The Silver Linings Playbook (Chapter 21)

An Acceptable Form of Coping

In the cloud room, I pick the black recliner because I am feeling a little depressed. For a few minutes I don't say anything. I am worried that Cliff will send me back to the bad place if I tell him the truth, but I feel so guilty sitting there – and then I'm talking at Cliff, spilling everything in a wild slur of sentences: the big Giants fan, the little Giants fan, my fistfight, the Eagles' loss to the Giants, my father smashing the television screen, his bringing me the sports pages but refusing to speak with me, my dream about Nikki wearing a Giants jersey, Tiffany saying "Fuck Nikki" but still wanting to run with me every day; and then Nikki teaching Sylvia Plath to defenseless teenagers, my ripping The Bell Jar in half, and Sylvia Plath sticking her head in an oven. "An oven?" I say. "Why would anyone stick their head in an oven?"

The release is powerful, and I realize now that somewhere in the middle of my rant I had begun crying. When I finish speaking, I cover my face, because Cliff is my therapist, yes, but he is also a man and an Eagles fan and maybe a friend too.

I start sobbing behind my hands.

All is quiet in the cloud room for a few minutes, and then Cliff finally speaks, saying, "I hate Giants fans. So arrogant, always wanting to talk about L.T., who was nothing but a dirty rotten cokehead. Two Super Bowls, yes, but XXV and XXI were some time ago – more than fifteen years have passed. And we were there just two years ago, right? Even if we did lose."

I am surprised.

I was sure Cliff was going to yell at me for hitting the Giants fan, that he would again threaten to send me back to the bad place, and his bringing up Lawrence Taylor seems so random that I lower my hands and see that Cliff is standing, although he is so small his head is not much higher than mine, even though I am sitting down. Also, I sort of think he just implied that the Eagles were in the Super Bowl two years ago, which would make me very upset because I have absolutely no memory of this, so I try to forget what Cliff said about our team being in the big game.

"Don't you hate Giants fans?" he says to me. "Don't you just hate 'em? Come on now, tell the truth."

"Yeah, I do," I say. "A lot. So do my brother and father."

"Why would this man wear a Giants jersey to an Eagles game?"

"I don't know."

"Did he not think he would be mocked?"

I don't know what to say.

"Every year I see these stupid Dallas and Giants and Redskins fans come into our house wearing their colors, and every year these same fans get manhandled by drunken Eagles fans. When will they learn?"

I am too shocked to speak.

Does this mean Cliff is a season-ticket holder? I wonder, but do not ask.

"Not only were you defending your brother, but you were defending your team too! Right?"

I realize that I am nodding.

Cliff sits down. He pulls the lever, his footrest comes up, and I stare at the well-worn soles of his penny loafers.

"When I am sitting in this chair, I am your therapist. When I am not in this chair, I am a fellow Eagles fan. Understand?"

I nod.

"Violence is not an acceptable solution. You did not have to hit that Giants fan."

I nod again. "I didn't want to hit him."

"But you did."

I look down at my hands. My fingers are all squirmy.

"What alternatives did you have?" he says.

"Alternatives?"

"What else could you have done, besides hitting the Giants fan?"

"I didn't have time to think. He was pushing me, and he threw my brother down – "

"What if he had been Kenny G?"

I close my eyes, hum a single note, and silently count to ten, blanking my mind.

"Yes, the humming. Why not try that when you feel as though you are going to hit someone? Where did you learn that technique?"

I'm a little mad at Cliff for bringing up Kenny G, which seems like a dirty trick, especially since he knows Mr. G is my biggest nemesis, but I remember that Cliff did not yell at me when I told him the truth, and I am thankful for that, so I say, "Nikki used to hum a single note whenever I offended her. She said she learned it in yoga class. And whenever she hummed, it would catch me off guard. I would get really freaked out, because it is strange to sit next to someone who is humming a single note with her eyes closed – and Nikki would keep humming that single note for such a long time. When she finally stopped, I would be grateful, and I also would be more aware of her displeasure and more receptive to her feelings, which is something I did not appreciate until recently."

"So that's why you hum every time someone brings up Kenny – "

I close my eyes, hum a single note, and silently count to ten, blanking my mind.

When I finish, Cliff says, "It allows you to express your displeasure in a unique way, disarming those around you. Very interesting tactic. Why not use this in other areas of your life? What if you had closed your eyes and hummed when the Giants fan pushed you?"

I hadn't thought of that.

"Do you think he would have continued to push you if you had closed your eyes and hummed?"

Probably not, I think. The Giants fan would have thought I was crazy, which is exactly what I thought about Nikki when she first used the tactic on me.

Cliff smiles and nods at me when he reads my face.

We talk a little about Tiffany. He says it seems as though Tiffany has romantic feelings for me, and he claims she is most likely jealous of my love for Nikki, which I think is silly, especially since Tiffany never even talks to me and is always so aloof when we are together. Plus Tiffany is so beautiful, and I have not aged well at all.

"She's just a weird woman," I say in response.

"Aren't they all?" Cliff replies, and we laugh some because women truly are hard to figure out sometimes.

"What about my dream? Me seeing Nikki in a Giants jersey? What do you think that means?"

"What do you think it means?" Cliff asks, and when I shrug, he changes the subject.

Cliff says Sylvia Plath's work is very depressing to read, and that his own daughter had recently suffered through The Bell Jar because she is taking an American literature course at Eastern High School.

"And you didn't complain to administration?" I asked.

"About what?"

"About your daughter being forced to read such depressing stories."

"No. Of course not. Why would I?"

"Because the novel teaches kids to be pessimistic. No hope at the end, no silver lining. Teenagers should be taught that – "

"Life is hard, Pat, and children have to be told how hard life can be."

"Why?"

"So they will be sympathetic to others. So they will understand that some people have it harder than they do and that a trip through this world can be a wildly different experience, depending on what chemicals are raging through one's mind."

I had not thought about this explanation, that reading books like The Bell Jar helped others understand what it was like to be Esther Greenwood. And I realize now that I have a lot of sympathy for Esther, and if she were a real person in my life, I would have tried to help her, only because I knew her thoughts well enough to understand she was not simply deranged, but suffering because her world had been so cruel to her and because she was depressed, due to the wild chemicals in her mind.

"So you're not mad at me?" I ask when I see Cliff look at his watch, which signifies our session is almost over.

"No. Not at all."

"Really?" I ask, because I know Cliff is probably going to write all my recent failures down in a file as soon as I leave. That he probably thinks he has failed as my therapist – at least for this week.

Cliff stands, smiles at me, and then looks out the bay window at the sparrow washing in the stone birdbath.

"Before you leave, Pat, I want to say something very important to you. This is a matter of life and death. Are you listening to me? Because I really want you to remember this. Okay?"

I start to worry because Cliff sounds so serious, but I swallow, nod, and say, "Okay."

Cliff turns.

Cliff faces me.

His face looks grave, and for a second, I am very nervous.

But then Cliff throws his hands up in the air and yells "Ahhhhhhhhh!"

I laugh because Cliff has tricked me with his funny joke. I immediately stand, throw my hands up in the air, and yell "Ahhhhhhhhh!"

"E!-A!-G!-L!-E!-S! EAGLES!" we chant in unison, throwing our arms and legs out in an effort to represent each letter with our bodies, and I have to say – as stupid as it may sound – chanting with Cliff makes me feel a whole lot better. And judging by the smile on his little brown face, he knows the value of what he is doing for me.