The Silver Linings Playbook (Chapter 6)

The Concrete Doughnut

I notice that my father waits until the game is just about to begin before he comes into the family room. It is only preseason, so we do not engage in any of the regular-season game-day rituals, but Dad has put on his number 5 McNabb jersey and now sits on the edge of the couch, ready to jump out of his seat. He nods at my brother solemnly but completely ignores me, even after I heard my mother say, "Please, just try to talk to Pat" when they were arguing in the kitchen. Mom puts the food on folding tables, takes a seat next to Jake, and we all start to eat.

The food is excellent, but I am the only one to say so. Mom seems happy to get the compliment, saying, "Are you sure it's all right?" like she does, because she is modest when it comes to cooking, even though she is a great cook.

"What do you think the Birds will do this year, Dad?" Jake asks.

"Eight and eight," my dad answers pessimistically, like he always does at the beginning of every NFL season.

"Eleven and five," my brother says, to which my father shakes his head and blows air through his teeth. "Eleven and five?" my brother asks me, and I nod because I am optimistic, and winning eleven games would most likely put the Eagles in the play-offs. Since we have season tickets, I know we are assured play-off tickets should the Birds earn a home game, and there's nothing better than an Eagles play-off game.

Now, I admit that I have not been keeping up with the Birds in the off-season, but when the starting lineups are announced, I am really surprised that many of my favorite players are no longer on the team. Duce Staley. Hugh Douglas. James Thrash. Corey Simon. All gone. I want to ask, "When? Why?" but don't, fearing my father and brother will think I am not a true fan anymore, which they said would happen when I first moved to Baltimore with Nikki and gave up my season ticket.

To my surprise, the Birds are also not playing in Veterans Stadium, but at Lincoln Financial Field, just like Jake had said. Somehow they have built an entire stadium since last season, and I must have missed all the hype because I was stuck in the bad place. Still, something does not really seem right to me.

"Where is Lincoln Financial Field?" I try to ask nonchalantly when the commercials come on after the first series.

My father turns his head and stares at me but does not answer my question. He hates me. He looks repulsed, like it is a chore to sit in the family room watching the game with his mentally messed-up son.

"It's in South Philadelphia, just like all the other stadiums," my brother says too quickly. "Good crabby snacks, Mom."

"Can you see Lincoln Financial Field from the Vet?" I ask.

"The Vet's gone," Jake says.

"Gone?" I ask. "What do you mean, gone?"

"March 21, 2004. Seven a.m. It fell like a house of cards," my father says without looking at me, just before sucking an orange piece of meat from a chicken bone. "Over two years ago."

"What? I was at the Vet just last …" I pause because I start to feel a little dizzy and nauseous. "What year did you just say?"

My father opens his mouth to speak, but my mother cuts him off, saying, "A lot has changed since you were away."

Still, I refuse to believe the Vet is gone, even after Jake retrieves his laptop from his car and shows me a downloaded video of the Vet being imploded. Veterans Stadium – which we used to call the concrete doughnut – falls like a circle of dominoes, gray dust fills the screen, and it breaks my heart to see that place crumble, even though I suspect that what I am viewing is a computergenerated trick.

When I was a boy, my father took me to many Phillies games at the Vet, and of course there were all of the Eagles games with Jake, so it is hard to believe such a big monument to my childhood could be destroyed while I was in the bad place. The video ends, and I ask my mother if I can talk to her in the other room.

"What's wrong?" she says when we reach the kitchen.

"Dr. Patel said that my new medication might make me hallucinate."

"Okay."

"I think I just saw Veterans Stadium demolished on Jake's computer."

"Honey, you did. It was demolished over two years ago."

"What year is it?"

She hesitates, and then says, "Two thousand and six."

That would make me thirty-four. Apart time would have been in progress for four years. Impossible, I think. "How do I know I am not hallucinating right now? How do I know you're not a hallucination? You're all hallucinations! All of you!" I realize I am screaming, but I can't help it.

Mom shakes her head, tries to touch my cheek, but I swat her hand away and she starts crying again.

"How long was I in the bad place? How long? Tell me!"

"What's going on in there?" my father yells. "We're trying to watch the game!"

"Shhhh!" my mother says through tears.

"How long?" I yell.

"Tell him, Jeanie! Go ahead! He's going to find out sooner or later!" my father yells from the family room. "Tell him!"

I grab my mother's shoulders, shake her so her head wobbles all over, and yell, "How long?"

"Almost four years," Jake says. I look back over my shoulder, and my brother is in the kitchen doorway. "Now let go of Mom."

"Four years?" I laugh and let go of my mother's shoulders. She covers her mouth with her hands, and her eyes are full of pity and tears. "Why are you guys playing jokes on – "

I hear my mother scream, I feel the back of my head hit the refrigerator, and then my mind goes blank.