photoHere’s the good news, Dr. Susan: I’ve made a real breakthrough since our last session. I was listening to a story on NPR yesterday about adults on the autism spectrum, and it made me realize I might be one of those adults. I’m not sure I recognize social cues. How else could I have not seen Bret was emotionally unavailable even after being so serious with him? Don’t you think that explains a lot? Yes, I can see you’re still with a patient. I just thought this was important. I’ll come back…

…Can I start now? Okay. I also can’t read facial expressions—it’s a disease called prosopagnosia. It sounds made up, but it’s real, I Googled it. Turns out, I have four out of the five symptoms, including “perceiving inanimate objects as human beings.” Remember how I told you about that one time when I kept staring at that hottie across the bar and licking my lips, only to find out later he was a Dance Dance Revolution machine? You chalked it up to my being high on whip-its, but now I think it’s something more serious than that.

I can tell you’re getting defensive, Dr. Susan. I’m the one who should be defensive! Who is the injured party here, you or me? After all the time we’ve spent together, I would think you would have noticed something screwy with my reasoning. I don’t mean to be an asshole, but maybe you’re not up on neuropsychology the way you should be. I can’t be your only client suffering from a brain disorder. I mean, take that guy I walked in on—he was wearing a tie with shorts. What’s up with that?

Okay, back to me: You should have said, “Stacy, you may need to see a specialist, because you’re exhibiting signs that you’re on the autism spectrum. Furthermore, Stacy, having a spectrum disorder may make it markedly difficult for you to properly assess a romantic partner, especially one who sounds to me like he is emotionally unavailable.” Pretty good imitation of you, am I right? It’s all my improv training. SNL tends to hire people who are good at imitations, so I’ve been working at it for years. It’s only a matter of time until they call me in for an audition.

Let’s be honest, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear that I suck at picking boyfriends. I bet I would have scooped that ceramic unicorn off your desk and smashed it against the wall. But after I calmed down, I’m sure I would have seen the wisdom of your diagnosis and made an appointment at Cedars-Sinai to have them evaluate my brain. After all, Dr. Susan, this is my future we’re talking about.

You don’t remember who Bret is? I met Bret during my bartending shift at Duffy’s one night. He kept looking at me and smiling. After a while, I went over because I thought he was cute and also to make sure he wasn’t a Trivia Whiz machine. There was instant chemistry and we got friendly with each other, if you know what I mean. Just to be clear, I mean we ended up doing it. Oh, you got where I was going with that.

The next morning I woke up before Bret did and watched him sleeping. I couldn’t help but picture the adorable faces of the children we might have together. If they were twins, I already had the names picked out: Morgan and Montserrat. Morgan I always thought sounded good for either a boy or a girl, and Montserrat is this girl in my beginner Groundlings class. She’s not very talented and she wears those short shorts where half her butt is hanging out. All the guys in class seem to want her to play their hot girlfriend in improv scenes. But I like the name anyway.

At first, everything seemed fine with Bret and me. We hooked up like at least three more times. One morning, I asked Bret where he saw the relationship going. He looked a little uncomfortable, so I said, no pressure, he could think about it. I said I’d see him later, grabbed my shoes and got out of his car.

That night, I baked my famous chocolate chip banana bread and left it at the front door of his condo. He never called to thank me. Later when I asked him about it, he said he got it, but that he wasn’t eating real food because he was in the middle of a cleanse. Of course I believed him—why would my boyfriend lie to me? But clearly anyone who is not on the spectrum would have seen right through that bullshit excuse. Why didn’t you alert me, Dr. Susan? You should have said, “Is it possible, Stacy, that Bret isn’t looking for a relationship? And what kind of person refuses to eat homemade banana bread? Especially, Stacy, when it’s baked with love?”

Now that I understand my prosopagnosia or whatever it’s called, I’ve been dissecting the details of our relationship. It’s becoming more and more obvious to me now that Bret was a total jerk. For one, he never laughed at any of my hilarious stories. I know they’re funny because famous comedians find them hysterical. I waited on Amy Sedaris once when she was hanging at the bar at Second City. When I told her about the time in high school when my choir director told me to go jump off a roof—so I did—Amy was apoplectic.

If Bret had ever come to my beginner Groundlings class to watch me perform, he would have seen for himself how funny I am. Actually, he was the reason I had all the VHS tapes of my improv shows in the 90s converted to DVDs. If I don’t say so myself, back in the day, I was a crack-up as the hot mom and the slutty girlfriend, and even when my teammates pimped me into playing the mute sister (which they did more than once).

Dr. Susan, you think I’m funny, right? Remember when you said, “Well, Stacy, you’re definitely quirky, I’ll give you that.” I can play quirky just as well as I can play the hot mom. Quirkiness is definitely in my improv wheelhouse. I’ve been working on quirkiness for years for my SNL audition.

My last therapist, Dr. Rob, said that sometimes, quirkiness could be a disguise for low self-esteem. How come we’ve never discussed my low self-esteem? Just so we’re clear, Dr. Susan, I’m not paying you to placate me. I’m paying you to help me find a soul mate that will be a wonderful father to Morgan and Montserrat.

Bret never did watch my DVDs. He always had some excuse. Once when I called to see if he wanted to come over for a viewing party, his assistant told me that he had gone to the ER for a suspected case of meningitis. Of course, I ran right over to Cedars to make sure he was okay. The nurse said they didn’t have a patient there by Bret’s name. I asked if maybe he was admitted under a different name. I mean, I use aliases all the time. The nurse assured me that Bret wasn’t a patient and told me to calm down. When I screamed that my boyfriend was in the middle of a meningitis attack and that the hospital had lost track of him, the doctor on call intervened and threatened me with a psych evaluation.

How come you’ve never suggested that, Dr. Susan? Is it because you can’t tell the difference between someone who is quirky and someone who requires a psych evaluation?

When Bret showed up at Duffy’s a few nights after that, I was so happy to see him that I practically spit out my tequila shot. I said I hoped his meningitis had cleared up. He had an expression on his face that I couldn’t place at the time, but knowing what I know now about facial cues, he was looking at me like I was crazy. Have you ever looked at me like that, Dr. Susan?

I didn’t want to make waves with him, so I let the whole episode go, even though he didn’t seem sick or weak or have any other symptoms of meningitis, which I Googled.

By the way, I didn’t know that a stiff neck was a symptom of meningitis—maybe I need to get checked out for that as well. I thought my stiff neck was due to all the time I spent giving Bret blowjobs in his car.

Dr. Susan, I’ve spent many years honing my craft—I know I’m talented. It’s just a matter of time until my SNL audition comes through. Sometimes I get a little bit ahead of myself, though. Like the time I told Starleigh, my improv teacher, that I was ready to take the Groundlings intermediate classes. She told me, “Stacy, nobody is disputing the fact that you think you’re funny. The beginner classes will teach you what is actually funny.” That’s a vote of confidence, isn’t it, Dr. Susan?

Bret’s a comedy lit agent—he should know funny. As it turns out, he doesn’t, and I couldn’t tell due to my adult onset Aspergers. Maybe I should donate money to NPR during their next pledge drive to thank them for enlightening me. If only I had any money to give. Most of my income from bartending at Duffy’s goes towards these therapy sessions, Dr. Susan. Are you telling me that for the last six weeks, I’ve been throwing my money down the drain?

My last therapist, Dr. Rob, said that you came highly recommended. I would have stayed on with him, but he moved his practice to Guam. You aren’t planning to move to Guam in the near future, are you Dr. Susan?

I should have figured something was up with Bret when he didn’t laugh at my story about the time I was an exchange student in England. You remember that one, right? I was living with a British family and I got so drunk that I accidentally used their tea cozy as a maxi pad. It’s easily my funniest story, although my home stay family didn’t find it too amusing at the time. Ok, so it was a handmade family heirloom, but have you seen what passes for feminine protection in Europe? It’s an easy mistake to make.

My relationship with Bret was one of the longest I’ve ever had. How many of my shorter but equally serious relationships have fallen apart due to my undiagnosed medical conditions? We’re talking about years of my life, Dr. Susan. Childbearing years. As Starleigh says, she’s not sure I’m believable playing the hot mom, that maybe I should make different choices in scenes. But if I can’t play a hot mom onstage, how can I ever be a hot mom in real life?

Here’s another missed warning sign: Bret never took me to the movies. I made this connection all by myself, Dr. Susan, and I’m not a “soon-to-be licensed clinician” like you. Do you see why I am pissed off?

If Bret loved me, then he would have taken me to at least one movie, even a lame one, like Anchorman 2. But you never said anything about that connection. And none of my friends or friends of my friends ever said anything either. I think they kept quiet to avoid hurting my feelings, since I put it out on Instagram and Twitter and my YouTube channel just how much I loved Bret. In one particular webisode, I acted out a scene between Bret and I using pantomime playing both the characters. We were having a date at a fancy restaurant. I made up half my face to look like Bret’s using eyebrow pencil to mimic his five o’clock shadow, and I absolutely captured his essence, right down to his wandering eye. The pretend date went fabulously—Bret had the lobster thermidor, and I kept the waiters laughing with my spot-on impressions of famous folk singers. I’ve been told by lots of people that I am a terrific mime. I am apparently a viral hit in France, where mimes are appreciated!

I’m realizing now that my relationship with Bret was obviously discussed behind my back. Sometimes I would notice Tim from my basic Groundlings class after rehearsal, talking to the other students while pointing at me and laughing.

When I confronted Tim about this, he said he was doing it because he thought I was funny. Then I said that the Second City children’s theatre almost hired me in 1993 for just that reason. Then Tim said, “No way! I could have seen you—I was five then.” Do you see what I’m up against, Dr. Susan?

Dr. Susan, why didn’t you say: “Stacy, have you ever thought that maybe people like Tim are laughing at you, not with you?” I might have punched a hole through that Monet poster on your wall, but you’re supposed to be honest with me, no matter what. You’re supposed to help me navigate these kinds of relationship pitfalls, like getting involved with emotionally unavailable boyfriends. Just because I pay you on the low end of your sliding scale doesn’t mean I should receive subpar therapy.

From now on, I’m going to demand that if my friends notice anything odd or off-putting about my boyfriends, they need to tell me immediately because I am suffering from prosopagnosia and can’t figure it out myself. Or I might have ADHD. Or a type of non-life threatening meningitis that has yet to be identified. Do you have an opinion on any of this, Dr. Susan? Because I’m really starting to doubt your expertise.

I just remembered something else Bret used to do that was suspect: He talked about his ex-wife constantly. How she looked like a cross between Pam Anderson during the “Baywatch” era and that Asian weathergirl on Channel 7, that she smelled like lavender, that she picked out the most perfect granite breakfast bar for their kitchen, and that she was a borderline personality who was taking him to the cleaners from their divorce.

At the time, I thought Bret was unburdening himself to me, his soul mate who would be the mother of his children, Morgan and Montserrat. In retrospect, he was a major tool like the rest of my exes.

One time when we were together, you know, after doing it, Bret confided in me: He had found out that while they were married, his ex-wife was screwing around with his friend Karl. Contrary to what Starleigh says, I’m a good listener. And I had to listen hard because Bret was going off on a bunch of tangents. Trying to have a heartfelt conversation is hard enough, let alone in a stall in the unisex toilets at Duffy’s with drunk Groundlings students pounding on the door, complaining they had to pee. Have you ever seen toilet seats in a bar up close, Dr. Susan?

For the longest time, I thought Bret’s ex-wife’s name was Johnny, but after a while, I figured out that when he said, “I miss Johnny,” he was talking about Johnny Walker Red. These are the little things that I thought endeared me to Bret—knowing his ex-wife wasn’t named Johnny or making his signature drink before he could even order it, or giving him blow jobs. He seemed so grateful for my attention.

After plugging in some of my other symptoms on WebMD, I think I may also suffer from a disease where I can hear and understand individual words, but I can’t make sense of them when they are strung together in a sentence. This explains a lot.

Dr. Susan, maybe that’s why I got off the bus at the wrong stop for our first few sessions. I thought El Camino was the model of your car, not the street where your office is located.

When I think about it now, Bret never once asked me about my ex-husband. This may be because I do not have an ex-husband; well, not really, unless you count the one time I married my cousin on a dare—remind me to tell you about that one, it’s a good one—but he never asked me about any of my previous relationships. That’s weird, right? Soul mates are supposed to talk about everything. They are supposed to know all about the experimental phase you went through as an exchange student, and all the love affairs that have gone south since you moved to LA. They are supposed to love you no matter what you’ve done or whom you’ve done it to.

Dr. Susan, why didn’t you say: “Stacy, has Bret asked about your previous relationships? Does he know who you lost your virginity to?”

It might have prompted me to remember that boyfriends and girlfriends are supposed to have that conversation before they get married, buy a bigger condo, and have twins.

Bret might have been interested to know that I lost my virginity to a certain person who is a fantastic improviser and totally famous for writing and directing successful comedies such as Anchorman 2. Bret might have found himself a lucrative new client thanks to my virginity. I would have been happy to contact this person on Bret’s behalf, if this person were still represented by the manager who dumped me two years ago. Or I would have tried for the millionth time to get this person to friend me on Facebook. This person used to be the head writer on SNL and could maybe help get me an audition. Or I would have tried harder to get this person to talk to me the few times he showed up at Duffy’s. I would have raved about Bret, my fabulous fiancé-to-be on his way up the ladder at WME. I tried sharing this with Bret, but he never wanted to hear about how I lost my virginity. I was sort of disappointed, but I told myself maybe he was one of those guys who didn’t like women talking before, during, or after sex.

Bret didn’t say much of anything, unless it was about his ex-wife. Maybe it should have been a red flag that after we had sex, Bret would say that having an orgasm helped him block out the image of his friend Karl teabagging his ex-wife whose name is not Johnny.

The one morning I stayed over at his condo, Bret was leisurely reading Variety at his granite breakfast bar and he didn’t even ask if me if I wanted coffee. I did ask a bunch of times if he had a coffee maker or if he wanted to go to the Starbucks downstairs, but he kept saying he was on a juice fast. When I screamed I would throw myself off his balcony if I didn’t get some caffeine, he just put in his ear buds and ignored me. It’s as though he knew about all the other times I had threatened to throw myself off of condo balconies and hospital rooftops and high schools and didn’t care whether I went through with it or not.

Dr. Susan, who doesn’t need coffee after a night of bartending, drinking too much tequila, doing whip-its in the parking lot, taking the bus to their boyfriend’s condo, and waiting hours in the lobby for their boyfriend to show up?

In retrospect, because I was in love and have neurological problems, I let most of Bret’s imperfections slide. And also because I have chemical imbalances, but I think I told you about that during our last session. If not, remind me to tell you that story!

Sometimes, I would hang around the lobby of Bret’s condo after work and pretend I had stopped by because I was in the neighborhood. If he wasn’t there, I’d wait. At first I was chummy with the security guards, but then they got irritated with me after I brought in my sleeping bag and clock radio. They had to know how uncomfortable those couches in the lobby are to sleep on. After I was banned from the lobby, I would sit cross-legged in Bret’s parking space in the garage, avoiding the security cameras. When I was down there, a new Lexus sped around the corner, almost running me down. Bret said that he didn’t see me, and it was really dark down there. I should have gotten suspicious after the fourth time it happened. Dr. Susan, this is what I am so angry about! Why did not you say to me: “Stacy, do you really want to spend your life with someone who tries to run you over repeatedly with their car?” If you had put it like that, I might have really heard you.

Dr. Susan, you should have figured it out. I told you everything. Sure, fifty minutes goes by quickly, and it would sometimes seem like I just got started relating all the important details of our relationship, but I think you got the gist. Although you might have at least taken notes or something. Dr. Rob always took notes during our sessions. At least I think he did. One time I caught him doodling.

Okay, back to me. I ran into Bret recently. I served this girl, her name is Gina or Tina something—I met her through my Groundlings friends. She’s in the intermediate class, so I tried to impress her with my tea cozy story, until she excused herself to make a phone call. Twenty-five minutes later, I saw her and Bret frenching right in front of the bar.

Bret did not see me but I definitely saw him. All I could do was look down at Gina’s or Tina’s sparkly ghetto heels. If only Bret had looked at her feet, then he would have noticed she needed a pedicure big time. Toenails say a lot about a person, Dr. Susan. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.

It’s a terrible realization, but Bret would rather make out with a woman with disgusting chipped toenails than get married, buy a bigger condo, and have babies with me.

While we were seriously dating, Bret never asked me about birth control, especially after I reassured him that I was on the pill. Okay, I sometimes forgot to take my birth control pills. It’s not like I did it on purpose. I read somewhere on WebMD that memory lapse can be another symptom of meningitis.

But Bret knew how much I wanted to have kids. Anytime we went anywhere together, like his parking garage or the alley behind Duffy’s, I would ooh and aah over any babies we might see, and if we didn’t see any babies, I did the same thing with dogs. Dogs are basically stand-ins for babies, everyone knows that. You have a dog, Dr. Susan, don’t you? A French poodle? Or was that Dr. Rob’s dog? I hope that dog is living it up in Guam.

So when I told him that I had possibly missed my period, I thought he would have been happy. But he just got really, really pale. I told Bret it didn’t matter that I would be the oldest hot mom on the playground; I said our child would be quirky with me as its mother, and super great at being an agent with him as its father. Although him being a great agent is up for debate since he apparently can’t tell what’s funny or not. Maybe he’s on the spectrum too!

I told him that I wasn’t completely sure just yet because the pregnancy test I took from CVS was inconclusive, but that I had had a very realistic dream I was pregnant. I should have known something was up when he asked me, “How are pregnancy tests inconclusive? Aren’t they are either positive or negative?” If he had cared about me, he would have taken me at my word, not made me buy another test and take it in front of him. I still think that the minus sign is going to ultimately turn into a plus sign. Sometimes it takes time for the hormones to show up in one’s bloodstream.

I should have known something was up when I texted him about possible baby names, Morgan and Montserrat, and he never texted back. I should have known that every time I called Bret at work, his assistant refused to put me through. I should have known when after awhile, the assistant started hanging up on me. And when I finally ran into Bret, he was frenching gross-toed Gina or Tina.

I told you about how much I wanted to have a baby, Dr. Susan, remember? Couldn’t you have suggested to me gently that Bret might not be the right guy to father Morgan and Montserrat?

What’s really tragic about this situation is that I can’t raise a baby by myself, Dr. Susan. Not since all these neurological issues have come to light. What if I mistook the baby for the garbage and threw it out accidentally? Or left it on the bus because I thought it was a newspaper? Given my spectrum disorder, it could happen.

On the bus ride over here, I looked out the window and up Hollywood Boulevard, and I saw a beautiful woman walking on the sidewalk. She was wearing short shorts, and her tanned legs looked gorgeous in a pair of expensive looking high heels. I could imagine her beautifully pedicured toenails. She looked like a woman with a purpose, with direction. At that moment, I believed in my heart that I could be someone just like her, if only I wasn’t someone just like me. As the bus drove by, I don’t know what came over me. I yelled out the window, “Go screw yourself, bitch!” The woman looked surprised and her face crumpled, as though she was about to cry. I started to feel guilty, but then she looked right at me and spit on the ground and grabbed her crotch. It was only then I realized she wasn’t a woman at all.

I know our time is up, Dr. Susan, but where does this leave me? What about Morgan and Montserrat? And why do you keep looking at me like that? Like Starleigh asks during improv class: “Where’s the life behind your eyes?”


DEBBIE GRABER’S fiction has appeared in Harpers.org, Zyzzyva, Word Riot, and Pithead Chapel, among other journals. She received an MFA from the University of California, Riverside.

TAGS: , , , ,

TNB FICTION is proud to showcase book excerpts and original short fiction from some of the finest writers in the world. Features have included work by Aimee Bender, Dan Chaon, Stuart Dybek, Jennifer Egan, Bret Easton Ellis, Roxane Gay, Etgar Keret, Antonya Nelson, and hundreds of other internationally acclaimed and emerging writers. Spotlighting a recent book release each week, TNB Fiction helps bring awareness of new literary fiction, from both trade and independent publishers, to readers around the world, providing a global, free-access arena for spotlighting the genre in an era of shrinking coverage among mainstream print publications. TNB Fiction has its finger on the pulse of a vibrant new generation of writers, as well as established literary greats whose work continues to shape the future dialogue of literary culture. Fiction Editor Rachael Warecki lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Masters Review, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere, and has received residency invitations from the Wellstone Center and Ragdale. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles and is currently at work on a novel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *