I was reborn June 17, 2002.
It was a very bad week. In a warm-up tournament for the German Open my knee folded under me and I would never play tennis again. My coach sat me down and said, “Chris, you are the most elegant player I’ve ever seen. You move like a dancer out there and your game is high art. I’ve seen you play with opponents, begging them to hit the ball to you so that you can play a stroke so out of this world that the crowd would go quiet. You’re a true artist, Chris, but you just don’t win. The commentators say things like the ‘finest match ever played, by someone who lost’. You’re twenty-eight now you’ll be a year in rehab, and it’ll be another twelve months before you get your game back and that’s too old for a fringe tennis player, I’m so sorry.” I think Willy cried more than me that day.
It got worse. I told my mother I was probably done as a player. She sat in silence for a while then told me her prognoses was worse. “I have cancer,” she said. And if I did play again, she would not live to see it.
* * *
My father, Ralf Kramer, a Good Man, had been “absorbed in his work” for as long as I can remember. I was born twenty-fifth May, 1974 and named Christiane, daughter of, not surprisingly, a moderately successful businessman. I was their only child and, like my father, my mother too, was distant.
My upbringing was a process rather than a journey. I was dressed well, furnished with impeccable manners, attended the right schools and encouraged to play tennis rather than handball. I went to college on a tennis scholarship, my parents chose the courses I was to take at university insisting that I have a “profession not a calling”. I studied accountancy and law. Along the way I met, dated and dumped young men who were the sons of people like my parents. There was always some part of my body these boys would tell me they loved; It was my legs to one, my eyes to another my breasts, my hair, my scent, or my arse. I believe I only exist to them now as a awkward photo in an old album. Maybe they would remember me as that tennis player they once dated. Yet I remember everything about them. I remember the way one held a cigarette, sipped coffee, or the way another would dry himself after a shower or pronounce my name. There was one dear young boy who would blush bright red when I kissed him in public. I remembered them all, every detail and all their bittersweet stories.
My university studies lasted one full year before I turned professional. My mother was furious. She thought it was fine for a girl to play a sport but I needed, “a proper career to fall back on. After all this you’re going to ruin it all,” she said. “Just like your aunt!” She spat the last words out.
Her sister – my Aunt Kirsten – was, according to mother a drinker, a smoker and too flirtatious for her own good. Worse still, she had tattoos, one on her ankle, a rose on the top of her left breast and one for ‘special occasions’, as she liked to say. She was, as I remembered, raucous good fun at a party and always surrounded by men who hung on her every word. I knew my mother didn’t like her, but every Christmas aunt Kirsten, at the behest of my father, was invited to our family gathering. I couldn’t wait to see her, it was an anticipation that built for months. She always bought me some extravagant gift, and always asked about my ‘adventures’. She made me feel special. But every year, well before the end of the evening, my mother would determine aunt Kirsten had ‘put away one drink too many’ and ushered her to door. Aunt Kirsten was the first person to know I had ‘a serious boyfriend’. She said that was nice and was I ‘taking precautions’. I said “of course.”
* * *
At my mother’s funeral my father and Willy stood either side of me, Aunt Kirsten was close too. We spoke little but she said she’d call soon.
About a month later I got a call. She was opening in a studio across town and wanted to know if I’d come, we could have a meal afterwards. My depression over the last months was so profound I barely ate or left my room. My father insisted I moved back home while I recovered from the op but I think he wanted to keep an eye on me. I wanted desperately to see Aunt Kirsten but that would mean I’d have to leave the house and I knew I couldn’t do that. Father picked out my outfit shoved me into the bathroom, drove me to the hairdressers, waited in the car then dumped kerbside outside the Studio.
I wore a navy blazer over slacks. My recovery was going well but it was cold and my knee ached. I limped a bit. Two steps inside I was seized by Aunt Kirsten squeezed hard, lifted clear of the floor and twirled around. I was kissed formerly, then kissed again. Someone pressed a glass of Champagne into my hand, a young man offered a joint. I was warm, there was some strange music playing and the images on the walls made my head spin. I felt them in my stomach, my hair stood on end, I could barely breathe. It was like I’d found a new room in an old house, one I’d been in for years.
That night I ate too much, drank too much and smoked a little. I woke up on a fold out bed in Aunt Kirsten’s flat to the smell of fresh brewed coffee. I had a mild headache too. She set out some fruit and cereal and we ate making small talk.
She cleared the table and sat down. “Let me tell you about your father,” she said.
“Not much to know. He works most days, I hardly see him.”
“Your father was a Tasmanian forestry worker, I met him in 1973, we had a brief affair. I returned home pregnant, you were born twenty-eighth of December, of that year.”
My head throbbed. I reached for my coffee, my hands shaking.
“My sister had been married three years but couldn’t conceive. Ralf organised a birth certificate from the local hospital. It was not your real birthdate but they said it would do.”
“Were you ever going to tell me this?”
She said she could give you a fine upbringing, one I couldn’t. I agreed but...
“YOU SHOULD’VE TOLD ME!”
“In the last twenty-eight years I’ve never been alone with you. Do you realise how much that hurt? If I’d said anything she would’ve made sure I never saw you again.”
There was a long silence. A very long silence.
“I want you to know I loved you so much. I would see you on the news or read about you in the papers. I kept all the clippings the way a good mother would…”
“But you’re not!
“Well maybe Missy, just maybe, I really I am.” She was angry. Very.
* * *
Later that year I enrolled in a fine arts course and breezed through, loving every instant. It was as if trapped for a lifetime in a mummy-like in a cold grey sarcophagus I saw, with the passing of every day, my casing fragment, crumble and fall away. I could see figures in the cracks in walls now, stories in the shapes trees took in the wind and meaning in the lives of the complex, convoluted and crazy people I loved. I drew lines with out thinking, lines in the morning, lines when I was on the phone lines when I was meditating. They became seismographic reading of the tremors occurring within. The plates of the previous lives shifting, shifting.
Summer 2006, my first solo exhibition. The local paper sent down a pretty young girl called Sabrina, a photographer. She suggested that I pose in an old tennis outfit but with lots of paint on it, and instead of a spare tennis ball tucked into my knickers I’d have a couple of brushes. You know, keeping the tennis theme alive. I didn’t like the idea but I really liked Sabrina so I went with it. She turned up at the opening and that night I took her home.
* * *
Ex-father Ralf seemed to get on a lot better with my current mother than he did with my former one. He took it well when I told him I wanted to change my name to that of my mother’s, he even attended the ceremony we held to celebrate the change. He gave a little speech, he made Sabrina giggle and me blush when recounted some long-forgotten snippets of my childhood.
He also said something I’ve never been able to get out of my head. “Ms Christiane Fichtner it would seem you have not one but three birthdays, each one of them gave you a different life. Not all of us can choose our own biography - you seem to have chosen yours.”
Text by Peter Howard
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