“Well, well, well… Mr. Earl Benton. So nice of you to come by for a visit.” I was sitting across from Dr. Cassidy and we just started our first session as therapist and patient. I considered the previous week’s trip to the coffee shop as more of a prologue than a true beginning. He was smiling, of course, and holding a legal pad of paper, poised to take notes—unlike his predecessor.
“I’ll let you know if I’m glad to be here at the end of the hour.” I smiled but he knew it was my way of reminding him of our deal.
“Some of this may be very annoying to you, but I must insist you tell me about yourself and your upbringing. I’m aware you’ve gone through this with Dr. Leon but, alas, he’s not here so I must rely on my own ears for the initial analysis.”
“What did he tell you about me?”
“In a nutshell, he said you were a happily married man who ditched his lifetime of deeply held religious beliefs, got a new job, moved to Atlanta but now his wife and children, for various reasons, will not move to join him. Is that a fair assessment?”
“Yes, it is. Can’t we just start there? I’m really tired of telling that story.”
“Sure, why not?” He dropped the legal pad onto the floor next to his chair and said, “What do you want to talk about?”
“Really?” I wasn’t expecting that response.
“Why not? It’s your hour.” He jutted his arms to full wingspan, looking like he wanted a hug and said, “Speak to me, Earl!”
“Here’s what I want… I want my wife back, plain and simple. No more and no less. I want us to talk about how to go about doing that.”
“Do you have any ideas how to get that accomplished?”
“I’m not going to do your job for you. I wouldn’t be here if I knew what to do or even if one of my lame ideas had worked. This is where you earn your money. I need you to help me.”
“I believe you’re right.” He looked at me, thinking about how to proceed and finally cleared his throat before continuing. “I think I know a little about you but I don’t know anything about Ellen. I want a thorough, biased description of your wife and I want to hear stories about how you met, what it was like to date her, what your life together has been like. When you’re done I want to feel like I know her so well I could pick her out of a crowd at a party. I want details and lots of adjectives. Tell me about Ellen.” And then he sat back in his chair, smiling in anticipation of my tales.
I had trouble getting started, not sure where to begin, so Dr. Cassidy prompted me with a few questions. Five minutes into it and I was a locomotive barreling down the track. The more I talked, the more I remembered and each story prompted another. I spent the rest of our hour telling Ellen stories and Dr. Cassidy seemed delighted.
I spent the following session doing the same thing, regaling the doctor with anecdotes and special moments from the life of Ellen and Earl. Dr. Cassidy interrupted me only to clarify something I may have described in a confusing way but mostly he listened, laughed and occasionally clapped his hands in joy. Unlike my time with Dr. Leon, I wasn’t concerned how any of the discussions were going to help me get her back. I enjoyed the time afforded me to talk about Ellen, to share our stories, and I was amazed how fresh the memories were even though some were over twenty years old. I could see her as she was in each situation; smell her perfume or the food we were eating, sense whether the weather was cool or warm, feel our hands together or arms draped over shoulders. The downside was all the talk and memory dredging made me miss her even more and I didn’t think that was possible. Driving back to the office after the second session was especially depressing and in an attempt to relieve some of the painful pressure, I called Ellen, not having any idea what I would say. It was late morning so I wasn’t surprised when the answering machine took over the call. I waited for the instructions to end and when I heard the tone signaling me to leave a message, I hung up. I really had no idea what to say to her, even on tape.
I sat in the office parking lot for a few minutes after I turned off the car, burying the ache and fumbling with the positive persona I needed to show the employees of Duncan Creative Group. It was getting harder and harder to make that switch and the good guy wasn’t winning. An idea had been gnawing at me ever since the first meeting with Dr. Cassidy, an idea I initially dismissed but one that refused to stay at bay. At that moment, sitting in my car, pathetically attempting to toggle between sad and confident, the idea’s merits started making sense. It had been several weeks since my last attempt to visit Ellen and the kids and the results disappointed everyone. What I needed to do was try again. Whether they needed to see me was irrelevant, what I needed was to physically be in the same space as my family, to hear them laugh or talk on the phone. To watch them move through the house, interacting with their day, and to dodge each other passing in the hall. It would be easier if I could just watch, like a spying ghost, not concerned with conversations that always had a chance to disintegrate into tears but that wasn’t going to happen. To carry through with the trip would involve risk. Our phone conversations, when they happened, were stilted and shallow, each party careful with their words for fear of a collapse into anger and hurt from the slightest provocation. Would it be better in person? At least I could see their faces, clearly hear the tone of their voices and communicate on equal footing, something phone lines didn’t afford. The more I considered it, the more I knew it was something I’d better do. I decided right then I would go home the upcoming weekend and I wouldn’t let them know. A surprise visit would be powerful plus, if I decided to change my mind, no one would be hurt by my decision to turn back.
The rest of the week was emotional but not for the reasons I expected. Based on intensity, I’d assumed I had been dealing with all the pain and longing that was churning inside me at capacity, but I was wrong. Apparently I was holding some of it back because when I made the decision to visit home, every impassioned reserve was opened and I was flooded with almost more than I could handle. Just the knowledge I was going home had been enough to release the hidden reservoirs of longing. I struggled through the final days of the week, barely able to conceal the other Earl, the sad Earl, while creating and leading. If people sensed there was a problem and asked if I was okay, I bluffed, told them I was fighting a cold, and it eased their concern. When I finally pulled onto I-75 Friday afternoon, I was staggering but confident I was on the right road.
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…