Another Friday session with Doctor K. It was only my third, and maybe I should have lowered my expectations of treatment, but from our talks I was beginning to get an awful feeling of being adrift, lost, without direction. There didn’t seem to be much of an agenda. Every session I entered the room and sat in the deep walnut-colored leather sofa—all the way over on the left side, tucked in by the arm, farthest from the door—and patiently waited for us to begin, and he would either ask about my week or ask what I’d like to talk about. I don’t know what I’d like to talk about today, Doctor K, I said to myself. I was kind of hoping you’d wave in the air your expensive ball-point pen and your Piccadilly notepad and mumble something like Presto! or Voila! and make me a better, less broken person. Sadly, however, that didn’t ever happen. Doctor K sat a small distance away in a roller chair, that same notepad balanced on his crossed leg, in his right hand that same expensive ball-point pen, held tentatively above the paper, eager to scribble out abbreviations of my thoughts, and it was always on me to get the party started. But in all of this I was looking to be led, given some direction forward. Because I didn’t know where I was going. That was how I landed in this mess to begin with. That’s why I’m paying you, Doctor K, seventy bucks an hour—so you can be my tour-guide, my Sherpa; the one to lead me through this wilderness where it is always nightfall. Of course, none of this was ever said.
Today we began with another discussion of writing. Before the appointment, I’d finally managed to get my hands on the current issue of my college rag, The Metropolitan, after months of hovering around Student Services like a creep, waiting for it to appear from the presses. Last time when we discussed my story, Clean, I said I’d get a copy of the literary journal for him because one of my poems had been published there. The poem, entitled We Do What We Can, had actually earned me a 13.5 credit-hour remission, worth about six hundred dollars. So in the hours before I was to arrive at his office I drove to the nearest campus and fetched a copy for him. In addition, I tucked a copy of the story, Clean, inside the pages.
I planned to give him the journal at the end of our session, as I stood to leave. I didn’t want writing to hijack another of our talks. But sitting with the book creviced between my leg and the arm of the sofa, attempting to answer for what I’d been up to the past week, I blanked out and finally caved.
“This is the thing I was talking about,” I said, leaning forward to hand him the journal. “You know, with the poem they published.”
Doctor K uncrossed his legs and reached out and took the yellow pamphlet. The chair squeaked as he reclined again, crossing his legs right over left. To my dismay, he began thumbing through the pages. The room got quiet. Watching him, I sensed we might be at this for a while, that five or ten minutes might elapse and I’d still be wailing in my seat in mute agony while he searched for my poem within the journal’s lettered guts.
“Mine’s in the front,” I offered, “on page four or five.”
The pages fluttered in his hands all the way down to zero and one. He found my poem and began reading quietly to himself. For another minute the room remained silent. I fidgeted. Looked around at various things. The baby blue color of the wall behind his desk, different from the other three. The picture frames clustered into symmetrical, cascaded patterns—too far away, the images too small and intricate, my vision too poor to guess what any of them were. Then over to my left at the window where it opened onto the house next door, just a tall rectangle view of white siding, chain-link fence, and a triangle slice of lawn freckled every now and then with sunny dandelions. At my side of the sofa was a small end-table. At some point I picked up what appeared to be the strangest coaster ever made—a knitted square thing, striped with random pastel colors, a tiny brass ball or bell threaded to each corner. I looked at Doctor K again but he was still reading. This is what I’m paying for, I told myself. Good money so he can read a poem during our talk-time. Fantastic.
“Oh, I really like that part,” he said, going on to quote a line from the poem: “‘Arms slung around shoulders like ropes about to fray.’” When he finished reading he nodded and leaned forward again to hand back the journal, but I waved him off.
“No, you can have it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s not a big deal I have extras.”
“You have extras.”
“Sure. Listen it’s really nothing they have copies of those on every campus and they’ll be around all year. I can get as many as I want.”
“All year. Well, that is a big deal.”
“No, really. Go ahead and hang onto it.”
I said my other story was in there, too, which Doctor K confirmed by lifting open the journal midway with a finger, at the spot where I’d tucked the folded paper. “I can’t wait to read it,” he said, returning his attention to me.
The rest of our meeting was a jumbled mess. I was in an odd mood already. By two o’clock when our scheduled appointment began I was cruising somewhere in a limbo between pleasant and pissed off. I felt lucid, my neurons primed and sparking, and during our conversation I spoke rapidly, jumping topic to topic, idea to idea haphazardly like some kind of idiot savant. One of the themes of our discussions lately has been his insistence that I am intelligent, highly intelligent—brilliant, even. It’s that last part, that last word beginning with a b, which chafes. Inside I shudder and mentally wince. It’s embarrassing to hear: I don’t enjoy when other people include it in their descriptions of me, and it is generally not the way I think of myself. Primarily because I don’t believe it’s true. And because that way of thinking seems dangerous, a kind of siren song leading to the shadowy maws of egoism, arrogance, and narcissism.
Nevertheless, at the good doctor’s insistence, those words often floated above our heads—like clouds that wouldn’t ever relent, that obscured and cast us in their shadow. This time, I sat ears open with my left elbow propped on the arm of the sofa, fingers curled before my mouth in a way that must have seemed defensive—as if I may have been smiling at his blunt manner, or even weak and susceptible enough to laugh, and didn’t want him to know. It was only our third visit, Doctor K and I. I was still supposed to be the depressed, suicidal guy. It was too early to laugh. But in truth my body language said none of those things. I listened to his personal anecdotes, at times feigning interest, and sometimes wondered where all these diversions were leading, how they would finally coalesce in a manner helpful to me, and what kind of insight would be waiting, like the rainbow at the pot of gold, at the end. This time, unfortunately, I don’t think we ever made it to those insights. Our ride broke down somewhere off the map. The whole hour seemed too much like a back and forth sparring match, in part because I was feeling glib and quick-witted, snappy, and because maybe Doctor K thought we were re-enacting a scene from Good Will Hunting.
However, despite his insistence I was some brilliant person, he never quite dropped the G-word—though I suppose it’s only a matter of time.