Had an appointment with Doctor K again today. It didn’t start off too well, I don’t think. I sat waiting in the lobby until five after, trying hard to keep all the thoughts about how I felt I was being conned, scammed, out of my head. Then at 2:05 he strolls in, fresh off the road, waves at me with his right hand and urges me to “Come on back.”
Doctor K’s office is actually a converted ranch-style home, located somewhere mid-city. I believe the room where we have our Friday hour-long conversations may have been the house’s master bedroom in another life. The window behind his desk overlooks the backyard, at this time of year nothing more than a small fenced-in rectangle of clumpy straw-colored grass. When we talk and I don’t feel like looking him in the eye I sometimes look out there, even if it’s just to the golden sunlight.
I was a little annoyed that he seemed to be late for our appointment. He’d come in the front door with his sunglasses on, a tan cup of coffee in his left hand. Meanwhile, I had been sitting alone in one of the lobby’s four chairs, hands folded in my lap, bored, staring out the window opposite where the hedges were unruly and overgrown and nearly choking out the daylight. In my head I kept cycling through topic ideas, trying to get into the mood, so to speak, picking at some scabbed personal wound until it bled enough that we’d have something to talk about for an hour.
Nothing ever came of my emotional dumpster diving. So, under pressure, wanting the time to count for something, I defaulted to writing. I mentioned how last Friday, the 26th, I’d received notification that my story, Clean, had been purchased and would soon see the enduring light of publication.
“That’s great! So what is that, like … number nine?”
“Awesome. What’s it about?”
I hadn’t expected him to ask that question since last week, when we also talked writing, he didn’t appear too interested in the actual content of my work. I began explaining the story in a long, convoluted way, first setting the scene:
“Okay, so my sister lives in Lee’s Summit, and she recently had a baby girl like eight or ten months ago, and so every week my mom drives down from Omaha to take care of the baby, leaving Monday and returning sometime Friday evening. Well, sometimes she invites me to come along, sort of as a vacation from the city and the hassle of life. Like a getaway, you know? Well, so in the story this guy’s traveling with his mom down to Lee’s Summit for the weekend, and in the story it’s all kind of pointless because he’s a heroin addict ….”
I go on to explain how the story had been written for a monthly competition. The prompt was Bubbles. When I told Doctor K that he laughed and nodded—I don’t know why, I wasn’t trying to be funny. But anyway. So I explained how I’d interpreted that prompt, that theme of Bubbles, and completely turned it around in my brain, made it all fucked-up and negative. Because I’d been thinking, Bubbles is to clean as clean is to staying clean is to drug abuse is to heroin use, and so on.
“Well anyway, it’s pointless because this guy can’t ever get away. He’s leaving Omaha and visiting his sister in another state and it totally doesn’t matter because he can’t leave himself behind. In the story, I wrote it like this ….” And then I went on to quote the story to him: “Doesn’t matter how fast the miles speed away it’s still you in this car, you and your busted-up brain, your checkered forearms, the pushovers you call hands.”
Doctor K nodded and seemed impressed, said it was good—really good. I’m not entirely sure what I feel whenever I hear a counselor or somebody who is invested in my well-being say those things. Suspicion, definitely. In the back of my mind I’m calling bullshit all the time, seeing it as a ploy to get the depressed guy feeling better about himself. But this time I let the comment slide, and maybe believed him a little. Afterward, we discussed drugs. He asked me if I ever took them and I said no. Not marijuana, not heroin, not anything. Then Doctor K surprised me—he asked an interesting question:
“So what’s your heroin?”
After a minute of quiet reflection, I told him my heroin was self-hatred. It was the truest answer I had, and immediately when I said it I knew it was true. In the story, Clean, the guy tells his mom that heroin is “a big beautiful nothing. The realest fullest nothing there is, Mom, and every day is a need to be there and be that nothing.” and, for me, self-hatred was that nothing. It was always that nothing, a safe empty to resign to, and I’d run to that place whenever I could, and I’d stay there, bury myself there—die there—as much and as often as I could.
We talked about a lot of things today, Doctor K and I, mostly about writing and addiction, but one of the things that resonated with me had been that particular insight. I’m proud of that story I wrote, Clean; I thought I understood it. But I never quite made the connection Doctor K made, even during the writing. I’d included myself in the story, included details from my life, for 650 words pretty much detailed my life and my thoughts and my feelings, but never got far enough into it to realize the guy’s heroin was my hatred, his nothing a total negation of myself.
I suppose when fiction is drawn as close to the bone as mine typically is, this shit’s inevitable. And it makes me realize there’s emotional truths in my work that I’ll probably never see, or at least not while I’m in the thick of it.