Rainbow Connection; chapter five, part one

Chapter Five; Part One

“Rayne!  The police!”  Paris looks at me with wide eyes even though neither of us is a stranger to the police.  During the last investigation, they talked to one of us at least every other day.

“Sergeant Grimes, Ms. Liang.”  He is over six-feet tall, rangy with a buzz cut and muddy brown eyes.  He is not prepossessing at all, except for the stare which all cops cultivate.  “Detective Brady.”  He nods at a shapely blond with a curvaceous figure not disguised at all by the black pantsuit she chooses to wear.  Her light green eyes are fringed with blond eyelashes—a contrast that should be off-setting, but is seductive instead.  Wire-rimmed glasses cover her eyes.  She is carrying a pad of paper.

“What can I do for you?”  I struggle to keep my voice matter-of-fact so he can’t read the panic on my face.  What can I tell them that won’t make me sound phony, or, worst of all, guilty?

“May we come in?”  The sergeant barges into the room, ignoring the fact that I haven’t answered his question yet.  “We just have a few questions to ask you about the murder of Ashley Stevenson.”  He pauses expectantly, waiting for me to fill in the blanks.  Resigned, I usher him and Detective Brady into the living room.  I gesture for them to sit, but they remain standing.  So do I.  “This won’t last long.  I just have a few questions I have to ask you.”  The sergeant’s voice is genial, as if he’s discussing different flavors of tea.  “Please have your roommate leave.”  Paris exits the room without saying a word.  I know he’s huddled in his bedroom, straining to hear what is being said.  “Ms. Liang, how did you know Ms. Stevenson?”

“We were in a group together,” I say firmly, hoping that will be the end of it.  Of course it isn’t, and they persist in asking me questions.  What kind of group?  Group therapy; therapy group—take your pick.  What was the group specifically for?  For some reason, I am reluctant to answer this question.  “Trauma healing,” I finally mumble, hoping they’ll let it go.  Of course they don’t.  How often does the group meet?  Who is the leader?  Who in the group didn’t like Ashley?  I finally protest as the content of the meetings is confidential.

“Nothing is confidential in a homicide investigation, Ms. Liang,” Sergeant Grimes shoots back as he looms over me.  Neither of us is sitting—he because he refused a seat; I because I won’t put myself at a further disadvantage by sitting down.  The man is over six-feet tall, so he’s already a foot taller than me.  The detective is discreetly scribbling away while the sergeant and I exchange glares.  I wish the cop from the other case, Inspector Robinson, was in charge of this investigation, but I understand that it’s outside of her jurisdiction.

“Sergeant Grimes, why are you asking me about the group?”  I stare at him as haughtily as I can.  “I only went one time.”

“You were involved in another homicide investigation quite recently,” the sergeant explains, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.  “Perhaps you weren’t as innocent in the last case as you make yourself out to be.”

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Rainbow Connection; chapter four, part three

Wednesday is uneventful, and I am grateful.  I wake up Thursday morning, cautiously optimistic.  For once, I have slept for several hours on end.  Paris isn’t up yet, which isn’t unusual for him.  He had gone on a date with Lyle last night and hadn’t return home by the time I went to bed which was a little past midnight.  This morning, I make an omelet because I’ve been hankering for one the last few days, but I hadn’t had the energy to actually make one.  Actually, I want scrambled eggs, but I’m no good at that so I stick to omelets which are easier for me to make for some reason.  I toss in some gouda cheese, mushrooms, and onions.  I am not as good a cook as Paris, but I can get by in a pinch.  I toast two pieces of bread to go with my eggs and pull out the tub of butter for my toast, not margarine.  I rarely use butter, but when I do, I infinitely prefer the real thing.  Margarine doesn’t taste right to me.  I pour myself a tall glass of orange juice and sit down to eat.

After I make a dent in my food (ok, six bites.  It’s a dent for me these days), I open the Chronicle to aid digestion.  I toss the front page aside as I save it for last.  The funnies aren’t very funny; the sports’ page only brings bad news.  After I read every other section, I glance at the headlines of the front page.  What I see makes me almost throw up my breakfast on the spot.  There is a big picture of Ashley, only she looks more like Marilyn Manson than Courtney Love.  Her hair is dyed dark brown but that’s not the remarkable part.  The knife slashes across her pretty face overshadows anything she’s done with her hair.  Her shirt is torn to shreds by a knife as well, and there are gaping wounds decorating the top half of her body.  At least, that’s my inference as the picture is cut off right above her breasts, and that part of her shirt is sliced to ribbons. Her eyes are wide with shock.  A moan rises from inside of me, forcing its way out.  My first impulse is to fling the paper in the corner and pretend that I never saw the picture, but being an ostrich is not an option.

I make myself to read the headline.  ‘Punk Princess Perforated!’ would have been appropriate, but the Chron is not that crass.  Or that ballsy.  Instead, the headline read, ‘Marin County Debutante Slain!’  Not nearly as catchy, but nevertheless accurate.  My eyes drop to the article.  Ashley Stevenson, seventeen years old.  A senior at Marin Academy.  Her daddy is a CEO with Godiva Chocolatier.  Her mommy was independently extremely wealthy before she died of cancer.  I steel myself to read the rest of the grim news.  Her body was found in the tennis courts of her school which were usually locked for the night, but were open last night for some unfathomable reason.  Her body was found by the cops who patrol the grounds once or twice a night.  They wouldn’t have noticed except the door to the tennis courts was wide open which it never was after school hours.  By the time they reached the body, she was already dead.  Stabbed.  Suspicion of drugs.  The paper hints of sexual interference, but refuses to elaborate.  “Mr. Stevenson is devastated,” a ‘close family friend’ says tearfully.  “My daughter should not have died,” Mr. Stevenson declares, looking twenty years older than his age.  “I know the police will get to the bottom of this.”

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Rainbow Connection; chapter four, part two

“Name’s Sharise.”  She pronounces it with a hard ‘ch” sound.  “I’m here because my man was killed during a robbery attempt.  He was the cop who caught the squeal.”  Her eyes fill with tears, but she steadies herself.  “Motherfucker fired on him ‘fore he even had a chance to draw his piece.  Been seven months now, but might as well been yesterday.”  The woman to her left squeezes her hand, garnering a venomous look from the Latina who had spoken earlier.  I am confused.  Sharise had talked about the community earlier, so I assumed she was gay.  Perhaps bi.  I, of all people, should not be making snap judgments about anyone’s sexual orientation.

“Tudd.”  A white woman in her late thirties with short hair and a stout neck barks out her name.  She is sitting on Sharise’s immediate right.  “Dad wanted a son to carry his name, Todd.  Got five girls instead.  I was the last one.”  She pauses her gray eyes going cold.  “Was raped on the way home from work.  Teacher.  Elementary school.  Three months ago.  Had to give up teaching for now.”  The anguish on her face is excruciating to watch.  “That’s all.”

“Jennifer,” the Latina with the wild hair, but prim lips spits out her name.  She is in her early twenties, but acts like she’s three decades older.  “Like Jennifer Lopez, only not such a whore.”  I shift my eyes and see the cross around her neck.  “I am here because, well, my father, uh, touched me until I left for college.  I didn’t even talk about it the first year I was at State.  When I did, the counselor recommended this group to me.”  She pauses before adding, “I have to repeat that I’m uncomfortable with lesbians.  It’s a sin.”  There is a collective groan in the room.

“Yeah, well we’re fucking uncomfortable with right-wing bigots like you!”  Ashley sneers.  Even though she is not next in line, she goes, anyway.  “Fuck, I’m Ashley.  Like, my school counselor practically ordered me to get some help, or he threatened to throw me out of school.  I don’t need this bullshit, though.  Three more months and I’m out of here.”  Counselor?  School?  She must still be in high school.

“Ashley, don’t forget to tell Rayne why you’re here,” Carol interjects gently.

“Like, fuck.  So my mother fucking died a couple months ago.  So fucking what?  The bitch hated me, anyway.”  Despite her tough words, tears gather in her eyes.  She lets out a stream of curses so creative, I look at her in admiration.  Everyone turns to look at the Latina sitting next to Jennifer as she is the next in line, but she stares resolutely at the floor.

“Rosie?”  Carol says softly.  “Please introduce yourself.”

“My name is Rosie,” she says with great difficulty.  “My son, he is dead.  Shot.  Gangbangers think he down with Surenos.  They down with Nortenos.  They no bother to talk—just shoot.”  She is a thirty-something year old woman already beaten down by life.  “Ten months ago, this happens.  I think about him every day.  My sister, she works here.  Tells me to come.  She makes me.”  She stops, her face wet with tears.  She sobs noiselessly as if she’s used to holding it in.  “My baby, he is only twelve.  No reason they must shoot him.”  I vaguely remember reading about the case; it happened not far from where I lived.  There is a moment of silence before the black woman next to her speaks.

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Rainbow Connection; chapter four, part one

Chapter Four

“I’m here for the trauma group,” I say softly to the sympathetic-looking receptionist who nods her head encouragingly at me.

“Spreading Our Wings,” she says, patting her red curls.  The name tag on her desk reads ‘Tessa Simpson’.

“Pardon?”  I am unsure what she is trying to convey.

“That’s the name of the group,” Tessa says with a wide smile.

“I can’t call it that,” I protest.  I think for a minute before adding, “You do realize that the initials spell out S.O.W.?”

“It was done that way on purpose,” Tessa assures me earnestly.  “Think of all the hard work a sow has to do.  Birthing her piglets, feeding them, nurturing them.  Watching them get taken away to be used as food.  Talk about your traumatic events!  How would you get over something like that?”

“You’re kidding me.”  I am unsure whether to take this woman seriously.  She looks at me for a minute before bursting into laughter.  Relieved, I join her.

“Yes, I am,” she confesses, still smiling.  She has fine wrinkles around the corners of her hazel eyes which are gazing at me in friendly interest.  “I love the look on newbies’ faces when I spin that tale for them.  In reality, Carol—Ms. Sayers—just liked the way it sounded and only realized belatedly the unfortunate acronym.  I’m the one who thought up the sow story.”  Her open countenance invites me to laugh with her, so I do.  “Carol should be out here in a minute.  Have a seat.”  She nods at the wooden lobby chairs.  They look as if they would barely hold my weight, so I remain standing.  I’ve never been in the A Ray of Hope building before, and like most nonprofit agencies, the building itself is not prepossessing in the least.  There are the usual drab paintings on the beige walls.  I pray the room the meetings take place in is not this boring.  I spy a painting or two done by a kid, which I always enjoy.  At least kids put some feeling into their art, unlike many adult artists.  There is a coffee machine in the corner with the usual Styrofoam cups.  I grab a cup of tepid coffee and stir in plenty of milk and sugar.  It doesn’t help; the coffee is undrinkable.  I toss the cup in the garbage and finally sit down to wait.  The chair is sturdier than it looks.

Ten minutes pass.  I am annoyed.  Ms. Sayers had asked me to come a half an hour earlier so she could do an intake before the meeting.  I know I shouldn’t let it get to me as time in a nonprofit agency is notoriously fluid.  I sometimes joke at my agency about them running on CP time, but nobody finds that very funny.  They’re a bunch of stiffs who wouldn’t know a joke if it bit them in the ass, though, so I don’t take it personally.  I lean back in my chair and try to breathe deeply.  There is a tightness in my chest that won’t loosen no matter what I try.  I inhale through my nostrils for a count of seven, hold it for a count of four before slowly releasing it through my mouth for a count of seven.  I don’t know how I came up with those numbers, but it does the trick nine out of ten times.  Wouldn’t you know it, this is the tenth time?

The root of my discomfort is my dislike of groups in general, ‘the girls’ not-with-standing.  I also find it daunting the idea of spilling my guts in front of not one, but multiple women.  I remind myself that I don’t have to speak if I don’t want to, but that is small comfort.  Intellectually, I realize that if I want to get something out of the group, at some point I have to participate.  I bolt up in my chair.  Some groups make their members speak.  What if this is one of those groups?  If so, I’m not sticking around.  It is one thing about us Californians that I will never understand—diarrhea of the mouth.  As a Midwest person I know once said, ‘Back home, you could know someone for fifteen years and never really know what they’re thinking, while here, you know someone fifteen minutes, and they tell you their whole life. story’  My response was that I must be a Midwesterner, then, because I hate people who impart their whole life stories the first time they meet you.  Actually, I think it’s my way of rebelling against the openness of my hippie parents.

“Ms. Liang?  I’m Carol Sayers.”  A voice jars me out of my thoughts.  I look up at a slim, forty-something woman with blond hair cut in a fashionable bob and green eyes that gaze at me with friendliness.  She holds out her hand, and I rise before taking it.  Her handshake is firm, but not punishing.  I check her out discreetly.  She is wearing jeans and a white Oxford shirt.  Not exactly professional, but that’s California for you.  Go with the flow, man.

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Rainbow Connection; chapter three

Chapter Three 

Break of dawn, I am up again.  At least I don’t have to be shaken awake because I’m screaming, so I am thankful for small favors.  I lie in bed, wondering if I should try to sleep more or if this is one of those days where nothing can entice me back into unconsciousness.  I can usually tell if I can coax an hour or two more out of my body, but today is neutral.  There are none of the obvious signs either way, so I decide to give it a go.  I obligingly close my eyes and start breathing deeply.  I know from experience that if I do not fall asleep within twenty minutes, I will not fall asleep at all.  I feel the minutes ticking away as I lie there.  I squeeze my eyes shut, but it’s no use.  Not more than ten minutes have passed before I know it’s going to be one of those days.  I sigh and get up, shoving my feet in my slippers.  I pull my robe around me and make my way to the bathroom.  One of the perks about waking up at this time is I can take as long a shower as I like because no one is waiting in line.

After the shower, I go to see what I can scrounge up in the kitchen.  Paris’s fabulous brunch won’t be for at least four more hours, so I will have to make do with what I find.  I am one of those people who needs to fuel up the first thing in the morning or I’m dragging for the rest of the day.  Not coffee, but food.  Some herbal tea would be nice as well.  I put the kettle on the stove, hoping I won’t forget about it.  I have burned three kettles in the last month because of absentmindedness.  I pop a couple slices of bread in the toaster and wait for them to toast.  I rummage in the cupboards for something to put on the toast.  It’s been so long since I’ve made something for myself, I don’t know what we have and what we don’t.  I find some peanut butter and to my surprise, some mini-marshmallows.  That reminds me of the sandwiches I made as a kid, and I do the same now.  One piping hot piece of toast slathered with peanut butter; marshmallows firmly pressed into the peanut butter; I have the last-minute inspiration of adding chocolate and find an unopened bag of semi-sweet morsels, melt them and drizzle the concoction over my sandwich.  Just as the chocolate is running down the sides of the sandwich, I mash the other piece of toast on top of it all.  I pour myself a glass of milk and sit down to enjoy.  After the first bite, however, my stomach growls in protest.  It doesn’t want this combination, as tasty as it is, lodged inside it.

“Shit!”  I throw the sandwich across the room, dissolving into tears.  “Fuck!”  The glass of milk soon follows.  A stream of obscenities escape my lips, gathering a life of their own.  By the time I hit full stride, I am screaming at the top of my lungs.  I sit down and thump the table with my fists.  I am not meant to live this way—I cannot tolerate it for much longer.  I am weeping so hard, I don’t hear Paris enter the room until he is right behind me.  “Careful,” I sigh wearily.  “There’s glass.”  I’ve broken things before so Paris isn’t too fazed by that, although Lyle looks wary.  Paris silently grabs the mop and hands it to Lyle who begins cleaning up the milk.  Paris grabs the sandwich, the plate (which, miraculously, hasn’t broken) and shards of glass.  I watch them dispassionately, feeling a slight twinge of guilt that I am not helping.  I am acutely aware that I have not been carrying my own weight for quite some time.  Paris has been a saint, but it has to be grating on his nerves.  He wasn’t unaffected by what happened, and yet, he has had to be the strong one.  Lyle finishes mopping and places the mop back in the corner.

“Why don’t I cook something for you?”  Lyle offers, turning to the stove.

“Oh, no,” I protest automatically.  “It’s too much trouble.”

“No trouble at all.”  Nothing I say will dissuade him, so I allow him free reign of the kitchen.  I am curious to see what he’ll make and if it’ll live up to Paris’s cooking—a hard act to follow.  Lyle grabs some eggs out of the fridge and gets to work.  In the meantime, the kettle has boiled away to almost nothing, but there is enough left for one cup of tea.  Paris throws some green tea leaves into a mug and pours the boiling water over the leaves.  He knows I like loose tea leaves better than tea in a bag, especially that dreadful Lipton—which seems to be the only tea most restaurants serve.

“When does that group you’re trying out meet?”  Paris asks the question casually as he sets the mug in front of me, but I can see the anxiety in his eyes.

“Tuesday,” I say softly, sipping the tea.  “Tuesday night.”  Paris nods, but doesn’t say anything.  He doesn’t have to; I know what he’s thinking.

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Rainbow Connection; chapter two, part four

Chapter Two; Part Four

I am restless.  For the first time in the past month, I want to escape the apartment.  Up until this point, I have only left to go grocery shopping with Paris and to see my mother.  Each trip would have me panicking, seeking out possible killers.  One time I actually pulled Paris out of the Safeway and made him drive me home as fast as possible.  I spent the next hour curled up in a ball on the couch in the living room, covering my head with my arms.  Paris had sat next to me, patting me to reassure me that he was still with me.  Now, I want to leave.  I want to take a walk around the block, even at this time of night.  If Paris were home, I’d make him go for a walk with me.  He’d be ecstatic to do so at my behest, but I am not going to disturb his time with Lyle to take care of me.  For a minute, I toy with the idea of going on my own, but I know that would be folly.  Our neighborhood isn’t dangerous per se, but I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable walking around by myself in the dark after what had happened to me.

Pizza sounds good.  Maybe I can order some from Dominos or Pizza Hut.  They must deliver, even at nine at night.  I remember that Paris had mentioned leftover meatloaf and hurry to the kitchen.  His meatloaf is actually a turkey loaf with oregano and basil and dill.  Lots of onions and a sprinkling of olive oil perk up the potentially dull combination.  He adds jalapeno peppers with a liberal hand even though he doesn’t like spicy food as a whole.  He bakes the whole thing to a crispy brown, and it looks as luscious as it smells.  Even reheated, it’s a smashing dish.  In addition, he has made homemade mashed potatoes with gravy.  Asparagus spears round out the meal.  I nuke it all except the asparagus which I like to eat cold with a dollop of mayonnaise.  I dig into the plate of comfort food, eating every bite.  It’s the first time I’ve cleaned my plate in weeks.  Paris would be proud of me if he were here to witness it.  I am tempted to have a second helping, but I do not want to gain back the weight I have lost.  I grab two cookies and a glass of fat-free milk instead.  It’s a satisfying ending to a great meal.  I remember that I haven’t eaten any fruit today, so I peel an orange.  It’s just the right combination of citric and sweet.  I do the dishes and return to the living room.

Television holds no interest for me, though I try to watch an old episode of Law & Order.  I used to love that show, but now I find it too painful to watch.  I can’t read mysteries any longer, either.  Even when I know it’s fiction, my heart starts racing and I flash back to my own terrible experience.  I’m sure the shrinks would call it Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome or Disorder, but whatever it is, I don’t need to subject myself to it.  I’d rather read a trashy romance than pick up a Marcia Muller these days.  Which sucks because I love Marcia Muller.  Even fiction with heavy themes such as any book by Alice Sebold stops me cold.  I used to enjoy reading the latest book so I could be up on the trends even if only to diss them, but I cannot force myself to read such books these days.  No Faulkner or Styron, either.  Even the poetic classic Night by Elie Wiesel must remain unread.

Instead, I turn to insipid romances that are comfortingly mind-numbing in their inane plots and predictability.  Harlequin romances and soap operas have become my best friends.  I will read anything with a cheerful ending, even when I know it’s a bunch of bull.  Lie to me, I say to literature.  Make me believe that everything will turn out for the best.  That I will someday be healed again, that everything will be ok.  I, who used to be the paragon of truth, who hated to lie or to be told a lie, now wants to be soothed, to be comforted, to be lied to.  I don’t even care if I know it’s a lie as long as it does what it’s supposed to be.  No, we’re not going to war.  No, Dubya is not a stupid frat boy masquerading as president.  No, there are not Democrats frothing at the mouth to fight those damn towel-heads.  No, the CEOs for many big businesses such as Enron have not systematically screwed over their employees, their shareholders, and the general public.  None of this is happening if I can become immersed in Danielle Steele’s world.  Judith Krantz is a favorite as well.

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Rainbow Connection; chapter two, part three

Chapter Two; Part Three

“Rayne, it’s me, Vashti.”  The sound of her voice sends contradicting emotions through my body.  As much as she hurt me, she still has a pull over me.  My attraction to her hasn’t waned; I’m just more cautious about acting on it.  I think of her beautiful dark skin, hair and eyes, her full lips and the thin gold hoop through her right nostril.  Her lush curves.  I banish these images with difficulty and listen to her gorgeous voice which never fails to make me shiver.  “I know I have been making a pest of myself, but I can’t help it.  You are having every right to be upset with me—I am upset with myself.  I am wishing we can talk privately tomorrow so I can at least try to make things better.”  She pauses as her voice breaks.  She steadies it and continues.  “You are very important to me.  I will be very sad if we can’t at least be friends.  But I understand.  I’m sorry.  I do not know how many times I can say it, but it will never be enough.  See you tomorrow.”

I sit motionlessly long after the click.  This is the first time I’ve heard a whole message from her as I erase them as soon as I hear her voice.  The regret and pain in her voice shake me.  I had created this fantasy that she had withheld information from me intentionally because she cared more about the person she was trying to protect than she did me.  I needed to tell myself that in order to harden my heart against her—I needed that in order to not be stuck in the morass I found myself surrounded by.  After listening to her message, however, I can’t fool myself into believing that she meant me malicious harm when she lied to me.  I can’t even convince myself that she knew the other person was dangerous.  Being the person she is, Vashti tried to protect someone out of the misguided goodness of her heart.  She was the victim of an error in judgment—no more, no less.  That doesn’t mean I’ll trust her again, but at least I can begin letting go of the anger I am nursing against her.

I finish making the cookies.  I have ten dozen when I’m done, including the plate I gave to Paris.  I set aside fifty for the girls, which leaves fifty (after the twenty I’d already taken out for Lyle) for Paris and me.  To be more precise, forty for Paris and ten for me.  That’s the ratio between us—four to one.  I clean up the dishes—another gift from my mother.  She is lax in many ways, but she always cleans up right after baking.  She insists it’s integral to her mental well-being not to have dirty dishes sitting in her sink.  While I don’t mind letting dishes sit for a day or two, I really do feel better if I wash them right after using them.  Once the dishes are done, I go to the living room and flick on the television.  There is a college basketball game on, Florida versus Syracuse.  I’m not much for sports, but I do enjoy college hoops.  Not as much since kids are jumping to the NBA so early these days thereby decimating the college game, but I’ll watch a game when the mood hits me.

The game isn’t that interesting because Florida is thumping Syracuse.  There should be a mercy rule as there is in softball.  I switch to Comedy Central which is having a          marathon, a show I think is funny as hell.  Although they killed off my favorite character, Kenny, for good, and my favorite character from the movie, ‘the Mole’ died in the movie as well.  I’ll never forgive them for that, even if they did bring Kenny back.  I often thought if I ever had a kid, he would turn out to be like the Mole.  Bitter, cynical, brilliant, undercover guerilla.  More likely, the kid would be a staunch conservative who emulated Bush Senior and wore three-piece suits to school.  A kid like Libby.  If there is a god, she will end up with a kid like me.  I will laugh if that happens.  I can’t see Libby as a mother—she is so uptight and exacting.  If she has her way, her kid would eat, sleep, and shit on a schedule.  The kid would be painfully neat and not have an original thought of his own.  Then when he turned fifteen, he’d kill thirteen kids in his school before turning the gun on himself.  ‘He was such a quiet and nice boy,’ the neighbors would say, stunned that he could do such a thing.  Libby would be devastated and have to be heavily sedated.

South Park is showing one of my favorite episodes, the lesbian teacher episode.  Some of the dykes I know were outraged by the episode, but I think it’s hysterical to hear these little kids talk about ‘munching carpet’ and listening to the Indigo Girls in an attempt to be lesbians.  I think what I like so much about the show is that it truly captures how little kids think.  Like this episode.  It’s so obvious to adults that lesbians are women, but the boys don’t know that, so they think they can become lesbians by doing certain acts, listening to certain music and wearing certain clothes.  Logical thinking if you don’t know that a lesbian is a woman.  I become immerse in the episode, relieved to not be thinking again.  Eric Cartman is the perfect antidote for depression.

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Rainbow Connection; chapter two, part two

Chapter Two; Part Two

“I like him, too, but I’m not tagging along on your date.”  I interject a teasing note into my voice.  “One of us should be getting laid, and it’s not me.  Just remember, though, no glove, no love.”

“Girl, you know you don’t gotta worry about that with me,” Paris says with spirit.  He is the poster boy for safer sex; I wish all queer men would follow his lead.  I’m tired of losing so many of them to AIDS.  “Guess who emailed me last week?  Jenna.”

“No way!  I thought she gave up.”  Jenna was Paris’s last girlfriend—the one he broke up with just before meeting Lyle.  Paris had been dating her a month when she wanted to take it to the next level.  Problem is, the shine had already come off the relationship for him.  She did not take it well when he broke up with her.  His ex-lovers rarely did, but hers was the worst reaction in a long time.  He considered having her served with a restraining order, but she backed off just enough to make it a non-issue.

“I thought so, too.  Apparently she heard about the break-in and was concerned that I might be hurt.  She won’t be satisfied until she sees me with her own eyes that I’m ok.”  Paris’s lip twitched as he relays the information.  I struggle to keep my face solemn as well, but can’t.  We both know it’s just an excuse to see him again.  Paris has the misfortune of being utterly captivating to the people he dates, making it difficult for them to let go when he dumps them.  Make no mistake about it, he’s always the dumper not the dumpee.  The only time he didn’t dump his lover was when Brett died of AIDs.  Other than that, he’s batting a thousand.  I, on the other hand, am much more likely to be the dumped than the dumper.  By the gods of karma, it’s my right to dump the next five people I date.

“You going to see her?”  I know the answer before Paris even opens his mouth.  Any attention would only encourage her.  In some ways, I’m surprised.  She was such a drab mouse when he dated her.  He tends to be attracted to people who don’t shine as brightly as he does because he likes to be the one in the limelight.  Not physically, necessarily, as he likes beautiful people, but personality-wise.  Unfortunately for him—and for his lovers—then he gets bored because the other person can’t keep up.  This has been his pattern since I’ve known him.  Only Brett and now Lyle have been anomalies which is one reason I have high hopes for Lyle.  Another is that he’s just as good-looking as Paris is with his thick, dark curls and intense blue eyes.  He lifts weights religiously as does Paris; in fact, that’s how they met.  At Paris’s gym.  One look and it was instant lust.

“Hell, no!”  Paris says emphatically.  “I haven’t even answered the email, and I don’t intend to.”  He knows it’s better to be firm than to waffle.  “I’m hoping she’ll go away peacefully this time.”  I have my doubts, but I keep them to myself.  I don’t want to harsh on his high over Lyle.  “Hey, you said you were going over to Lisa’s tomorrow?”  He watches as I mix the batter and start shaping the cookies into little balls.  “Is Vashti going to be there?”  He doesn’t offer to help for the same reason I never offer to help him—each of us is fiercely territorial when cooking.  It’s hands-off for the other person.

“Yes.”  I nod my head, my eyes dimming.  I’m not sure I can face her.  I unconsciously finger the bridge of my nose where there is a bump from being pistol-whipped and broken.  Of course, I get dough on my nose and Paris wipes it off for me.  My right knee twinges as if it senses my thoughts.  That’s where I got sapped with the same gun that night.  My injuries are mostly healed, but they like to remind me now and then of what happened.

“You ready for that?”  Paris rubs my back sympathetically as I continue dropping cookie dough balls onto the cookie sheet.

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Rainbow Connection; chapter two, part one

Chapter Two

After fifteen minutes of petting by Paris, I go to my room to research the aforementioned topics.  I start with therapists in the San Francisco area and quickly realize that I will have to narrow my search in order to be more successful.  There are a million and one people hanging out their shingles in the Bay Area, and I have no way of knowing which are legit and which are not.  I could wait until Monday and ask around at the office for referrals, but I prefer not to mix my personal life with my professional one.  I start plugging in words such as ‘Mission District’ and ‘trauma therapy’ into the search field and finally come up with a manageable list.  After scanning a few websites and scribbling a few numbers down on the pad of paper I keep next to the computer, I do another search, this time for group therapies focusing on traumatic events.  That is too broad a topic, so I start winnowing.

It takes close to two hours, but I finally find a place in the Mission District called A Ray of Hope.  What is it about nonprofits that they always have to have cheesy names?  It’s a clinic that provides group therapy with a facilitator who has her MA in women-centered psychology.  The group is for women who are survivors of a traumatic event and allows new members once a month.  ‘The group will provide you with the tools to cope with your traumatic event.  Everything that’s said in the room stays in the room.  We hope to provide a safe and nurturing environment.’  I barely manage to not roll my eyes at the psych-speak.  I have a healthy dislike for anything that smacks of New Age.  It’s not that I don’t think therapy works; I do.  I just don’t see the need to talk about it in fey terms and breathy tones.  People who talk that way are trying too hard to sound sincere and usually come off sounding fakey.  However, I have promised Paris that I will do something about my depression, and I honor my promises.  Pushing aside my discomfort, I continue to read.  The meetings are Tuesday nights from seven to nine, and the upcoming Tuesday is the one where new members are allowed.  There is no fee.  I make a note of it in my calendar on my computer and power off.

I sit slumped in my chair thinking about therapy.  I’ve been in before—what child of the eighties hasn’t?  I don’t have the energy to invest in one-on-one therapy and decide that I’ll start with the group.  That way, I don’t have to say anything if I don’t want to, but I can jump in if I feel like it.  Sounds ideal given how low energy I’ve been the last month.  I close my eyes, but images of the gun pressed against my temple crowd my mind.  My eyes fly back open as I break out into a light sweat.  I am panting slightly, and my eyes dart from side to side, involuntarily.  I automatically note that the windows are shut and locked.  It makes me feel safer, though we are on the third floor.  The drapes are shut as I prefer them so no one can look inside.  I used to love to have as much sunshine in my room as possible, but I can no longer tolerate the light.  I want to move, but there really isn’t any place for Paris and me to go.  We got this two-bedroom apartment in the Mission before the dotcom boon with rent-control in place.  We each pay eight-hundred dollars a month, which is a steal in San Francisco.  Neither of us can afford to pay more than that per month, so we are pretty much stuck where we are.  Paris offered to switch rooms with me which I accepted, but as the rooms are identical, it hasn’t made much of a difference.

Replacing my bed helped, however, and making Paris paint the walls yellow to match the walls in the living room made me feel marginally better.  I painted the living room walls when Paris and I first moved in, much to the dismay of the landlord.  These days, however, he treats me with great care—like everyone else.  At least with him, it’s partly because he’s afraid I’ll sue him because the security in the building isn’t that great.  The killer got into the building and into my apartment without any help from me.  I’m letting the landlord sweat because he should suffer some considering what happened to me.  I won’t sue him, but he doesn’t need to know that yet.  He is giving us three months off from paying rent.  There is a deadbolt on the front door, too, courtesy of Dickie, the landlord.  Paris says I should have held out for six months rent, but I didn’t feel like haggling.  I don’t feel much like arguing with anybody these days.  I look around the room.  I have placed a few of Paris’s painting on the walls.  He has given me the brightest ones, insisting that I need a myriad of colors surrounding me.  I have to admit, they sure make the room less gloomy.  My favorite is one that Paris did of me and him in Dolores Park laughing and having a good time.  The faces are blurred, but if you look closely, you can see the resemblance.

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Rainbow Connection; chapter one, part two

Chapter One; Part Two

“Just that she’s sorry.”  Paris’s cold tone indicates what he thinks of her apology.  “She kept saying it.  Like she always does.”  He pauses to flip over whatever he’s making.  “As if that makes it all better.”  I sit there, tears silently dripping from my eyes.  Paris turns around and sees me.  “Oh, honey.”  He rushes over and pats me on the back before returning to his cooking.  “I could kill that girl, I really could.  What was she thinking?”  He shakes his head, giving me time to regroup.

“She thought she was protecting a friend,” I say, sniffling up some snot.  I know I must look a mess, but there isn’t much I can do about it.  “She was doing what she thought was right.”

“Then how come you’re not speaking to her?”  Paris asks, not expecting an answer.  He knows that even though I think Vashti did what she thought was best, she still severed the fragile ties that bound us.  I have no idea when—if ever—I will be willing to try to trust her again.

“How’s Lyle?”  I ask, switching subjects.  Yet another thing to feel guilty for.  Paris’s new love who has been getting the short shrift because Paris has had to spend so much time with me.

“He’s fine.  We’re getting together tonight, if you think you’ll be ok on your own.”  Paris glances anxiously at me, trying to gauge where I am mentally.  It saddens me that I have been reduced to this—my best friend tailoring his dates around my mental condition.

“Go.  Have a good time.  I insist.”  I don’t give a damn what I’m feeling like—Paris deserves a normal life.  In the past month, he’s gone out with Lyle four times, rushing back home before midnight each time.  They talk on the phone all the time and meet at the gym frequently, but it’s not the same.  No more.  “And this time, spend the night.”  I look hard at Paris to show that I’m serious.  Unfortunately, his back is to me, but I feel better, anyway.  A tiny step towards feeling more like myself.

“Here we go.”  Paris sets a plate in front of me.  It has an omelet on it along with a chocolate croissant.  My mouth waters at the heady aroma.  I cut into the omelet, watching the aged sharp cheddar cheese ooze out.  The omelet is bursting with ham, onions, broccoli, and red bell peppers.  I pop a tiny bit into my mouth and chew it slowly.  I don’t want to make myself sick, so I masticate the bite thoroughly.  I wash it down with a sip of milk and wait anxiously to see if it’ll stay down.  It does.  I take a bite out of the croissant.  Pure heaven with the melted chocolate running down my throat.  Encouraged, I take a bigger bite of the omelet and immediately start retching.  Dropping my fork, I race to the bathroom and kneel by the toilet.  I am able to lift the seat in time just as the food forces its way back up my throat.  It doesn’t taste nearly as good going up as it did going down.  I have tears in my eyes as I finish gagging.

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