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Molly’s kissing me.
“Hey! Yo!” In the way of protest, this is the best I’ve got.
She backs off with a sheepish smile. “Sorry. But this is… God! This is fantastic. You have handed me a map to the minefield. I could kiss you!”
We’re ascending the steps at Lakshmi’s. I thought news of this import merited a dinner. I’m realizing the fatal flaw of the place: after you stuff your face with chicken tandoori, you have to walk uphill.
I’m sorry,” says Molly. “My enthusiasm gets away with me. And, well, I’m living a little vicariously.”
“That’s okay. Jesus, I’ll bet you never thought you’d be involved in cult deprogramming.”
“It has gotten quite exotic.”
We reach the parking lot and head for Molly’s car, a silver Audi 3000 that makes me want to live vicariously.
“Wait a minute. What do you mean ‘vicariously’?”
Molly hits her keypad and unlocks our doors. “Oh. Yeah. I sorta had to break up with someone. He was so uninvolved in the relationship that he couldn’t even see how bad it was. Technically, I was the dump-er, but it felt more like I was dumping myself.”
Molly laughs. “You’re a good friend. Now tell me I deserve much better.”
“Can I first change that word to ‘asshole’?”
“Asshole! And you deserve much better. A foxy psychotherapist such as yourself.”
Molly looks a little embarrassed and ducks her head into the car. She turns the ignition; the dashboard lights up like a blue hologram. Her car eases through the turns like a hovercraft.
“One of the tools that I use in the management of my personal life is the compare-and-contrast. Mr. Can’t B. Bothered suffers immeasurably in the face of… present company. You are so committed to Jasmina. You go to such extremes on her behalf. These are not easy issues to face, but look at you! You are elated because you met the guy who got your girlfriend pregnant.”
“I suppose I didn’t think of it that way.”
She gives me an overlong look and returns to her driving, taking a sharp turn like it’s nothing.
“You’re an extraordinary man, Paul. And next time, I want one just like you.”
“Aw gee shucks.”
We’re interrupted by Molly’s phone. She checks a message on the dash. “Nothing important. Another suicide attempt by Mrs. Priestly.” She waits a beat. “Kidding!”
“So,” I say. “Where do you go with this minefield map?”
Molly twitches her lips. “I have no freakin’ idea. But I do have a preliminary step in mind. Thanks for dinner. It was delicious.”
“It always is.”
This stuff about Paul and Molly having a secret affair started out as a joke, but you know what they say about jokes – kernel of truth. This little date they had last night, I don’t know, borders are being messed with. They’re talking about me behind my back. I know it’s probably necessary– maybe even a key to my recovery – but it puts me in a weird position. I am the lab rat, dissected for general amusement. I worry that Paul will tire of sleeping with a head-case, and I compare myself unfavorably with Molly. Cute, successful, funny, compassionate. Hell, I’d do her.
“Oh, um. Sorry?”
“Look, I really need you to focus today, because I want to take you into some new ground.”
I saw Mack at the movies last night with his red-headed chippie. I wasn’t expecting much. A nod. A wink. How many times do you have to suck a guy’s dick before he treats you like a human?
Molly’s throwing me the evil eye.
“I’m sorry. Could you start that from the beginning?”
“Okay. We’re on the dissociative aspect of self-injury. The fuzziness, the separation.”
“Really? Come on, I got that about thirteen sessions ago.”
More evil eye. “I’m trying to follow a thread. Work with me. The dissociative state goes back to the childhood trauma that started all this.”
“Oh, like, having your parents blowed up?”
“Yes. The dissociation is a form of protection. If you take on a separated mindset, it helps you to maintain a distance from the trauma. Another protective device is the repression or alteration of memory.”
I sit crosswise on the couch so I can face her. “Okay! I got all that. Could we please cut to the chase?”
She folds her hands and takes a breath. “I would like you to consider the possibility that some of your memories are false.”
“Oh! Now you’re really fucking with me. What kind of sci-fi movie bullshit is that?”
“I want you to consider the possibility that Sass Hunter did not die from her injuries.”
The pot is boiling. I need to get away.
“Jasmina? Where are…”
“How dare you! I sat in that hospital for weeks watching that woman suffer. I was there when they took her away. I was destroyed. I spent months just sick with grief. And now you’re raising the dead? You’re Jesus? I don’t believe in gods, thank you.”
Molly looks at me with those big, calm eyes. She is the reasonable one, the one with all the fucking answers.
“And stay away from my boyfriend!”
It seems like a good exit line. I grab my jacket and hit the streets.
Molly tells me it’s okay, Jasmina’s ready for this, she’s not out somewhere cutting herself. But Molly’s got more patients than I have girlfriends. I spend the afternoon wishing I could throw up. By ten, I have stationed myself at my bedroom window, scanning the streets, aching for a sight of her. Instead, I get a loud knock at my back door. I hurtle down the stairs.
She clamps onto me, sobbing. I carry her to the easy chair, just like the first time, and I kneel to kiss her hand. The sobbing fades with the minutes, and she draws a big breath.
“I killed her. I killed Sass. How could I do that?”
I’ve got a new toy – one of those tiny little video cams – and I’m hoping to try it out at practice. I’m still taking it out of its case when Jasper the dachsund attacks his favorite rug, tearing it from the floor and dragging it across the room as an offering to Billy. Pamela quick-steps out of the way, laughing.
“What the hell!”
Smeeed yells, “Dog on crack!”
As soon as I power up and hit record, he retreats to the corner and behaves himself.
“Jasper, if you want to go viral, ya gotta wait till the camera’s on.”
I raise the viewfinder and discover a woman with a Jazz Age hairdo, cut sharply at her shoulders, bangs in a line across her forehead, a frame for big dark eyes. My God. That woman is my girlfriend. A chill begins at the right side of my neck and meanders to my left pinkie.
I’m called to attention by Billy, who grinds into a chunky power chord work-in-progress. It churns forward like a Harley engine and then bursts into a three-stroke blossom at the chorus. We play this sequence over and over as Pamela sits in front of her mic and tries to channel a melody.
Maybe it’s the company, but the drive home seems more vivid than usual. I suppose I have the same reaction to Marin County as I do to Jasmina. My God. This gorgeous place is my home. Bay waters, pleasure boats cruising in for the night, hills peppered with lights like flakes of parmesan. Beneath us, a freaky line of energy we call the San Andreas. There’s no other place to be in the world, and there’s no other woman to be with.
“Penny for your thoughts,” she says.
“Sorry. Cost you a dollar.”
“I like it when you cuss. Hell, I like it when you do anything.”
“Thanks for letting me sit in. I like that last thing you were doing.”
“The cemetery song.”
“Yeah. I dig that. Creepy. What’s that thing you’re doing on the low drum?”
“Yeah, whatever. Frog sound. Ribbit.”
I laugh. “My latest obsession. After twenty years of drumming, I have finally learned how to paradiddle.”
Jasmina gives me a salacious grin.
“It’s a real word! I swear! You hold the stick loose and bounce it off the drumhead. You get three, four hits from a single stroke. That’s how they do drum rolls.”
She sends a laugh all around my cab.
She smiles. “Paradiddle.”
“I am so in love with you.”
Her smile sweetens. “I think I knew that. Thanks for finding Sass.”
This comes at just the right time to make me miss my exit. “So. The cat’s out of the bag.”
“The Mistress of Information filled me in. Apparently I deleted Sass because she found Jesus. Molly suspects I had some profoundly bad experiences with religion.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
She blinks. “Really?”
I choose my words carefully. “At my store, I get two types of seekers. Those who came to atheism rather naturally and those who had to fight their way through thick walls of toxin.”
“Toxin – that’s me.”
I pause for a second so I don’t miss my second exit, and take a right toward home.
“But here’s what I don’t understand,” she says. “Jesus freaks don’t… freak you out. You and your Mormon basketball games. How do you do that? How do you forgive such gross stupidity?”
“It takes a while to get comfortable with the atheist identity. Hopefully, you reach a point where you realize you’re not rejecting other people’s beliefs – merely embracing your own. After that, it’s easier to let them think whatever they want. One day you’ll find yourself mixing with the religiocrats, and you’ll realize you’re no longer Jasmina the Atheist, you’re just Jasmina Copper.”
I negotiate a left at the light. “Did… Molly say it might be all right for you to see Sass?”
She grins. “Can you make that happen?”
Wider. “Do me a favor. Surprise me.”
“You got it.”
“I had the dream last night.”
“Fire and water?”
“No. UPS. And I realized… it’s biblical.”
“Young woman wanders strange city, looking for a place to deliver a package…”
“You’re the virgin Mary?”
“I doubt the Pope would appreciate your interpretation.”
“Oh fuck the Pope.”
“Yeah, and that’s not gonna help you, either.”
Photo by MJV