The Silver Linings Playbook (Chapter 13)

Do You Like Foreign Films?

Cliff asks about Veronica's dinner party in a way that lets me know my mother has already discussed it with him – probably in an effort to get me to wear the collared shirts she bought me at the Gap, which Mom loves and I do not love. As soon as I sit down in the brown recliner, Cliff broaches the subject, pinching his chin the way he does every time he asks me a question my mother has already answered.

Even though I now recognize Cliff's tell, I am excited to let him know he was right about wearing the shirt my brother had given me. Surprisingly, he does not want to talk about what clothes I wore; he wants to talk about Tiffany, and he keeps asking what I thought about her, how she made me feel, and if I enjoyed her company.

At first I am polite and answer by saying that Tiffany was nice and well dressed and had a pretty good body, but Cliff keeps pushing for the truth like therapists do, because they all have some sort of psychic ability that allows them to see through your lies, and therefore they know you will eventually tire of the talking game and will offer up the truth.

Finally I say, "Well, the thing is – and I don't like saying this – but Tiffany is kind of slutty."

"What do you mean?" Cliff asks me.

"I mean she's sort of a whore."

Cliff sits forward a little. He looks surprised, and uncomfortable enough to make me feel uncomfortable. "On what do you base your observation? Did she dress provocatively?"

"No. I told you already. She wore a nice dress. But as soon as we finished our dessert, she asked me to walk her home."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing. But at the end of the walk she asked me to have sexual intercourse with her, and not in those words."

Cliff removes his fingers from his chin, sits back, and says, "Oh."

"I know. It shocked me too, especially because she knows I'm married."

"So did you?"

"Did I what?"

"Have sexual intercourse with Tiffany?"

At first Cliff's words don't register, but when they do, I become angry. "No!"

"Why not?"

I cannot believe Cliff has actually asked me such a question, especially since he is a happily married man himself, but I dignify the inquiry with an answer anyway. "Because I love my wife! That's why!"

"That's what I thought," he says, which makes me feel a little better. He is only testing my morals, which is perfectly understandable, because people outside of mental institutions need to have good morals so that the world will continue to work without any major interruptions – and happy endings will flourish.

Then I say, "I don't even know why Tiffany would ask me to have sex with her anyway. I mean, I'm not even an attractive guy; she's pretty and could do a lot better than me for sure. So I'm thinking now that maybe she's a nymphomaniac. What do you think?"

"I don't know whether she is a nymphomaniac or not," he says. "But I do know that sometimes people say and do what they think others want them to. Maybe Tiffany really did not want to have sex with you, but only offered something she thought you would find valuable, so you would value her."

I think about his explanation for a second and then say, "So you're saying that Tiffany thought I wanted to have sex with her?"

"Not necessarily." He grabs his chin again. "Your mother told me you came home with makeup on your shirt. Do you mind if I ask how that happened?"

Reluctantly, because I don't like to gossip, I tell him about Tiffany's wearing her wedding ring even after her husband died, and the hugging and the crying we did in front of her parents' house.

Cliff nods and says, "It seems like Tiffany really needs a friend, and that she thought having sex with you would make you want to be her friend. But tell me again how you handled the situation."

So I tell him exactly what led us to the hug and how I let her get makeup on my Hank Baskett jersey and –

"Where did you get a Hank Baskett jersey?" he asks me.

"I told you. My brother gave it to me."

"That's what you wore to the dinner party?"

"Yeah, just like you told me to."

He smiles and even chuckles, which surprises me. Then he adds, "What did your friends say?"

"Ronnie said that Hank Baskett is the man."

"Hank Baskett is the man. I bet he catches at least seven touchdowns this season."

"Cliff, you're an Eagles fan?"

He does the Eagles chant – "E!-A!-G!-L!-E!-S! EAGLES!" – which makes me laugh because he is my therapist and I did not know therapists could like NFL football.

"Well, now that I know you too bleed green, we'll have to talk Birds off the clock," Cliff says. "So you really let Tiffany cry her makeup onto your brand-new Hank Baskett jersey?"

"Yeah, and it's one with stitched-on numbers, not the cheap iron-ons."

"Authentic Hank Baskett jersey!" he says. "That was certainly very kind of you, Pat. It sounds like Tiffany only really needed a hug, which you gave her because you are a nice guy."

I can't help smiling, because I really am trying hard to be a nice guy. "Yeah, I know, but now she's always following me all over town."

"What do you mean?"

So I tell Cliff that since the dinner party, whenever I put on a trash bag and leave my house for a run, Tiffany is always waiting outside in her little running outfit and pink headband. "Very politely, I told her that I do not like running with other people and asked her to leave me alone, but she ignored my request and simply jogged five feet behind me for my entire run. The next day, she did the same thing, and she keeps on doing it. Somehow she's figured out my schedule, and she's always there when I leave my house an hour before sunset – ready to shadow me wherever I jog. I run fast, and she stays with me. I run on dangerous streets, and she follows. She never tires out either – and just keeps running down the street when I finally stop in front of my house. She doesn't even say hello or goodbye."

"Why don't you want her to follow you?" Cliff asks.

So I ask him how his wife, Sonja, would feel if some hot woman shadowed him every time he went for a run.

He smiles the way guys do when they are alone and talking about women in a sexual way, and then he says, "So you think Tiffany is hot?" This surprises me because I did not know therapists were allowed to talk like guys do when they are buddies, and I wonder if this means that Cliff thinks of me as his buddy now.

"Sure, she's hot," I say. "But I'm married."

He grabs his chin and says, "How long has it been since you've seen Nikki?"

I tell him I don't know. "Maybe a couple of months," I say.

"Do you really believe that?" he asks, grabbing his chin again.

When I say I do, I hear the yelling in my voice and even allow the f-word to slip out. Immediately I feel bad because Cliff was talking to me like a friend, and sane people should not yell and curse at their buddies.

"I'm sorry," I say when Cliff starts to look scared.

"It's okay," he says, and forces a smile. "I should believe that you really mean what you tell me." He scratches his head for a second and then says, "My wife loves foreign films. Do you like foreign films?"

"With subtitles?"

"Yes."

"I hate those types of films."

"Me too," Cliff says. "Mostly because – "

"No happy endings."

"Exactly," Cliff says, pointing a brown finger at my face. "So depressing most of the time."

I nod wholeheartedly in agreement, even though I haven't been to see any movies for a long time, and won't until Nikki returns, because I am now watching the movie of my life as I live it.

"My wife used to beg me to take her to see these foreign films with subtitles all the time," Cliff says. "It seemed like every day she would ask me if we might go to see a foreign film, until I broke down and started taking her. Every Wednesday night we'd go to the Ritz movie theater and see some depressing movie. And you know what?"

"What?"

"After a year we simply stopped going."

"Why?"

"She stopped asking."

"Why?"

"I don't know. But maybe if you take an interest in Tiffany, ask her to run with you and maybe to go out to dinner a few times – maybe after a few weeks, she will grow tired of the chase and leave you alone. Let her get what she wants, and maybe she will not want it anymore. Understand?"

I do understand, but cannot help asking, "Do you think that will really work?"

And Cliff shrugs in a way that makes me believe it will.