I had a message on my phone from a number I didn’t recognize. My standard way of dealing with that situation was to delete the message without ever listening. Whoever it was had already cost me money and there was no sense in them also costing me time. For some reason, maybe because I was waiting for the light to change, I went through the process of punching in my code to listen.
“Earl, Dr. Cassidy here. I wanted you to know that the men’s group I told you about meets on Thursday nights at 8 pm at St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church on Orleans Street near Grant Park. I talked to Joshua Brown, my friend who runs the meeting and he is expecting you. Please try to attend, Earl, I think it will help.”
I snapped the phone shut and stared into the traffic. When I left the last session I had made up my mind that I was not going to attend the new group. The whole idea was creepy. I was having enough trouble dealing with my own drama and the idea of adding to it by listening to complete strangers complain and fret was not appealing. The doctor’s phone message, however, caused me to hesitate and back off my determined decision to not attend. Maybe he was right. Minimally, I would have some place to go on Thursday night, which would provide a break from my two domiciles–the office and the condominium. I was spending more time at the former, relegating the later to a place to shower and sleep only. The starkness of the joint and the way the slightest noise echoed through each room was too oppressive to voluntarily submit myself plus the sadness was always heavier there, slowing me down and draining all motivation. At least at work I was accomplishing things, creating a future. At the condo I was only reminded of the past and my miserable present. The images of the bare condo flashed through my mind convincing me to at least give the meeting one chance. If I was lucky, someone else’s story might be more dismal than mine and I’d walk away feeling better about myself.
I looked up the church address on the Internet and calculated how much time it would take to get there and planned my Thursday accordingly. It was 24 hours away so I would find out soon enough if Dr. Cassidy was legitimately trying to help or trying to prolong my therapy.
On Thursday morning, I had just returned from a budget meeting and was standing at the window of my office, mindlessly staring outside, trying to purge my brain of all the numbers that had taken residence there in the last hour. It was hard enough to switch between manager and Creative Director but even more of a challenge after being bombarded with budgets. At least I could imagine all of the numbers in a bold, readable font with perfect kerning and line spacing. That ability made the required foray into the left side of my brain palatable.
“Earl?” The numbers kept calling me but I refused to listen. Go away! Be gone, foul digits! I am leaving you for more creative soil.
“Earl? Earl!…” Why were the numbers yelling at me? Louder and louder and louder. Flee! I had copy to write and design to construct and had no time for you!
“Earl? Are you okay?” It was Wally, standing at the entrance to my office, trying to get my attention. “You must have been engaged in some deep thinking. I was afraid I was going to have to physically shake you out of that trance.”
I smiled at him and released a small chuckle. “Oh, it was deep alright. I was plumbing some serious depths, close to a breakthrough. Damn you for interrupting!” My faux anger was barely funny but served the purpose of transitioning the conversation to the present.
“Hey! A smile! That’s something I haven’t seen on your face in a while. Now I won’t apologize for interrupting. Seeing you lose the long face for a second made it worth it.” Wally was pleased and satisfied by his accomplishment.
I looked at him and tried to continue the grin but I felt it slide away quickly, returning my face to its latest iteration, the portrait of a struggling man. But was it that obvious? “I thought I was doing a better job of faking it.”
“Maybe I’m more sensitive to your plight and it’s more noticeable to me.” He leaned against the doorjamb and got to his point. “I stopped by to see how you were doing. Has the new doctor been helpful?”
“I think so… at least so far. In fact, he wants me to start attending another meeting in addition to my time with him. It’s a group meeting with a bunch of guys struggling with their marriages.”
“—depressing? I think so, but Dr. Cassidy insists the common denominator is they all want to restore their marriages so at least we’ll all be emoting from the same page.”
“I was going to say ‘interesting’ but… never mind. When do they meet?”
“Tonight, actually, and I’ll be attending for the first time. It’s strictly a ‘checking it out’ situation. I’ll observe and see if it’s something I really want to do.”
“Call me on your way home and let me know what happens.” That wasn’t likely but I appreciated the sentiment. “I need to scoot but I’m glad to hear the new doctor is working out for you.”
“Thanks. I’ll talk to you later.”
He stopped on his turn to leave and looked me in the eyes. “I’ll repeat this so you know I’m serious. Anything you need–company, a meal, a non-judging ear–I’m still offering to you. No pressure, just know you aren’t alone.”
“I appreciate that.” I did appreciate it but I also knew I was not going to drag Wally any farther down my road than I already had. As cold and dark as I was feeling inside I still believed, buried somewhere, was a small flame that had a chance to expand and spread and begin a thaw that would activate turning things around between Ellen and I. Right now the flame was hidden, and it might be just an ember, glowing red, taking in all the oxygen it could find to stay alive, but it was there. I knew it but I was sure no one else did, so Wally was limited in his ability to help. Sympathize? Probably. Console? Absolutely. But help restore everything to its proper place? Not likely.
This is an excerpt of a full length novel entitled “Back Again.” You can read it in it’s entirety by downloading it from here or you can keep coming back to this site and read it in chapter chunks over time. Your call but, either way, I hope you will read it and, most of all, enjoy it. And leave a comment or two. It lets me know you are out there…