8

“ARE YOU TRYING TO FUCK MY GIRLFRIEND?”

When you’re confronted with a question from a person, a legitimately crazy person with a proven penchant for violence that is, in the deepest sense of the word, irrational, you really only have two options: engage and hope for the best, or go numb, aka the grizzy bear defense.

I opt for the latter. But the bear keeps pawing. “It’s you,” he says, “isn’t it?” His severe lazy eye makes it possible that he’s not addressing me at all, but a spot on the wall above and beyond my left shoulder. But I’m pretty sure he means me. I squirm in my chair and wait for Daphne to arrive.

“Leave him alone, Vincent,” she says as she drifts into the room.

I’m struck by the urge to laugh: It’s Daphne dressed for Halloween as a crazywoman. An inch of mousy brown hair now separates her peroxide tips from her scalp. Her eyes are glazed. She’s even wearing the requisite puke green hospital gown and slide-on slippers. In a few seconds, she’s going to drop the fa?ade and smile. We’ll smoke a joint and find a place to fuck.

A few seconds come and go. “I know,” Daphne says. “I look like shit.”

“I beg to differ,” I say. “It’s very punk rock.” Adding, when she looks like she’s about to cry, “The gown looks incredibly comfortable. You know where I can score one?”

She tries to laugh but comes up short. “I know a guy,” she says. “Hey, Vincent . . . a little privacy.” The bear runs anguished fingers through greasy Hitler hair and lopes off to a different area of the commons room.

Commons room. Daphne and I had one of our Top 5 Fights (Number 3, to be exact) in a room that looked a lot like this one. I’d blown off a catering gig for a party, or that’s what I told Daphne. The truth was that I’d gone out to dinner with an ex-girlfriend who was passing through Ithaca on her way to Toronto. We’d begun the night talking about how weird it was that we weren’t in high school anymore and ended it with her demonstrating her newfound maturity with a blow job in the front seat of her rental car. Daphne had friends at every restaurant and, once alerted, stormed directly to my dorm room. The floor’s residential adviser, clearly unhappy to be woken at three A.M. by a screaming match in the hallway, threatened to call Campus Security. I dragged Daphne into the commons room, where the fight continued into daylight hours.

That was just over a year ago. It’s been a long year. Today’s Daphne hardly looks primed for a fight. The woman who just last week, according to the police report, splashed gasoline onto my parents’ home as she screamed my name now appears to be a candidate for the world’s longest nap. She’s here at Kings Park, undergoing psychiatric evaluation, thanks to the Herculean efforts of Larry Kirschenbaum, whose connections and savvy kept her out of the general population at Rikers Island when my father refused to drop the charges.

“How are your parents?” she asks.

“Mom’s a little ticked about her rosebushes.”

“I am so sorry.”

“Don’t be. Insurance will cover most of it. The rest can come out of Dad’s hooker fund. But hey… next time you want to get ahold of me?” I hold up the Motorola. “I’ve even got one of these now.”

“Ha,” she says. “What are you, a drug dealer?”

“Funny you should ask….”

I fill her in on the details of my new life, minus the gloomy stretches of loneliness and my recent make-out session with a rising supermodel. Daphne manages a real smile when I tell her about the Chelsea. My words seem to nourish her and I remember why we stayed together long enough to make a list of Top 5 Fights. Sure, she’s done some crazy things, but I wasn’t always an honest boyfriend—if she was nuts, I’d helped to get her there. So I continue for an hour, like a rookie camper trying to make fire from flint; there are a few sparks, but in the end, Daphne’s deadened eyes refuse to ignite. She rests a hand on mine, letting me know that it’s okay to stop trying. I promise her I’ll visit again, that she can call me anytime if she needs something, even if it’s just to talk.

“There is one thing you can do for me,” she says. “I want to find my father.”

Her father left home when she was five. A few years later, he’d completely disappeared from her life. Daphne and I had a running debate over whose grass was greener, the guy with the kind of dad who steals money from his kid to take his mistress out to lunch, or the girl without a father.

“Wow,” I say. “Are you sure now’s a good time for that?”

“His name is Peter.”

“Peter?”

“Peter Robichaux. You said if I needed anything….”

“I meant something that I could actually do. Finding a guy who dropped off the map ten years ago doesn’t exactly play to my strengths.”

“Forget it,” she says, forcing a smile. “I was just fucking with you. I’m crazy, you know.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Do you have any other information, an address or a phone number?”

“That’s all I got,” she whispers.

It’s a five-minute walk to the parking lot from the building where Daphne is housed. Tana is waiting for me in her car. She holds up her wristwatch when she sees me.

“Really?” she asks.

I climb quietly into her passenger seat. I feel disoriented—spend an hour in a mental institution, and the outside world starts to seem a little weird. Tana, God bless her, parses my mood. We drive back to Levittown in silence.

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