[The writing below is the the final installment in Withdrawal for Personal Circumstances. At some point this summer, I also plan to post a longer format piece of fiction on Texas high school football that I put together during the second term. Hopefully readers like the idea of some fictional content finding its way onto the website, particularly if you are a fan of Feinstein, Lupica, Tim Green and others in the sports fiction space. This piece is certainly not of that caliber, but is framed in that same tradition.]
Charlie had exuded such quiet confidence. He started every game in life with a 40-Love lead and he knew it. Now, the New York tournament ushered in defeat. There may be opportunity in failure, but only if you are willing to find it. Charlie wasn’t.
It might have been something that my Dad could have helped him navigate. Their relationship, however, was lost to an age-old pattern. The father seeks control. The son seeks independence. Now, Charlie was alone.
Eventually, he would return to the court. About a year later, he was playing a challenger event in Sarasota. It was a three-hour drive from our house in Palm Beach and so I decided to make the trip.
Charlie was playing one of the names that had featured in his junior career: Max King. It was a rivalry largely in name only with Charlie consistently cruising to straight set outcomes time and time again. It might be just what he needed to return to his winning ways.
Today, however, King was the better player. He easily took the first set, 6-2. As they made the change at 0-1 in the second set, you had no sense of a reversing tide. It was striking. Charlie was countless miles from that grand stage in New York. He was playing a familiar opponent. And yet, the downward spiral continued.
Hopelessness is dangerous. As the second set reached 0-3, Charlie calmly sat his racquet on the court, walked up to the net, shook hands with King and walked off the court.
It is said that elite tennis doesn’t create your personality; it reveals it. On that day, a version of Charlie that would become his adult persona was revealed. The effortless All-American now seemed filled with struggle. The young star that everyone had once looked to befriend was now friendless. The academic standout that learned Spanish in less than two months had no interest in collegiate pursuits. The boy that everyone thought was “Most Likely to Do Whatever He Wants” now had no clue what he wanted.
It is a still early morning. The persistent whine of the alarm finally rouses me. I head to the shower, ready for a day on the court.
My tennis career had been an afterthought in the Florida years of my youth. My practice calendar was set based on Charlie’s schedule. My tournament play was determined by when and where Charlie needed to be.
While I never thought I could measure up to my brother, tennis was my first love. After a respectable college career at Virginia Tech, I founded the Legler Tennis Academy in my adopted home of Virginia.
As the Academy developed into one of the top programs in the U.S., it also offered a chance for reconciliation. My father, for his many faults, had a passion for the analytical side of tennis. It was a critical part of the modern game and an essential element of any top academy.
He jumped at the opportunity to join me. I hoped that it would offer him a chance to get past the second guessing and the endless soul-searching about what might have been with Charlie. On most days, it did.
Several years later, Charlie also would become part of the staff. My quiet aspiration was that it would help him chart a new path. It would offer him the chance to shape and impact a gifted junior player. It would get him beyond his own missed opportunities.
And yet, there was something in the promise of these upcoming juniors that was a trap for Charlie. It was too much a reminder. It cut too close to too much.
Charlie had been given every advantage. He would ascend to the highest level of the game. And there, he would find failure. His story is an American one less frequently told: defeat followed by decline.
We love the tales of heroic turnarounds. We love to recount the meaningful counsel that catalyzes them. Unfortunately, we forget the story of what might have been. We forget the silence of counsel not given. We forget the “withdraw for personal circumstance” that was the life of Charlie Legler.