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.
I stumble over to my bed and flop down, staring at the ceiling. It has only been a few hours since I got up, but I am exhausted again. I crawl under the covers, promising myself that I’ll just take a short nap. My nights are fragmented and filled with fear, and I need to rest. I wake up two to three times a night, usually screaming. I know the doctors recommend not taking naps because it throws off the sleep cycle even more, but I actually sleep dreamlessly when I nap, so I ignore conventional wisdom. I tell myself to set my alarm for an hour later but can’t force myself to do it. That would require too much effort. I immediately drop off to sleep with my feet sticking out from under the covers. It seems as if I’ve just nodded off when I’m shaken awake.
“Rayne, get up.” Paris’s voice sounds as if it’s coming from far away. I try to escape it, but he’s persistent. “You know you shouldn’t nap.” Times like this, I wish I lived on my own. In theory, that’s a great idea. In reality, the state I’m in, I’d never leave the apartment. Paris shakes me gently until I finally succumb to his pressure and open my eyes.
“What?” I am grumpy as I do not wake up easily. I rub my eyes and yawn, stealing a peek at the clock. I’ve slept for over two hours. I look twice to make sure I’m reading it correctly. It’s a digital clock, however, and the numbers remain the same. It certainly doesn’t feel as if I’ve slept that long.
“Phone.” Paris holds out the phone and waits for me to take it. Before the ordeal, Paris never answered the phone, preferring to let me or the machine pick up. Now, however, I am the one who refuses to answer the phone, so he has taken it upon himself to screen the calls. He rarely lets Libby through, but my mom has unlimited access. The girls are allowed through, but Vashti isn’t. Quinn, a coworker, and Sandra, my supervisor are allowed on a limited basis while Alicia, another co-worker is not allowed at all. It’s necessary to have these boundaries so I feel comfortable when Paris hands me the phone. “It’s Lisa again.”
“What’s up?” I struggle to sit up as Paris exits, leaving the door ajar. I know it’s so he can keep an eye on me. It annoys me, but not enough to get out of bed and shut it.
“I want you to come to the get-together tomorrow night,” Lisa says in her best lawyerly voice. “I think it’s time you and Vashti met face to face and talked this out. It’s a potluck, of course, but you don’t need to bring anything.”
“No,” I say softly. I am not ready to face Vashti, not even close to ready.
“Yes,” Lisa says firmly. I can picture the look of determination in her eyes. She may be ditsy, but she can be stubborn when she feels like it. I know that if we argue, she’ll get the best of me. I am not a good debater because I rely on emotions rather than facts. She, on the other hand, uses all her lawyer tactics when she argues—I don’t stand a chance.
“Ok.” Inwardly, I sigh. What am I doing? Oh well. I can always call later and cancel. “I’ll see what I can scrounge up.”
“No need.” Lisa sounds relieved, as if she had been gearing up for an argument. “Six o’clock. See you then.” I click off the phone and go to the living room to put it on the base.
“Well?” Paris shows up out of nowhere. “What did Miss Lisa want?” Paris doesn’t like ‘the girls’, but I know he’ll approve of me getting out of the apartment.
“Meeting at her place tomorrow night. Called me back to convince me to go. I’m going.” I can tell by the look on Paris’s face that he is surprised, but glad that I’m going out tomorrow. “Potluck, of course, but I’m exempt.” I start for the kitchen. I pull open cupboards and peer into the refrigerator to see what kind of supplies we have. Paris follows me.
“You’re going to make something?” Paris’s tone is cautiously optimistic. I do not like to cook, but I love to bake. Well, I did. I haven’t had the heart for it lately.
“Thinking about it.” I decide to go back to the basics and make chocolate chip cookies. I begin gathering the ingredients as Paris watches. “I found a group, too. It meets on Tuesdays.” Paris doesn’t say anything; he just beams at me as he leans against the counter. Again, I’m touched that he’s so worried about me, but also saddened. He nursed his ex-lover, Brett, for two long years after Brett was diagnosed with AIDS. The last thing he needs to be doing is taking care of me. “When’s your date?”
“In a couple of hours. Lyle and I are going to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Victoria Theater. I saw the movie, and I loved it. The show is supposed to be a riot. Want to go? I don’t think it’s sold out.” I set down the bowl I’m holding and turn to face Paris. His eyes are watchful as I look him in the eyes.
“Paris, you’ve been so wonderful to me. I don’t know how I can thank you.” I pause as my eyes fill with involuntary tears. I dash them away, used to them springing up on me willy-nilly. “However, you have to live your own life. You have a great man in Lyle. Don’t fuck it up over me.”
“He understands. His last lover died of AIDS.” A shadow crosses Paris’s face. It’s the bane of queer men—the AIDS epidemic. I think most of them know at least one person who’s died of AIDS. The worst part is now that there are cocktail proteasers and such, the younger boys think AIDS is like herpes or any other STD, so they are becoming more lax in their safer sex efforts. They figure they can just treat it if they get it, not realizing that prevention is better than cure. Sometimes as I’m looking at the pensive expression on Paris’s face when he’s thinking of all the men he’s known who have died of AIDS, I want to weep. He’s twenty-eight, like me. Someone that young should not be so familiar with death. Of course, the three years he volunteered in a hospice upped his death count considerably. It’s a wonder to me that he’s not a permanent cynic.
“You deserve this, Paris,” I say softly, not wanting to intrude on his memories. I reach over to preheat the oven. “And I need to start healing, for real. That’s not going to happen as long as everyone keeps coddling me.” My mother calls almost every day. She brings over food at least twice a week. She drops me little presents in the mail, all from the other side of the Bay. Berkeley, of course, the home of aging hippies, though she laments the decline of the university where she is an adjunct professor. A congenial person who is comfortable with herself and the world, her ready smile is dimmed these days. I am burdened with the knowledge that I am the reason my mother has lost a little of her wonder for the world.
The girls take turns calling me. They also email me frequently, sending jokes or interesting news articles they think I should read. Quinn also emails me regularly, keeping me up to date with what’s happening at the office. A Brighter Day. Another cheesy name. She tells me that the temporary admin assistant they have only types forty words a minute whereas I type eighty. The temp also talks on the phone to her boyfriend when she thinks people aren’t listening. “And her skirts barely cover her butt.” Quinn concludes, “I’m so glad you’re coming back on Monday. Jamal misses you, too. See you then.” Jamal, a skinny black kid who’s always smiling despite one gray tooth, is my favorite. I bring him candy sometimes, and we chat. He’s the best thing about the damn place.
It’s hard to believe that when I started snooping around during the previous investigation, a large part of my motivation besides clearing Paris’s name as he was the prime suspect, was because I wanted my name in the paper. During the murders, I thought it was my chance to be noticed. The first Asian American woman to solve two murders. Because I wasn’t close to either person, I treated it more like a game than anything else. Now, after almost dying, being noticed is the last thing on my mind. I no longer wish to see my face in the paper or to be the first Taiwanese American female P.I. As a result, I am struggling to find a worthwhile goal—something I can strive for. My job at the agency is just a job—it’s not what I want to do with my life. I don’t want to marry or have children. I don’t want a fabulous career. I don’t want to be the status quo. It always seems like I know more about what I don’t want to do than what I do. It’s a major flaw of mine.
My sister is a financier on Wall Street. Don’t ask me what she does specifically because I neither know nor care. She has been in love with money since she was a little girl and knew that she wanted to be surrounded by it for the rest of her life. She also knew she was a Republican by the first grade, that she wanted to marry someone rich, and that she wanted to have three children by the time she’s thirty-five. She has accomplished the first, will soon accomplish the second, and is only twenty-five. I have no doubt she’ll have her three children by thirty-five, which boggles my mind. Libby is not exactly mother material. As much as I detest her and what she stands for, I can’t help but envy her drive and her focus. She’s always known what’s the right thing for her and has pursued whatever it was with single-minded intentions. She never let anything sway her one way or the other which is why she’s on the verge of accomplishing her life’s dream at such a young age. If she didn’t live in New York, she’d have the Jaguar she’s always wanted; she can certainly afford one.
Me? What do I have? I shake my head as I begin stirring the batter. I make forty thousand a year, eight hundred a month goes to rent. I’m glad I don’t have a car to eat up more money, but I pay a fair share of gas money for Paris’s car since he drives me around so often. When it’s all said and done, the only savings I have is the money my father left me in his will which is long gone and the stocks and bonds he left which I let my mother control. My father was killed by a drunk driver in broad daylight who already had eight previous DWIs and no license, but was driving, anyway. Killing my father net the drunk driver a year in jail. I’m still bitter about it, and it happened when I was a sophomore at Berkeley. If it weren’t for Paris, I never would have made it through that dark time. It seems like he’s always bolstering me up when I need it. He’s a true-blue friend, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to help him in return. I wonder if I’ll ever feel like a grown-up. Twenty-eight years old, and still not knowing what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. Well, I suppose I should be grateful that I have a ‘rest of my life’ with which to contemplate what I’m going to do. It’s just difficult to live knowing that I can no longer be the person I once was, but not knowing the person I’m going to be.
“Lyle won’t mind if you come along,” Paris says, making a visible effort to shake off his gloom. It’s another thing I admire about him—his unwillingness to give in to the moodiness he sometimes feels. He is a firm believer in mind over matter, but he doesn’t push it down my throat. “He likes you. A lot.”