Modified Flickr image, The Chair, by Metro Centric
Dr. Morrow sits on a straight-backed chair, which he positions in the periphery of your field of vision. He becomes disembodied voice materializing on the brink of consciousness. He’s good at asking questions that need the answers I don’t have.
“So what’s that like?” Dr. Morrow asked when I said so.
“Like there isn’t enough air in the room to keep me alive. Like a fish in a pond full of murky, oxygen depleted water, who knows it will only make things worse if he gets mad or desperate.”
He seemed to understand, but it’s hard to tell with Dr. Morrow, because he seems to understand all my quirks, absorbing my reflective monologues like the modern-day version of a Greek oracle forever getting ready to impart obscure wisdom… before asking another question.
Sometimes our sessions seem like a contest of wills, him probing, me setting clues and traps. I know that sounds ridiculous, but cat and mouse is part of the process, no? I think – at some level – I’m posing clues and riddles for myself, not Dr. Morrow. His knack is to get me to follow my own leads, to alert me to the snapping of twigs somewhere off in my unconscious realm, or to the crunch of boots on a gravel pathway round back of the house.
I like it when he has to pause and reflect for a while on something I’ve said. There’s this subtle sense of importance that creeps into our sessions, which gets accentuated when I surprise him – like maybe he’ll think my case might be worth a write up in Psychology Today, which I’ve started buying at Chapters since beginning my therapy.
But nothing seems to perturb the tweedy calm of Dr. Morrow, who bears some resemblance to Sigmund Freud, sans spectacles and cigar. I asked him once if his personal appearance had influenced his practice. A silly question, really. But a part of me chuckles to think he might have been dubbed Ziggy in his university days, and another part of me is pretty sure he would have taken the teasing and made something useful of it.
“Do you feel Kally’s decision to go with Mr. Buckley to his church is directed at you?”
I suppose I could turn that table around and ask how Kally would react if she walked back into my life right now – if she saw the ungodly mess of our kitchen, the rumpled sheets of our unmade bed, the cobwebs, dust, spots on the picture windows.
Is that deliberate neglect? Am I being intentionally helpless, as if I’d never rinsed a plate or tidied a counter when we were together? As if I hadn’t done most of the shopping, swirled a brush round the toilet bowl every now and again, done the handy-man thing? Changed Elgar’s diapers? Shaved every day?
Did I want her to see that? What she had done to me?
“No,” I said. “I think she’s as fucked up as me right now, only she’s trying harder not to show it – even to herself. I’ve made things worse for her Dr. Morrow. I’ve been selfish. A prick, really.”
I glanced at him for a second, annoyed. He remained unperturbed and somehow implacable. His question wriggled around in my brain like a larva settling in for a spell.
When I described myself as a ‘prick’ it had been a bit of hyperbole intended to catch the good doctor’s attention – one of my hints, albeit even crasser and more blatant than usual. In the millisecond of utterance – I now realized – I had gauged it a sufficient mia culpa to make my own outrage at Kally seem justifiable and perfectly reasonable.
Dr. Morrow was calling my bluff, the bastard!
“Why do you think you’ve been selfish in your grieving?”
“I believe ‘prick’ was the word I used to describe myself – my self.”
When I think back, I can’t remember my parents ever throwing a birthday party for me. I guess they were too busy throwing other things. But if they had, and if they had asked me to blow up the balloons as part of the preparation experience, I would have blown up at least one rubber until it popped. You have to do that once in your life, right – keep blowing and blowing and blowing until BANG! the damn thing explodes in your face and your mother scolds you for scaring the bejesus out of her and tells you to stop being such an idiot.
“So how’s that related to your being selfish in your grieving?”
Kally and I flew to Calgary to visit her parents and share the good news of her pregnancy. We hit some turbulence over the Rockies. The fasten your seat belt command crackled over the PA system. Even the stewardesses packed away their things and buckled up. I remember holding Kally’s hand, but thinking: If we crash, would I be thinking of her in those final moments, or would each of us be staring in horror out the window as the horizon tilted, praying from a strictly first person point of view, “Don’t let this happen! Don’t let this be the end!”
“Do you feel Kally was sensitive to your needs in her grieving, Rich?”
“We were both so damaged. I don’t know that we could have helped one another. And there was stuff we couldn’t really deal with at the time.”
“What stuff, Rich? The blame for Elgar’s abduction, you mean, or something else? You need to ask that question Rich: is there other stuff behind what’s happening to you and Kally right now. Stuff that predates Elgar’s abduction.”
Sometimes silence becomes a waiting game. It stretches on and on and on, its internal elasticity expanding each second into another forever. Sometimes you can almost believe that parable about the seagull transporting a beach across the continent one grain of sand at a time, then discovering eternity’s still out there waiting to be filled once the job is done. That he hadn’t really accomplished a damn thing.
“And what about now?”
“The stuff you couldn’t deal with? Are you ready to deal with it now?”
“Now’s too late, don’t you think?”
Dr. Morrow frowned, perplexed.
“It’s not too late, Richard,” he said. “In fact, it might be too early.”
God damned oracles! They never give you a straight answer.
“How’s Cosima?’ he asked suddenly, as I was getting ready to launch.
My face puckered. Wasn’t I the one who brought up the subjects of the day? What? Was he so into Cosima’s story that he needed a weekly installment?
“We’re on the road to Aveneg,” I said. Then I described the incident with the lunatic in the luxury car and our spectacular escape.
Dr. Morrow frowned, perplexed.
“What?” I wanted to know.
He gave me an odd look, as if I were a combination lock he once owned, but he’d forgotten the sequence of numbers that would open me up. “I’m going to step outside what is strictly practice for a second Rich, if that’s okay, and describe a hypothesis that’s taking shape – call it a speculative diagnosis, if you will.”
Intrigued, I nodded.
“I’m thinking that maybe our dreams can sometimes be a means of re-enacting the unalterable facts of our lives in a venue where we can take meaningful action to resolve them. Maybe – and please excuse me for the term – maybe personal fiction is a place where we can engage in quests…”
“And emerge as heroes?”
He bobbed uncomfortably in agreement. “Maybe,” he said. “Or maybe it’s our unconscious intent to be the antagonist in the drama – to seek the punishments we deserve. Like I said, this is outside what I would strictly call my practice.”
“You mean I’m not paying a hundred-and-fifty bucks an hour to hear this?”
Dr. Morrow laughed and relaxed.
“You’re also hinting I’m never going to find Elgar in Gallus, aren’t you?”
I wanted a fly, or a wasp, or a mosquito to materialize in the room. Something buzzing around, banging into windows, disturbing the palpable silence. But we were alone, Dr. Morrow and I, with nothing to distract us.
“You’re wrong,” I said.
“You’re right,” he answered quickly.