Authors: Jonathan Tropper
“I can manage a couple weeks,” said Lindsey, who thought it was a ridiculous idea and therefore liked it immensely. “I happen to be between jobs right now.”
“Shocker,” Chuck said.
We were on a conference call discussing the possible abduction. Somewhere in the background I could faintly hear the P.A. system of Mount Sinai Hospital, where Chuck was completing his surgical residency.
“When do you want to do it?” Alison asked.
“The sooner the better,” Chuck said. “I might be able to wrangle a little time off, but I’ll probably have to drive in from the mountains every other day to be on call.”
“How about you, Ben?” Alison asked.
“I’m not on call. I’m not even a doctor.”
“I suppose I could get the time off,” I said hesitantly.
“What’s the problem?” Lindsey asked. There was a slight coolness in her voice, which meant she hadn’t yet forgiven me for our phone conversation two nights ago.
“Look,” I said. “I like a good kidnapping as much as the next psychopath, but this isn’t like kidnapping some nobody. Jack is famous. He has people who work for him, who represent him. He’ll be missed.”
“Who cares if he’s missed, as long as he isn’t found,” Chuck said. “Next?”
“What do we do with him up there? Are we really going to tie him up?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Alison said. “My father’s study can be locked from the outside. We can keep him in there. There’s a sofa bed and a bathroom.”
“So he’s really going to be a prisoner,” I said. “This doesn’t seem a bit extreme?”
“Desperate times, Ben,” Lindsey said. “Desperate measures.”
“Alison,” Chuck said, “not that I’m worried, but from a legal standpoint, where would we stand if Jack decided to press charges?”
“Well, criminal law is not my forte,” Alison said. “But it’s conceivable we’d be in some pretty serious trouble.”
“I can’t believe Jack would ever do that,” Lindsey said.
“I can’t believe we would ever do this,” I said.
“So you’re with us?” Chuck asked.
“It’s not like I have a family to think about,” I said.
“That’s the spirit,” Alison said.
I still thought it was a crazy idea, but the prospect of spending a week or two in the mountains with friends seemed like the perfect
antidote to my current funk. Certainly, it beat staying up late on the couch by myself, studying my divorce from every angle like a new sweater I might want to return.
“So what’s the plan?” I asked.
Everyone fell silent as the logistics of our plan instantly failed to take shape.
“Jack will be here next Wednesday for an AIDS benefit at Planet Hollywood,” Alison told us.
“Do you think we can get invited?” Lindsey asked.
“What’s the point?” Chuck said. “We can’t grab him at a major media event. What are we supposed to do, whack him on the head and carry him out through the kitchen?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Why don’t we call that plan B,” I said sarcastically. “Especially since Seward will be there, and he watches Jack like a hawk.”
“I wouldn’t mind whacking Seward on the head, while we’re at it,” Lindsey said.
“I don’t think any of us really knows how to knock someone out,” Chuck said thoughtfully. “You knock someone out with a blow to the head, its got to be a hard one, and nine out of ten times the victim will suffer a concussion. It isn’t like those wimpy little karate chops to the back of the neck Captain Kirk is always using.”
“What we need is a Vulcan pinch,” I said.
“Are they referencing
again?” Alison asked.
“They are,” said Lindsey.
“Why do they always have to do that?”
“Because they have penises.”
“What about some sort of injection, Chuck?” Alison asked. “Like morphine or something.”
“It’s a possibility,” Chuck mused.
“Or a stun gun,” Lindsey offered. “I’ve been keeping one in my purse for over a year, and I’ve been dying to try it out.”
“Too violent,” Alison said.
“But more practical,” Chuck said. “An injection is a hard thing to give to an unwilling patient in a public place. Besides, I don’t like the idea of introducing something like morphine into a system that might be full of cocaine.”
“Jesus, will you listen to us,” Lindsey said, her voice smiling.
“I think Planet Hollywood is a horrible place to do this,” I said. “They’ve got a whole security force there, and it will be wall-to-wall paparazzi.”
“Where’s he going after the party?” Chuck asked.
“I think straight back to the airport,” Alison said.
“We could just invite him,” Lindsey said.
“Invite him. Say ‘Hey Jack, we’re all going up to the mountains for the weekend and we’d love for you to come.’ ”
“You’re forgetting he’s pissed at us,” I said.
“So what? You don’t stop being friends just cause you’re pissed.”
“He’ll never come,” Alison said. “He’s way too busy. He’s got to do looping on the movie he just finished shooting, and they’re already in preproduction for the
“I still say we should use the stun gun,” Lindsey said.
And so it went, for the next half hour. Finally, Chuck was paged and had to go, and we all agreed to think about it over the weekend and talk again on Monday.
As soon as I’d hung up the phone, it rang again, and I knew it was Lindsey before I picked up.
“Sorry I was such a bitch the other night.”
“You weren’t. Well, okay, you were, but I was being a little difficult too,” I said.
“Well, you know, you’re going through a lot right now, and I should have been more sensitive to that. I really am sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay,” she said brightening. “How was the divorce?”
“Maybe the friendliest one in the history of the institution.”
“Then I’m telling it wrong.”
“Yes. Divorce shouldn’t be friendly. It just makes everything that much more confusing,” I said.
“You know how Tolstoy says that every unhappy family is unhappy in a different way?”
“Well, I guess every bad marriage is different, too. Mine was the worst kind, a bad marriage disguised as a good one most of the time. We liked each other, had mutual interests, a good level of attraction. The unhappiness and dissatisfaction and whatever it was that made us fall apart just kind of caught me off guard because I didn’t even suspect it was there. So you find yourself in a situation where you really like someone and can’t point to a single thing wrong with the relationship, but at some point you’ve just stopped relating. And because nothing really seems to be wrong, you keep second-guessing your decision to get divorced. You keep asking yourself, why did I do this? Everything was fine. It’s a good thing we didn’t try counseling. They would have asked me what my problem was, and I wouldn’t have known. Now I’m alone and I can’t even think of a single thing that was wrong with the relationship.”
“But obviously you can,” Lindsey said. “Or why would you have gotten divorced to begin with?”
“I just kept thinking of this Chinese proverb. If you don’t change direction soon, you’re liable to end up where you’re heading.”
“Where’d you come up with that?”
“A fortune cookie.”
She laughed. I listened to her do it. “So where were you heading?”
“I don’t know. Somewhere really mediocre.”
“So you did the right thing.”
“I know. But I think that after a divorce it’s probably healthier to feel a good measure of hate and anger, or at least contempt for your ex-wife. This lack of any definitive feelings is really messing up my head.”
“Did you have such definitive feelings when we broke up?” Lindsey asked.
“I hated you for a year or two,” I said.
“Oh,” she said after a beat, clearly taken aback.
“I got over it,” I said quickly. “I didn’t so much hate you as blame you for my loneliness.”
“I know what you mean, Ben, I really do,” she said, sympathetic. “I know what it’s like to be lonely.”
“Hey don’t knock loneliness,” I said. “It keeps me busy when I’m alone.”
“Enough about me,” I said. “What have you been up to lately? I feel like I don’t know what’s up in your life at all.”
“That’s because there’s nothing to know.”
“You’re still temping?”
“You bet. I’ve elevated temping to an art form. It’s the perfect metaphor for me. You know, never staying in one place for too long.”
“What about teaching. You still have your license, don’t you?”
“Sure. I’ve thought about going back.”
“Why’d you quit in the first place? You loved teaching.”
She sighed. “I know. I’m not sure. I don’t think it had anything to do with teaching per se. I think I was just bothered by the finality of having found my career. It was like it defined me, and I was no
longer a work in progress. I felt way too young to be a finished product. I mean, what did that leave for the rest of my life?”
Even though I knew she wasn’t talking about why she’d left me, she certainly could have been. “So when you temp, you’re still a work in progress,” I said.
“I guess so.”
“Well, you’re right. That is the perfect metaphor for you.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I think.”
She laughed lightly. “Let’s get together soon.”
Hindsight supposedly begot clarity, but whenever I revisited my relationship with Lindsey, trying to understand why we broke up, I found the opposite to be true. I would look at the relationship from so many different angles that on any given day I could come up with an alternate reason for her leaving. We had discussed it ad nauseum before she left, and yet when I tried to reconstruct those conversations in my mind, I drew a complete blank. Apparently, I hadn’t been paying very close attention.
The easy answer was Lindsey’s temping metaphor. She felt too young to settle down, and needed to get out and see the world. It was a recurring theme in our breakup and the one I chose to be the party line. A safe, acceptable notion, which didn’t point to any serious flaws or deficiencies on anyone’s part. But the assignment of blame was an inevitable component of my increasingly obsessive postmortems, and in my darker moments after she was gone I was haunted by the silent implication in that excuse, that she wouldn’t have felt that way if there wasn’t something lacking in me.
It wasn’t that she didn’t love me, I knew that she did, and that
actually made it worse. If someone leaves you because they don’t love you, it’s a tough break, but as they say, life’s a bitch, get a helmet. But if someone loves you and leaves you anyway, you enter a whole new realm of self-doubt and recrimination, what psychologists call the what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-me syndrome. Spend enough time and you’ll come up with an infinite list of answers. Emotional immaturity, sexual inadequacy, boring personality, body odor. . . you’re only as limited as your imagination. There was actually one forty-eight-hour period when I seriously believed I’d been dumped because I had small, unmanly nipples.
My current and most promising theory was that from the minute we got together, I was never able to fully accept that Lindsey was truly mine. Having watched her romantic life from the sidelines for so long, developing an inferiority complex for every guy she dated, I had trouble believing that I was somehow going to succeed where so many others had failed. Lindsey was pretty wild in college and the guys she dated ran the gamut from athletes to rebels to foreigners to artists, but there was one thing they all had in common, none of them was me. And when it finally was me, the ghosts of all those men mingling in my mind with the ghosts of men still to come haunted me and left me in a constant state of anxiety, even while I thought I was blissfully in love. Lindsey was happy to have me, but I felt ridiculously lucky to have her. All of that had to be subliminally communicating itself to Lindsey, who may very well have read my insecurity as harboring a true personality deficit, making it something like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It all sounds well and good, but at the end of the day, who really knows? It just as easily may have been the tiny nipples.
I was so deeply asleep when Jack called later that night that the first six or seven rings managed to get written into my dream somehow. Only by the eighth ring did I become conscious that my phone was ringing in real life. After a few seconds of groping around on the floor I found it.
“I didn’t wake you, did I?” Jack said.
“Don’t worry about it, I had to get up to answer the phone.”
“Shit, I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s only around eleven out here.”
There was a brief, awkward silence.
“So, what’s up?” I asked.
“Can’t I just call and say hello?”
“Sure. You used to do that all the time.”
“It’s not like you don’t have my number, too,” he said testily. He’d always been very sensitive about making sure he didn’t become the cliché, the star who forgot the friends who knew him when. He grew defensive at the slightest implication that this was the case.