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.
Some would point out that many of these books are laden with angst and tribulation, but I would counter that because it’s so far removed from reality, it’s more like comedy. Princess Daisy is a fairytale for adults—not something anyone would mistake as remotely possible. Same with the soaps. A lot of terrible things happen, but I never once think that anything happening is real. I never once forget that I am watching a soap opera whose sole purpose is to entertain and titillate me. I’m proud to say that I have not had to engage my brain for the past month, but it’s starting to wear thin. There are only so many ways a man can look soulfully into a woman’s eyes without it becoming tedious. I am beginning to long for something with a bit more depth to it. I suppose it’s an indication that I am progressing in my healing process, but it could also just be my native intelligence kicking in.
I think about my sister Libby and her upcoming wedding. What would it be like to marry someone? I can’t seem to stay committed to a person, let alone marry him/her. I know that Libby is doing the whole traditional thing—white dress, long train, full veil. I wonder who she’s going to have give her away. I can’t imagine it would be Mom. Most likely, it’ll be Libby’s boss who is, in her words, a kindly avuncular man with no children of his own. He treats her as an adopted daughter and envisions her taking over for him some day. That, of course, makes her even more insufferable than ever. If I didn’t know three ways to pierce her ego faster than you could say ‘bullshit’, I’d really hate her. Her three weaknesses: her ‘small, slanty eyes’ in her words; her flat nose; her chunky thighs. Yes, she’s a typical woman in that if you attack her looks, you can make her crumble. She’s always envied me my American eyes and the fact that my nose has a bridge. She used to wear a clothespin on her nose to bed when she was little, until my mom made her remove it. I wonder if she still does it from time to time.
Thinking of Libby reminds me that she wants to hear from me to see how my dieting is going and if I have my dress. I have it, but it no longer fits since I lost twenty pounds and not the ten that she recommended. Ordered. The dress was ugly to begin with being a mauve tiered chiffon dress from Nordstrom. Tiers and tiers of fluff with spaghetti straps. I am not a pastel kind of gal, and it kills me to be shelling out over a thousand dollars total to look like a Taiwanese Barbie doll, even if my mom is footing most of the bill. At least Paris has agreed to go to the wedding with me if he can swing it. I think it’s more because it’s in NYC than out of loyalty to me. He loves New York as any gay man would. I wonder if Lyle would be able to go. That would be fabulous—chilling with the two of them. Besides, with my bridesmaid duties, it would be nice for Paris to have someone to hang out with. I have a hunch that my sister would not approve of Paris bringing his male lover, however. In fact, I have a strong feeling that she would throw a hissy fit if I even suggested it. That doesn’t stop me from planning on asking Paris if Lyle could make it. Even Libby wouldn’t ban him from the premises if he just showed up. Besides, there’s bound to be one or two people who say they can make it, but don’t. Lyle can take one of their places.
Somehow, I end up falling asleep on the couch. Before the incident, I never remembered my dreams. Since the trauma, I can’t forget them. This time, the dream starts out innocuously enough with me going out for a drink with Quinn. She looks hot in a black latex mini-dress that barely covers her ass. She is sporting a whip and a cap as well. I am dressed in a long, gauzy white dress with the middle three buttons buttoned, a collar around my neck and nothing else. The dress is semi see-through, so I am showing off parts of my body in alluring glimpses. We are at the Lex where many women are giving me lusty looks. Quinn is flourishing her whip at anybody who dares approach us. One woman is brave enough to keep nearing us even though Quinn is cracking her whip ferociously. The woman is grinning like an idiot as she advances. Suddenly, she morphs into the person who attacked me, and Quinn has vanished. My hands are tied behind my back with the very whip that Quinn had been sporting, and I’m bent over a table, my face pressed to it. My ass is vulnerable to anyone who wants it. I struggle to free myself, but I can’t. My heart is beating in anticipation/fear of what might happen. I moan as I wait. And wait. And wait. My heart starts beating faster as I’m sure that something horrible is going to happen. After all, the killer is right behind me. My face turns red from the stress. My heart is beating twice as fast as it should be—I’m convinced it’s going to burst out of my chest.
I wait some more. My dress has fallen from me, so I am standing there naked. Even though no one is holding me in that position, I cannot get up. No matter how much I struggle, I am stuck. Whether by my own fear or by some invisible force, I cannot say. “Please!” I scream in my head. Please what? That I do not know. There is an interminable, prolonged silence that is filled with meaning. Then, laughter floats to me from all around, assaulting my ears until I can take it no longer. My heart racing, I make one last effort to stand. As I do, I feel someone behind me. I whirl around and clock the person in the face, sure it’s the killer. Only, it’s Paris, and I have a knife in my hand. The blade slices through his cheek as his eyes widen in surprise. “Oh my god!” I reach out to him, but he backs away with alacrity. He is panicked and disoriented by the blow. “Paris!” Do I say his name out loud? My hands are no longer tied, but they are heavy.
“Rayne, why have you done this to me?” Paris’s face is disintegrating as he backpedals. Tears are making rivulets in my cheeks—there is nothing I can say to make it better. “Rayne, Rayne! You have to wake up.” Somebody is shaking me! I struggle to free myself, but it’s too much. “Rayne! Can you hear me?” I drift towards consciousness, not sure I want to go there.
“Paris?” I open one eye and see two very concerned faces staring down at me—Paris and Lyle. Paris is reciting the information that I need to ground myself. I am ashamed that anyone other than Paris has seen me in this state. I jump up from the couch and run to my bedroom, slamming the door behind me. I fling myself on my bed and weep into the covers. I wonder if there will be a day where I don’t cry. There is a knock on the door, but I ignore it. Paris opens the door, anyway.
“Rayne,” he begins, then stops. What is there left to say? Nothing. We have done this song and dance one too many times for there to be any meaning left in it. He sits next to me and gathers me in his arms. I sob wordlessly, too drained for sound. He strokes my hair silently. We sit like this for who knows how long until I break away.
“Go,” I push at him, pasting a smile on my face. “You have company. What are you doing home, anyway? I thought I ordered you to spend the night.”
“We decided to come back here. My bed is nicer than his.” His tone is casual, but he can’t fool me. I know the real reason why he’s back, and while I’m touched, I also worry that Lyle will get sick of it before long. “He understands,” Paris says, reading something in my face. “Honestly.” I’m glad someone does because I sure as hell don’t. As much as I can intellectually appreciate that I’m going through PTSD, I can’t fully embrace the idea. Somehow, to me, it’s weak to slap a label on your problems and declare yourself on the way to being cured.
“Everything ok in here?” Lyle pokes his head in cautiously. He flashes a smile at me—a genuine one. “Wanted to make sure that my superior comforting skills weren’t needed. I have a hanky in my pocket solely for the reason of rescuing damsels in distress.” He pats his pants’ pocket, causing me to smile wanly. He crosses over to the bed and sits besides me, leaving a healthy amount of space between us. I appreciate that he realizes he doesn’t know me well enough to invade my personal space; not many people would understand that.
“Yeah, we’re just having a Kumbyah moments,” Paris quips.
“Thanks for the cookies,” Lyle says to me. “They’re delicious.” It strikes me as funny that we’re sitting in my room talking about cookies after I just freaked out in front of them. I laugh because it feels good. The guys join me and soon, none of us can stop. I make a mental note to myself to laugh like this at least once a day to retain my sanity.
“Ok, boys. Thanks for the giggles and the love, but—and don’t take this the wrong way—get out.” I smile fondly at them so they know I’m kidding. “I vant to be alone.”
“Listen, Greta,” Paris says, wagging his finger in my face. “You had another of your nightmares, and I want to make sure you’re ok.”
“You got better things to do,” I say, making a not-so-discreet look over at Lyle. “I’ll get you if I need ya.” Seeing the skeptical look on his face compelled me to add, “Really.” The boys give me a hug then head out the door. I watch them with a pang as they slip their arms around each other. It has been so long since I’ve had someone to love, and now? No way am I in any shape for any kind of relationship. I hop out of bed, head to the bathroom and get ready for bed even though it’s only midnight. I used to be a night owl, but now it seems as if I can’t stay up much past midnight. It might have something to do with waking up each morning before the break of dawn which fucks with me even if I manage to get back to sleep. This time, my sleep is dreamless.