“I believe last time we began a discussion about your parents. I’d like to continue that today.” Session three with Dr. Leon did not start with great promise of making any headway.
“Okay, but I want to remind you I’m having marriage problems. Nothing Oedipal happening in my life, just some communication issues.”
“I am aware of why you are here, rest assured. Now, about your parents…” He nodded toward me, a signal for me to begin.
“Give me a starting point and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.” I decided to play nice and let the doctor do his job. I spent the next forty minutes talking about major events in my childhood—vacations, Christmas, deaths of grandparents and pets—and then we dissected how I felt about each event back then and today, especially if the feelings had changed. I wanted to interrupt him several times to get the subject closer to what I wanted to talk about but I stuck to my vow and let Dr. Leon run the session. The worst that came of it was I was able to hone my storytelling skills. I sensed we were close to the end of the session when Dr. Leon uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees and lacing his fingers, connecting his hands. He smiled his toothless, lip loaded smile and said, “Earl, this will be the last time we meet.”
I was stunned. “What? How come? Am I incurable? How can you know? We never talked about my real issues! Give me some time, please!” I was panicked. The thought that I had discouraged a trained professional after only three hours caused any confidence I was harboring in the deep folds of my brain to evaporate.
“No, no, no… settle down, that’s not it at all. In fact, I’m disappointed that I can’t walk you through this situation to its conclusion. I am going to take a sabbatical for a year to write a book. I applied for a grant and I found out last Friday the money has been approved. I apologize for the sudden announcement but the grant is from the government and there are strict stipulations, two of which state I have to start right away and I can’t keep any of my current patients.”
The explanation didn’t make me feel better. I was still in a screwed up marriage and now my help was bailing on me. This was not good at all.
“I would like to recommend another doctor to you, if you are interested.” Dr. Leon sat back and tilted his head, looking at me through concerned eyes.
“Hell yes! Who do you have in mind?”
“I think you would get some great benefit from meeting with Dr. Lars Cassidy. He’s busy but I talked to him about you and he has agreed to work you into his schedule.”
“Is he a colleague of yours?”
Without hesitation he said, “No, he’s my therapist.” No expression shadowed his face; no ironic smile or look of shame. He was as matter of fact as if he had just told me the name of his cat.
“Your therapist? You’re in therapy?”
“Does that surprise you?”
“Well… yeah! It does.” I’ve heard of babies having babies, but crazies helping crazies? “Does this new doctor have someone he sees? Because, if he does, I’d rather skip over him and make an appointment with his therapist. That way I can work a little higher up the listening chain.”
Dr. Leon laughed and his teeth made their debut. “I don’t know if Dr. Cassidy sees anyone regularly but I can assure you that he is competent and you and he will get along splendidly.” He stood up and offered me his hand. “It has been a pleasure getting to know you, Earl. I am confident that you will get through this phase of your life with success.”
And that was the end of the Dr. Leon sessions. On my way out Mary Anne handed me a business card for the new doctor but I wasn’t sure I would call him. The prospect of starting over depressed me. He would need to hear my story, my parents story and childhood trauma stories and it would put me another three weeks behind. I did not need that shit right then. Time was my enemy and this was a huge setback, pushing me farther away from resolution. I was so glad I didn’t tell Ellen I started.
And what had Dr. Leon said about the new guy? He said he had “talked to him about me.” Was that doctor-to-doctor or patient to doctor? Had Dr. Leon prepped the new guy about crazy Earl? Handed him my file? I wonder what he said to him? It was creepy to think about two therapists sitting around in a paneled office, smoking pipes with cherry scented tobacco, sipping cognac, stroking their beards and laughing about the odd little man who was not aware that he hated his mother, which, in turn, was destroying his marriage. The thought made me shudder.
My phone rang and I looked at my watch. It was late but not late enough to be alarmed. I risked answering without checking to see who was calling. It was Susan.
“Well, well, well… the lost Earl of Atlanta has been found.” Her smart ass greeting was a relief. It could have been worse.
“Yes, you have located him. What is your wish?”
“Oh boy, I’ll leave that alone until later. I promised Ellen I’d be nice.”
“So she put you up to this?”
“No. I simply mentioned to her I wanted to talk to you and she started looking concerned so I raised my hand and made the pledge.” I was more thankful for that than Ellen. “So, Slick, what’s going on with you?”
“Not much. Things are going well at work but it takes a lot of my time. Other than that, not much at all.” I was skeptical about Susan’s motivation, so I was careful with every word. “What about you? How are things at the Johnston household?”
“Not important. How’s the therapy sessions going?” Damn it, mom!
“What are you talking about?” I owed her an attempt at playing dumb.
“Cut the crap, Earl, we know.” We? How wide was that circle?
“Okay, so my mom can’t keep her mouth shut. I’ll remember that on her birthday. Since I’m coming clean, I can tell you I’m ‘between therapists.’ The guy I started out with has decided to go on sabbatical and had to close his practice.”
“Are you that screwed up that you ran off a doctor?”
“He assured me that wasn’t the case but I may very well be that screwed up.” Why was I telling her all of this? I knew everything I said was going straight to Ellen. There hadn’t even been a disclaimer mentioned that she would have to lie about.
“I’m sorry to hear that… I’m not kidding.” Her voice took on a different tone indicating she was ready to get serious. “I honestly wanted to call and just chat, not give you a hard time.”
“It doesn’t matter, Susan. I deserve anything you want to dish out.” Where had that come from? I didn’t believe that so why did I say it? Or did I believe it? Maybe I was kidding but it didn’t sound like it, at least to me. I suddenly felt heavy, so I sat on the edge of the bed. That didn’t provide enough of a reprieve so I leaned back and laid on the middle of the bed, looking at the ceiling fan spinning directly over me.
“Tell me what’s going on,” she prodded.
“It’s the same old thing. I’m miserable without Ellen and the kids but I know Atlanta is the right place for us. I’m proving that with how much success I’m having at my job. She just doesn’t see it for some reason, so I have to wait. I’m not sure what else I can do. Seeing a therapist was sort of a wild idea I decided to pursue, although it feels a little desperate at this point.” I felt like I was sinking into the bed, my body weight tripling, the covers falling on top of me like sand filling a hole. The sadness had never affected me like this before.
She was quiet and I was sure she was deciding whether to lay into me about the God issue but she decided against it. “I’m glad your job is going well. I know that’s something you’ve always wanted.”
“Sure, and it’s better than I’d hoped. I just need to get the rest of my life lined up with it.” I rubbed my eyes because they were drying out from the breeze coming off the fan. I took a deep breath and said, “This is so different than anything I ever experienced in my life.” I was standing at the crossroads of Pathetic, Sad and Depressed. I was lying in the middle of the intersection.
“All of it. I’ve always had a great home life and lousy jobs. I think that’s making it hard to cope with all that’s going on.”
“Which one is better?”
“That’s a cheap question, Susan, and I’m going to give you a cheap answer, although it’s honest.” I took another deep breath, trying to relief the pressure on my chest. “I think I can have the best of both. I see no reason that can’t happen.” I hoped that sounded better than it felt. “The problem is, right now, I have no frame of reference to guide me. I can’t dredge up any memories or experiences to show me which way to turn to make it happen. It feels like I’m trying to cut a new path for myself, but I’m stuck between a lot of options. It’s like I’m stopped in the middle of transition.”
“The question is to where?”
“Well, yeah, that’s the question of the day, isn’t it? Maybe the question of the year.” Or of my life. “I’m not giving up, though. It’s going to happen.”
We said goodbye and I hung up, realizing I had not asked about Ellen or the kids. I couldn’t worry about it because I was tired; more tired than I can ever remember being in my life. Or was I really this sad? I couldn’t tell the difference and it didn’t matter. My body was immobile, prone on the bed, unable to lift an arm to turn out the light. I just needed to close my eyes and sleep. Rest would make it better. The heaviness was rarely as severe in the mornings.
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…