Each time Julien arrives he grabs my hand and blurts out, “Tu vas bien, André?” I always answer yes and ask if he’ll take some cold water from the fridge, which he readily accepts as his eyes dart nervously around me. Glass in hand, he heads toward the couch and perched on the edge as if he’s about to leap. He once told me that when he was having a drink with his ex-girlfriend Rachel, sitting with her in a bar in the West Village, she called him a jumping jack.

Julien has more reasons than most of us to be jumpy. When he was nine years old his mother started dosing on oxycodone in the family’s fancy art-deco apartment in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris. She couldn’t remember when she doubled the dosage from 40 to 80 milligrams. She also lost track of the number of pills she snatched from her jewelry box each day and on which days she swallowed them. But she never once got high unless Julien was there with her in the apartment. Today, when he least expects it – when he’s studying in Bobst library, or sitting on a park bench in Washington Square Park, or walking down Bleecker Street – he’s suddenly seized by the neighbors grumbling in the hallway as the paramedic’s wheel his mother down to the ambulance He sees the pity in their eyes, the disgust in their faces.

Julien’s father moved out when he was ten leaving him with his mother, sister, and younger brother. He recalls his mother and father screaming at each other way before his sister and brother were born. In those days he spent a lot of time with his mother. “I remember playing with a model train in her bedroom when I was about four years old,” he told me. “She’s seated at her vanity table in a peignoir brushing her hair with a dreamy, far-away look in her eyes. A strange guy suddenly arrives. Like an excited kid, she pulls off her peignoir and jumps into bed with him. I can still hear her moaning as she fucks him, eyes closed like I’m not even there. After that, I refused to go into her bedroom, even when she pleaded with me. The only time I went was when she overdosed.”

Ever since they split Julien’s father and mother have circled each other like sharks in a battle over the money his father had accumulated through the years from his importing business. Julien remembers seeing his mother on the phone each day browbeating her lawyer into tracking down the numbered accounts she knew his father had set up in Turks and Caicos and the Caymans. He’d been drafted by his father into texting him daily reports of who she was talking to, seeing and fucking, in return for covering his school expenses including a generous monthly allowance. In his bleaker moments, chest heaving, legs shaking, Julien describes himself back then as an in-house spy, his father’s espion maison.   

By the time he graduated lycée, Julien had worked out a plan to break free of his father. “I was in a good position because I’d just scored a mention très bien on my Bac,” he told me. ‘Seventeen out of twenty!’ my father crowed as he gulped down his third glass of Château Ouled Thaleb in what he still believes is our favorite Moroccan restaurant in le Seizième. That’s when I pitched him. Told him the computer science practicums at Polytechnique weren’t as good as the internships offered by the Courant Institute at NYU. I can still see the smirk on my mother’s face when I told her how casually I mindfucked him into shelling out a hundred thousand bucks for my full tuition and living expenses.”

Julien discovered he had a knack for salesmanship during his last two years in lycée when he streamed Glengarry Glen Ross, a film about real estate scammers on his laptop. The scene that grabbed him was a speech the sales manager gave to the other salesmen: ‘First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado,’ he tells them, ‘second prize a set of steak knives and third prize, you’re fired!’ The bloodthirsty look and sheer arrogance in the guy’s face thrilled Julien. Back then girls had also started to notice his intense dark eyes, tan Moroccan skin and buff bi’s and tri’s.  Flirting with them helped wipe away, at least temporarily, the scammer part of him so adept at working his father, and the spineless mini-butler so ready to please his mother with sides of gin to go with her oxycodone.    

When Julian got to NYU and discovered Snapchat, he was euphoric. What hooked him on the app was how easy it is to stream images of women, then swipe left as if they never existed. It took just one image of Rachel in a high waisted angle thong – back then she was getting enough hits to qualify as a Snapshot goddess – to make him feverishly swipe right. They agreed to meet at an ABC, Anything but Clothes, party in the East Village where he found her swiveling her hips and splaying her legs to the beat of Bo Burnham’s I fuck Sluts on the dance floor. He could tell by the look on her face she knew she was raising at least a half dozen hard- ons from the guys clustered around her. He zeroed in on her and thrust his hips forward barely touching her. “The look on your face tells me you’re an angel-whore used to having prodigious amounts of casual sex,” he said. Rachel immediately recognized him and burst out laughing.

“That’s better than the ‘Can’t wait to own your gorgeous ass’ I usually get,” she answered.  

They hooked up that night and plunged into what felt like a weird, opaque dream to Julien. Breakfast at daybreak in Rachel’s tiny studio in the East Village. Leaving her for her visual arts class at Cooper Union as he rushed to his first class at Courant. Engrossed on their laptops in Bobst Library or in good weather in Washington Square Park. Weekend walks on the High Line after pizza washed down with too much Stella Artois. The scenes streamed before him like a Netflix video, the same way they had years earlier as he watched couples strolling, people jogging and families picnicking in the Bois de Boulogne. Only the brown weathered walls and impenetrable glass windows of Courant seemed constant and durable in the morning light as he speed-walked to his classes. Later that day Rachel returned earlier than expected and found him fucking a hot Indian girl in her bathtub.

The week after Rachel kicked him out, Julien shared the following dream with me. “We’re running to catch a plane for Paris,” he said. “Rachel’s dressed in white and runs ahead of me. I lose sight of her. ‘Where are you!?’ I scream. She yells back to let me know where she is, but it’s too late. We miss the flight. Then suddenly we’re in a forest, and I feel like a jungle boy watching her, a nymph from another world. She looks tender and delicate playing hopscotch on the forest floor. A giant lizard suddenly attacks her. I try to kill the lizard but Rachel doesn’t know I’m there. I woke up in a cold sweat.”

After Julien left, it was hard for me to shake the image of him blasting out of his nightmare. The predatory lizard, innocent jungle boy and nymph-like Rachel: split off pieces of himself he cast for the jungle scene. I thought of a raging little boy a lifetime ago in Philadelphia who smashed his mother’s bedroom mirror after watching a strange guy moving on top of her on her bed. Today that boy would be labeled a PINS, a person in need of supervision, maybe locked up and medicated for short periods in Bellevue or exiled to Child Protective Services. More than any of my clients, Julian stirs up that boy. A boy perhaps less tender, more genetically predisposed to hate than him.

“I still see us making love in a tiny hotel room in Paris,” Julien said, “my mouth so hungry for the taste of her, desperate to be inside her. I know so many things about her. She loves real coffee unlike most American girls. The excitement in her face when she feels the pressure of my eyes on her breasts. She gets wet when I massage her feet and takes a long time to come. After we made love, I took her for a walk across le Pont des Arts and showed her the lovers’ locks weighing down the bridge. The services municipaux will soon remove them for the safety of people crossing.”

At that moment – looking back on it I’m sure it was Julien’s solemn tone of voice, the feigned sincerity he’d learned in Paris and rehearsed and perfected on Snapchat – that made me suddenly burst out in laugher.

“You know, you’re so adept at this it’s second nature,” I said. “You don’t realize you’re doing it. I can see the two of us right now commiserating in Paris, polishing off a bottle of Château Ouled Thaleb in our favorite Moroccan restaurant as you tell me the tale of two tragic lovers crossing a bridge that’s about to collapse under the crushing weight of their love. You could be the star closer on the sales team in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Julien gives me a sheepish grin.

“Have you seen the films of Truffaut?” I ask.   

The Four Hundred Blows, obligatoire in lycée,” he answers.

“Of course, you know The Four Hundred Blows. You know everything, and understand nothing! Do you understand the kid in the film, Antoine Doinel, is a born scammer? He plays hooky from school, makes up a sob story for the principal about his mother dying, and steals a typewriter. But he’s not nearly as smart as you. They find out he lied about his mother, and he gets caught trying to return the typewriter, which is the perfect excuse they need to ship him off to reform school.”

“He escapes at the end,” Julien says.

“True, but do you know how Truffaut portrays him in later life?”

“I never saw the rest of the series.”

“How reassuring to know there’s something you don’t know. In Love at 20 he falls in love for the first time and is rejected by the girl; in Bed and Board, he gets married and cheats on his wife; and we last see him as a single father in Love on the Run juggling his ex-wife and current girlfriend, son saveur du moment, as he scurries around Paris like chicken little.”

“So, I’m chicken little.”

“You underestimate yourself. Antoine is chicken little. You could coach him as you both speed walk across le Pont des Arts!”

Julien breaks up in laughter.

“I called Rachel yesterday, left a message. She barraged me with texts: ‘I despise you! I pray your visa will never come through. Keep recycling girls like the quarter of a man you are. You’re a master manipulator, a pathological narcissist.”

“Seems like Rachel still feels connected to you,” I answer. “How do you feel about her?”

“Strange, I wouldn’t call it love exactly, but I’m interested in her. I care about her. In the shower this morning, it suddenly hit me how deeply I hurt her. I cried and puked my guts out. You’re right. I’m just a sleazy con artist who deserves to sink into a rabbit hole.”

“Julien, Antoine Doinel would never stop long enough to feel such deep, visceral disgust with himself after hurting a woman. And it’s not at all clear that the tragic characters in Glengarry Glen Ross are incapable of remorse. Have you ever thought that you may be more like Icarus? You soared with Rachel, higher than you ever have with any woman. But as you shot higher and higher, a deeper, much younger part of you got stirred up and weighed you down, kept you from believing the exquisite moments you shared with Rachel would last. Do you think it might be possible for a high flyer like Icarus to learn from his mistakes without taking a nosedive?”

This morning, listening to Salman Rushdie discuss his latest novel Quichotte on NPR, I was struck by the way he spoke of the central character of the story named after Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Quichotte is a knight errant, a silly old fool struggling to win the love of a woman he can never possibly have. Like Julien and me, he moves in a world of racism, opioids, loneliness and isolation from social media, and the lingering fallout of the war on terror. He embarks on a physical journey but also a spiritual one, a perpetual quest for self-improvement. He tries time and again to be a better person in the face of inescapable loss https://toptenss.com/phentermin-weightloss/ and estrangement. As Rushdie spoke of the emotional energy he put into creating Quichotte, struggling to improve him at every step of his journey and by implication himself in his own life, it occurred to me that I’m engaged in the same endeavor with Julien. I help him to improve as I strive to improve myself. A good way to think of myself as a therapist, a creative collaborator, and an author of stories. In my efforts to help Julien become worthier, more connected – perhaps still to Rachel or another young woman he has yet to meet – am I not authoring my own self-improvement? Will the epigenetics of the adult man now at the top of the seventh allow him to soothe and balance the angry boy buried deep in his hippocampus? Can he be optimistic for himself and for Julien who has much more time than him?

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