My tennis game was raised by wolves. Abandoned as an infant, it sat in a dark part of the forest for three days crying helplessly. Finally it was discovered by wolves who took it in and nursed it. For 12 years it heard no human sound; it knew only the way of the wolf. By the time I discovered it, shivering, filthy, and naked, snapping wildly on court four of the Glendale Racquet Club, it had killed a thousand times. It was feral and godless and knew no master.
For months I worked with it, patiently describing strategies and pointing to the marked parameters of the court. I lectured it on etiquette and we practiced until my fingers bled. After dinner we studied tapes of Borg vs. McEnroe. I told it about Pete Sampras' mighty serve and Agassi's uncanny returns, about Ashe, Connors, and Becker. It had a thrilling primitive power. In time, I came to love my tennis game, and there were days when I believed that it loved me.
The backhand was a problem, but we worked together, hours every day. I dressed my game in Nike Air Zoom Vapor Speed court shoes and bought it a Head Liquidmetal Radical MidPlus racquet. With a bottle of Evian and headband slightly askew, it almost passed for a domesticated game. Occasionally people would say, 'You know, you've got a terrific little game there.'
But I grew impatient with its backhand. When the second consecutive return sailed over the three-meter mesh fence at a public court, I admit with some shame that, consumed by rage, I hit it. I think my tantrum shocked us both. But my game shaped up. For a while, I was naive enough to believe that I had earned a new respect, that corporal punishment was the answer. In a singles tournament (B Division) at the Glendale, it moved quickly through the ranks, hunting opponents like a predator. It punished them with groundstrokes and fed on their livers.
In the finals, I was matched with Grayson-Twempt, a smoothie who feasted on the wounded. An early hint of trouble came when my game's first serve hit the line judge in the head, killing him. My game glared at me, a familiar glint in its yellow eyes, that ancient hunger. Its second serve took out a woman named Pruitt who was drinking gimlets in the visitors' lounge. An hour later, it was down 6-0, 5-0, and there were four dead, including Grayson-Twempt, and six wounded.
That was seven years ago. It was the last time I saw my tennis game. I realized that I had been a fool, believing that I could domesticate it; my game would always run with the wolves. It would always be a threat to me and to those around me. It didn't matter how many expensive racquets I put in its hand, how many polo shirts I wrestled over its matted head, how many private lessons I paid for. My game was a black-hearted beast.
The authorities tried to capture and destroy it, of course. But I drove it to the forest in my Passat wagon. I owed it that much. I opened the passenger door and it loped into the woods without looking back. There are nights when I drive by the forest, the window open to let in the soft summer air, and I hear my tennis game, howling alone in the forest, looking for something to kill.
Don Gillmor is a Toronto-based writer. Reprinted from The Walrus (July/Aug. 2005). Subscriptions: $39.75 Canadian/yr. (10 issues) from Box 26405 STN B, Toronto, ON M7Y 4R1; www.walrusmagazine.com.