“If you’ll just have a seat in one of the chairs over by the window, he’ll be with you in a few minutes.” I smiled back at the attractive woman who directed me and thanked her. She made sure I was in the correct chair and then backed out of the room and pulled the door closed, leaving me to quietly inspect the office of Dr. Lars Cassidy, my new therapist.
I still wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do but during rare moments of clarity I was convinced I had no choice. My situation with the family was not going to improve by standing still and I had run out of ideas and almost run out of motivation. Ellen was as determined as ever that she was not ready to live with me and no amount of pleading or screaming was going to change her mind. To cut through my hurt I tried every form of self-medication that wasn’t going to interfere with my career and that left me with greasy food and movies. Both had long ceased dulling the pain so I decided to give therapy another try. Since Dr. Leon paved the way, I called Dr. Cassidy and set up an appointment.
And there I was, on time and more nervous than I was before the first visit with Dr. Leon. I took a long, shuddering breath and scanned the room, wondering if the man’s office would tell me something about the man’s personality. Dr. Leon had kept a clean office with only one picture on the wall—I think it was of a beach scene—and nothing on his desk except a phone. In comparison, the new doctor’s office was a mess. The walls were bookcases, shelves loaded, with zero space available for anything new. Hardbacks shared slots with paperbacks, regardless of width or height, and every book had loose papers shoved haphazardly between random pages making the bookshelf look like it needed to be mowed. His desk was a final burial ground for Styrofoam coffee cups and stacks of papers at various heights forming man-made buttes that made it impossible to see the person sitting in the chair on the other side. The backs of picture frames lined the front edge of the desk with one small sign facing the opposite way, toward visitors. I stood up to see what it said and when I got close enough to read it I stopped and had to fight back a blip of nausea that spontaneously surged up my throat. Engraved on a strip of bronze and glued to the wooden base were the words “My boss is a Jewish carpenter.” The disappointment hit me on two levels, neither one more important than the other. One, my new therapist was a Christian and two, he bought cute Jesus junk to display in his office. This was not going to work. I was going to have to find another therapist.
Just as I turned to leave, formulating the excuse I was going to tell the receptionist, the door opened and in walked Dr. Lars Cassidy. I heard my heart in my ears as I tried to decide how to gracefully exit and cancel the session. While my mind drafted new excuses, most of them horribly lame, my face flashed a smile and I offered him my hand, hoping he couldn’t feel my heart racing though my grip. He looked nothing like Dr. Leon; Dr. Cassidy reflected his office. He was short, had a beard that was two days from being out of control, was balding and wore glasses with thick black frames, the kind that were popular again but I had the feeling Dr. Cassidy had worn them since the first wave. He wore green khaki’s, a white golf shirt partially tucked into his pants, and a dark blue sweater vest. His feet were covered in white sneakers and his face was sporting the biggest smile I had ever seen on someone who was at work. He shook my hand vigorously and for the briefest flash of time I was disarmed and liked him. I quickly shook that off and focused on my exit plan.
“Earl, it is so nice to meet you. I understand that you and Leon had just gotten started before he decided to run off and write his bestseller. How many times had you met?”
“Three, but I’m afraid I may have made a mistake by coming here today.”
His smile faded slightly and he pushed his eyebrows together to let me know he was confused. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” I lied. “Nothing’s wrong, it’s just me. I think I should wait a little longer before I get started with therapy again. That’s all.” I tried to smile but it was feeble, and combined with my unblinking eyes and the sweat forming on my upper lip, I looked exactly like a person who needed therapy. Dr. Cassidy walked past me and stopped in front of his desk. He sat on the edge and placed both his hands on either side of his hips, pressing his palms into the wood and wrapping his fingers over the front lip.
“Is that what you really want to do?” He was no longer smiling but he wasn’t upset. His face showed concern. “If so, I understand. The last thing I want to do is pressure you into talking to me.” He was so nice about it that I hesitated and he sensed it.
“I tell you what, Earl, let’s end it right here. I’m officially no longer your therapist. The relationship we had planned will not take place. No hard feelings and nothing lost. Deal?” Why was he smiling?
“Uhm, sure. Deal.” That was easy and much better than continuing to lie.
“Now that we are under no obligations, I believe I have the next hour free on my calendar and, unless I’m mistaken, your schedule is wide open as well. Why don’t we go grab a cup of coffee around the corner and shoot the breeze?” He raised his eyebrows anticipating my response and continued to smile. I assumed this was a scam on his part but he was right, I had nowhere to go so I agreed to join him.
“No obligations, right?”
He waved his hand at me, feigning disgust, and said, “Please… I just need something to do to kill the hour before my next visitor.” And he smiled again.
We left his office and walked one block to a small bakery. On the way he discussed the weather, basketball and the benefits of always wearing sneakers. He never asked me a question so I didn’t feel obligated to talk. When we walked into the eatery, it was obvious that Dr. Cassidy was a frequent and popular customer. He walked directly to a table by the window and a waitress had his coffee poured before we were seated. She smiled at him and said, “Good morning, Doc. You feelin’ the need for a doughnut?”
“Sonja, I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to ever shake that feeling. Please bring one cinnamon cake along with whatever my new friend is having.” He swept his hand my way as he mentioned me, adding more drama than was necessary for ordering pastry. Sonja looked at me and said, “Does the new friend have a name?”
“Well, Earl, I feel obligated to tell you we have some of the best doughnuts in the city. Home made in our kitchen every mornin’.”
“Coffee and a plain cake, please.” I tried to return her smile but I couldn’t talk myself into it and my face remained indifferent. My internal red flags were billowing and I was leery of what the doctor was planning. I wanted him to know I didn’t trust him and smiling would have ruined the effect.
To my surprise, the conversation stayed shallow and meaningless, wandering through a variety of subjects but never coming close to family or jobs. Although I appreciated his discretion, his ability to carefully avoid those subjects confirmed my fears that Dr. Leon had told Dr. Cassidy all about me. Not that it mattered; it was just nice to know I was right. Once I realized he was not going to ambush me over doughnuts, I relaxed, slightly, and started to enjoy our conversation. Dr. Cassidy was funny and had a story for every subject we discussed. He was a dramatic storyteller and I slowly got accustomed to his wild arm gestures and silly voices, laughing along with him and marveling at his constant smile. I was a bit disappointed when he looked at his watch and declared his need to get back to the office. Walking back, he asked permission to pose a personal question. I didn’t want to let him but I took the risk and agreed.
“Can you tell me the real reason you want to discontinue our sessions?”
I knew that was going to be the question, but I still didn’t want to answer. “It’s not important.”
“It is to me.”
I walked a few paces in silence, arguing with myself and when I spoke I wasn’t sure if I had won or lost. “I was born and raised in a Christian home and in a Christian environment but in the last year I made a decision to turn away from all of it. When I saw—”
“—the sign on my desk! Of course, that makes sense.” He was excited, like he’d just found a cure for a disease. “That concerned you and I don’t blame you.”
“Really?” I was relieved to have told him but taken off guard by his response.
“Absolutely. Can I tell you something? I’m not a Christian counselor. Wait… I’m a Christian and I’m a counselor, but I’m not a Christian counselor. Does that make sense?”
I laughed. “Yes, it makes sense. But if you’re really a Christian, how can you not infuse your beliefs into your advice? From my extensive experience, that’s impossible.”
“Ah, the skeptic is wise…” He raised one hand in the air and pointed his index finger skyward. “I can listen and suggest and advise without ever saying the J-word. I promise.” He lifted the rest of his fingers to make his oath official. “Now where I get the patience to listen and what source I use to suggest and advise, that’s another story, but that can be my secret.” His smile was so big it hurt my face.
“I don’t know…” I really didn’t. I liked the guy, at least over coffee and doughnuts, but to commit to him for therapy seemed risky. We walked a few more steps and turned onto the sidewalk leading to his office. He stopped and faced me.
“Earl, I’ll make a deal with you. Give me a trial run, four or five weeks, tops. See if our discussions help you. And if I ever mention the J-word or the G-word or you feel like I’m being sneaky and am blasting you with subliminal spirituality, you say the word and it ends right then. No questions asked. Done. What do you think?” He tilted his head, eyes bright and pleading above his grin, begging me to say yes. It sounded reasonable enough and if anyone could spot subliminal spirituality it would be me. Plus, I was starting to really like him.
“Okay. I’ll give you a try.”
“But you have to promise me that you’re serious about the rules of the deal. I sense any funny business and I’m gone. No questions asked, correct?” My expression backed up my words.
He raised his hand again, stood up straight and said, “As God is my witness.” Then he broke into a cackle that made me laugh as well. We shook hands and parted ways, not permanently as I had assumed, but for a brief seven days. I walked to my car positive I had made a big mistake.
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…