The Silver Linings Playbook (Chapter 42)
On New Year's Eve day, after agreeing to buy unlimited beer for our neighbors, Jake manages to trade seats with the season-ticket holder in front of me – and once Jake is seated, he props my cast up onto his shoulder so I am able to sit down during the Falcons game.
A few minutes into the first quarter, head coach Andy Reid pulls the starters, and the game announcer reports that Dallas has somehow lost to Detroit, which means that the Birds have clinched the NFC East for the fifth time in the last six years and the current game is meaningless. Everyone in the Linc cheers, high fives abound, and it is hard to stay in a seated position.
With the starting wide receivers out, I get my hopes up for Hank Baskett, and he actually does catch a few balls in the first half, each of which Scott, Jake, and I celebrate excessively because I am wearing my Baskett jersey over my winter coat, and we all like to root for the undrafted rookie.
It's 17 – 10 Eagles at halftime, and Scott actually leaves the game, saying that he promised his wife he'd come home for New Year's Eve if the Cowboys lost and the Eagles game became meaningless. I give him a hard time about leaving and am surprised that my brother does not join in with the ribbing. But shortly after Scott takes off, Jake says, "Listen, Pat. Caitlin has me going to this black-tie New Year's Eve party at the Rittenhouse Hotel. She was mad at me for going to the game today, and I was sort of thinking about taking off early so I could surprise her. But I don't want to leave you here with the cast and all. So how do you feel about leaving early?"
I'm shocked, and a little mad.
"I want to see if Baskett gets his second touchdown," I say. "But you can go. I'll be all right here with all the real Eagles fans – the people who are staying to see the whole game." It's not a very nice thing for me to say, especially since Caitlin is probably already dressed and waiting for Jake to come home, but the truth is, I need my brother's help getting out of the Linc on crutches. I have a feeling that Baskett will get the ball a lot in the second half, and I know Jake really wants to see the game anyway; maybe he'll be able to use his mentally ill brother as a good excuse for missing the first part of Caitlin's New Year's Eve party; maybe this is what Jake really wants and needs. "Beer man!" I yell to the Coors Light guy who is passing our row. When he stops, I say, "Only one beer because this guy here is leaving his crippled, mentally insane brother to go to the Rittenhouse Hotel so that he can swill champagne with non-Eagles fans in tuxedos." My brother looks like I punched him in the gut, and soon he is pulling out his wallet.
"All right. Fuck it. Make it two beers," Jake says, and I smile as my brother sits down in Scott's seat and helps me prop my cast up onto the back of the empty seat in front of me.
Through the second half, Baskett continues to catch A. J. Feeley's throws, and early in the fourth quarter my favorite player runs an out, catches the ball, and runs down the sideline eighty-nine yards for the second touchdown of his young career. Jake helps me stand, and then everyone in our section is high-fiving me and slapping my back because over my coat I am wearing the Baskett jersey my brother gave me when I first got out of the bad place.
I would later learn that Baskett is the first Eagles player to catch two touchdown passes longer than eighty yards in the same season – which is an accomplishment, even if number 84 has only been a marginal player this year.
"And you wanted to leave," I say to Jake.
"Go Baskett!" he says, and then gives me a one-armed sideways hug – shoulder-to-shoulder.
After the Eagles' backup players win the last regular season game, the Birds finish their season at 10-6, locking up at least one home play-off game in the process. I crutch my way out of the Linc with Jake as my fullback, parting the crowds, shouting, "Cripple coming through! Cripple coming through! Move out the way!"
We don't meet up with Cliff's gang until we get back to the fat men's tent and the Asian Invasion bus. But when we do, our friends greet us with a Baskett chant because number 84 had a career-high 177-yard day and an 89-yard TD.
With play-offs to discuss, everyone is reluctant to leave, so we drink beers and discuss the 8-8 Giants, whom the Birds will play in the first round. When Cliff asks me if I think our team will beat the Giants, I tell my therapist, "Not only will the Eagles win, but Hank Baskett will catch another touchdown."
Cliff nods and smiles and says, "You called it before the season even started: Hank Baskett is the man!"
Jake leaves first because he and Caitlin have that hotel New Year's Eve party to attend, so we all make fun of him and call him whipped – but even though he is leaving us for his woman, I give him a hug and thank him again for staying, getting me a season ticket, and paying for the play-off tickets too, which are pretty expensive. And I know Jake has forgiven me for making him miss the second Dallas game, because he hugs me back and says, "No problem, brother. I love you. Always. You know that."
After Jake leaves, we drink beers for another half hour or so, but eventually many of the guys admit they too have New Year's Eve plans with their wives, and I take the Asian Invasion bus home to New Jersey.
The Eagles have won the last five games and the NFC East, so there's no stopping Ashwini from blowing the Asian Invasion bus horn when he pulls up to my parents' house, and when he does, the chant blares loudly – "E!-A!-G!-L!-E!-S! EAGLES!" – which brings my mother to the door.
Standing on the front step, Mom and I wave as the green bus pulls away.
We eat a late New Year's Eve dinner together as a family, but even after another Eagles win and with Super Bowl hopes alive, my father doesn't say much, and he heads for his study before Mom finishes her meal, probably so he can read historical fiction.
Just before the ball drops on Dad's huge flat-screen television, Mom asks me if I want to go outside and bang pots and pans like we used to do when I was a kid. I tell Mom I don't really want to bang pots and pans, especially since I am tired from spending the day outside in the cold, so from the couch, we watch people celebrating in Times Square.
Two thousand and six becomes 2007.
"It's going to be a good year for us," Mom says, and then forces a smile.
I smile back at Mom, not because I think it is going to be a good year, but because my father went to bed an hour ago, Nikki never came back, there's not even the slightest inclination to suggest that 2007 is going to be a good year for either Mom or me, and yet Mom is still trying to find that silver lining she taught me about so long ago. She is still holding on to hope. "It's going to be a good year," I say.
When Mom falls asleep on the couch, I turn off the television and watch her breathe. She still looks pretty, and seeing her resting so peacefully makes me angry at my dad, even though I know he can't change who he is, but I wish that he would at least try to appreciate Mom more and spend some quality time with her, especially since he doesn't even have the Eagles to be grumpy about anymore, because the season is already a success regardless of what happens in the play-offs, especially after making it this far without McNabb. And yet I know my father is not likely to change, because I have known him for thirty-five years, and he has always been the same man.
Mom tucks her knees and elbows in close to her body and begins to shiver, so I push myself up, grab my crutches, and crutch my way over to the closet. I pull a blanket from the bottom of the closet, crutch my way over to Mom, and cover her – but she continues to shiver. Back at the closet, I see a heavier blanket on the top shelf, so I reach up and pull it down. It falls on top of my head just after I hear a little crash. I look down, and by my feet is a videocassette in a white plastic case that has two ringing bells on the cover.
I crutch my way over to my mother and cover her with the heavier blanket.
It is hard to pick up the cassette with my cast preventing me from squatting – I actually have to sit down on the floor to pick it up. After sliding over to the TV, I slip the cassette into the VCR. I look over my shoulder, checking to make sure that Mom is sleeping soundly, and then turn down the volume before I hit PLAY.
The video is not completely rewound, and the part that pops up on-screen is the beginning of the reception dinner. Our guests are seated in the banquet room of the Glenmont Country Club, which is near a golf course in a swanky little town just outside Baltimore. The camera is focused on the entrance doorway, but you can see the dance floor and the band too. Using the microphone, the lead singer says, "Let's introduce the wedding party Philly style," at which point the horn section of the band begins playing the opening notes of "Gonna Fly Now!" The guitarist and bassist and drummer soon begin playing, and even though it doesn't sound exactly like Rocky's theme song, it's close enough to get the job done.
"Parents of the groom, Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Peoples!"
Our guests clap politely as my mom and dad cross the dance floor arm in arm, and the painful expression on my father's face suggests that this was one of the worst experiences of his life – being announced at my wedding.
"Parents of the bride, Mr. and Mrs. George Gates."
Nikki's parents do a little skipping routine into the banquet hall, making them look sloshed, which they were, and I laugh thinking about how much fun my in-laws were when they drank. I really do miss Nikki's parents.
"Bridesmaid, Elizabeth Richards, and groomsman, Ronnie Brown."
Liz and Ronnie come out waving to our guests, as if they are royalty or something, which was strange, and the tactic all but mutes their applause. Ronnie looks young in the video, and I think about how he was not yet a father, how Emily did not even exist when this video was shot.
"Maid of honor, Wendy Rumsford, and best man, Jake Peoples!"
Jake and Wendy walk across the dance floor and directly toward the camera until their faces are life-size on my father's huge flat-screen television. Wendy just sort of screams like she is at an Eagles game or something, but Jake says, "I love you, brother!" and then kisses the camera lens, leaving a lip-shaped smudge mark. I see the videographer's hand emerge and quickly wipe the lens with a piece of cloth.
"And now, for the first time ever, allow me to introduce Mr. and Mrs. Pat Peoples!"
Everyone stands and cheers as we walk into the banquet room. Nikki looks so pretty in her wedding dress. She's holding her head in that cute, shy position, with her chin close to her chest, and seeing her now makes me cry because I miss her so much.
When we move to the dance floor, the band shifts gears, and I hear those sexy synthesizer chords, faint high-hat taps, and then the soprano saxophonist steps forward and "Songbird" takes flight.
Something in my mind begins to melt, and it feels as though I am experiencing an ice-cream headache – or as if someone is churning my brain with an ice pick. I'm not seeing the television screen anymore, I'm seeing the road through a fogged windshield, and it's raining something fierce. It's not even four in the afternoon, but it's as dark as midnight. I'm upset because we have a big game coming up and yet the gym roof is leaking again like a sieve, which has forced me to cancel basketball practice.
All I want to do is take a shower and then watch game tapes.
But when I enter my house, I hear a soprano sax moaning, and it's strange to hear Kenny G's smooth jazz coming from my bathroom at a time like this. Mr. G's notes are swirling all about. I open the bathroom door; I feel the steam lick my skin, and I wonder why Nikki is listening to our wedding song in the shower. Kenny G's solo has reached a climax once more. The CD player is on the sink, and two piles of clothes rest on the floor, and a pair of men's glasses are on the sink next to the CD player. Sexy synthesizer chords, faint high-hat taps.
"You fucking whore!" I scream as I rip the shower curtain off the rod, exposing so much awful, soapy flesh.
I'm standing in the tub. My hands are around his throat. I'm between them now, the shower is spraying the back of my coat with hot spokes, weighing down my sweatpants, and he is in the air, begging me with his eyes, pleading for a breath of air. His hands are trying to break my grip, but he is a tiny, weak man. Nikki is screaming; Kenny G is playing; Nikki's lover is turning purple. He's so small, I can hold him up against the tiles with one hand. I cock my elbow back, squeeze a tight, teeth-shattering fist, and take aim. His nose explodes like a packet of ketchup. His eyes are rolling into the back of his head; his hands have fallen away from mine. When I cock back my fist a second time, the music stops playing, and then I'm on my back in the tub and Nikki's naked lover has fallen out of the tub and naked Nikki is holding the CD player in her trembling hands. When I try to stand, she smashes the CD player over my head once more; my knees give out, and I see the silver faucet rise like some fat, shiny snake to strike the hard spot just above my right eyebrow, and then –
– I wake up in a hospital and immediately begin vomiting all over myself, until nurses arrive and tell me not to move my head. And I'm crying and calling for Nikki, but she does not come to me. My head hurts so badly. When I touch my forehead, I feel some sort of bandage, but then my hands are being forced to my sides. The nurses are screaming and holding me down, and then doctors are restraining me too. I feel a prick in my arm, and …
When I blink, I see my reflection in the blank television screen. The video has ended. I look life-size on my father's flat screen, and I can see my mother asleep on the couch, just over my right shoulder. As I continue to stare at myself, my little white scar begins to itch, but I do not really want to smash my forehead with my fist.
I find my feet and crutch my way into the kitchen. The address book is still in the cabinet above the stove. I place a call to Jake's apartment. As the phone rings, I look at the microwave and see that it is 2:54 a.m., but I remember that Jake is at a swanky hotel party and won't be home until tomorrow, so I decide to leave a message.
Hello, you've reached Jake and Caitlin's machine. Please leave a message after the beep. Beep.
"Jake, it's your brother, Pat. I need a huge favor …"