are practically no balls. You get only three per match. On either side of your court are rows of courts with other matches taking place simultaneously. As you toss a ball to serve, you see the players to your left and right. You hear them arguing. They don’t care if they’re interrupting your concentration. Fuck you and your concentration. Now and then a ball comes dribbling past your feet from another court, and you hear, A little help! You need to stop whatever you’re doing and throw the ball back. Now you’re the ball boy. Again.
You also operate your own scoreboard. Manually. During the changeover, I flip the little plastic numbers, which feel like part of a children’s game. Fans laugh and yell things. How the mighty have fallen! Image Is Everything, eh, buddy? A high-ranking official says publicly that Andre Agassi playing a challenger is like Bruce Springsteen playing a corner bar.
So what’s wrong with Springsteen playing a corner bar? I think it would be cool if Springsteen played a corner bar now and then.
I’m ranked number 141 in the world, the lowest I’ve been ranked in my adult life, the lowest I’ve dreamed of being ranked. Sportswriters say I’m humbled. They love saying this. They couldn’t be more wrong. I was humbled in the hotel room with Brad. I was humbled smoking meth with Slim. Now I’m just glad to be out here.
Brad feels the same way. He doesn’t find anything demeaning about the challenger. He’s reenergized, rededicated, and I love him for it. He’s excited for this challenger, coaching me as if we’re at Wimbledon. He doesn’t doubt that this is step one on the road all the way back to number one. Inevitably, I put his faith to the test right away. I’m a shadow of my former self. My legs and arms might be on the mend, but my mind is still grossly out of shape. I reach the final, and then my mind gives out. Shaking from the pressure, the strangeness, the ridicule from the stands, I lose.
Brad is undiscouraged. Some technique will need relearning, he says. Shot selection, for instance. You need to retrain that muscle with which a tennis player decides in the heat of battle that this shot is the right one and that shot is the wrong one. You need to remember that it doesn’t matter if you hit the best shot in the world—remember? If it’s the wrong moment, it’s the wrong shot.
Every shot is an educated guess, and I’m no longer educated. I’m as green as I was in juniors. It took me twenty-two years to discover my talent, to win my first slam—and only two years to lose it.
ONE WEEK AFTER VEGAS I play a challenger in Burbank. The venue is a public park. Center court has a large tree on one side that casts a twenty-foot shadow. I’ve played on thousands of courts in my career, and this is the sorriest one of all. In the distance I hear kids playing kickball and dodgeball, cars backfiring, boom boxes blaring.
The tournament runs through Thanksgiving weekend, and I reach the third round, which falls on Thanksgiving Day. Rather than eating turkey at home, I’m scuffling in a Burbank public park, ranked 120 spots lower than I was two Thanksgivings ago. Meanwhile, in Göteborg, Davis Cup is under way. Chang and Sampras versus Sweden. It’s sad, but appropriate, that I’m not there. I don’t belong there. I belong here, under the ridiculous courtside tree. Unless I can accept that I’m where I’m supposed to be, I’ll never belong there again.
Warming up before my match, I realize that I’m only four minutes from the studio where Brooke shoots Suddenly Susan, on which Perry is now a producer. The show has become a smash hit, and Brooke’s busy, working twelve hours a day. Still, it seems odd that she doesn’t pop over, watch a few points. Even when I get home she doesn’t ask about the match.
Then again, I don’t ask about Suddenly Susan either.
We talk about things. We talk about nothing. · · ·
THE ONLY TIME I BREAK TRAINING is to meet with Perry and lay the groundwork for my charitable foundation. This is what we talked about fifteen years ago, two idealistic teenagers with their mouths full of Chipwiches. We wanted to reach a plateau from which we could give back, and we’ve finally arrived. I’ve negotiated a long-term deal with Nike, which will pay me tens of millions over the next decade. I’ve bought my parents a house. I’ve taken care of everyone on my team. Now I’m financially able to think larger, to widen my lens, and in 1997, though I’ve hit rock bottom, or because I’ve hit rock bottom, I’m ready.
My primary concern is children at risk. Adults can always ask for help, but children are voiceless, powerless. So the first project my foundation undertakes is a shelter for abused and neglected children who’ve been placed in the protective custody of the courts. The shelter includes a cottage for medically fragile children, and a makeshift school. Next we launch a program to clothe three thousand inner-city children each year. Then a series of scholarships to UNLV. Then a Boys and Girls Club. My foundation takes a 2,200-square-foot building that’s falling apart and turns it into a 25,000-square-foot showplace, with a computer lab, a cafeteria, a library, and tennis courts. Colin Powell speaks at the dedication.
I spend many carefree hours at the new Boys and Girls Club, meeting children, listening to their stories. I take them onto the tennis court, teach them the proper grip, watch their eyes sparkle because they’ve never held a racket before. I sit with them in the computer room, where the demand for online time is so great that they stand in long lines, patiently waiting their turn. It shocks me, pains me, to see how resolved they are to learn. Other times I simply station myself in the rec center of the Boys and Girls Club, playing ping-pong with the children. I never walk into that rec center without thinking of the rec center at the Bollettieri Academy, where I was so scared that first night, my back against the wall. The memory makes me want to adopt every scared child I see.
One day in the rec center I sit with Stan, the man who runs the Boys and Girls Club. I ask him, What more can we do? How can we make a bigger difference in their lives?
Stan says, You have to figure out a way to occupy more of their day. Otherwise it’s one step forward, two steps back. You really want to make a difference? You want to have a lasting impact? You need more of their day. In fact, you need all of their day.
So in 1997 I huddle again with Perry, and we hit on the idea of adding education to our work. Then we decide to make education our work. But how? We briefly consider opening a private school, but the bureaucratic and financial obstacles are too much. By chance I catch a story on 60 Minutes about charter schools, and it’s the eureka moment. Charter schools are partly state funded, partly privately funded. The challenge is raising money, but the benefit is retaining full control. With a charter school we could do things the way we want. We’d be free to build something unique. Special. And if it works, it can spread like wildfire. It can be a model for charter schools around the nation. It can change education as we know it.
I can’t believe the irony. A 60 Minutes piece caused my father to send me away, to break my heart, and now a 60 Minutes piece lights the way home, gives me the map to find my life’s meaning, my mission. Perry and I resolve to build the best charter school in America. We resolve to hire the best teachers, pay them well, and hold them accountable for grades and test scores. We resolve to show the world what can be done when you set standards outrageously high and open the purse strings. We shake on it.
I’ll give millions of my own money to launch the school, but we’ll need to raise many more millions. We’ll issue a $40 million bond, then pay it off by parlaying and trading on my fame. At last my fame will have a purpose. All those famous people I’ve met at parties and through Brooke—I’ll ask them to give their time and talent to my school, to visit the children, and to perform at an annual fund-raiser, which we’re calling the Grand Slam for Children.
WHILE PERRY AND I are scouting locations for our school, I get a call from Gary Muller, a South African who used to play and coach on the tour. He’s organizing a tennis event in Cape Town to raise money for the Nelson Mandela Foundation. He asks if I’d like to take part.
We don’t know if Mandela’s going to be there, he says.
If there’s even a remote chance, I’m in.
Gary calls right back. Good news, he says. You’re going to get to meet The Man.
He’s coming to the event.
I grip the phone tighter. I’ve admired Mandela for years. I’ve followed his struggles, his imprisonment, his miraculous release and stunning political career, with awe. The idea of actually meeting him, speaking to him, makes me dizzy.
I tell Brooke. It’s the happiest she’s seen me in a long time, which makes her happy. She wants to come. The event happens to be a short flight from where she stayed while filming her Africa movie, back in 1993, when we first started faxing. She immediately goes shopping for matching safari outfits. J.P. shares my reverence for Mandela, so I invite him to join us on the trip, and bring his wife, Joni, whom Brooke and I both love. The four of us fly to South America, then catch another plane to Johannesburg. Then we hop a rickety prop plane into the heart of Africa.
A storm forces us to make an unscheduled landing. We batten down in a straw-roofed hut in the middle of nowhere, and over the sound of the thunder we can hear hundreds of animals run for cover. Looking out of the hut, over the vast savannah, watching storm clouds whirl along the horizon, J.P. and I agree this is one of those moments. We’re both reading Mandela’s memoir, Long Walk to Freedom, but feeling like heroes in a Hemingway novel. I think about something Mandela said once in an interview: No matter where you are in life, there is always more journey ahead. And I think of one of Mandela’s favorite quotes, from the poem Invictus, which sustained him during those moments when he thought his journey had been cut short: I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
After the storm passes we pile back into the prop plane and fly to a game reserve. We spend three days on safari. Every morning, before dawn, we climb into a Jeep. We drive and drive, then abruptly stop. We sit for twenty minutes in pitch dark, the engine running. As the dawn slowly breaks we find that we’re on the banks of a vast fog-covered marsh, surrounded by dozens of different kinds of animals. We see hundreds of impala. We see at least seventy-five zebras. We see scores of giraffes as tall as two-story buildings, dancing around us and gliding among the trees, nibbling from the highest branches, a sound like celery being crunched. We feel the landscape speaking to us: All these animals, beginning their day in a dangerous world, exude tremendous calm and acceptance—why can’t you?
With us are a driver and a shooter. The shooter is named Johnson. We love Johnson. He’s our African Gil. He stands guard. He knows we love him, and he smiles with the pride of a crack shot. He also knows the landscape better than the impalas do. At one point he waves his hand at the trees and a thousand small monkeys, as if on cue, fall to the ground, like autumn leaves.
We’re driving deep into the bush one morning when the Jeep shudders, swerves, and we go spinning off to the right.
We nearly ran over a lion sleeping in the middle of the road.
The lion sits up and stares with an expression that says, You woke me. His head is enormous. His eyes are the color of lemon-lime Gatorade. The smell of him is a musk so primal that it makes us lightheaded.
He has hair like I used to have. Do not make a sound, the driver whispers.
Whatever you do, Johnson whispers, do not stand up.
The lion looks at us as one big predator. Right now he’s afraid of us.
If you stand, he’ll see that we’re several smaller people.
After a few minutes, the lion backs away, into the bush. We drive on. Later, returning to our campsite, I lean into J.P. and whisper: I need to tell you something.
I’m going through—well, a tough time right now. I’m trying to put some bad stuff behind me.
What’s the problem?
I can’t go into it. But I wanted to apologize if I seem—different.
Well, now that you mention it, you do. You have. But what’s going on?
I’ll tell you when I know you better.
Then he sees that I’m not kidding. He asks, Are you OK?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
I want to tell him about the depression, the confusion, the time with Slim, the pending suspension from the ATP. But I can’t. Not now. Not until it’s all farther behind me. At the moment it feels like the lion, still inches away and glowering. I don’t want to give voice to my problems, for fear of rousing them, making them pounce. I just want to alert J.P. to their presence.
I also tell him that I’m doubling down on tennis, and if I can pull through this tough time, if I can come back, everything is going to be different. I’m going to be different. But even if I can’t, even if I’m finished, even if I lose everything, I’m still going to be different.
He says, Finished?
I just wanted you to know. It’s like a confession, a testimony. J.P. looks at me with sadness. He squeezes my arm and tells me, in so many words, that I am the captain of my fate.
WE TRAVEL TO CAPE TOWN, where I play tennis with obvious impatience, like a child doing chores on Saturday morning. Then, at last, it’s time. We helicopter to a compound, and Mandela himself greets us at the helipad. He’s surrounded by photographers, dignitaries, reporters, aides—and he towers above them all. He looks not only taller than I expected, but stronger, healthier. He looks like a former athlete, which surprises me, given his years of hard labor and torture. But of course he is a former athlete, a boxer in his youth—and in prison, he says in his memoir, he kept fit by running in place in his cell and playing tennis occasionally on a crude, makeshift court. For all his strength, however, his smile is sweet, almost angelic.
I tell J.P. he seems saintly to me. Gandhi-like, void of all bitterness. His eyes, though damaged by years of working in the harsh glare of the prison’s lime quarry, are filled with wisdom. His eyes say that he’s figured something out, something essential.
I babble as he fixes me with those eyes and shakes my hand and tells me he admires my game.
We follow him into a great hall, where a formal dinner is served. Brooke and I are seated at Mandela’s table. Brooke sits on my right, Mandela on her right. Throughout the meal he tells stories. I have many questions, but I don’t dare interrupt him. He talks about Robben Island, where he was held for eighteen of his twenty-seven years in prison. He talks about winning over a few of the guards. As a special treat, they would sometimes let him walk to the edge of a small lake with a fishing pole, to catch his own dinner. He smiles at the memory, almost nostalgic.
After dinner Mandela stands and gives a stirring talk. His theme: we must all care for one another—this is our task in life. But also we must care for ourselves, which means we must be careful in our decisions, careful in our relationships, careful in our statements. We must manage our lives carefully, in order to avoid becoming victims. I feel as if he’s speaking directly to me, as if he’s aware that I’ve been careless with my talent and my health.
He talks about racism, not just in South Africa but around the world. It’s nothing but ignorance, he says, and education is the only remedy. In prison, Mandela spent his few free hours educating himself. He created a kind of university, and he and his fellow prisoners were professors to each other. He survived the loneliness of constant confinement by reading; he especially loved Tolstoy. One of the harshest punishments his guards devised was taking away his right to study for four years. Again his words seem to shimmer with personal relevance. I think of the work Perry and I have undertaken in Vegas, our charter school, and I feel invigorated. Also embarrassed. For the first time in many years I’m acutely aware of my lack of education. I feel the weight of this lack, the misfortune of it. I see it as a crime in which I’ve been complicit. I think of how many thousands in my hometown are victims of this crime right now, deprived of an education, unaware how much they’re losing.
Finally, Mandela talks about the road he’s traveled. He talks about the difficulty of all human journeys—and yet, he says, there is clarity and nobility in just being a journeyer. When he stops speaking and takes his chair I know that my journey, compared with his, is nothing, and yet that’s not his point. Mandela is saying that every journey is important, and that no journey is impossible.
Bidding Mandela goodbye, I’m magnetized. I’m pointed in the right direction. A friend later shows me a passage in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Death in the Family, in which a woman deep in mourning thinks: Now I am more nearly a grown member of the human race … she thought that she had never before had a chance to realize the strength human beings have, to endure; she loved and revered all those who had ever suffered, even those who had failed to endure. This is close to what I feel as I leave Mandela.
This is what I think when the helicopter lifts away from his compound. I love and revere those who suffer, who have ever suffered. I am now more nearly a grown member of the human race.
God wants us to grow up.
NEW YEAR’S EVE, the last hours of this dreadful year, 1997. Brooke and I throw another New Year’s party, and the next morning I wake early. I pull the covers over my head, then remember that I scheduled a practice with a kid on the tour, Vince Spadea. I decide to cancel. No. I yell at myself. You cannot cancel. You’re not that person anymore. You’re not going to start 1998 by oversleeping and canceling a practice. I force myself out of bed and meet Spadea. Even though it’s only practice, we both want it. He turns it into a battle, which I appreciate, especially when I win. Walking off the court, I feel winded but strong. The old kind of strong.
This is going to be my year, I tell Spadea—1998 is my year.
Brooke comes with me to the 1998 Australian Open and watches me dispatch my first three opponents, and unfortunately watches as I face Alberto Berasategui, from Spain. I go up two sets to love, then unaccountably, impossibly, for no reason, I lose. Berasategui is a nasty opponent, but still, I had him. It’s an unthinkable loss, one of the few times I’ve ever lost a match when ahead two sets to none. Is this a detour in the comeback or a dead end?
I go to San Jose and play well. I meet Pete in the final. He seems glad to have me back, glad to see me again on the other side, as if he’s missed me. I have to admit, I’ve missed him too. I win, 6–2, 6–4, and toward the end, part of him seems to be pulling for me. He knows what I’m attempting, how far I have to go.
I tease him in the locker room about how easy it was to beat him. How does it feel to lose to someone outside the top hundred? I’m not too worried about it, he says. It’s not going to happen again. Then I tease him about recent reports of his personal life. He’s broken up with the law student and he’s said to be dating an actress.
Bad move, I tell him. The words catch us both off guard.
In the media room, reporters ask me about Pete and Marcelo Ríos, who are dueling for the number one rank: Which of them do you think will ultimately be number one?
I think I’m going to be number one. Raucous laughter. No. Really. I mean it. They stare, then dutifully write my insane prediction in their notebooks.
In March I go to Scottsdale and win my second straight tournament. I beat Jason Stoltenberg, from Australia. A classic Aussie, he’s solid, steady, with an enviable all-around game that forces opponents to execute. He’s a good gut check for me, a good test of my nerves, and I pass. Anyone who crosses me right now is going to have to deal with something they don’t want to deal with.
I go to Indian Wells and beat Rafter, but lose to a young phenom named Jan-Michael Gambill. They say he’s the best of the young bucks coming up. I look at him and wonder if he knows what lies ahead, if he’s ready—if anyone can possibly be ready. I go to Key Biscayne. I want to win, I’m crazy to win. It’s not like me to want a win this badly. What I normally feel is a desire not to lose. But warming up before my first-rounder, I tell myself I want this, and I realize precisely why. It’s not about my comeback. It’s about my team. My new team, my real team. I’m playing to raise money and visibility for my school. After all these years I’ve got what I’ve always wanted, something to play for that’s larger than myself and yet still closely connected to me. Something that bears my name but isn’t about me. The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy.
At first I didn’t want my name on the school. But friends persuaded me that my name can bring cachet and credibility. My name might make raising money easier. Perry chooses the word Academy, and it’s not until later that I appreciate the way this forever links my school to my past, to Bradenton Academy and the Bollettieri Academy, my childhood prisons.
I DON’T HAVE MANY FRIENDS IN LOS ANGELES, and Brooke has countless friends, so most nights find her out being sociable and me at home, alone.
Thank God for J.P. He lives in Orange County, so it’s easy enough for him to drive north now and then, sit with me by the fire, smoke a cigar, and talk about life. His pastoring days seem like ancient history, but during our fireside talks it feels as if he’s speaking to me from an invisible pulpit. Not that I mind. I like being his solitary congregation, his flock of one. In early 1998 he covers all the big topics. Motivation, inspiration, legacy, destiny, rebirth. He helps me sustain the sense of mission I felt in Mandela’s presence.
One night I tell J.P. that I feel a remarkable confidence in my game, and a new purpose for being on the court—so how come I still feel all this fear? Doesn’t the fear ever go away?
I hope not, he says. Fear is your fire, Andre. I wouldn’t want to see you if it ever completely went out.
Then J.P. looks around the house, takes a pull on his cigar, and says he can’t help but notice my wife is never around. Whenever he comes over, no matter the day or time, Brooke seems to be out with friends.
He asks if it bothers me.
I GO TO MONTE CARLO in April 1998 and lose to Pete. He pumps his fist. No more pulling for me—the rivalry is back on. I go to Rome.
I’m lying on my hotel bed, resting after a match.
Back-to-back phone calls.
First, Philly. He’s sniffling, on the verge of all-out tears. He tells me his wife, Marti, just gave birth to a baby girl. They’re calling her Carter Bailey. My brother sounds different. Happy, of course, and busting with pride, but also: Philly sounds as though he feels blessed. Philly sounds as though he feels supremely lucky.
I tell him how overjoyed I am for him and Marti, and I promise to get home as soon as I can. Brooke and I will come straight over and see my brand-new niece, I say, my voice catching in my throat.
The phone rings again. Is it an hour later? Three? In my memory it will always feel like part of the same foggy moment, though the two calls might be days apart. It’s my lawyers, they’re on speaker phone. Andre? Can you hear us? Andre?
Yes, I hear you. Go ahead.
Well, the ATP has read and carefully reviewed your heartfelt assertion of innocence. I’m pleased to say that your explanation has been accepted. Your failed test is thrown out. Henceforth the matter will be considered closed.
I’m not suspended?
I’m free to go on with my career? My life?
Yes. I ask several more times. You’re sure? You mean, this is really over?
As far as the ATP is concerned, yes. They believe and accept your explanation. Gladly. I think everyone is eager to move on and put this behind them.
I hang up and stare into space, thinking again and again: New life.
I GO TO the 1998 French Open, and against Marat Safin, from Russia, I hurt my shoulder. I always forget how weighty the ball can be on this particular clay. It’s like hitting a shotput. The shoulder is agony, but I’m grateful for the hurt. I will never again take for granted the privilege of hurting on a tennis court.
The doctor says I have an impingement. Pressure on the nerve. I shut myself down for two weeks. No practice, no sparring, nothing. I miss the game. What’s more, I let myself miss it. I enjoy and celebrate missing it.
At Wimbledon I face Tommy Haas, from Germany. In the third set, during a fierce tiebreak, the linesman makes an atrocious blunder. Haas hits a ball clearly long and wide, but the linesman calls it in, giving Haas a commanding 6–3 lead. It’s the worst call of my career. I know the ball was out, know it without question, but all my arguing is for nothing. The other linesman and the umpire uphold the call. I go on to lose the tiebreak. Now I’m down two sets to one, a steep hole.
Officials pause the match, postpone the end because of darkness. Back at my hotel, on the news, I see that the ball was several inches out. I can only laugh.
The next day, taking the court, I’m still laughing. I still don’t care about the call. I’m just happy to be here. Maybe I don’t know yet how to be happy and play well at the same time: Haas wins the fourth set. Afterward, he tells reporters he grew up idolizing me. I used to look up to Agassi, he says—it’s a very special win for me because he won Wimbledon in 1992 and I can say I beat Andre Agassi, a former number one who’s won a couple of Grand Slams.
It sounds like a eulogy. Does the guy think he beat me or buried me? And did anyone in the press room bother to tell him I’ve actually won three slams?
BROOKE LANDS A ROLE in an indie film called Black and White. She’s elated, because the director is a genius and the theme is race relations and she’ll get to ad-lib her lines and wear her hair in dreadlocks. She’s also living in the woods for a month, bunking with her fellow actors, and when we talk on the phone she says they all stay in character, 24–7. Doesn’t that sound cool?
Cool, I say, rolling my eyes. On her first morning home, eating breakfast in the kitchen, she’s full of stories about Robert Downey Jr. and Mike Tyson and Marla Maples and other stars of the movie. I try to be interested. She asks about my tennis, and she tries to be interested. We’re tentative, like strangers. We’re not like spouses sharing a kitchen; more like teens sharing a hostel. We’re courteous, polite, even kind, but the vibe feels brittle, as if everything could shatter any minute.
I put another log in the kitchen fireplace.
So I have something to tell you, Brooke says. While I was away, I got a tattoo. I spin around. You’re kidding. We go to the bathroom where there’s more light, and she pulls down the waistline of her jeans and shows me. On her hip. A dog.
Did it cross your mind to run that by me?
The exact wrong thing to say. Controlling, she calls it. Since when does she need my permission to decorate her body? I go back to the kitchen, pour myself a second cup of coffee, and stare harder into the fire. Stare harder.
BECAUSE OF SCHEDULING CONFLICTS, Brooke and I couldn’t take our honeymoon right after the wedding. But now, with her done filming and me just done, it seems like the perfect time. We decide to go to Necker Island, in the British Virgin Islands, southeast of Indigo Island. It’s owned by billionaire Richard Branson, and he tells us we’ll love it.
He says, It’s an island paradise! From the moment we land, we’re out of sync. We can’t get comfortable. We can’t agree how to spend our time. I want to relax. Brooke wants to go scuba diving. And she wants me to go with her. Which means taking a class. I tell her that of all the things I want to do on my honeymoon, taking a class is right up there with having a colonoscopy.
While watching Friends.
We spend hours at the pool, an instructor teaching us about wet suits and tanks and masks. Water keeps leaking into my mask because I have a five-o’clock shadow and my bristles prevent the mask from lying flush against my skin. I go up to the room and shave. When I come back down the instructor says the final phase of training is an underwater card game. If you can sit calmly playing cards at the bottom of the pool, and if you can play a full game without needing to surface, then you’re a scuba diver. So here I am, in full scuba gear, in the middle of the Caribbean, sitting at the bottom of a pool and playing Go Fish. I don’t feel like a scuba diver. I feel like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. I climb out of the pool and tell Brooke, I can’t do this.
You never want to try anything new.
Enjoy. Go out to the middle of the ocean if you want. Say hi to the Little Mermaid. I’ll be in the room.
I walk into the kitchen and order a large plate of French fries. Then I go up to the room, kick off my shoes, stretch out on the couch, and watch TV for the rest of the day.
We leave the island paradise three days early. Honeymoon over.
I’M IN D.C. FOR THE 1998 LEGG MASON. Another July heat wave, another withering D.C. tournament. Other players are carping about the heat, and ordinarily I’d be carping too, but I feel only a cool gratitude and a steely resolve, which I maintain in part by waking early every morning, writing out my goals. After putting them on paper, saying them aloud, I also say aloud: No shortcuts.
Just before the tournament starts, during a final practice with Brad, I give a halfhearted effort. Perry drives me back to the hotel. I stare out the window, silent.
Pull over, I say.
Just pull over. He steers onto the shoulder.
Drive two miles ahead and wait for me.
What are you talking about? Are you crazy?
I’m not done. I didn’t give my best today.
I run two miles through Rock Creek Park, the same park where I gave my rackets away in 1987. With every step I’m close to passing out, but I don’t care. This run, even if it brings on heatstroke, will give me peace of mind tonight in that all-important ten minutes before I fall asleep. I now live for that ten minutes. I’m all about that ten minutes. I’ve been cheered by thousands, booed by thousands, but nothing feels as bad as the booing inside your own head during those ten minutes before you fall asleep.
When I get to the car, my face is bright purple. I slide into the passenger seat, turn up the air-conditioning, and smile at Perry.
That’s how we do it, he says, handing me a towel as he pulls away.
I reach the final. I face Draper again. I remember wondering not too long ago how I ever beat him. I remember shaking my head in disbelief that I’d ever gotten past him. One of the low points of my life. Now I take him out in fifty minutes, 6–2, 6–0. I win the tournament for the fourth time.
At the Mercedes-Benz Cup I reach the semis without losing a set and ultimately win the whole thing. At the du Maurier Open in Toronto I face Pete again. He plays great in the first set but wears down in the second. I beat him, which costs him the number one ranking and moves me up to number nine.
I meet Krajicek in the semis. He’s still feeling good about winning the 1996 Wimbledon, the only Dutchman ever to do it. In the process he beat Pete in the quarters, handing Pete his first Wimbledon loss in years. But I’m not Pete, and I’m not me. Krajicek is down a set, serving at 3–4 in the second set, love–40. Triple break point. I rope the best return of my adult life. The ball seems to clear the net by a centimeter and leaves a smoking skid mark. It’s a true old-fashioned rug-burner. Krajicek shuts his eyes, shoves out his racket, hits a wild volley. It could go anywhere, he has no idea where it might go, but it’s a winner. If his racket had been open another half degree, the ball would have hit somebody in the front row and I would have broken serve and taken control of the match. Instead he wins the point, holds serve, beats me in three sets, ends my streak of consecutive matches at fifteen. In the old days I’d have had trouble getting over it. Now I tell Brad: That’s tennis, right, BG?
ENTERING THE 1998 U.S. OPEN, I’m number eight in the world. The crowd is fully behind me, which always lifts my spirits, makes me lighter on my feet. In the round of sixteen I meet Kucera, who seems to be trying to irk me with his serve. He tosses the ball, then stops, catches it, and tosses it again. I’m down two sets to love, sorely annoyed by this guy. Then I remember: the better you play Kucera, the better he plays. Hit shit to him, he hits shit back. That’s it—I’m playing too well! I’m also serving too well. When it’s my serve, I imitate Kucera. The crowd laughs. Then I hit big goofy moonballs. I irk Kucera, irritate my way back into the match.
Rain falls. The match is held over until tomorrow.
Brooke and I go out for a late dinner with her friends. Actors. It’s always actors. The sky has cleared, so we eat outside at a downtown restaurant with tables on the roof. Afterward, we’re standing in the street, saying goodnight.
Good luck tomorrow! the actors shout as they jump into cabs, off to do some more drinking. Brooke watches them, turns to me. Her bottom lip is out. She’s torn. She looks like a child caught between what she should do and what she wants to do.
I take a swig from my liter bottle of Gil Water. Go, I say.
Really? You won’t mind?
No, I lie. Have fun.
I take a cab to Brooke’s apartment. She sold the brownstone and bought this place on the Upper East Side. I miss the brownstone. I miss the front stoop where Gil stood guard. I even miss the eyeless, hairless African masks, if only because they were there when Brooke and I didn’t wear masks with each other. I finish my Gil Water, slide into bed. I drift off but snap awake when Brooke comes home hours later.
Go back to sleep, she whispers. I try. I can’t. I get up and take a sleeping pill. The next day I have a titanic battle with Kucera. I manage to tie the match. But he has more verve, more stamina. He outduels me in a tough fifth set.
I’M SITTING IN A CORNER of our bathroom in Los Angeles, watching Brooke get ready to go out. I’m staying home—again. We talk about why this is always so.
She accuses me of refusing to participate in her world. She says I’m not open to new experiences, new people. I’m not interested in meeting her friends. I could be rubbing elbows every night with geniuses—writers, artists, actors, musicians, directors. I could be attending art gallery openings, world premieres, new plays, private screenings. But all I want to do is stay home, watch TV, and maybe, just maybe, if I’m feeling social, have J.P. and Joni over for dinner.
I can’t lie. That does sound like a perfect night.
Andre, she says, they’re all bad for you. Perry, J.P., Philly, Brad—they coddle you, humor you, enable you. Not one of them has your best interests at heart.
You think all my friends are bad for me?
All but Gil.
All. Especially Perry.
I know she’s been feuding with Perry, that he gave up his producer role on Suddenly Susan. I know she’s irked that I haven’t automatically taken her side in the feud. But I had no idea she was ready to write off everyone else on my team.
Standing, turning from the mirror, she says: Andre, I consider you a rose among thorns.
A rose among—?
An innocent, surrounded by people who are bleeding you dry.
I’m not so innocent. And those thorns have helped me since I was a boy. Those thorns have saved my life.
They’re holding you back. They’re keeping you from growing. From evolving. You’re unevolved, Andre.
PERRY AND I CHOOSE to set the academy in the worst neighborhood of West Las Vegas, where it can serve as a beacon. After months of scouting locations, trying to find a lot that’s for sale and affordable and capable of accommodating an evolving campus, we find an eight-acre parcel that meets all our requirements. It’s in the center of an urban wasteland, surrounded by pawnshops and homes on the verge of being torn down. It’s on the site of the original Las Vegas, the long-forgotten outpost where settlers first arrived, which was later abandoned. I like that our school will be placed on a site that has a history of abandonment. Where better to initiate the kind of change we envision in the lives of children?
At the groundbreaking ceremony, dozens of politicians and dignitaries and neighborhood leaders are on hand. Reporters, TV cameras, speeches. We push the golden shovel into the litter-strewn dirt. I look around, and I can actually hear the sound of children in the future, laughing and playing and asking questions. I can feel the procession of lives that will cross this spot, and go forward from this spot. I become lightheaded, thinking of the dreams that will be formed here, the lives that will be shaped and saved. I’m so overcome by the thought of what will happen here, in a few years, and many decades after I’m gone, that I don’t hear the speeches. The future drowns out the present.
Then someone jolts me from my reverie, tells me to stand over here for a group picture. A flash goes off, a happy occasion, but daunting. We have so far to go. The fight to get the school opened, accredited, funded, will be rough. If not for my progress these last few months, fighting to reconstitute my tennis career, to recapture my health and balance, I don’t know that I’d have the stomach.
People ask me where Brooke is, why she isn’t here for the groundbreaking.
I tell them the truth. I don’t know.
NEW YEAR’S EVE, the close of 1998. Brooke and I throw our traditional New Year’s Eve party. No matter how disconnected we may be, she insists that during holidays we give no sign of trouble to our friends and family. It feels as if we’re actors and our guests are an audience. And yet, even when the audience isn’t here, she playacts, and I follow along. Hours before our guests arrive, we pretend to be happy—a dress rehearsal of sorts. Hours after they’re gone, we continue pretending. A kind of cast party.
Tonight there seem to be more of Brooke’s friends and family than mine in the audience. Included in this group is Brooke’s new dog, an albino pit bull named Sam. It growls at my friends. It growls as if it’s been briefed on what Brooke thinks of all of them.
J.P. and I sit in a corner of the living room, eyeballing the dog, which is lying at Brooke’s feet, eyeballing us.
That dog would be cool, J.P. says, if it were sitting here. He points to the ground beside my feet.
No. Really. That’s not a cool dog. That’s not your dog. This is not your house. This is not your life.
Andre, there are red flowers on this chair.
I look at the chair where he’s sitting and see it as if for the first time.
Andre, he says. Red flowers. Red flowers.
AS I PACK FOR THE 1999 AUSTRALIAN OPEN, Brooke frowns and stomps around the house. She’s irritated by my attempted comeback. It can’t be that she resents my hitting the road, given all the tension between us. So I can only assume she thinks I’m wasting my time. She’s certainly not alone.
I kiss her goodbye. She wishes me luck.
I reach the round of sixteen. The night before my match I phone her.
This is hard, she says.
Yes. It is.
There’s so much distance between us, she says.
Australia is far.
No. Even when we’re in the same room—distance.
I think: You said all my friends suck. How could there not be distance?
I say: I know.
When you get home, she says, we should talk. We need to talk.
She repeats, When you get home. She sounds overwhelmed. Is she crying? She tries to change the subject. Who do you play?
I tell her. She never recognizes the names or understands what they mean.
She asks, Is it on TV?
I don’t know. Probably.
Hours later I play Spadea, my practice partner from New Year’s Day one year ago. He isn’t half the player I am. There have been days in my prime when I could have beaten him with a spatula. But I’ve been on the road for thirty-two of the last fifty-two weeks, not to mention the training with Gil, the struggles with the school, and the maneuvering with Brooke. My mind is still on the phone with Brooke. Spadea edges me in four sets.
The newspapers are cruel. They point out that I’ve been ousted early from my last six slams. Fair enough. But they say I’m embarrassing myself. Too long at the fair, they say. Agassi doesn’t seem to know when to hang it up. He’s won three slams. He’s nearly twenty-nine years old. How much more does he really hope to accomplish?
Every other article contains the threadbare phrase: At an age when most of his peers are thinking about retiring—
I WALK IN THE DOOR and call out Brooke’s name. Nothing. It’s midmorning, she must be at the studio. I spend the day waiting for her to come home. I try to rest, but it’s hard with an albino pit bull eyeing you.
When Brooke gets home, it’s dark and the weather has turned bad. A rainy, wintry night. She suggests we go out for dinner.
We drive to one of our favorite places, Matsuhisa, sit at the bar. She orders sake. I’m starved. I ask for all my favorites. The blue fin sashimi, the crab toro cucumber avocado hand roll. Brooke sighs.
You always order the same thing.
I’m too hungry and tired to bother about her disapproval.
She sighs again.
I can’t even look you in the eye right now.
Her eyes are wet.
No, really, I can’t look at you.
Easy does it. Take a deep breath. Please, please, try not to cry. Let’s get the check and go. Let’s just talk about this at home.
I don’t know why, but after all that’s been written about me in the last few days, it’s important that tomorrow’s newspapers don’t report that I was seen fighting with my wife.
In the car Brooke is still crying. I’m not happy, she says. We’re not happy. We haven’t been happy for so very long. And I don’t know if we can ever be happy again if we stay together.
So. There it is. That’s that.
I walk into the house, a zombie. I pull a suitcase out of the closet, which I notice is so organized, so neat, it’s unsettling. I realize how difficult it must be for Brooke, living with my losses, my silences, my peaks and valleys. But I also notice how little space in this closet is allotted to me. Symbolic. I think of J.P. This is not your house.
I grab the few hangers holding my clothes and carry them downstairs.
Brooke is in the kitchen, sobbing. Not crying as she did at the restaurant and in the car, but sobbing. She’s sitting on a stool at the butcher block island. Always an island. One way or another, we spend all our time together on islands. We are islands. Two islands. And I can’t recall when it was different.
She asks, What are you doing? What’s going on?
What do you mean? I’m leaving.
It’s raining. Wait until morning.
Why wait? No time like the present.
I make a pile of essentials: clothes, blender, Jamaican coffee beans, French press—and a gift Brooke recently gave me. The scary painting Philly and I saw years ago at the Louvre. She commissioned an artist to make an exact replica. I look at the man hanging from the cliff. How has he not fallen off that cliff by now? I throw everything in the backseat of my car, a mint-condition convertible Eldorado Cadillac, 1976, the last year they made them. The car is a pure lustrous white, lily white, so I named it Lily. I turn Lily’s key, and the dashboard lights come on like an old TV set. The odometer reads 23,000 miles. It strikes me that Lily is the exact opposite of me. Old, with low mileage.
I peel out of the driveway.
A mile from the house I start crying. Through my tears, and the gathering fog, I can barely see the chrome wreath of the hood ornament. But I keep going, and going, until I reach San Bernardino. The fog is now snow. The pass through the mountains is closed. I phone Perry and ask him if there’s another way to Vegas.
I tell him. Trial separation, I say. We don’t know each other anymore.
I think about the day Wendi and I broke up, when I pulled over and phoned Perry. I think of all that’s happened since—and yet here I am, pulled over again, phoning Perry with a broken heart.
He says there’s no other way to get to Vegas, so I need to make a U-turn, head back toward the coast, and stop at the first motel that has a room. I drive slowly, picking my way through the snow, the car spinning and skidding on the slick highway. I stop at every motel. No vacancy. Finally I get the last available bed at a fleabag in Nowhere, California. I lie on the smelly bedspread, interrogating myself. How the hell did you get here? How did it come to this? Why are you reacting like this? Your marriage is far from perfect, you’re not even sure why you got married in the first place, or if you ever wanted to get married—so why are you such an emotional wreck thinking it might be over?
Because you hate losing. And divorce is one tough loss.
But you’ve suffered tough losses before—why does this one feel different?
Because you don’t see any way that, as a result of this loss, you can improve.
I PHONE BROOKE TWO DAYS LATER. I’m contrite, she’s hardened.
We both need time to think, she says. We shouldn’t talk for a while. We need to go inside ourselves, not interfere with each other.
Inside ourselves? What does that even mean—for how long?
Three? Where do you come up with that number?
She doesn’t answer.
She suggests I use the time to see a therapist.
SHE’S A SMALL DARK WOMAN in a small dark office in Vegas. I sit on a love seat—how exquisitely ironic. She sits in a chair three feet away. She listens without interrupting. I’d rather she interrupted. I want answers. The more I talk, the more acutely aware I become of talking to myself. As always. This isn’t the way to save a marriage. Marriages don’t get saved or solved by one person talking.
I wake later that night on the floor. My back is stiff. I go out to the living room and sit on the couch with a pad and pen. I write pages and pages to Brooke. Another pleading handwritten letter, but this one is all true. In the morning I fax the pages to Brooke’s house. I watch the pages go through the fax machine and I think of how it all started, five years ago, sliding the pages into Philly’s fax machine, holding my breath, waiting for the witty, flirty reply from a hut somewhere in Africa.
This time there is no reply.
I fax her again. Then again.
She’s much farther away than Africa.
I know you said three weeks, but I need to talk to you. I think we should meet, I think we need to be working through these things together.
Oh Andre, she says.
Oh Andre, she says again. You don’t understand. You just don’t get it. This isn’t about us—this is about you individually and me individually.
I tell her she’s right, I don’t understand. I tell her I don’t see how we got here. I tell her how unhappy I’ve been for so long. I tell her I’m sorry that we’ve grown distant, that I’ve grown cold. I tell her about the whirl, the constant whirl, the centrifugal force of this fucked-up tennis life. I tell her that I haven’t known who I am for the longest time, maybe ever. I tell her about the search for a self, the endless monologue in my head, the depression. I tell her everything in my heart, and it all comes out halting, clumsy, inarticulate. It’s embarrassing, but necessary, because I don’t want to lose her, I’ve had enough losing, and I know if I’m honest she’ll give me a second chance.
She says that she’s sorry I’m suffering, but she can’t solve it. She can’t fix me. I need to fix myself. By myself.
Listening to the dial tone, I feel resigned, calm. The phone call now seems like the brief, curt handshake at the net between two mismatched opponents.
I eat something, watch TV, go to bed early. In the morning I phone Perry and tell him I want the fastest divorce in the history of divorce.
I give my platinum wedding band to a friend and point him to the nearest pawnshop. Take their first offer, I tell him. When he brings me the cash I make a donation to my new school in the name of Brooke Christa Shields. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, she will forever be one of the original benefactors.