The Silver Linings Playbook (Chapter 41)

How Is She?

My birthday falls on a Friday. December 29. In the afternoon, Mom helps me tape trash bags around my cast so I can take my first shower since I broke my leg. This is sort of embarrassing to talk about, but Mom has to help me keep my cast out of the shower, so she holds the shower curtain for me, protecting the cast, as I straddle the edge of the tub, trying to keep my weight on my good leg. Mom hands me the soap when I need it and also the shampoo. She pretends not to look at my naked body, but I am sure she gets a glimpse at some point, which makes me feel strange. I haven't worked out in days, so I feel very small and weak – but Mom doesn't say anything about my diminished girth, because she is a kind woman.

After my shower, Mom helps me put on a pair of sweatpants she has modified, cutting one leg off at the thigh so my cast can fit through. I also put on a button-down shirt from the Gap and my new leather jacket. I hop down the steps, crutch my way out the door and into the backseat of Mom's car, sitting sideways so my cast will fit.

When we arrive at the Voorhees house, I crutch my way into Cliff's office, pick the black recliner, prop my cast up on the footrest, and tell Cliff everything.

When I finish my story, Cliff says, "So you've been in bed since Christmas?"

"Yeah."

"And you have no interest in reading or watching television?"

"No."

"And you're not working out your upper body at all? No weights?"

"No."

"What do you do all day?"

"I sleep, or I think. Sometimes I write, but Danny has been coming to visit me too." I had already told Cliff all about God reuniting Danny and me, which even Cliff had to admit was a bit of a miracle and maybe the silver lining to my awful Christmas.

"What do you and Danny do when he visits?"

"We play Parcheesi."

"Parcheesi?"

"It's the Royal Game of India. How can you not know it?"

"I know Parcheesi. I'm just surprised you and Danny play board games together."

"Why?"

Cliff makes a funny face, but doesn't say anything.

"Danny brings his Parcheesi game all the way from North Philly. He rides the trains."

"That's good, right? It must be nice to see your old friend."

"I was sorry to learn that he still can't rap, even after a second operation, but his aunt got him a job doing the janitorial work at her church, which is also a day-care center. He wipes down the pews with pine oil and mops the floors and empties the trash and vacuums every night – stuff like that. He smells like pine trees now too, which is sort of a nice bonus. But Danny is quieter than I remember him being in the bad place."

"Did you tell Danny about what Tiffany did to you?" Cliff asks.

"Yeah, I did."

"What did he say?"

"Nothing."

"He didn't give you any advice?"

"I didn't ask him for any advice."

"I see." Cliff grabs his chin, which lets me know he is going to say something my mother has told him. "Pat, I know how you lost your memory. Everyone does." He pauses here, gauging my reaction. "And I think you remember too. Do you?"

"No."

"Do you want me to tell you how you lost your memory?"

"No."

"Why?"

I don't say anything.

"I know Dr. Timbers used to tell you the story every day as part of your therapy. That's why I never brought it up. I thought maybe you would talk about it when you were ready, but it's been almost five months – and now you have a broken leg, and things seem to have gotten worse. I can't help feeling as though we need to start trying other tactics. What Tiffany suggested about closure is true. I'm not saying her methods were honorable, but you really do need to come to terms with what happened, Pat. You need closure."

"Maybe my movie isn't over," I say, because sometimes moviemakers trick the audience with a false bad ending, and just when you think the movie is going to end badly, something dramatic happens, which leads to the happy ending. This seems like a good spot for something dramatic to happen, especially since it's my birthday.

"Your life is not a movie, Pat. Life is not a movie. You're an Eagles fan. After watching so many NFL seasons without a Super Bowl, you should know that real life often ends poorly."

"How can you say that now, especially since the Eagles have won four straight and are headed into the play-offs – even after McNabb went down!" Cliff just looks at me, almost as if he is scared, and suddenly I realize that I was just yelling. But I can't help adding, "With a negative attitude like that, it will end poorly, Cliff! You're starting to sound like Dr. Timbers! You better watch out, or you're going to be defeated by pessimism!"

There is a long silence, and Cliff looks really worried, which begins to worry me.

On the drive home, Mom tells me that people are coming over for my birthday. She is making me a birthday dinner. "Is Nikki coming?" I ask.

"No, Pat. Nikki is never coming," Mom says. "Never."

When we arrive home, Mom makes me sit in the family room while she cooks meat loaf and mashed potatoes and green beans and an apple pie. She keeps trying to talk to me, but I really do not feel like talking.

Jake and Caitlin arrive first, and they try to cheer me up by talking really enthusiastically about the Birds, but it doesn't work.

When Ronnie and Veronica arrive, Emily climbs onto my lap, which makes me feel a little better. Caitlin asks Emily if she wants to draw a picture on my cast, and when she nods, Mom finds some markers and we all watch little Emily draw. She starts off by making a wobbly circle, which is understandable, since the cast is not perfectly flat, nor smooth. But then she just scribbles all sorts of colors everywhere, and I cannot tell what she is up to until she points to her creation and says, "Pap!"

"Did you draw a picture of Uncle Pat?" Ronnie says, and when Emily nods, everyone laughs because it looks nothing like me.

When we sit down at the dining-room table, my father is still not home. Even after the win over Dallas, he has been pretty distant lately, hiding in his study again. Nobody mentions my dad's absence, so I don't either.

Mom's meal is delicious, and everyone says so.

When it is time for pie, they sing "Happy Birthday" to me, and then little Emily helps me blow out the candles that make the shape of the number 35. I hardly believe that I can actually be thirty-five, because I still feel like I am thirty – maybe I only wish I were thirty, because then I'd have Nikki in my life.

After we eat our pie, Emily helps me open my presents. I get a brand-new wooden hand-painted Parcheesi board from Mom, who says she invited Danny to my party, but he had to work. Ronnie, Emily, and Veronica give me an Eagles fleece blanket. Jake and Caitlin give me a membership to a gym in Philadelphia. The brochure in the box says the club has a pool and a steam room and basketball courts and racquetball courts and all types of weight-lifting equipment and other machines that build muscles. "It's where I work out," my brother says. "And I was thinking we could start working out together once your leg mends." Even though I'm not all that interested in working out so much anymore, I realize that the membership is a nice present, so I thank Jake.

When we retire to the living room, I ask Veronica about Tiffany. "How's Tiffany?" I say. I'm not really sure why I ask. The words just sort of slip out of my mouth, and when they do, everyone stops talking and a silence hangs in the air.

"I invited her to your party," Mom finally offers, probably just so Veronica will not feel badly about her sister being excluded.

"Why?" Jake asks. "So she can lie to Pat again? Set him back a few more years?"

"She was only trying to help," Veronica says.

"Your sister has a funny way of helping."

"Stop," Caitlin says to Jake.

And then the room is silent again.

"So how is she?" I ask, because I really do want to know.