For Alicia—la raison
An Infinite Amount of Days Until My Inevitable Reunion with Nikki
I don’t have to look up to know Mom is making another surprise visit. Her toenails are always pink during the summer months, and I recognize the flower design imprinted on her leather sandals; it’s what Mom purchased the last time she signed me out of the bad place and took me to the mall.
Once again, Mother has found me in my bathrobe, exercising unattended in the courtyard, and I smile because I know she will yell at Dr. Timbers, asking him why I need to be locked up if I’m only going to be left alone all day.
“Just how many push-ups are you going to do, Pat?” Mom says when I start a second set of one hundred without speaking to her.
“Nikki—likes—a—man—with—a—developed—upper—body,” I say, spitting out one word per push-up, tasting the salty sweat lines that are running into my mouth.
The August haze is thick, perfect for burning fat.
Mom just watches for a minute or so, and then she shocks me.
Her voice sort of quivers as she says, “Do you want to come home with me today?”
I stop doing push-ups, turn my face up toward Mother’s, squint through the white noontime sun—and I can immediately tell she is serious, because she looks worried, as if she is making a mistake, and that’s how Mom looks when she means something she has said and isn’t just talking like she always does for hours on end whenever she’s not upset or afraid.
“As long as you promise not to go looking for Nikki again,” she adds, “you can finally come home and live with me and your father until we find you a job and get you set up in an apartment.”
I resume my push-up routine, keeping my eyes riveted to the shiny black ant scaling a blade of grass directly below my nose, but my peripheral vision catches the sweat beads leaping from my face to the ground below.
“Pat, just say you’ll come home with me, and I’ll cook for you and you can visit with your old friends and start to get on with your life finally. Please. I need you to want this. If only for me, Pat. Please.”
Double-time push-ups, my pecs ripping, growing—pain, heat, sweat, change.
I don’t want to stay in the bad place, where no one believes in silver linings or love or happy endings, and where everyone tells me Nikki will not like my new body, nor will she even want to see me when apart time is over. But I am also afraid the people from my old life will not be as enthusiastic as I am now trying to be.
Even still, I need to get away from the depressing doctors and the ugly nurses—with their endless pills in paper cups—if I am ever going to get my thoughts straight, and since Mom will be much easier to trick than medical professionals, I jump up, find my feet, and say, “I’ll come live with you just until apart time is over.”
While Mom is signing legal papers, I take one last shower in my room and then fill my duffel bag with clothes and my framed picture of Nikki. I say goodbye to my roommate, Jackie, who just stares at me from his bed like he always does, drool running down off his chin like clear honey. Poor Jackie, with his random tufts of hair, oddly shaped head, and flabby body. What woman would ever love him?
He blinks at me. I take this for goodbye and good luck, so I blink back with both eyes—meaning double good luck to you, Jackie, which I figure he understands, since he grunts and bangs his shoulder against his ear like he does whenever he gets what you are trying to tell him.
My other friends are in music relaxation class, which I do not attend, because smooth jazz makes me angry sometimes. Thinking maybe I should say goodbye to the men who had my back while I was locked up, I look into the music-room window and see my boys sitting Indian style on purple yoga mats, their elbows resting on their knees, their palms pressed together in front of their faces, and their eyes closed. Luckily, the glass of the window blocks the smooth jazz from entering my ears. My friends look really relaxed—at peace—so I decide not to interrupt their session. I hate goodbyes.
In his white coat, Dr. Timbers is waiting for me when I meet my mother in the lobby, where three palm trees lurk among the couches and lounge chairs, as if the bad place were in Orlando and not Baltimore. “Enjoy your life,” he says to me—wearing that sober look of his—and shakes my hand.
“Just as soon as apart time ends,” I say, and his face falls as if I said I was going to kill his wife, Natalie, and their three blond-haired daughters—Kristen, Jenny, and Becky—because that’s just how much he does not believe in silver linings, making it his business to preach apathy and negativity and pessimism unceasingly.
But I make sure he understands that he has failed to infect me with his depressing life philosophies—and that I will be looking forward to the end of apart time. I say, “Picture me rollin’” to Dr. Timbers, which is exactly what Danny—my only black friend in the bad place—told me he was going to say to Dr. Timbers when Danny got out. I sort of feel bad about stealing Danny’s exit line, but it works; I know because Dr. Timbers squints as if I had punched him in the gut.
As my mother drives me out of Maryland and through Delaware, past all those fast-food places and strip malls, she explains that Dr. Timbers did not want to let me out of the bad place, but with the help of a few lawyers and her girlfriend’s therapist—the man who will be my new therapist—she waged a legal battle and managed to convince some judge that she could care for me at home, so I thank her.
On the Delaware Memorial Bridge, she looks over at me and asks if I want to get better, saying, “You do want to get better, Pat. Right?”