The Silver Linings Playbook (Chapter 29)

My Movie's Montage

Explaining how I learned Tiffany's routine and became an excellent dancer would be difficult – mostly because our rehearsals are long and grueling and extremely boring. We do the same little things over and over again endlessly. For example, if I had to lift a finger in the air for the routine, Tiffany would make me do it a thousand times every single day until I could do it to her liking on command. So I will spare you most of the boring details. To make things even more complicated, Tiffany has forbidden me to document our rehearsals in any thorough manner that would allow others to steal her training techniques. As she wants to open up a studio someday, she is very guarded about her methods – and her choreography too.

Luckily, as I am starting to write this part, I remember that in every one of his films, whenever Rocky needs to become a better boxer, they show clips of him doing one-arm push-ups, running on the beach, punching slabs of meat, running the stairs of the art museum, gazing at Adrian lovingly, or being yelled at by Mickey or Apollo Creed or even Paulie – all while his theme song plays, which is perhaps the greatest song in the world, "Gonna Fly Now." In the Rocky movies, it only takes a few minutes to cover weeks of training, and yet the audience still understands that a lot of preparation went into the actual development of Rocky's boxing skills, even though we only get to see a few clips of the Italian Stallion working hard.

During a therapy session, I ask Cliff what this movie technique is called. He has to call his wife, Sonja, on his cell phone, but she knows the answer and tells us that what I am trying to describe is called a montage. So that is what I am now going to create below, my movie's montage. Maybe you'll want to play "Gonna Fly Now" on your CD player, if you have a copy handy – or you could put on any song you find inspiring – and read along to the music. Music is not required, however. Okay, here it is, my montage:

In anticipation of our big performance, I'm running a little faster with Tiffany every day. We push ourselves, and when we get to the park, we sprint the last mile to her house and get really sweaty. I always beat Tiffany, because I am a man, yes, but also because I am an excellent runner.

See me pumping iron: bench press, leg lifts, sit-ups on the Stomach Master 6000, bike riding, squats, knuckle push-ups, curls – the works.

"Crawl!" Tiffany yells. So I crawl on the hardwood floor of her dance studio. "Crawl like you have no legs and you haven't eaten for two weeks and there's a single apple in the middle of the room and another man with no legs is also crawling toward the apple. You want to crawl faster, but you cannot, because you are maimed. Desperation flows out of your face like sweat! You are so afraid you will not get to the apple before the other legless man! He will not share the apple with – no, no, no. Stop! You're doing it all wrong! Jesus Christ, Pat! We only have four weeks left!"

"Jeanie," I hear my father say. He is in the kitchen eating his breakfast. I am on the basement stairs listening. "Why does Pat close his eyes and hum every time I mention the Eagles? Is he going crazy again? Should I be concerned?"

"What's this I hear about you missing the Saints game?" Jake says through the telephone when I call him back sometime after 11:00 p.m. He has called two nights in a row, and the note my mother left for me on my pillow read Call your brother back no matter how late. IMPORTANT. "Don't you want to see what Baskett does this week? Why are you humming?"

"When you are a dancer, you are allowed to put your hands anywhere on your partner's body, Pat. It's not sexual. So when you do this first lift, yes, your hands will be cradling my ass and crotch. Why are you pacing? Pat, it's not sexual – it's modern dance."

See me pumping iron: bench press, leg lifts, sit-ups on the Stomach Master 6000, bike riding, knuckle push-ups, curls – the works.

"I'm Okay, Pat. I'm fucking fine. You're going to drop me a few times while we're learning the lifts, but it's not because you're not strong enough. You need to center your palm directly at the base of my crotch. If you need me to get more specific, I will. Here. I'll show you. Put out your hand."

"Your mother tells me you will not discuss Eagles football with your – why are you humming?" Cliff asks. "I did not mention that certain saxophonist's name. What's this all about?"

"I never thought I would say this, but maybe you should consider taking a break from your dance training and watch the game with Jake and your dad," my mother says. "You know I hate football, but you and your father seemed to be making a connection, and Jake and you are just getting back to being brotherly again. Pat, please stop humming."

"For the second lift you need to look up at me, Pat. Especially just before I go into the flip. You don't have to look at my crotch, but you have to be ready to push up so I'll get more height. If you don't give me a push when I bend my knees, I won't be able to complete the flip and will probably crack my head open on the floor."

"I know you can hear me through the humming, Pat. Look at you!" my father says. "Curled up in your bed, humming like a child. Birds lose by a field goal in New Orleans, and your boy Baskett had zero catches. Zilch. Don't think your dancing through the game didn't affect the outcome."

"You look like a retarded snake! You are supposed to crawl with your arms – not slither or wiggle or whatever the fuck you are doing down there. Here. Watch me."

In anticipation of our big performance, I'm running a little faster with Tiffany every day. We push ourselves, and when we get to the park, we sprint the last mile to her house and get really sweaty. I always beat Tiffany, because I am a man, yes, but also because I am an excellent runner.

"What's Tiffany holding over you?" Ronnie says. We are in my parents' basement. I have already spotted him as he benched one wimpy sixty-pound rep, and now he is taking a break. This is a surprise visit disguised to look like a prework lifting session. "I told you to protect yourself. I'm telling you, Pat, you don't know what that woman is capable of. My sister-in-law is capable of anything. Anything!"

"You're making the sun with your arms. In the center of the stage, you represent the sun. And when you make the huge circle with your arms, it has to be slow and deliberate – just like the sun. The dance is one day's worth of sun. You are going to rise and set all onstage – to the flow of our song. Understand?"

"I want you to talk to Tiffany and tell her it's important for you to watch the Eagles game with your father," Mom says. "Please stop humming, Pat. Please, just stop humming!"

"The second lift is the hardest by far, as it requires you to go from a squatting position to a standing position with me standing on your hands, which will be just above your shoulders. Do you think you're strong enough to do this, because we can do something else if you are too weak, but let's try it now and we'll just see."

"Why is this dance competition so important to you?" Cliff asks me. I look up at the sun painted on the ceiling of his office and smile. "What?" he says.

"The dancing lets me be that," I say, and point up.

Cliff's eyes follow my finger. "It lets you be the sun?"

"Yes," I say, and smile again at Cliff, because I really like being the sun, exactly what allows clouds to have a silver lining. Also, being the sun is what will provide me with the opportunity to write letters to Nikki.

"Please stop humming into the phone, Pat. I'm on your side here. I understand wanting to learn an art for a woman. Don't you remember my playing the piano for you? But the difference is that Caitlin would never ask me to miss an Eagles game, because she knows it's more than just football to me. I can hear you fucking humming through the phone, Pat, but I'm just going to keep talking, all right? You're acting crazy, you know. And if the Eagles lose tomorrow against the Buccaneers, Dad is going to think you cursed the Birds."

"Okay, you know your routine – roughly, anyway. So now I want you to watch mine. I'll say 'lift' when it's time for one of your lifts, just so you know when they're coming. But don't worry, because as long as you do your routine, I'll make sure we link up with the lifts. Okay?"

Tiffany is in tights and a T-shirt like every other day, but she transforms her face just before she pushes play on the CD player. So solemn. Those sad piano notes and those two dueling voices fill the room, and Tiffany begins to dance beautifully but sadly. Her body moves so gracefully, and it is only now that I understand what she means by crying through movement. She jumps, she rolls, she spins, she runs, she slides. She yells "Lift!" and then falls to the floor dead, only to explode upward in resurrection when the music picks up again. And her dancing is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I could watch her dance for the rest of my life, and strangely, watching Tiffany soar around the dance floor makes me feel like I am floating over waves with baby Emily. Tiffany is that good.

"Your father has stopped eating dinner with me, Pat. He's not taking walks with me either. Ever since the Eagles lost to the Buccaneers, he's back to his – Pat, please stop humming. Pat!"

In anticipation of our big performance, I'm running a little faster with Tiffany every day. We push ourselves, and when we get to the park, we sprint the last mile to her house and get really sweaty. I always beat Tiffany, because I am a man, yes, but also because I am an excellent runner.

"I don't think you understand how much this means to my sister," Veronica says, and I am shocked to see her and baby Emily in my basement gym. "Do you know that since Tommy passed, she has never asked her family to see her dance? In fact, for two years she's banned us from attending any of her performances. But this year she thinks she is going to perform flawlessly enough to invite her family – she's convinced, in fact – and while I am glad to see her so happy, I'm afraid to even think about what she might do if you guys screw up the performance. She's not a stable person, Pat. You do understand that, right? You do understand that your performing poorly will result in months of serious depression? So I need to ask you how are the rehearsals really going? Do you truly think you can win? Do you?"

Before I turn off the lights, I stare into framed-picture Nikki's eyes. I see her freckled nose, her strawberry blond hair, her full lips. I kiss her so many times. "Soon," I say. "I'm doing everything I can. I won't let you down. Remember – 'Forever's gonna start tonight.'"

See me pumping iron: bench press, leg lifts, sit-ups on the Stomach Master 6000, bike riding, knuckle push-ups, curls – the works.

"The Asian Invasion will pick you up at – " Cliff nods at me and smiles. "Ah, the humming again. Your mother tells me you won't talk to anyone about Eagles football, but you aren't seriously going to miss a home game, are you?"

"The most important thing is to make the lifts look effortless, as if you are holding up air. I should appear to be floating. Understand? Good, because I need you to stop shaking during the routine, Pat. You look like you have fucking Parkinson's disease, for Christ's sake."

"How does a four-and-one team lose three games straight?" Dad yells down from the top of the basement steps. "A team that beat the Dallas Cowboys handily? A team with a first-ranked offense and more sacks than any other team in the league? You can hum all you want, Pat. But that don't change the fact that you took the good luck away from the Birds and are ruining our season!"

See me pumping iron: bench press, leg lifts, sit-ups on the Stomach Master 6000, bike riding, knuckle push-ups, curls – the works.

"Okay. Not bad. You got the crawling down, and one of the lifts doesn't look awful anymore. But we only have a week left. Can we do this? Can we do this?"

"I bought you a present," Tiffany tells me. "Go into the powder room and try it on."

In her studio's washroom, I remove a pair of yellow tights from a plastic bag. "What's this?" I call out to Tiffany.

"It's your outfit. Put it on, and we'll have a dress rehearsal."

"Where's the shirt?"

"Again," Tiffany says, even though it is 10:41 p.m. and my elbows feel as though they might explode. I am dancing on raw nerves. I am dancing on bone. "Again!"

Eleven fifty-nine p.m. "Again," Tiffany says, and then takes her place at the left side of the studio. Knowing that arguing is no use, I drop to the floor and prepare to crawl.

"This might tickle some," Tiffany says just before she slides her pink lady razor through the shaving cream coating my chest, and then she shows me how much hair is in the teacup she rinses the blade in. I am lying on a yoga mat in the middle of her dance studio. My chest is covered with some sort of green aloe shaving gel that turns white when you make foam. Being shaved by Tiffany sort of makes me feel strange, as I have never been shaved by a woman before and have never had my torso shaved at all. When she lathers me up, I close my eyes, and my fingers and toes tingle wildly.

I sort of giggle each time she shaves a line of hair off my chest.

I sort of giggle each time she shaves a line of hair off my back.

"We want those muscles to gleam like the sun onstage, right?"

"Why can't I just wear a shirt?" I say, even though – in a weird sort of way – I secretly enjoy being shaved by Tiffany.

"Does the sun wear a shirt?"

The sun does not wear yellow tights either, but I do not say so.

In anticipation of our big performance, I'm running a little faster with Tiffany every day. We push ourselves, and when we get to the park, we sprint the last mile to her house and get really sweaty. I always beat Tiffany, because I am a man, yes, but also because I am an excellent runner.

Two days before the competition, just before we are about to perform the routine for the twenty-fifth time that day – twenty-five being Tiffany's favorite number – she says, "We need to do this flawlessly."

So I try my best, and as I watch bits of our routine in the mirrors that surround us, I think, We really are dancing flawlessly! I am so excited when we finish, because I know we will win – especially since we have improved ourselves so much with sacrifice and hard training. This mini-movie will have a happy ending for sure!

But something about Tiffany's demeanor is off as we take our water break. She is not yelling at me, nor is she using the f-word, so I ask, "What's wrong?"

"How many people did you recruit to come to the competition?"

"I asked everyone I know."

"Veronica tells me your family is mad at you for abandoning the Eagles."

"Not my mom."

"I'm worried that if we don't get enough fans there to cheer for us, the judges might be swayed by another dancer's larger fan base. We might not win, and then I would not be able to act as your liaison, Pat."

"Maybe if you are not doing anything tomorrow night, you might want to bring your wife and children to my dance recital," I tell Cliff. "We've really got a good routine, and I think we can win if only we have enough audience support, and I don't think that my father or brother will be likely to show up, so – "

"After tomorrow night, you'll be done with these long rehearsals?"

"Yeah."

"So you will be able to go to the Redskins game on – "

"Hmmmmmm."

"Just tell me this, if I go to the dance recital, will you go to the Eagles game with us on Sunday? The Asian Invasion misses you, and truthfully, we sort of feel like you've cursed the Eagles by abandoning them mid-season. Poor Baskett has only caught two balls in the last three games and had zero catches last week. And the Birds have lost three straight. We miss you down at the Linc, Pat."

"I can't talk about that subject until my dance recital is over tomorrow night. I can only say that I need to recruit as many people as possible to cheer for Tiffany and me so the judges will be swayed. Let me just say that winning is really important, and Tiffany says that crowd reaction can sway the judges."

"If I come, will you talk to me about that-thing-you-are-not-allowed-to-talk-about after your performance?"

"Cliff, I can't talk about that until after the performance."

"Well then, neither can I tell you whether I will be at your performance," Cliff says.

At first I think he is bluffing, but he doesn't bring up the subject again, and by the end of our therapy session I feel as though I have blown my shot at getting Cliff to bring his wife to my recital, which makes me feel very depressed.

Hello, you've reached Jake and Caitlin's machine. Please leave a message after the beep. Beep.

"Jake. Sorry to call so late, but I just got done rehearsing. I know that you are mad at me because you think I jinxed those-people-who-make-me-hum-at-the-present-moment, but if you bring Caitlin to my dance recital, there's a chance I might be able to do that thing we used to do on Sundays, especially if you cheer for Tiffany and me very loudly. We need people to cheer for us, because the judges are sometimes swayed by the audience. It's really important that we win this competition. So as your brother, I'm asking you to please bring your wife to the Plaza – "

Beep.

I hang up and redial the number.

Hello, you've reached Jake and Caitlin's machine. Please leave a message after the beep. Beep.

"That's the Plaza Hotel at – "

"Hello? Is everything okay?"

It's Caitlin's voice, which makes me nervous, so I hang up, fully realizing I have blown my shot at getting Jake to come to my dance recital.

"Pat, you know I'll be there. And I'll cheer so loudly for you, but winning isn't everything," my mom says. "It's the fact that you were able to learn to dance in only a few weeks that is impressive."

"Just ask Dad, okay?"

"I will. But I don't want you to get your hopes up. A dance recital is not something he would have attended even if the Eagles won the last three games."