Wally leaned into my office and asked, “Lunch?”
“Oh, hell yes. I seriously need to get out of here. Thanks for asking. Can we—”
“—get Chinese? I anticipated that request and my taste buds are primed for Kung Pao Shrimp. You ready now?”
We arrived at the restaurant before 11:30 a.m., which allowed us to beat the normal crush of lunch traffic. It also allowed us to sit in a booth, another lunchtime rarity. After placing our orders, I asked Wally about his recent trip to Colorado to attend a trade show.
“It went well. Lots of people, lots of smiling… you know the drill. What about you? Are you doing okay?”
“I’m a wreck.” He looked surprised at my answer. “Seriously. I’m struggling. This whole issue with Ellen and the kids is sucking my life force dry and I’m off balance, weaving through the days and flaming out every night.” I sipped some water, letting what I said sink in. “Why do you look so surprised?”
“Because I couldn’t tell that by watching you at work. By all appearances you’re on top of things. The design shop’s taking off which makes your admission even more shocking. Congratulations on the awards, by the way. There’s some nice buzz in town about us.”
“Thanks. It’s strange, my life that is. During the day, when I’m at work, I settle into this different plane, almost like I’ve separated myself from my personal issues. I guess I’m compartmentalizing or something. For some reason I’m able to stay on my game inside the walls. But when I leave? It ain’t pretty…”
He shook his head, continuing to keep his eyes on me. “Why haven’t you said something sooner? I told you to let me know if you needed anything when you were at the house last time. I meant that.” I could sense he was a little frustrated with me.
“I know you did but I started going to that therapist and I’ve been expecting a breakthrough with him so I didn’t want to drag you into my mess.”
“A breakthrough? After, what, three weeks?”
“Two weeks? Come on, Earl. It’s going to take longer than that. You had to know that was the case going into the sessions.”
“How long does it take to hear my story and verify that I’m not wrong? That’s all I’m looking for.”
“Someone to agree with you? That’s all you want? I don’t know a lot about therapists but I think that may be unrealistic. They don’t get paid to tell you what great shape you’re in. They assume you’re there because you have a problem you want to solve.”
“And I do. My wife thinks I’m nuts and won’t move to Atlanta to join me. I’ve tried to explain that but he wants to talk about my parents or my pets or anything else that won’t solve my problem.”
“Seriously, how have the two sessions gone so far?”
I pulled my chopsticks out of their paper sleeve and applied the appropriate pressure for them to snap apart. I held them in front of me, one in each hand and presented the one in my right hand to Wally. “Let this represent session one. And this—” I presented the chopstick in my left hand to him, “—represents session two.” I then turned both chopsticks toward me and began a simulation of repeatedly poking myself in the eyes.
Wally laughed and said, “That good, eh? I suggest you give it a little more time. I’m not sure the medical journals list many things that can heal in two hours, especially a marriage.”
“A splinter. It takes less than two hours to pull a splinter out of your skin and then recover.”
“You’re comparing the situation with your marriage to a splinter? I don’t think so…”
“No, I’m leaning more toward a virus or a cancer.” I shrugged. “I didn’t say the comparison was particularly strong. I was only trying to make the point that quick recoveries aren’t impossible. It gives me hope.”
“You’re acting really strange.”
“I told you I was messed up.”
The food arrived and our discussion drifted to other things, subjects a bit more banal. Dissecting my miserable life was a poor side order to Moo-shi pork. I was busy mixing a soy/hot mustard/duck sauce concoction on my plate for an egg roll when Wally brought me up again.
“Have you told Ellen you’re seeing the therapist?”
“No, not yet.” I bit off the end of the egg roll, putting an end to my answer.
“Why not? Do you think that’s wise?”
“I don’t need to go see Dr. Leon, I can have lunch with you!” I said, a little muffled because I was still chewing.
“That’s okay.” I swallowed. “I think it’s funny he ran me through the same line of questioning in my last session. I didn’t have an answer for him either.”
“I’m in good company, I guess.”
“Actually, It’s too early to tell if the therapy is going to help so I’d rather hold off telling her I’m going until I feel better about it. The last thing I need is for her to find out about it, get excited that I’m ‘trying’ and then hear I quit. Waste of time or not, I’d be farther down the shit hole than I currently reside. She could add ‘quitter’ to my list of faults, which would not help me at all.” I took a sip of green tea and smiled. “Besides, when I do feel confident enough to tell her, I want the timing to be so perfect that I reap the maximum amount of benefit. It’s about the only card I have left to play.”
I grabbed the fortune cookies off the small tray that held our bill and handed one to Wally. “You go first…”
He snapped his open, read it and rolled his eyes. “You have tasted both the bitterness and sweetness of coffee.”
“Wow, that’s life changing,” I deadpanned. “My turn.” I cracked open the cookie and unfolded the piece of paper, shaking my head at the words. “I have to assume Ellen is in the kitchen.”
“You are heading for a land of darkness.” Wally didn’t say a word. He didn’t dare.
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…