Neurology Department, Wednesday morning . . .
Last night was difficult. I was finally shown just a glimpse of what I shared with Kristen. And although I find myself no closer to what we were, I know it was wonderful. And to know that I lost all of that, it hurts . . . deeply.
Today, I’m lying back in a plush blue chair, in the waiting room of the Neurology Department, waiting to be called in for my weekly meeting. I suspect this will be an awful affair because I’m meeting my new caseworker—seeing as the last one took a dirt nap. I suppose that’s a mean thing to say, but the guy seemed to have it coming.
The tanned, quite attractive receptionist raised her eyebrows at me, and I guess that’s my signal. For whatever reason, she didn’t feel the need to use the microphone this morning. Evolution, I figure. It happens in baby-steps.
I got up, headed past the turtle-shaped table with the two-year old issues of GQ and Esquire magazine. I pass the pastel-green door that makes me want to set fire to a Toys-R-Us, and into the lavender and off-white hallway. This is the quiet hallway where you plan out what you’re going to say to the shrinks who will be interrogating you. And on the way back you try and figure out what exactly you said wrong.
The nametag on the door, ′Dr. Smith’, was still there. I knocked a few times, hoping nobody would be there and I could ease myself out without the meeting I knew we were about to have.
“Come, please,” a woman’s voice said politely.
Reluctantly, I pushed open the door and saw a short, older woman doctor. She had a kind of Dr. Ruth look about her. Although with longer hair, and thicker glasses. She was probably in her mid to late 50s, wearing a powder blue suit.
“You must be Jack,” she said, standing from the desk and walking around to shake my hand. Dr. Smith never did that. “I’m Doctor Evans, but you can just call me Monica. Actually, I would prefer Monica.”
Okay . . . Doctor . . . Monica.
We shook hands and she kind of observed me with a motherly smile. “You’ve been through quite a bit, young man.” Then she nodded, as if she was proud of me. “Let’s talk.”
She glanced around the room, seeing the brown leather chair and the similarly upholstered couch. “You pick one, I’ll take the other.”
This is odd. Shrinks are supposed to be safely on the other side of the desk. This area over here, this is our territory. This is like when handicapped people park in normal spots. It’s alright . . . but it isn’t right. What’s going on here?
She seemed to notice my apprehension. “Jack, I’m a different doctor than some of the neurospecialists that you might have worked with. I’m a psychologist first, and a doctor second. I am intrigued by the mind, and do everything I can to learn about it . . . so we can help it. Now, I didn’t say fix . . . just help.”
She sat down in the chair, willing me to the couch. “You see, I don’t think that a brain injury is something as simple as a broken finger. We can’t just set it right and let it heal. The process of mental health takes time and effort. It is deep and all encompassing, and too rich a subject to be patched-up in a matter of minutes.”
I sat down on the couch. This Doctor Monica, she seems alright. She’s different. Open-minded, kind of in your face, but she doesn’t crowd you. I ask her, “What do we do now?”
She smiles, “We just talk. Get to know each other. We begin what I hope to be a marvelous friendship. Some of my most interesting and unique friendships have come from people who sat next to me, just like you. Just like this.”
And I noticed two things right off. One, she has a wonderfully caring smile. As if she really wants you to be better. Two, she doesn’t refer to me as her patient. Not yet. That means she considers me a human being, like herself. And I have to admit, I kind of liked Dr. Monica.
Did I like her enough to start talking about the spooks, my dead girlfriend, and trips to the netherworld? No chance. But I felt comfortable enough to talk to her like a person, instead of guarding my feelings and emotions like a captured enemy spy.
“What would you like to talk about?” she asked softly.
She had no notepad, no folders, nothing. This was definitely the new-school of psychotherapy.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I need to tell you that I heard about Dr. Smith’s passing.”
She nodded, “I know, I know. That was just . . . one of those things that happens, and we all think about it. Death—that is to say, the passing of a person—it is a huge moment for everybody involved. Even if you only knew the man peripherally, you feel this tug on your soul that leaves you curious about your own mortality.” She shrugged, “I didn’t know Dr. Smith that well, but I felt his passing.”
You’re a very open minded doctor, I said. Are you religious?
She smiled, “Religion, spirituality, we all have some degree of them inside us. I like to think of myself as thoroughly spiritual. I have a love for science, and the foundations that it provides us, but I would like to think that we—as in our souls and emotional constructs—are more than simply electrical charges that disappear as we fade into death.
“I like to imagine a wonderful place of transition and catharsis beyond this life. Somewhere that we are allowed to take stock of our trials and tribulations here, on Earth, and learn from them. Maybe we pass along to some other place, maybe we don’t. Perhaps we come right back down and start it all over?”
“Until when?” I ask.
“. . . Until we get it right.” She lifted her hands, her palms open, “. . . that is the adventure of life, I suppose . . . to not be sure. The constant guessing, that makes life interesting. If I knew all of the answers, what fun would that be?”
“And what place,” I asked, “does love stand in the scheme of things?”
“Love is the energy that pushes life forward,” Dr. Monica said as she leaned back, getting more comfortable. She had on a gold beaded necklace that reflected tiny sparkles of light from the window behind her.
“How do you know,” I wondered, “what love is worth?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well,” I said. “How can I tell if a love is worth fighting for? When is it that valuable?”
She considered my question. “I’d say love is worth fighting for when it helps you to be a better person. A greater being. It has to be positive. There are many, many unhappy people out there that are deeply in love with somebody, but that relationship is detrimental to their psychological, and emotional wellbeing. Take it to the extremes. You’ll often see people who are trapped in abusive relationships that they willingly stay in, just because they are in love with their partner. That is not healthy. That is not a love worth fighting for.”
“But one person’s health,” I say, “could be another’s destruction.”
She nodded, “. . . and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That is a relatively semantic argument. I’d say that each of us knows, if we were to do a risk-versus-reward analysis, if the love we have for another is benevolent, or malignant. Because love, it infects you. Leads us to do some very complex things, sometimes dangerous.”
“So you wouldn’t believe in self-sacrifice for the one you love?” I posed to her.
She narrowed her eyes at me, “Why Jack, you might just be an undiscovered romantic?” She sat there for a moment, studying me, not like a lab patient, but as maybe a flower that had not yet bloomed. An uncut gemstone.
“So tell me about this girl you can’t get out of your mind.”
I told her about Kristen, but not the stuff about her being dead and all that. Just the feelings I had toward her. I said that she was still like a stranger to me.
Dr. Monica, she has to have looked over my files, so she knows that I just woke-up about five months ago. Following that, she probably assumes that I just met this girl, and that I am investing way too many emotions in a person that I cannot possibly know. Even if she doesn’t say this, I know it’s on her mind . . . because it’s absolutely right.
She says, “When you’re in love, you’re in love. There’s no explanation for it. Sure, I could give you a whole bunch of fancy psycho-babble about finding synergy with a person of compatible mental state and emotional flexibility. But all of that would be a cookie cutter fix. Love is far too complex an issue for psychology to have solved. We know more about the life and death of the universe than we do of affairs of the heart.
“And I think . . .” she said as she leaned forward, “that’s the way it was meant to be. Some things, we just have to take on faith. We must let loose our chains and rise until the heat of the sun burns us.” She folded her hands in front of her. “That is the majesty of true intimacy.”
“But it’s risky,” I propose. “I might think I’m in this wonderful kind of love, only to later find out that I was looking through rose-tinted glasses. I might not be healthy enough to make a proper evaluation. Crazy people usually don’t know they’re crazy, and thus don’t think they’re being out-of-line in their actions.”
She laughed, “You’re not crazy, Jack. In fact, you’re probably much more grounded and level-headed than I am.” Then she lowers her voice, “In my field . . . I’m considered a bit of a rogue.”
Me too, I thought to myself. Me too.
“Are you in love, Jack?” she asked, sitting up. Her eyes were deep brown, piercing through me.
I shook my head. I don’t remember what led to it. How I got there, or even if we were ever there in the first place. But, I said . . . yes. What other answer do I have? These psychologists, they are so clever at getting you to ask yourself the questions that they could never come up with on their own.
“Is it something that you think you need to fight for?”
Oh, I’d say that’s a fair understatement.
She stood up, suddenly. “Jack, we’re done for today. I would like to meet you again on Friday, if that’s alright with you?”
“Sure,” I say. “That would be nice. I’m going through a sticky time, right now.”
She handed me a business card with her phone number written in blue ink on the back. “That’s my cell phone. It’s just the cutest little thing, an i-Phone4Gs. So don’t hesitate to call. And I really mean that. If, for any reason, you want to talk. Even if it’s about the color of paint you want on your ceiling, the books you’re reading, or the frozen pizzas in your refrigerator . . . I’d love to talk.”
That was kind of spooky. I wonder if she could tell I like frozen pizzas, or if she was just making the point that she’s available to take my calls? I’m a bit baffled.
Then we shook hands, and she lowered her glasses, leaning forward as she peered into my eyes. “You are so much more than you know, Jack. There is a wonderful power inside of you . . . just waiting to get its chance to shine. Soon, you’ll see. I’ll see you Friday.”
And now I’m whistling the first 8 bars to the Twilight Zone in my head, hoping that she can’t hear what I’m thinking.