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Authors: Jason Starr

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BOOK: The Craving
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She shuddered as the memory nudged into her consciousness, but she refused to let her mind fully go there. Denial was her new mantra. Maybe it was a dysfunctional coping mechanism, but it had been working so far; after all, at least she wasn’t in a mental institution. She wanted to believe that if she didn’t think about what had happened in New York, the experience would eventually vanish, like a bad dream. Or, maybe if she just stayed in bed and hid her head in the darkness under her pillow, like she’d done when she was a kid on days she didn’t want to get up to go to school, they wouldn’t be able to find her and she would be safe, protected. The flashbacks—in vivid, horrifying detail—were still coming, though, but it had been only a few weeks. Maybe one day she’d wake up and it would all be gone, forgotten completely, as if it had never happened. She couldn’t wait for that day.


Sitting at the edge of her bed, leaning over and kneading her scalp with her fingers obsessively, she’d never felt so out of control. She wondered if this was what insanity felt like. She didn’t think she was insane, but wasn’t that part of the definition of insanity? Didn’t all insane people think they were sane? She was definitely
insane—staying in bed all day, neglecting her appearance and hygiene, starving herself, virtually paralyzed by extreme paranoia. She had to admit, when she analyzed her behavior this way, as an outsider would, she didn’t seem like a portrait of sanity. While she thought she had a very good reason to be behaving the way she was, if she was insane how could she trust her thoughts? Maybe nothing had happened to her in New York—maybe it seemed like a nightmare because it had been an actual nightmare, or some kind of hallucination. It was true she’d been under a lot of stress lately and had never
really adjusted to life in the city. Maybe the breakup with Steve had been the thing that had put her over the edge.


As she continued to rock back and forth, kneading her scalp with her fingertips, she whispered repeatedly, “New York never happened, New York never happened, New York never happened…”


Gradually, she started to believe that there was at least some chance that she’d made it all up, had had some kind of psychotic break, which gave her more hope than she’d had in days. Insanity was a good thing. Insanity could be cured. Insanity would mean that she could get through this. If she just pushed herself, if she stopped being the victim, she could snap herself out of this before it was too late and it took over completely.


She went downstairs, apologized to her parents, and ate all the food her mother put in front of her, even asking for seconds. Already she felt energized, convinced she could get through this.


Practically beaming, Barbara said, “I’m so happy you’re finally eating.”


“You and Dad are right,” Diane said. “I can’t live my life like this anymore. I need some things at the drugstore. Can I borrow your car?”


“Of course you can, sweetie.”


Upstairs, Diane showered—unlike her other showers over the past few weeks, she managed to not see glimpses of that scene from
—and then she put on clean clothes. She felt good.
felt good. If she could just get to CVS and back without having an attack of paranoia, it would be a great start, something to build on. She needed to prove to herself that the danger wasn’t real.


The fear didn’t set in until she was about to leave the house. At the front door she was so dizzy she almost lost her balance and had to grab on to the molding on the wall near the front door so she wouldn’t fall down.


Her father was nearby and said, “Are you okay?”


“Yeah, I’m fine,” Diane said, recovering quickly. “Just tripped on my heels.”


She was wearing clogs, with maybe one-inch heels, so this didn’t really make sense.


“Maybe I should come with you,” Robert Coles said.


“Don’t be ridiculous,” Diane said, “it’s a five-minute drive, maybe less. I’ll see you soon.”


Barbara came over and said, “Drive carefully.”


“Don’t worry,” Diane said. “I will.”


Diane went outside. It was a perfect November day—bright and sunny, about fifty degrees. Most leaves were gone from the trees and there was the smell of mulch in the crisp, cool air. She was enjoying being outdoors for the first time in days so much that she didn’t get nervous and paranoid again until she was inside her mom’s Ford Fusion. She felt like she was being watched. She looked around quickly in every direction, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there somewhere. Her heart was racing and she felt extremely dizzy, as if she’d just gotten off a merry-go-round. Her father was probably right—she probably shouldn’t be driving a car right now—but she wanted to prove to herself that she could get through this, that this horrible paralyzing fear she’d been experiencing wasn’t permanent.


She repeated out loud: “New York never happened, New York never happened, New York never happened, New York never happened….” and she felt better—well, at least she didn’t feel like she was going to pass out anymore.


She started the engine and backed out of the driveway onto the quiet, suburban street. Driving away, looking in the rearview mirror, she thought a black SUV, looked like a Lexus, was following her, but then the SUV turned down a side street.


In CVS, Diane hurried to get the things she needed, avoiding making eye contact with anyone. At the checkout line, someone bumped into her from behind and she turned around suddenly, maybe even cocking a fist, and said “Hey.”


Then she saw that the person who had bumped her was an elderly woman with a cane, about eighty years old. The old woman could’ve been one of them, but it wasn’t likely.


“Oh, sorry,” Diane said. Then she closed her eyes and said, “New York never happened, New York never happened, New York never happened.”


When she opened her eyes she saw that the girl working at the checkout counter was looking at her like … well, like she was a crazy person, but this was a good thing. Diane wanted to be crazy. If she was crazy, that meant she was safe.


Returning to the car, Diane was barely afraid. Her heart was beating much faster than normal and she felt clammy—especially the back of her neck—but she didn’t feel dizzy or wobbly. She was proud of herself for doing so well. She realized a trip to CVS hardly constituted resuming her life, but it was a major step in the right direction. Maybe if, over the next week or so, she left her house every day to take a small trip somewhere—shopping, to the gym, maybe even see a movie—she’d get used to being around strangers again and eventually the fear—and the memories of New York—would vanish completely.


Driving home, she looked once or twice in the rearview mirror to check whether anyone was following her, but her paranoia had subsided significantly. At this point she didn’t want to put too much pressure on herself, have unrealistic expectations. She needed to take it day by day and build on what she’d accomplished this afternoon, but it was hard not to fantasize about what a fear-free life in Michigan would be like. Maybe within a month she could move out of her
parents’ house into her own apartment. She had a lot of friends in the area. She’d fallen out of touch with some of them, and most of them were married, but she’d have people to socialize with. Eventually she’d be ready to date again and she’d meet a good, solid Michigan guy. He’d come from a good family and have a good job and, most important, he’d be normal. The idea of settling down in the suburbs used to terrify Diane; nothing had seemed more terrifying than living her parents’ life. But now that was all she wanted—an easy, normal, safe life. And, really, was that too much to ask for?


She pulled into the driveway and parked in front of the garage. As she got out of the car she was absorbed in the fantasy of her future life—marriage, kids, a big house. It wouldn’t be such an awful life. It would be a good, safe, easy life, and that was all that mattered to her now. She was through feeling that she had to be in the center of the action, that she had to be in a big city, going to the newest, hippest bars and restaurants and attending club openings and wine tastings. She didn’t even like going to wine tastings, acting so self-important, having to think of new adjectives to describe the wine to whomever she was with. She was through trying to impress, being fake. She just wanted to go back to who she was—a simple, happy, laid-back Michigan girl. It would be so relieving to not feel like she had to go somewhere or transform into someone else in order to be happy. She could be happy being who she was and where she was. She could be happy right here, right now.


She was starting to smile, feeling better than she had in weeks, when she heard movement behind her. In the next instant there was a sharp pain in her head and she was falling forward into the darkness, and her mother was telling her to get her head out from under the pillow, it was time to get up to go to school, but she wouldn’t go to school.


She would stay in the darkness forever.


n high school Simon Burns didn’t fit in with any crowd. He wasn’t a jock, a math geek, a theater person, a burnout, or a dork, and he didn’t dress in trendy clothes, or drive a sports car, or date the hottest girls. He was just a nice, average, normal guy. His friends liked him, but most people didn’t have an opinion of him one way or another. On most days, when he was walking through the hallways or having lunch in the cafeteria, he felt invisible and was convinced that if he actually disappeared most people wouldn’t have cared or even noticed.

Now, as a thirty-nine-year-old stay-at-home dad, hanging out with his three-year-old son Jeremy on the playgrounds of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Simon had the total opposite experience. It seemed as if the moms and babysitters couldn’t stop staring at him. Even when he didn’t see them looking at him he could
their gazes,
as if their eyes were projecting lasers that were boring into his skin. Sometimes Simon enjoyed the attention—hey, what married guy in his late thirties didn’t like an ego boost every once in a while?—but most of the time the staring and smiling felt intrusive, so he’d started listening to music on his iPod and wearing dark sunglasses, trying to appear as standoffish as possible.


On an early November afternoon on the playground near 101st Street in Riverside Park, Simon was in his usual spot, on a bench near the entrance, trying to be incognito. He was wearing his shades, and on his iPod the Decemberists were into “The Hazards of Love.” There were ten or so women in the playground—most Simon recognized from previous playground visits—and they were all checking him out.


Jeremy started playing with a taller boy, probably a year or two older than him. Simon hadn’t seen the boy before, but Jeremy seemed to like him a lot. They were chasing each other around, playing some sort of tag game.


At one point, Jeremy came over to Simon and gave him a big hug and said, “I love you, Daddy.”


“I love you too, kiddo,” Simon said.


Jeremy put his hands over his ears, and Simon realized he’d spoken louder than he’d intended because of the blasting music. They laughed together, and then Jeremy went back to playing with his friend.


Simon’s adjustment to being a stay-at-home dad had been an adjustment, to say the least. Though he still missed his career in advertising and harbored resentment about the way things had gone down at the job from which he’d been terminated, at times like this he felt incredibly lucky. How many dads got to spend so much quality time with their children? This was something special, and he never wanted to forget how great this felt.


Simon looked to his left and saw Jeremy’s new friend’s mother looking at him and smiling. She was an attractive woman with dark wavy hair, maybe in her midthirties, a few years younger than Simon. Though she was sitting about ten feet away from him, he could smell her strong perfume and knew she’d recently had a cup of dark-roasted coffee.


Other times over the past few weeks, when women smiled at him, Simon smiled back politely. Usually this had been a mistake, because the women often assumed this meant he was interested and started hitting on him. So, not wanting to encourage her at all, Simon remained blank-faced, not acknowledging her in any way, and continued to listen to the Decemberists and watch Jeremy play.


“Excuse me.”


Well, that had backfired. The woman was standing next to him.


Without taking out the earbuds, Simon said, “Yes.”


“Sorry, I don’t want to disturb you,” she said. “I just wanted to say hello.”


Simon probably shouldn’t have been able to hear her so clearly over the music.


“Hi,” he said.


“Our children, they play so well together,” the woman said.


She had an accent—something Eastern European, maybe Russian. Her perfume was Marc Jacobs or Lancôme, definitely Lancôme, and he was pretty sure the coffee was from Dunkin’ Donuts, not Starbucks.


“Yeah, they do,” Simon said.


“Can I join you?” she asked


Simon realized there was a limit to how rude he could be without coming off as being a total jerk, so he said, “Um, okay.”


She sat next to him, smiling widely, and said, “I’m Milika.”


“Simon,” he said hesitantly.


“It’s very nice to meet you,” she said, looking right at his eyes. Hers were blue and open very wide.

BOOK: The Craving
13.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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