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She is an interesting character for anybody. Despite the high school education and poor English at times, she is without a doubt the single more unwavering beacon of support I could ever ask for. Through her eyes, I don’t have a bad bone in me. My mother is a beautiful woman. She comes from Wenzhou, China, which is a developing city these days. She stands at a feisty 5’4” with dyed hair to pull attention away from her age. She always walks with an air of certainty and carries herself with amazing grace and poise. Both feared and respected by the family, I have never seen this woman lose any sort of argument in her life. How do you think we got to keep Derrick for such a good price compared to other coaches? A great amount of my success stems from her fierceness off the court for me. Along with being a rock of support, she is my coordinator for travels and scheduling. Boy, she is a tyrant about that. Everything has to be done to the minute or else the Earth will tilt off its axis and send us flying towards the sun. “It’s good to be home”, I say back, receiving an enormous hug from her. How does such a small woman possess so much strength? I walk into the kitchen and see nothing but a swarm of food on the dining table. This is probably enough food to feed any normal family of 15. Oh, did I mention my mother could be a chef at any restaurant and loves cooking for the family. It must be the Chinese way where you just want to fatten up anything you see in your way. On the table you see, lo mein, shanghai rice cake, fried dumplings, beef in spicy pepper sauce along with any other Chinese food you can think of loving. Lobster, crab and seafood galore accompanies our main courses, while in any other culture, seafood would be a main course. The food is laid out across the table family style, the best and only way anybody should eat. After tennis, I’d say food is my other love. Food speaks a language that everyone knows and understands. The universal sign of putting two fingers to your lips and producing a smack sound is a notion any cook in the world understands. Food brings people together like a lack of food tears people apart. “Did you really have to cook so much? It’s only the five of us mom.” “You know me! When I hear you coming back from hospital, I just went crazy and cook anything we have in fridge.”, my mother says with a smile that you just can’t argue with. Derrick, Mom, Dad, Cindy and I sit at the table, ready to feast on a meal made for a king. Cindy? Why do you ask? Oh right, I never explained who she was. Cindy is my little sister. She is currently 15 years old and has a boyfriend in high school. My father tried to get her into tennis as well, but she just completely rejected it. Hope is
not lost though, she is a star swimming at her school and is one of the youngest competitors competing in the New York State Championships in a couple of weeks. “So bro, how are you feeling? Any headaches or pain? We sure don’t want you crying at the dinner table.” I scoffed, “yeah you know. I was feeling better before you opened your mouth and berated me with your sarcasm.” “Hah, good one bro.” I bite down for my first mouthful and immediately feel a joy rushing through my blood. Bliss overtakes me and I think my mom noticed. “Oh, you like huh? I make everything special for you.” “Mom, you can put dirt in your wok and it will come out tasting delicious. You know that.” Mom craves reassurance and notification for her talents in the kitchen. I find it best to just flatter her, like a taming mechanism. “Derrick, when will we be back on the courts? I want to start preparing for the SAP Open. I’m ready to break out on the tour this year. I want to make a grand slam draw.” Maybe he was taken back from the straight question or the determination coming from my voice, but you rarely see Derrick startled, especially with anything coming from me. “Look Vic, I was going to break this to you after dinner, but you aren’t cleared to play in any tournaments for the next month. Your concussion has to heal and the doctor doesn’t recommend you taking any chances, which includes hitting balls for a while. We have to do this slowly so we can elongate your career. You’re young and have so much potential. You’ll get there buddy.” The stoic expressions on everyone’s faces gave it all away. It’s the not knowing which bothered me the most. They all knew and said nothing the entire time. The air in the room became thin making breathing hard. “Then… what am I supposed to do for the next month? No exercise? No tennis? Nothing?!” It’s said that right before you die, your entire life flashes by you. All the memories of the good, bad, serene and wonderful memories you have are experience in one great moment. It’s an epiphany of how great you life was. This wasn’t one of those moments. When the words “nothing” came out of my life, I felt like I’ve died and an epiphany came to me. I literally do not know how to do anything except play tennis.
For the past 10 years of my life, I have not had a normal high school life, I’ve never had a girlfriend, I’ve never experienced a field trip with my classmates, I’ve never stayed out late or play hooky from school. My eyes stayed glued to my food with a tear slowly creeping down my face. “Vic, what’s wrong? Are you okay”? I let out a quiet sob and wipe away the tear. All of a sudden, I feel a heavy sinking feeling like being in quicksand. This was a new sensation. It didn’t feel like disappointment. I’ve experience that before. Any match I’ve ever lost, when my coach yells at me or when I see the dejected look on my parents face after a rough match, I’ve seen disappointment and felt it. This wasn’t it. My head began spinning and my vision blurred. I was feeling… heartache. “No… tennis? At all?” Derrick responded with a blank stare straight into me. “No, Vic. No tennis. Not for a while. I’m sorry” My lips began to feel dry as I wiped another tear away from my face. There have been few consistencies in my life that made me feel like a normal person. The life of a tennis athlete is extremely difficult. The hours of training are long, the traveling wears you down and creating lasting friendships become difficult. Any normal teenager would be in high school, hanging out with their buddies around the lunch table talking about the pretty girl sitting in front of them during math. I’m out in the ninety-degree heat working on my cross-court forehand. I’d often think about what my life would be like if I weren’t so heavily invested in this current life. I could imagine myself roaming through hallways, stopping by my locker and having a quick chat. I could imagine myself sitting in a desk, raising my hand and answering the teachers question sparking a debate among my peers. I could imagine myself having a girlfriend, staring deep into her eyes and texting late into the night. But these are all just imaginations and fantasies. The only thing I know that is real right now is tennis. Without tennis, I become lost. I take in a big, deep breath and let it out. Gathering my composure, I respond “Okay Derrick. I get it. No tennis.” “Vic, we all know how much this hurts. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. The next couple of weeks are going to be tough. You’ll be on your ass doing nothing for the most part. But you have to know. We are all here for you and the court will stay be there when you’re ready.” Derrick says with a tiny smile on his face. “I know Derrick, I know.” I excuse myself from the table and head towards my room. I just felt like I needed solitude. This is the first time in my life where I won’t wake up tomorrow morning
and begin hitting or running around a court. A thought occurred, this would be first time in my life where I wake up in the morning and would have nothing to do but be myself. Thoughts starting racing through my head like formula 1 cars and I began to fantasize what I could do with my free time. I could go to the mall and meet people; I could watch a movie in a theater. I could go on a date. The one thing I knew for certain, there was absolutely no chance I would just be sitting on my ass. Perhaps this wasn’t a curse God granted upon me, but rather a blessing in an unusual form. I was never a religious man, so this would mark the first time in my life where I could do whatever I wanted to do. I lie down on my bed and look at the wall, closing my eyes and imagining what the world was like outside of the white lines. I needed to do something dramatic tomorrow, something I’ve never done, and something I never could do before. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; these words never ran truer for me. Up to now, my entire life has been secluded in between the prison of the white lines. I feel like a freed convict, breathing the air of freedom for the first time. My eyes begin to feel heavy, I feel my consciousness slipping and drifting into the world of sleep. I adjust my body for comfort by moving onto my side, gazing out the second floor window of my bedroom. My racquets sit precariously on the floor, leaning against the window. Tomorrow marks a day where I wouldn’t have to pick up the racquet at any point. No warm up rally, no touch volleys, no serves, nothing. Tomorrow, I can initiate the start of different activities. The more I think about my freedom, the more my cheeks begin to hurt with happiness like a child experiencing their first fall of snow. My smile slowly recedes like a snail going back into its shell and I drift into sleep, eager to wake up and begin my adventure the following morning.
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