Ed. Note: I wrote this nearly twenty years ago in memory of my time in San Francisco. It’s the second of a trilogy, and I had a lot of fun writing it. Let’s see how well it’s aged, shall we?
Paris runs his hands down my body, taking his time. He stares in adoration at my generous curves, even though he usually prefers his women a bit more waifish. I’m short, which he likes, but curvier than his usual suspects. He licks his lips in anticipation as he peels off each piece of my clothing until he finally uncovers my naked body which is waiting for him to touch me. Every nerve is crying out to him as he lovingly picks up the chainsaw resting by his hand. My eyes widen as he starts it. I try to move, but my arms are tied to the bed. He turns on the chainsaw and raises it high in the air. He is grinning savagely as he lowers the chainsaw, his wide-set green eyes dancing with maniacal glee. My struggles increase as the chainsaw bypasses my head and nears my breasts.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I shout at Paris, my best friend, only the words are stuck in my throat and can’t be heard. I scream as the blade bites into my left breast. Paris acts as if he hasn’t heard me, so intent is he on the task at hand. I cannot believe he is doing this to me; we have been best friends for fourteen years, and he’s going to hack me apart with a chainsaw? He pauses, lifting the chainsaw. Chocolate syrup is oozing out of the wound. He leans close to my ear.
“Rayne, Rayne, wake the fuck up.” What? Why is he saying that? I struggle to get away from his hot breath, but he won’t leave me alone. “You’re having a bad dream. Wake up!” I listen to what he’s saying, but it makes no sense. He is shaking me, leaving the chainsaw to the side. I slowly realize that I’ve been dreaming, and I allow myself to be roused from my sleep.
“Paris?” I open one eye and see my best friend’s face filled with concern. “What time is it? What day is it?”
“It’s six in the morning. Saturday morning. February. You were screaming so loud, I could hear you from my room.” His green eyes, the same ones that had tormented me in my dream, gaze at me with concern. I stare at him, his eyes, the blond hair, the muscular frame, as if I’ve never seen him before. He sits on the edge of my bed and gathers me in his arms. We have done this nightmare things so many times, we have it down to a science. He has to repeat the same information to me after each episode. Time of day, what day, what month.
“Paris, it was horrible. You had me tied down and were cutting me apart with a chainsaw.” I huddle against his muscular body, feeling the fear I hadn’t allowed myself to feel in the dream. He is almost a foot taller than I, and I take comfort in his bulk. It’s been this way for the last month, ever since I almost lost my life to a killer with nothing to lose and everything to gain by killing me. Paris is a part-time personal trainer, and one of his client’s girlfriends was killed at a party Paris and I attended. The client herself was killed shortly after. Paris and I were suspects until I cleared our names, almost losing my life and my faith in humanity at the same time. A month later, I am nowhere near recovered.
“It was only a dream,” Paris says firmly, still holding me close. I am wearing sweats which is unlike me. I usually sleep naked, but haven’t since the killer broke into our apartment while I was sleeping—yes, naked—and terrorized me. Paris also sleeps nude, but he threw on a pair of sweats before rushing into my room. I am all-too-aware of his naked chest under my cheek. I pull away slightly, not wanting to think about such things. “I’ll make you some tea.” Paris pats me on the back before slipping out of the room. I huddle under my blankets, but am too wide-awake to even attempt going back to sleep. These days, I just cannot get warm enough. I pull the blankets up to my chin, not daring to move. If I remain still, the demons have less of a chance to catch up to me.
I avoid looking in a mirror as I have lost twenty pounds in the last month and have circles under my eyes. While I could afford to lose the first ten or so pounds, the last ten put me past the point of attractiveness. My nose is slightly askew from having been broken. My skin is splotchy and ashen, not making for a palatable picture. My usually lively brown eyes are dull, and my ear-length black hair is limp. The rest of my decline is enough to make me cry—again. I look ten years older than my twenty-eight years. What I can’t stand the most is how unbearably kind everyone has been. I am on-leave with pay from my job as an administrative assistant for a nonprofit agency, but that ends tomorrow. I have to go back Monday or I will be terminated. I am tempted to walk away from the job, but I need the money. I would gladly love to take a few more months to heal from the trauma I have experienced, but I simply don’t have that kind of time at my disposal.
“Here’s the tea. Green.” Paris enters the room quietly, holding out the mug. He has been treating me as if I am fragile which is getting on my nerves. I know he’s had nightmares, too, but not nearly as many or as bad as mine. After all, he wasn’t the one held at gunpoint by a crazed person who had gone over the deep end. He wasn’t home that night as he had a sleepover date. I know he still berates himself for not being there for me, but what is he supposed to do? Stay home all the time in case someone threatens me? I wouldn’t expect that from a partner, let alone a friend, especially since nobody knew this person would come after me. I sit up and accept the mug from Paris, sipping at the hot tea. It soothes me as it burns my throat; I like my tea hot. Paris has made a cup for himself even though he’s more of a coffee guy, and we drink together in silence. I am a true Asian as I find tea a great comfort in times of distress.
The first few times I had the nightmares, Paris would pester me with questions about them until one time, I burst into tears. It is more traumatic for me to relive them immediately upon waking than to let them sit for a while. He has learned to remain silent and to let me set the pace for talking. It’s difficult for him because he is impetuous and doesn’t like to wait for anything. When I’m in a joking mood, I tell him it’s a good way for him to practice Zen. He usually retorts that he’s not Buddhist. Neither of us is particularly religious, but I like to think of myself as spiritual. However, my ideas of benevolence and good in all people were severely tested by my recent ordeal. As much as I try, I cannot wrap my brain around the idea that a just god, a good god, a loving god would allow what happened to happen. I know intellectually if s/he/it didn’t, then we wouldn’t have free will. Somehow, that is little comfort when staring down the barrel of a gun.
“Want to talk about it?” Paris asks, his arm around me. I snuggle against him, grateful to have him in my life. I shake my head, not ready to deconstruct my latest nightmare. In some ways, I prefer it to the realistic ones that simply follow what actually occurred. At least with this fantastical type of nightmare, I have a chance of realizing that it’s a dream and that I don’t have to be afraid. It hasn’t happened yet, but I have to have some hope. I sip my tea, exhausted from the dream. In the past month, I haven’t slept through the night once. Poor Paris has been by my side more mornings than not, so his quality of sleep isn’t much better than mine. “Are you going to go back to sleep?” Paris asks, taking the mug from my hand after I’m done with my tea. I nod my head, finding talking to be too much an effort at the moment.
Paris kisses me on the forehead before standing up. He sets the cups on the floor so he can tuck me in. I reach up and hug him, pulling him to me. He kisses me again, picks up the cups and exits the room, leaving it slightly ajar and the lights on. I slide under the covers and pull them up to my chin. I root around under them for my stuffed pig that I’ve had since I was ten. His name is Wilfred, and he usually sits on my bookshelf, but I’ve been sleeping with him for the last month. He sleeps on my chest with his head just under my chin. He’s a medium-sized pig with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen. My parents gave him to me for my tenth birthday. He’s the best present they’ve ever given me, bar none. My sister, Libby, three years younger, is the worst. Her birthday is the day after mine, which both of us hate. Mine is October 23rd, and hers is the 24th. Of course, when we were kids, we had to celebrate them together.
I turn over in my bed, trying to find a comfortable position. I set Wilfred to the side so he won’t get squished. I pet his worn-out head in a comforting rhythm until I fall asleep. This time, there are no nightmares to wake me nor good dreams to soothe me. There is only nothingness, which is a welcomed state these days. It’s the reason I drink more than I usually do, though Paris disapproves. His father was an alcoholic before he died from cirrhosis of the liver, which is why Paris rarely touches alcohol unless under extreme duress. I, on the other hand, grew up with hippie parents who smoked weed, called each other, ‘dude’, and drank homemade dandelion wine, but never overdid any of it. I have no prohibition against pharmaceuticals of any sort though I’m not crazy about weed. I have a few joints stashed in my drawer, however, courtesy of my mother, which I smoke now and then to see me through a particularly rough day or night.
When I awake, I feel worse than before I went to sleep. I struggle to sit up before falling back onto my pillows. I plunk Wilfred on my chest and gaze into his piggy face. I kiss his snout and just lie there, not ready to face the world. My mother has been urging me to see someone about my lingering depression, but what can anyone tell me? “It takes time to heal. Give yourself plenty of nurturing.” I don’t need a professional to tell me that, nor do I have the money. Besides, I don’t want to take some pills that will just push all the emotions under the surface. I don’t want to walk around in a halcyonic, pill-induced haze, surveying the world dully from my own little planet. I need to deal with my grief and pain, not medicate it away. Of course, Libby is an enthusiastic proponent of Prozac, something she lives for—and on. She is getting married in less than five months and has upped her dosage accordingly. I recall her last email to me, the recalcitrant bridesmaid. I received it just a week ago.
Rayne, I can’t believe you’re still not back to work yet. Don’t you see that the best thing you can do is get your mind off what happened? What you need to do is get on Prozac and get back on the saddle. The more time you have on your hands, the more brooding you’re going to do. I hope you’ve at least managed to start losing the ten pounds for the wedding—trauma is great for weight loss. Please keep me updated on your progress and remember the timetable. You should have the dress and accessories bought by now. Might as well book the plane ticket, too. It’s never too early to get a jump on things. Libby. P.S. Hope you feel better soon.
This is a nice email from her. She usually emails me at work, but since I haven’t been to work in a month, she’s been forced to email me at home. Before the traumatic event, Libby and I were not speaking to each other, and I was most emphatically not attending her wedding because she had made ridiculous demands on me as a bridesmaid that included no talking about politics with her fiancé’s friends. Needless to say, I’m stridently Democratic while Libby and her Wall Street clique are elephants. I had compromised on some of the issues while standing firm on others. As a result, she kicked me out of the wedding party and forbade me from going to the wedding at all, which was fine with me. It’s only after the trauma that my mother made us make up and Libby re-invited me to partake in her wedding. My mother is helping me defray costs, but it’s still going to take a bite out of my depleted savings account. I am doing it mostly to please my mother whose one wish in this lifetime is to see my sister and me get along. It’s one of the few Taiwanese traditional beliefs that she still harbors—family is of utmost important. She wants my sister and I to be best friends like she is with her sister. It’s not going to happen, but I can at least try.
I swing my legs out of bed and shiver as I step on the cold floor. I shove my feet into my slippers and pull my black robe around me. It’s new, to reflect what I’ve gone through. I can’t bear to wear the one I had before. The slippers are new, too, courtesy of Paris. He gave me my last pair which were bunnies, but they felt too frivolous after the assault, so he bought me a pair of plain black ones. I much prefer to go barefoot around the apartment as I usually do, but it’s too cold when I first wake up to do so. It’s noon, about the time I get up these days. I set Wilfred on the pillow and kiss him on the top of his head. I make my way to the bathroom and take a long shower. It’s the one luxury that I allow myself as it’s the only thing that makes me feel halfway human. I stay under the water until it begins to cool, then I get out of the shower. I slip on the same sweats that I had worn to bed, brush my teeth, then pad my way to the kitchen. Paris has taken to cooking huge brunches on the weekends to tempt my finicky appetite. It’s usually for naught, however, as I am rarely hungry. When I reach the kitchen, the enticing smell of chocolate greets my nose. Paris knows the way to my heart is to coat my stomach with chocolate, so he makes sure to have some form of it with every meal he cooks.
Paris Frantz. My best friend. Personal trainer at a gym called ‘N Sound Shape on Valencia, and part-time model, though he’s not done much of the latter because he’s been keeping an eye on me. He’s even dropped out of his all-men’s group because he no longer has the time to attend. He says he doesn’t mind.
The story of his name goes that his parents were vacationing in Paris for their honeymoon when they conceived. They fell in love with Paris, and decided to name their child Paris in honor of his birth place. As Paris used to say, ‘I can’t believe they went nine months without once thinking how ‘Paris’ would sound with ‘Frantz’!’ Recently, Paris found out he was adopted and that the story behind the creation of his name was a fabrication. His adoptive parents named him ‘Paris’ after the city they most wanted to see, but never quite managed to do so. Regardless of how he acquired his name, it suits him, and I couldn’t picture him as anything but. It’s not something I talk about with him, however, as he still hasn’t come to terms with being adopted or with his highly religious mother lying to him about it for so many years. She only told him, well, me, actually, because it had bearings on the murder case we were involved in.
“How are you feeling?” Paris asks as I enter the kitchen, keeping a wary eye on me. I miss the easygoing relationship we used to have where we’d joke with each other, insult each other, and generally treat each other like family. Now, he is so solicitous towards me, it’s as if we’ve never traded intimacies in our lives.
“Not bad.” I grab a carton of fat-free milk from the fridge and pour myself a glass. As I sit down to drink it—Pa.ris refuses all offers of help when he’s cooking—my stomach suddenly turns at the smell of it. I take a cautious sip, but it makes me want to puke, so I set it on the table far away from me. I put my head on the table as I wait for Paris to feed me. He is a great cook, but I haven’t been in the position to appreciate him lately.
“Vashti called again.” Paris’s tone is neutral, but I can hear a tinge of anger behind the blandness. I sit up at the mention of the name. Vashti is a friend who was involved with one of the murdered women and had neglected to impart a few important pieces of information which might have kept me safe from the killer. She is also someone I am attracted to and slept with twice before the attack on me. We were on the cusp of a relationship when the whole mess came to a conclusion, and as a result, I haven’t talked to her since. My trust in her was shattered, and I have a hard time believing that it can ever be rebuilt again. “I told her I’d give you the message, but that’s it. Consider the message delivered.” He is facing the stove so he cannot see the expression on my face. It is a cross between anger and pain.
“Did she say anything else?” I have thought of her every day for the past month, but I haven’t been able to talk to her. Not yet. Not when I still don’t understand why she lied to me.