The Silver Linings Playbook (Chapter 11)

Filled with Molten Lava

The picture I have of Nikki is a head shot, and I wish I had told her how much I liked it.

She paid a professional photographer to take the photo, and she actually had her hair and makeup done at the local salon before going to the shoot; plus she also went to the tanning booths the week before the picture was taken, since my birthday is in late December and the picture was my twenty-eighth-birthday present.

Nikki's head is turned so you see more of her left cheek than you do her right, which is outlined by her strawberry blond curly hair. You can see her left ear, and she is wearing the dangling diamond earrings I gave her for our first wedding anniversary. She had gone to the tanning booths just to bring out the freckles on her nose, which I love and miss every winter. You can see the little freckles clearly in the shot, and Nikki said this was the main idea and she even told the photographer to make the freckles the focal point because I love her seasonal freckles best. Her face is sort of like an upside-down triangle, as her chin is sort of pointy. Her nose is like the nose of a lioness, long and regal-looking, and her eyes are the color of grass. In the picture she is making that pouting face I love – not quite a smile, not quite a smirk – and her lips are so glossy that I can't resist kissing the picture every time I look at it.

So I kiss the picture again, feeling the cold flatness of the glass, leaving a kiss-shaped smudge, which I wipe away with my shirt.

"God, I miss you so much, Nikki," I say, but the picture is silent, like always. "I'm sorry that I did not originally like this picture, because you would not believe how much I like it now. I know that I told you this was not such a great present, back before I started practicing being kind rather than right. Yes, I had specifically asked for a new barbecue, but I'm glad that I have the picture now, because it helped me get through all that time in the bad place and made me want to be a better person, and I'm changed now, so I not only realize but appreciate that you put a lot of thought and effort into this present. It's the only likeness I have of you since some bad person stole all the pictures of us that were in my mother's house – because the pictures were in expensive frames, and – "

Suddenly, for some reason, I remember that there's a video of our wedding, and in this video Nikki is walking and dancing and speaking, and there's even this one part where Nikki talks directly into the camera as if she were talking to me, and she says, "I love you, Pat Peoples, you sexy stud muffin," which made me laugh so hard the first time we watched the video with her parents.

I knock on my parents' bedroom door, and then I knock again.

"Pat?" my mom says.

"I have to work in the morning, you know?" my father says, but I ignore him.

"Mom?" I say to the door.

"What is it?"

"Where's my wedding video?"

There is a silence.

"You remember my wedding video, right?"

Still, she does not say anything.

"Is it in the cardboard box in the family-room closet with all the other videos?"

Through the door I hear her and my father whispering, and then my mother says, "I think we gave you our copy of the video, honey. It must be in your old house. Sorry."

"What? No, it's downstairs in the family-room closet. Never mind, I'll find it myself. Good night," I say, but when I get to the family-room closet and go through the box of videos, it's not there. I turn around and see that my mother has followed me down into the family room. She is in her nightgown. She is biting her nails. "Where is it?"

"We gave it to – "

"Don't lie to me!"

"We must have misplaced it, but it's sure to turn up sooner or later."

"Misplaced it? It's irreplaceable!" It's just a videocassette, but I can't help feeling angry, which I realize is one of my problems. "How could you lose it when you know how important it is to me? How?"

"Calm down, Pat." My mother raises her palms so they are both in front of her chest and then takes a careful step toward me, as if she is trying to sneak up on a rabid dog. "Relax, Pat. Just relax."

But I can feel myself getting more and more angry, so before I say or do anything dumb, I remember that I am close to being sent back to the bad place, where Nikki will never find me. I storm past my mother, go down into the basement, and do five hundred sit-ups on the Stomach Master 6000. When I finish, I am still angry, so I ride the stationary bike for forty-five minutes and then do shots of water until I feel hydrated enough to attempt five hundred push-ups. Only when my pecs feel like they are filled with molten lava do I deem myself calm enough to sleep.

When I go upstairs, all is quiet and no light is leaking out from under my parents' bedroom door, so I grab my framed picture of Nikki, take her upstairs to the attic, turn off the ventilation fan, slip into my sleeping bag, set up Nikki next to my head, kiss her good night – and then begin to sweat away some more pounds.

I haven't been up in the attic since the last time Kenny G visited me. I am afraid he will come back, but I also feel sort of fat. I close my eyes, hum a single note, silently count to ten over and over again, and the next morning I wake up unscathed.