Session 2

“Hello, Sir, it’s nice to see you today,” she says to me in a cheerful, professional voice. “Doctor Ibis is running a little behind. If you don’t mind having a seat in the waiting room, he will be with you as soon as possible.”

She smiles at me fleetingly, returning her gaze to her computer screen.

The hint of her perfume reaches me, and it reminds me strongly of our last few hours together, three days previous. I return to the waiting room, where even the depressing sight of four year old Sports Illustrated’s and Ladies Home Journal’s in the waiting room can’t dampen my suddenly elevated mood.

Some minutes later, engrossed in an article on how long the Jimmy Johnson / Cowboy dynasty would last (he’d been fired years before) I hear her say “Sir — the doctor will see you now.”

The door closes.

“So how was your week?”

“Not too bad.”

“Any episodes?”

“No, none at all.”

“Did you do the exercise I set for you last week?”

“Yes, I thought of all the ways I could think of that love is shown, then tried to figure out if I was using the most appropriate ways to show it.”

“And what did you come up with?”

“Here, I wrote it all down, and brought you a copy,” I say, handing him my notes.


WAYS TO SHOW LOVE (OR AFFECTION):

  1. Kind words
  2. Physical affection
  3. Doing things for others
  4. Gifts or presents
  5. Giving people time and attention

WAYS I SHOWED LOVE (OR AFFECTION) THIS WEEK:

  • I called my parents and talked to them for an hour (category 5)
  • I helped my elderly neighbors change their air conditioner filters (category 3)
  • I spent a few hours with category 2, no details
  • A (category 4) gift or two might have been given at the same time as the immediately preceding bullet

It seems to me each one of these was appropriate for the situation. I also guess I didn’t have any kind words for anyone. I might want to work on that.


He put the paper down after reading it. “I see you’ve read ‘The Five Love Languages’,” he said.

“Yes.”

“Are you seeing someone?”

“Yes.”

“You never talk about her.”

“No.”

“The first person you’ve dated since your divorce?”

“No.”

“Why are you reluctant to talk about her?”

“She’d rather I didn’t, I think.”

“How are your parents doing?”

“Great. My dad’s about to retire; my mom retired just this year. They plan to do as much traveling as they can.”

“Do you often help your ‘elderly neighbors’, as you call them?”

“No, I don’t, because I’m horrible at fixing anything. But installing ceiling filters I can do. And they’ve been really good to the boys and me.”

He decides to go back to the earlier subject. “You do know that sex and physical affection are two different things, right?”

“They are not coterminous,” I say, reverting to my own form of professional voice, “but sex is arguably a subset of physical affection.”

“Or can be,” he corrects.

“Or should be,” I assert.

We return to the subject of my parents for the remainder of the session. They had high expectations for me that were never really met…

= = = = =

“How long can you stay?” she asks from the other room.

“I need to be at work early, so, maybe… two or three hours,” I say, unbuttoning my cuffs and sitting down on the chair in her bedroom.

She comes in and lays down on the bed. She looks overpoweringly beautiful.

“You should be with someone your own age,” I say.

“So should you,” she says. “Now get over here.”

Session 1

“So, why do you feel like you have to buy people’s love?”

I hate therapists. They are always asking questions like that.

“Strange question, given that I have to pay you to talk to me,” I say in response. He smiles, faintly, but won’t be deterred. He continues to look at me, fixedly.

“I don’t think I’m that different from many people, many men. My value to people is in what I can do, or provide. No one’s every liked me for my looks; I was never the guy women wanted to meet just seeing me. I had to impress them somehow. With age, though, I’ve gotten less impressive, so, money works better.”

He continues to look in my direction, encouraging me to keep going.

“My mother asked me the same question when I was nineteen. I had just bought a friend of mine an expensive going-back-to-school dinner. ‘Why do you feel the need to do that?’ she asked me. ‘He’s already one of your best friends.'”

“What was your answer?”

“I don’t remember really having an answer.”

“And you still feel the same way?…”

“Yes, and no. I’ve learned that no one gets appreciated by others quite the way they might want. That people with good looks want to be known for their minds. That people with steady loves want flaming inconstant passion instead; that people who play the field want permanence. We’re all insane, really.”

“Do you really think that last part?”

“That we’re all insane? No, I suppose not. Only if you compare our actions with our stated beliefs about what constitutes a good life.”

“Do you have a good life?”

“Yes, absolutely,” I say.

“Which brings me back to the original question: why do you feel you need to buy people’s love?”

Now it’s my turn to look at him. I take a long sip from the water bottle I brought with me.

“If I can help people, I will. It’s not so much buying love as showing it. People did it for me, when I was younger, and when I couldn’t possibly pay them back… Look, I know myself at heart, and I am as selfish as the next guy. All of us work from the same set of motivations, at least in part… I’m not trying to gain anything; I’m not trying to get in women’s pants, and I’m not trying to buy affection or whatever it was you said.”

He looked away from me, clearly unconvinced.

“Do you feel your illness makes you lesser than other people?”

“At times, yes.”

“Are you willing to accept help as easily as you give it?”

I could tell he thought he had me with that question by the slight smile on his face.

“Yes, actually. I don’t mind people doing for me, or giving to me. It’s not a power thing.”

“Hmmm,” he said, frowning slightly. “I think we’re at the end of this session.”

I take my keys and water bottle from off his table and rise to go.

“I want you to think this week about ways people show love,” he said, walking across to open the door. “Determine for yourself if you feel like you are always acting the most appropriate way for how you are feeling.”

“I’ll try,” I say, walking out into the reception area as he closes the door behind me. The receptionist looks up at me from the desk outside, her bright eyes showing even through her glasses, her dark hair shining under the fluorescent lights.

“What time are you coming by tonight?” she whispers.

At Cemetery Ridge

[Originally published November 6th, 2016. S.R.]

I’m not alone at Cemetery Ridge this morning. There’s a thirty-year-old man here with what appears to be his ten-year-old daughter.

She lays a bouquet of bright yellow roses on a grave. As gray as the morning is, they stand out all the more. The only other color is the girl’s deep red coat.

He puts his hand on her shoulder, as she begins to cry, uncontrollably. He puts his arm all the way around her, as she sinks to her knees, and he follows.

I can’t stare at them anymore, it feels indecent. Instead I wander on from where I was visiting (my father-in-law’s grave) to some of the other friends we’ve lost these last years. One grave, a particular woman who I knew as a singer, is over where the trees grow thorny and wild. The gray and desolate morning only makes the trees look wilder.

This cemetery has a name, of course, but for as long as I can remember, people have called it “Cemetery Ridge”. This hill slopes down on the other side of the trees, and I can see the gray town in the distance. I visit this grave, and then two others, finally heading back to my car.

In the parking lot, I see the man and his daughter approaching their car. To my surprise, there is a woman wearing sunglasses waiting for them within it. I had assumed from what I saw that the man had lost his wife and the girl her mother; but, apparently not, as the woman has obviously been crying in the car. She’s holding a sort of shapeless stuffed animal.

Oh my God, she lost a child. The little girl lost a sibling: a sister, maybe, or a brother.

Now, my eyes are filling with tears. At that exact moment, just as the man finishes helping his daughter into the car and the arms of her mother, he turns and sees me, tears streaming down my face; and I could tell, in that brief moment, that he was concerned about me, and whatever grief might have brought me to this place.

His grief was my grief. My grief was his grief.

They leave within moments, driving slowly away. I stand by my car as a gray wind blows across the ridge, moving the leafless trees.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Solace of Imagination

When imagination is the only thing in your life you can control, it can become everything.

Everything. And, anything.


When I was young, I first perceived “imagination” as a consolation adults offer to children when they’re unable to find other kids to play with. “Use your imagination,” they’d say.

“Think of ways to amuse yourself without bothering me,” they meant.

After a time, however, I realized that, even with friends to play with, imagination was needed. Otherwise, you play only the same old games, the same old way, which gets boring, frankly.


I started reading very young. As people who like reading instinctively know, a book is a like a friend, and one with a very good imagination, to boot. In addition, books spurred my imagination, although they also revealed a deficit in my particular imagination, namely, my inability to “picture” things in my head. Children’s books provide pictures, however, as do comic books, so for years — possibly including this year — children’s books comprise many to most of my favorite books.

It’s one of the reasons I use a photography service in my blogging. I’m inspired by the visual imagery of others, but unable to generate much on my own.


My sister had a collection of marionettes when we were growing up. Puppetry is still alive, of course, both as a practice and an art form. Still, in decades and centuries past, it would have been a necessarily larger part of the imaginative life of children.

When my sister left home for college, I temporarily moved into what had been her room; in it, I found boxes of marionettes. I didn’t remember ever seeing them before; being seven years younger than she was, it was quite possible she had enjoyed them most in times before me, or at least, my memory.

I remember that the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood show made extensive use of puppets. So did Sesame Street, of course; but somehow, I never thought of the Muppets as puppets. The Mr. Rogers puppets were more old school traditional puppets.

I remember trying out some of my sister’s marionettes, but I couldn’t seem to create any sort of life in my manipulation of the strings and wires. My father saw me doing it, and boxed the valuable marionettes back up before I could do them mortal damage.

Which I no doubt would have.


A year and a half after my sister left home for college, my brother left for the army.

Even though he was five years my senior, we had been pretty close; or, at least, we had a good relationship. Now he was grown up and gone, and I was thirteen and very unsure of how family life was going to go, being the only kid left at home.

Books and comic books (particularly the latter, by this point) were my great solace. I had a hard time making friends at school, because, bluntly, I was a jerk. Gradually, I met other jerks (just kidding, I met kids with similar interests who tolerated my misanthropy), but most of them, too, loved books and comic books.

I was interested in girls by that point, as well, but few of them that I could find had much enthusiasm for comics, or indeed, for me. So now, imagination started serving another purpose, one I couldn’t really help at first. I found myself beginning to imagine being with girls.


You’ll often hear superhero stories described as “adolescent fantasies”, and believe me, for me, they were. I wanted to be impressive to girls, but reality wasn’t permitting that. However, in the world of my imagination, I could be.

It was all I had.

I remember my favorite fantasy, although I’m sort of embarrassed to tell it. I would imagine having the power to stop the rest of the world, i.e., to freeze everyone except me and the girl. Somehow, in my fantasies, if the rest of the world was just “stopped”, the girl would fall for me.

A better story, of course, would be her immediate and passionate attempts to get the rest of the world turned back on so she could continue her own fantasies, ones about pop stars and football players. Because she wasn’t having them about me.


Real life rarely goes exactly like we want it to, but made-up stories can. This is one of the chief solaces of imagination. As adults, we are expected to understand the difference between fantasy and reality, however.

In real life, we don’t have superhero powers. We’re all just human beings, presumably dealing with each other respectfully and as equals.

Or we should be.


A young woman friend of mine asked me, just two days ago, if couples that had been together as long as my wife and I have been still have troubles. I laughed.

“Yes, we do,” I said.

“Somehow, I always imagined that, when you get past a certain point, everything kind of smooths out.”

“I like that picture,” I said. “Yeah, it was touch-and-go there for a minute, but I hit, like,  fifty, and, now, everything’s great.

Now, she was laughing. “Are you saying what I imagined was silly?”

“Nothing we imagine is ever silly. Not really.”

Not really, indeed.

 

Never My Love

You ask me if there’ll come a time
When I grow tired of you
Never my love
Never my love

You wonder if this heart of mine
Will lose its desire for you
Never my love
Never my love

What makes you think love will end
When you know that my whole life depends
On you (on you)

Never my love
Never my love

You say you fear I’ll change my mind
And I won’t require you
Never my love
Never my love

How can you think love will end
When I’ve asked you to spend your whole life
With me (with me, with me)