Friday, August 30, 2019

The Silver Linings Playbook Chapter 28

I Will Have to Require a First-Place Victory â€Å"Question number one,† my father says. â€Å"How many touchdowns will McNabb throw against the Saints?† I can hardly believe I am actually eating a sit-down meal with my father. Mom smiles at me as she winds spaghetti around her fork. She even shoots me a wink. Now don't get me wrong, I am happy that Mom's plan has worked out, and I am delighted to be eating a meal with my father, having a conversation even – and I am especially happy to see my parents playing with love again – but I also know my father, and I worry that a single Eagles loss will turn Dad back into a grump. I worry for Mom, but decide to ride out the moment. â€Å"Ten touchdowns,† I tell my father. Dad smiles, pops a small sausage into his mouth, chews enthusiastically, and then tells my mother, â€Å"Pat says ten touchdowns.† â€Å"Maybe eleven,† I add, just to be optimistic. â€Å"Question number two. How many touchdowns will undrafted rookie sensation Hank Baskett catch?† Now, I fully realize that Baskett has only caught one TD in the first five games, but I also know my family is being overly optimistic tonight, so I say, â€Å"Seven.† â€Å"Seven?† Dad says, but smiling. â€Å"Seven.† â€Å"He says seven, Jeanie. Seven!† To me Dad says, â€Å"Question number three. In what quarter will quarterback Drew Brees finally suffer a concussion because he has been sacked so many times by the Eagles' superior defense?† â€Å"Um. That's a tough one. The third quarter?† â€Å"That is incorrect,† my father says, shaking his head in mock disappointment. â€Å"First quarter is the correct answer. Question four. When are you going to bring home that broad you're always running with? When are you going to introduce your girlfriend to your father?† When Dad finishes asking question four, he slurps a load of spaghetti into his mouth and then begins chewing. When I fail to respond, he encourages me with his left hand, tracing invisible circles with his index finger. â€Å"Did you see that Pat found his wedding pictures and put them back up in the living room?† Mom says, and her voice sort of quivers. â€Å"Jake told me you were over Nikki,† Dad says. â€Å"He said you were into this Tiffany broad. No?† â€Å"May I be excused?† I ask my mother, because my little scar is itching, and I feel as though I might explode if I don't start banging my fist against my forehead. When my mother nods, I see sympathy in her eyes, which I appreciate. I lift for a few hours, until I no longer feel the need to punch myself. In the new reflector vest my mother has recently bought for me, I run through the night. I was going to open Tiffany's letter this evening because I was so excited about having dinner with my father, but now I know I am most definitely not in a good mood, so opening the letter would be a violation of the rules Tiffany clearly laid out for me two nights ago. I almost opened the letter last night, when I was in an excellent mood, but it hadn't been forty-eight hours. As I run, I try to think about Nikki and the end of apart time, which always makes me feel better. I pretend that God has made a bet with me and if I run fast enough, He will bring Nikki back, so I begin sprinting the last two miles of my run. Soon I'm running so fast, it's amazing – faster than any human being has ever run before. In my mind I hear God tell me I have to do the last mile in under four minutes, which I know is almost impossible, but for Nikki I try. I run even faster, and when I am a block away, I hear God counting down from ten in my mind. â€Å"Five – four – three – two – † And when my right foot lands on the first concrete square of my parents' sidewalk, God says â€Å"One,† which means I ran fast enough – that I made it home before God said â€Å"Zero.† I am so happy. I am so impossibly happy! My parents' bedroom door is closed when I go upstairs, so I shower and then slip under my comforter. I pull Tiffany's envelope from under the mattress of my bed. I take a deep breath. I open the letter. As I read the several typed pages, my mind explodes with conflicting emotions and awful needs. Pat, Read this letter start to finish! Do not make any decisions until you have read the entire letter! Do not read this letter unless you are alone! Do not show this letter to anyone! When you have finished reading this letter, burn it – immediately! Do you ever feel like you're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks? Well, there was nothing I could do to bring my Tommy back, and the inability to accept his death kept me ill for two whole years – but then you came into my life. Why? At first I thought, God is sending me a new man, a replacement for my Tommy, which made me mad, because Tommy is irreplaceable (no offense). But when I listened to the way you talked about Nikki, I realized God had sent you to me so I might help you find the end of apart time. This was to be my mission. And so I have been working on it. â€Å"What?† I can hear you saying right now. â€Å"How can my friend Tiffany end apart time?† Well, this is the part that might make you mad. Are you ready, Pat? Brace yourself. I've been talking to your Nikki on the phone – regularly. Every night for the past two weeks. I got the phone number from Veronica, who – through Ronnie's conversations with your mom – has been providing Nikki with information about you ever since you were permanently assigned to that neural health facility in Baltimore. It turns out that your family banned Nikki from obtaining information about you, which they could do because Nikki divorced you soon after you were permanently admitted. I know this bit of news has most likely upset you terribly. Sorry, but it's best just to state things plainly at this point. Don't you think? Okay, this next part is bad too. Nikki was able to divorce you because you committed a crime, which you do not remember. (I am not going to tell you what that crime was, because you have probably blocked it from your memory intentionally; most likely, you are not yet mentally ready to deal with this very frightening reality. My therapist Dr. Lily and I theorize that you will remember committing this crime when you are mentally and emotionally ready.) Nikki was granted a divorce and all your assets, and in exchange, someone else dropped all charges against you. Of course, the deal also sent you to the bad place indefinitely for â€Å"rehabilitation.† You agreed to all of the above at the time and were deemed to be â€Å"of sound mind† by your therapist Dr. Timbers, but soon after being put away for good, you â€Å"lost† your memory and your marbles as well. I am not telling you all of this to be mean – quite the contrary. Remember, God put me in charge of helping you end apart time. It turns out Nikki has wanted to communicate with you very much. She misses you. This is not to say she wants to marry you all over again. I want to be clear about this. She still remembers what you did – the crime you committed. And she is a little afraid of you as well, as she fears you might be mad at her and want to retaliate. But she was married to you for years and she wants to see you well, and maybe even become friends again. I have reported your desire to reconcile with Nikki. To be honest, your desire is much stronger than hers. But you never know what might happen if you begin to communicate again. Two problems: One. After you committed that crime, Nikki took out a restraining order against you, so technically it is illegal for you to contact her. Two. Your parents – on your behalf, and probably in retaliation – took out a restraining order against Nikki, claiming any contact she made could jeopardize your mental health. So it is also illegal for her to contact you. Even still, Nikki would like to communicate with you, if only to smooth over what happened. Her guilt is glaring. She walked away with all your assets, and you had to spend years in a mental institution, right? So. Coming to the point. I am offering myself as a liaison. The two of you can communicate through me, and there will be no trouble. You will be able to write Nikki letters – one every two weeks. I will read these letters to Nikki over the phone. She will be able to dictate her responses to me, again over the phone, which I will type up on my laptop, print out, and present to you. Pat, we are friends, and I value our friendship very much. That having been said, you must appreciate that what I am offering puts me in a very precarious position. If you decide to take me up on my offer, I would be putting myself at risk legally, and also I would be jeopardizing our friendship. I need to inform you that I will not be your liaison for free, but am offering you a trade. What do I want? Remember when I said I was scouting you? Well, I want to win this year's Dance Away Depression competition, and I need a strong man to do it. â€Å"What is Dance Away Depression?† I hear you asking. Well – it is an annual competition organized by the Philadelphia Psychiatric Association that allows women diagnosed with clinical depression to transform their despair into movement. The sole focus is supposed to be diminishing depression through use of the body, but judges award a wreath of flowers to the second-best dance routine and a golden trophy to the first-place dance routine. Dancing solo, I have won that fucking wreath two years straight, and this year I want to win the golden trophy. This is where you figure in, Pat. God sent me the strongest man I have ever met in my entire life; tell me this isn't divine intervention. Only a man with your muscles could perform the type of lifts I have in mind – award-winning lifts, Pat. The competition will be held at the Plaza Hotel in center city, on a Saturd ay night – November 11th. Which gives us just under a month to practice. I know the routine already, but you'll be starting from scratch, and we both will have to practice the lifts. This will take a lot of time. I told Nikki about my conditions, and she wants to encourage you to be my dance partner. She says you need to broaden your interests, and that she had always wanted to take dance lessons with you. So it is more than okay with her; she encourages you to do this. Also, I'm afraid I will have to require a first-place victory in exchange for being your liaison. Lucky for you, the routine I have choreographed is first-rate. But in order to win, you will have to immerse yourself in dance. Below are the non-negotiable conditions. Should you decide to be my dance partner, you will: Give up Eagles football for the duration of our training. No going to games. No watching games on television. No discussing Eagles football with anyone. No reading the sports pages. You may not even wear your beloved Baskett jersey. End your weight training by two o'clock each afternoon, at which point we will go for a five-mile run, after which we will rehearse from 4:15 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on weekdays. On weekends we will rehearse from 1:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. No exceptions. Make sure at least 15 of your friends and relatives attend the dance recital, because the judges are often swayed by applause. Do whatever I say without asking any questions. Assure I win the competition. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Tell no one about our arrangement. You can tell people you are training for a dance competition, but you cannot tell anyone about my demands and my contacting Nikki on your behalf – never ever. Should you meet all six demands, I will act as a liaison between Nikki and you; I will attempt to end apart time, and then who knows what will happen between you and your ex-wife. If you fail to meet my demands, I am afraid you might never talk to Nikki again. She says this is your only shot. Contact me within 24 hours with your decision. Reread my list of demands, memorize each, and then burn this letter. Remember, if you want me to be your liaison, tell no one I am in contact with Nikki. With best intentions, Tiffany I reread the letter over and over all night. Parts I do not want to believe are true – especially the parts about my committing a crime and Nikki divorcing me, which are ideas that make me feel like smashing my fist against my forehead. What type of crime would put me in such a situation, and who would drop charges when I checked myself into a neural health facility? I can understand Nikki's divorcing me because I was a bad husband, especially because, well, I was a bad husband. But I have a hard time believing I actually committed a crime that could result in such drastic legal measures. And yet Tiffany's letter seems to explain so much – my mother's taking down my wedding pictures, all the awful things Jake and Dad said about Nikki. If I am really divorced, everything my family has done to keep Nikki out of my memory would have been for my protection, especially since they are not optimistic enough to realize that I am not dead and therefore still have at least a shot at getting Nikki back, which I don't have to tell you is the silver lining to the letter. Of course, I cannot be sure about anything, since I have no memory of the past few years. Maybe Tiffany made up the story just to get me to perform in her dance competition. This is possible. I certainly would not have volunteered to be her partner, even if I am practicing being kind now. I realize that Tiffany's letter might be a trick, but the possibility of communicating with Nikki is too good to chance – as it may be my last opportunity. Also, Tiffany's mentioning God's will seems to suggest that she understands what apart time is all about. It makes sense that Nikki would want me to take dancing lessons. She always wanted me to dance with her, but I never did. The thought of dancing with Nikki in the future is enough to make me accept that I will be missing the three Eagles games before the bye week, including the home game against Jacksonville. I think about how angry this will make my father, Jake, and maybe even Cliff, but then I think about the possibility of finally living out the happy ending to my movie – getting Nikki back – and the choice is obvious. When the sun comes up, I open the window in the downstairs bathroom, burn the letter over the toilet, and flush the charred remains. Next, I run across Knight's Park, jog around the Websters' house, and knock on Tiffany's door. She answers in a red silk nightgown, squinting at me. â€Å"Well?† â€Å"When do we start training?† I ask. â€Å"Are you ready to commit fully? Ready to give up every-thing – even Eagles football?† I nod eagerly. â€Å"Only I can't miss my therapy sessions on Fridays, because some judge will send me back to the bad place if I do, and then we won't be able to win the competition.† â€Å"I'll be outside your house tomorrow at two o'clock,† Tiffany says, and then shuts the door. The first floor of Tiffany's in-law suite is a dance studio. All four walls are completely covered by full-length mirrors, and three have railings like you see ballerinas using. The floor is hardwood, like a pro-basketball court, only without any painted lines and with a lighter varnish. The ceiling is high, maybe thirty feet tall, and a spiral staircase in the corner leads to Tiffany's apartment. â€Å"I had this built when Tommy died,† Tiffany says. â€Å"I used the insurance money. Do you like my studio?† I nod. â€Å"Good, because it's going to be home for the next month. Did you bring your photograph?† I open the bag that Tiffany instructed me to bring and pull out my framed picture of Nikki; I show it to Tiffany, and then she walks over to the stereo system behind the spiral staircase. From an iron hook on the wall she removes a pair of headphones – the kind that cover your entire ears like earmuffs – and brings them to me. A very long cord is attached. â€Å"Sit,† she says. I drop to the floor and sit with my legs crossed. â€Å"I'm going to play our song, the one we are going to dance to. It's important that you feel a deep connection with this song. It needs to move you if it's going to flow through your body. I've picked this song for a reason. It's perfect for both of us, which you'll soon see. When I put the headphones on you, I want you to stare into Nikki's eyes. I want you to feel the song. Understand?† â€Å"It's not a song played by a soprano saxophonist, is it?† I ask, because Kenny G is my nemesis, as you know. â€Å"No,† she says, and then places the headphones on my ears. My ears are enveloped in the padding. Wearing the headphones makes me feel as if I am alone in this large room, even though if I look up, Tiffany will be there. With the frame in my hands, I stare into Nikki's eyes, and soon the song begins to play. Piano notes – slow and sad. Two voices taking turns singing. Pain. I know the song. Tiffany was right. It is the perfect song for both of us. The song builds, the voices become more emotional, and everything inside of my chest starts to hurt. The words express exactly what I have felt since I was released from the bad place. And by the chorus, I am sobbing, because the woman singing seems to feel exactly what I am feeling, and her words, and her emotion, and her voice †¦ The song ends with the same sad piano notes that began the number. I look up and realize that Tiffany has been watching me cry, and I begin to feel embarrassed. I set my photo of Nikki down on the floor and cover my face with my hands. â€Å"I'm sorry. Just give me a second.† â€Å"It's good that the song makes you cry, Pat. Now we just have to transform those tears into motion. You need to cry through your dancing? Understand?† I do not understand, but I nod anyway.

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