“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.
“Rayne, are you ok?” Paris is hovering behind me, a worried look on his face. He hands me a glass of water without waiting for me to ask. This, too, has become part of the daily ritual; I throw up on average of once a day.
“Go away,” I whimper, clutching the toilet. Suddenly, tears are streaming down my face, and I’m sobbing in earnest. Paris gently raises me to my feet and helps me rinse my mouth. He washes my face as if I’m a little girl, then guides me to the living room. He settles me on the couch before sitting besides me. He doesn’t say anything as he pulls me to him and lets me cry, literally, on his shoulder. I weep for what seems like hours but is probably minutes. “I’m sorry, Paris,” I murmur when the tears finally subside. “You must be getting sick of this.” Even though he nursed a lover through said lover’s dying days—from AIDS—this has to be harder in some respects as there’s nothing physically wrong with me.
“You listen to me, Rainbow Freedom Liang, and you listen hard.” I can tell Paris is steamed because he’s using my hated real name instead of the nickname I prefer. “You went through something no human being should have to experience, and you lived to tell about it. That’s not something that will just go away on its own. Don’t you dare apologize to me for having some trouble dealing with the aftermath.” He stares at me sternly, daring me to contradict him. I shrug instead and settle back on his shoulder. I am worn out, and I’ve been up for half an hour. I can’t go on like this. Every day, it seems like I’m losing more ground. If I don’t get some help soon, I will go under, and I will drown.
“I think I want to try to eat again,” I say in a small voice. Paris helps me to my feet, and we return to the kitchen. I nuke my plate then sit down to face it. Paris has his own plate and is eating with a healthy appetite. He makes a conscious effort not to look at me as I pick up my fork. For a minute, the fork is frozen in the air. I can’t remember how to use it. Paris’s hand closes over mine and helps me cut off a corner of the omelet, then aims the fork towards my mouth. He looks so like a concerned mother, I burst into laughter. He looks affronted for a minute before joining in the merriment. Each time one of us would start calming down, we’d look at each other and start over again. It feels damn good to laugh without restraint, I don’t want it to ever stop. Finally, we both wind down. I wipe the tears from my eyes and begin eating on my own. After three bites of omelet and two bites of the croissant, I am full. At least this time, I don’t feel like throwing up. I’m even able to drink three sips of milk without gagging. After I’m through, I get up and start on the dishes after placing the uneaten portions in Tupperware. Paris and my agreement is that since he cooks, I do the dishes. This is the first time in the last month that I’ve been able to hold up my end of the bargain.
“You don’t have to do that,” Paris says as he shovels his omelet into his mouth. “Just leave it. I’ll get to them when I’m finished.”
“No. You’ve coddled me long enough.” That comes out more sharply than I intend, so I soften it with a smile. “Paris, you’ve been great. The best friend a woman could ask for, but it’s time sister started doing it for herself.” I flick some water at him which he dodges easily. He smiles at me before continuing to eat. For the first time in a long time, I feel all right. I have no illusions that it’ll last for anything more than a hot minute, but it’s nice to experience it while I can.
When Paris is done eating, he brings his plates over to me and places them in the sink. We move with the ease of a married couple without the petty bickering or the jealousy. We are best friends; we have been lovers—but we both agree that we make better friends than lovers. Paris was my first male lover when I was a first-year college student, and in some ways, is still the standard against which I measure potential lovers. I was not his first, but I know I hold a special place in his heart. In the span of the time we’ve been friends, he’s had countless lovers, most who haven’t lasted more than a week or two. Lyle is the first one who has managed to interest him for more than a month since Paris’s long-term lover died of AIDS years ago. I’ve met Lyle a few times, and I like his easygoing style and deadpan-sense of humor. In fact, we get along so well that Paris jokes about being afraid I’ll steal Lyle away from him. I always reassure him that Lyle isn’t my type. Paris tends to go for buffed-out guys like himself whereas I like the more androgynous, almost-feminine types. Along the same lines, I like more androgynous women while Paris goes for the more stereotypical feminine women. We are each other’s anomaly.
The phone rings, shattering my pensive mood. Paris gets it as I’m still working on the dishes. He holds out the phone to me, waiting until I dry my hands. As soon as I accept the phone, Paris leaves the room. It’s Lisa from my Asian women group—a group I founded by running an ad on Craigslist that said in part, “This is a social thing, not a political animal. We will not be organizing protests every month, nor will we talk compulsively about the racism which permeates our lives. You must definitely know how to laugh at yourself and the fucked-up society in which we live. No man-haters allowed. There will definitely be potlucks with meat involved.” There are five of us total. We meet once or twice a month. Our meetings revolve around but are not limited to food. Unfortunately, this is how I met Vashti, so I am avoiding the group for the time being. There is no way I can attend knowing she’ll be there, but I cannot forbid her from going, either. As a result, I have begged off the last two meetings with some lame-assed excuse, but they all know the truth. To give credit where credit is due, Vashti told ‘the girls’ as I call them what had happened and didn’t spare herself in the telling. I learned the details from Lisa, the one I’m closest to besides Vashti. I’m not in the mood to talk to Lisa, but I know I can’t run from her forever.
“Hello?” I say reluctantly, sitting down at the table. I am determined to hold on to my ‘I’m ok’ feeling even if the conversation turns out to be a downer.
“Hey, Rayne. How are you doing?” There it is—that cautious tone one uses when talking to someone who is so mentally fragile, one doesn’t know when she’ll break. ‘Handling with kids’ gloves’ is how the expression goes, I believe.
“Good, and you?” I say in a breezy tone. Maybe if I keep repeating it, I’ll begin to believe it. It certainly beats moping around with my thumb up my ass.
“Good, good.” Her tone is still careful. “I’ve been offered partnership at my firm.” Lisa is a lawyer, and a damn good one at that, though she tends to be scattered in her personal life.
“Congratulations.” I force myself to sound hearty. I am truly glad for her, but what she is saying is alien to me; it’s as if she is speaking a foreign language. Partnership? Firm? What world is she from? Is it the same as the one I inhabit? While I’m struggling with not feeling like shit every day, seeking desperately for a reason to get out of bed in the morning, she’s being offered partnerships at her firm. How does one make partner, anyway?
“I’m not sure I want to take it,” Lisa continues, her voice tinny. It occurs to me that this conversation is difficult for her as well. I feel a stirring of sympathy for her. “It means more hours, more work, for very little more money but a shit-load of prestige.” I idly wonder if she says ‘shit-load’ at work. Somehow, I doubt it; it’s not befitting for a partner to speak in such terms. She is making well into the six-figures, so I cannot empathize with the very little more money part as I consider myself lucky to be making forty thou a year. She does work hard, though, I’ll grant her that.
“It sounds like a great opportunity.” Is that my voice sounding so calm and normal? I resist the impulse to look around to see if someone has taken over my body. I certainly do not feel calm and normal. “But I also understand your reservations. I guess you just have to weigh the pros and cons.”
“Yeah.” Lisa’s tone shifts. “Listen. The girls are having a shindig tomorrow at my place. I was wondering if you’d like to come. I know it’s short notice…” Her voice falters. “It’s nothing fancy.”
“Is Vashti going to be there?” I immediately wish I could take back the question. No reason to drag Lisa into the middle of that situation.
“Actually, that’s the reason I’m calling. She’d really like it if you came.” Lisa’s voice has completely lost the assurance it normally carries. I can tell that she does not feel comfortable playing messenger, and I don’t blame her one bit.
“I’m sorry, Lisa,” I say remotely. “That won’t be possible. Give my best to everyone, ok?” We say our good-byes and hang up. I close my eyes, trying to squeeze out the pain. I want to see Vashti, but I’m not ready to face her yet; I don’t know when or if I will be.
I sympathize with Lisa for being caught between Vashti and me. She is a good friend, and she doesn’t deserve being made to feel like she has to choose sides. I also feel a pang since I haven’t been as close to any of the girls since the falling out. Besides Vashti, Lisa is the one I miss the most, partly for selfish reasons. I have had a crush on her ever since I met her. She’s five-feet eight inches tall, willowy with classic features of a Korean woman. She has the thick, blue-black hair that I would kill for, and it falls to her waist. When she’s not working, she dresses in retro outfits that look as if they’re tailor-made for her. Too bad for me and for the rest of the queer women of the Bay Area that Lisa is straight. That doesn’t stop me from lusting after her, however; it merely stops me from acting upon it. Despite my attraction to her, we have become good friends. However, she is also close to Vashti. Consequently, I have only seen Lisa once in the past month.
“Hey, you ok?” Paris pokes his head into the kitchen to check up on me. I nod my head wordlessly, handing the phone back to him.
“I think I’ll take a nap.” I try to smile, but am not able to quite manage it.
“Come on, Rayne, don’t do that. Come watch TV with me.” Paris grabs me by the arm and leads me to the living room. We plop down on the couch and turn on the television. There is nothing on but sports which neither of us are in the mood to watch, so he turns it back off. We stare at the blank screen, which is a definite improvement. Paris turns to me with an unusually grave look in his clear green eyes. “Rayne, I have something to say, and you may not like it.” He waits for me to nod before continuing. “You need help. Professional help.” He sees that I am about to interrupt and hurries on. “I’m doing the best I can, but I’m not a psychiatrist. You need someone objective.”
I tense up. We’ve talked about this before, and we have run the subject into the ground. I bring up expense, and Paris points out sliding scales. I say I want someone with a Ph.D., and Paris calls me a snob. He brings up groups which don’t interest me in the least. There’s no way I want to share my secrets with a bunch of strangers when I have a hard enough time doing so with friends and family. Our voices rise as we argue. Every solution Paris comes up with, I shoot down. I know that I’m being difficult, but I just don’t like the idea of therapy. Oh, theoretically, I’m all for it. I know it’s help countless people, but not me. I’m from the school of thought that no one can help you better than you can help yourself. Even if my mind knows that’s not true, it’s what I believe in my heart.
“You have to do something,” Paris says desperately. “Do you know how hard it is for me to constantly worry about you? It’s affecting my sleep; my mind; my body—my soul. Every time I’m not with you, I’m worried to death about you. I watched Brett die, and I cannot lose you, too. I can’t! Maybe that’s selfish of me, but there you go.” To my astonishment, Paris’s eyes are watery. Paris does not cry easily, and it hurts that I’m the one causing him pain.
“Ok, I will.” I pat him on the arm, trying to comfort him. For the first time in the last month, someone else’s pain is more important to me than my own. I guess some would consider that progress.
“What? What will you do? Specifically, I mean?” Paris pushes it because he knows me too well. I’m not the greatest with follow-through. I promise him that I will research groups and therapists on the web, and he’s forced to be satisfied with that. He gets me to promise that I’ll research antidepressants at the same time. He is not pro-drugs as my sister is, but he’s not anti-them, either. His motto is, ‘Whatever works.’ If it’s drugs, great. If not, then something else. In the end, I promise him to do as much research as I can stand about the entire subject of therapy. For the next few days, Yahoo will be my best friend.
We just sit there, Paris’s arm draped around my shoulders. I lean my head on his chest, feeling vaguely comforted. What do people do without best friends? Paris strokes my arm rhythmically as he holds me, soothing the agitation inside. I am not living right now, but merely surviving. I can’t think about anything other than getting out of bed and making it through the day. My friends insist that survival is a victory in and of itself, but I do not see it in that fashion. The fact that I can drag myself out of bed each morning and go through the motions is not a reason for celebration. However, it is all I can manage right now. Am I lucky to be alive? Perhaps, though I’m not feeling so lucky at the moment. Ask me in another month or two; I may be able to give you a more coherent response.