“I believe that’s one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard, Earl. How disappointing for you.” I glared at him, anticipating some hint of sarcasm or mockery but Dr. Cassidy’s face reflected pure sympathy. It didn’t help but it didn’t make it worse. I just finished sharing the events of my weekend with the doctor, precipitated by his alarm at my depressed demeanor as I walked into his office for our session. I barely had the energy to get through the general facts and was in no shape to delve into the details of how I was feeling. So I sat in the chair and stared.
“Do you want to talk about it some more?”
I continued to stare, not necessarily at him, but at nothing in particular. His questions were arriving slowly, winding through my ear canal sludge-like until they reached the place in my brain where comprehension resided, kicked it awake and forced me to respond. “I don’t think so. It used to help to discuss it but not anymore. I’m not encouraged at all that this is going to end well.”
“Our session or your marriage?”
“My marriage.” I didn’t recognize his attempt at humor.
“I see…” He decided to begin the process of, if not lifting me out of my malaise, at least getting me to the point we could conduct a conversation. “You know, you’re just depressed because of a rough weekend. The marriage is no less salvageable this week than last. Once you work through some of the initial gloom you’ll see what I’m talking about. Have you talked to Ellen?”
“She called me Sunday night after Susan told her what happened.”
“She said all the right things…” I shifted in my chair and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry… if you’d have called we would have been here… blah, blah, blah…”
Dr. Cassidy chuckled. “I’m sorry for laughing but you’ve morphed into… oh what was his name… Winnie the Pooh’s sad friend, remember him?”
“Yes! That’s it, of course. Well that’s who I feel like I’m talking to and it’s not the real Earl Benton or at least the one I’ve gotten to know.” His smile was friendly, not chastising which helped encourage my thaw.
I offered a feeble smile and tried to imitate the original donkey, speaking in his droll, deadpan style, hoping it sounded different enough from my current utterances for the doctor to know I was trying to be funny. “I’m sorry. I guess I’ll just go home and take a nap…” The doctor laughed for the effort if not for the accuracy, but it did the great work of creating a small fissure in the black funk I was wading through.
“Speaking of home, what do you do with yourself after work and on weekends? Do you have any friends or buddies you hang out with?”
“There’s one guy at work named Wally I eat lunch with. Occasionally he asks me to come to his house for dinner on weekends, but it’s not that often.”
“Hmmm…” He jumped out of his chair and practically ran to his desk, shoving stacks of paper from one place to another until he found the pile he was looking for, and then started thumbing through the individual pages. I watched him as he thought he had what he wanted and then discard it on the floor and continue his hunt. Eventually he held one piece of paper longer than the others and shouted “Ah ha!” as he scanned to the bottom. He ran back to his chair, bringing the paper with him.
“I want you to do something for me, okay?” He was leaning forward in his chair, holding the piece of paper with both hands and looking over the top of his glasses to see if I was paying attention.
“It depends. What is it?”
“I think one of your problems is you are isolated. You need more human interaction outside of work and occasional phone calls to your family. There’s a men’s group that meets every Thursday night I think you would find fascinating. It’s small, about six men, and they’re all struggling with the same thing you’re struggling with.”
“Which is?” That was a test.
“They are all in bad marriages they want to save. It’s run by a friend of mine and it’s very casual, no pressure to share or hug or anything like that.” He was working his smile like a carnie so I remained skeptical.
“Where do they meet?”
“Let’s see…” He scanned the paper and found the information, but hesitated before he told me. “Okay, this is going to be tricky.”
“Keeping in mind our arrangement, I want to ask for a moment of leniency before I continue. Will you do that for me?”
I had no idea what he was talking about but he was making me smile so I bequeathed him his request. “You have my word, sir.”
“Thank you. They meet at a Catholic church downtown.” He said it rapidly and stared at me, looking for a reaction.
“Hold on. Before you assume anything, I know for a fact that it’s not a religious group. They probably just get a good price on the room rental. Seriously…” I didn’t look convinced. He tried another angle. “Do you know anything about AA, Alcoholics Anonymous?”
“It’s the same idea, but instead of overcoming alcohol, they’re overcoming bad relationships. They perfected the twelve-step method of dealing with problems and they refer to a ‘higher power’ within their literature but it’s not referring to any specific deity. They want you to submit to something out there, which may even be yourself. You can be your own higher power, a force to improve yourself and overcome your problems.”
“What kind of horseshit are you peddling?” I looked at him in total disbelief that he was trying to sell me on this group.
“Earl, seriously, it may be held in a church and the methods of overcoming may mention a higher power but it’s not about the J-word and they won’t push any religion down your throat. There are millions of recovering alcoholics that don’t believe in the J-word or the G-word. I just want you to meet some folks, some men, whom you can relate to and maybe make some new friends. The worst that can happen is you get out of your condominium one night each week.”
“I don’t know…” The idea really had a bad odor associated with it but he seemed sincere. He had been so careful to follow the rules of our agreement and something about him made me trust him regardless how unconvincing his sales pitch. Whether it was how well he listened or that he genuinely seemed to like me, I couldn’t say.
“Okay, give me the information and I’ll visit. Do I have to call and talk to anyone or do I just show up?”
“I’ll take care of that, you just go listen and mingle.”
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…