R.H.D. Memorial, Neurology Department.
Friday, mid-morning . . .
I’m in Dr. Monica Evan’s office—which used to be Dr. Robert Smith’s—and she’s going over some notes she had written at our last meeting. She seems to be in a pleasant mood, wearing a pair of slacks and a flowery orange shirt. She could be on the way to a flea market, or to a carnival.
She’s actually sitting on her desk, right now, her legs dangling over the sides like a child might. And I realized that her sense of self is so low-key and relaxed that it makes me want to talk to her more. Like she’s some old chum of mine from school. Or a neighbor.
She definitely doesn’t come across like a woman neurologist who has authored 11 books on subjects from Stress & Anxiety, to Mental Health in African Jungle Cultures.
“So, Jack,” she starts as she lays a manila folder down on her desk. She gives me this toothy, half-smile, like she’s got some complicated thought on the tip of her tongue. “The last time we met, you and I were discussing love . . . and just how far somebody should be willing to go to keep that love alive.”
I’m on the couch again, just lying lazily back. I’m not too concerned that this might speak volumes about my personality, because I’m at such an incredibly unpredictable time in my life that nothing is really that important to hide. If she sees me as a lush, that’s fine. If she—with her heightened sense of intuition and mental assessment capabilities—looks at me as a hopeless romantic with loss issues . . . whatever.
I’m not, nor have I really been, overly concerned with what people think about me. My main focus is to find out who I am, for me. I thought that the only way to figure this out was by trying to view myself from other people’s frames of reference. But that, as I have recently learned, is just as misleading as lying to yourself.
People tell me what they think I am, and it’s never what I think about myself. So, apparently, there is no consensus about who exactly a person is. You see yourself as something, and everyone else has their own version of you. Maybe it’s something close to your own personal image of yourself . . . but maybe it’s a million miles off base.
“Love,” I say to her, “. . . that’s a consistently sticky subject for me.”
“Oh,” Dr. Monica says as she scoots across the desk towards me, “that’s a barrage of imagery. Do go on . . .”
I lick the back side of my teeth—the side only dentists see—and I consider my words. “My friend Ricky and I, we were talking yesterday about this subject. And he told me about how in the times of the Romans the only important thing was if a person lived with passion. I think that maybe love is wrapped up in your passion. For all things.”
“Hmm,” she said as her feet kicked gently back and forth. “Passion is a wonderful word. Because it entails so much. It’s a word that gets thrown around in cheesy romance novels all the time. I should know,” she said with an embarrassed smile, “. . . I read about four a week.”
She leaned back, using her hands as supports behind her. “Look at some of the words that correspond with love. On the positive side there are enthusiasm, crush, involvement, interest, absorption, lust, thirst, and my favorite . . . dedication.”
Those sound so noble, I say. So grand.
“But then,” she says, her tone lowering, “You have all sorts of powerful aspects to passion, like rage, fit, anger, temper, convulsion, storm.”
Now I’m the one saying, hmm.
“. . . Frenzy, wrath, fury, hot-blood, fire, vehemence . . . indignation, even.” She leans forward, “What do some of these words do to you? Do you relate? Are you perplexed?”
I laugh. No, no, I tell her. These words are exactly what I expected to hear. That’s the thing . . . a thousand facets to every diamond.
She nods, “That’s the way I look at it, too. One tiny word those wise Romans would say. The great censor. Everyone, good and evil, they can have passion. And, under those parameters, both Superman and his arch nemesis, Lex Luthor, can be passionate men. If we get past the morality questions—which I leave for God and Federal judges—what we’re left with is degrees of passion.”
I like this Dr. Monica. She’s really way too cool to be a shrink. But I’m not going to tell her this because I don’t want her pursuing her writing career instead of talking to me about my broken head.
She hopped down off of the desk and sat in the chair across from me and my squeaky couch. And she’s a small woman, so she looks like a child pretending. Albeit a very adept and intelligent child.
Dr. Monica stares at me for a moment and asks, “Jack . . . what is it that you want to ask me?”
I don’t know, I say. What do you mean? I’m just doing the counseling thing, right?
She cocks her head slightly to the side, giving me that I know more than you glare. “Jack?”
Can everybody see right through me? Gee-whiz, already. I sit up, so that we’re eye to eye. I’m in a strange place right now, in my life, I tell her. I guess you could say I’m in a transitional phase.
She nods, collecting each and every one of my words as if they were valuable.
I continue, At this point in my five months of new life, I think a lot about what kind of person I might have been before my accident.
“Is it important for you to know about your life, before your injury?” she asked delicately.
“Yes,” I say, “. . . I mean, I think so. I’m not sure.” I’m as whimsical as a Democratic Senator. And I realize, as I’m talking to her, that I have no absolute position on my past. What I thought I wanted may not really be as wonderful and fulfilling as I used to believe.
So I explain this to her. I tell her how important it was, when I first awoke, to be able to get my prior memories back. And how I would have done anything to get them. It was such an obsession of mine that it evolved into a quest. All of my drive and ambition—my passion—has been dedicated to this aim. But while I pushed forward with this clearly unobtainable desire, I never left room for failure or defeat.
“When you say defeat, what do you mean? Are you referring to a sense of personal culpability, or just the feeling of losing after a hard-fought game?” She crossed her arms, and seemed to be very interested in my response.
Even though I realize that I am probably a patient to her, like the many others she must counsel, I feel alright airing these things out with her. It’s like I’m just talking to myself. I suppose that’s the mark of a good therapist.
“Let me make this simpler,” I say. “I’m in a position where I could do something positive for other people, but for rather selfish reasons. Doesn’t that take away from the deed itself?”
She laughs, “Rich people give money to charities all the time for perfectly selfish motivations. They want to be recognized in the media, or to raise their status as philanthropists among their peers. Anything other than to actually help humanity.
“But,” she said as her face softened, “. . . that doesn’t mean that people did not eventually benefit from their aid. If somebody eats, who might not have—it’s worth it. If some child gets the medicine he needs, then the change has been positive. The motive of the giver doesn’t diminish from the benefits of the gift itself. Do you see where I’m coming from?”
I nod slowly, my eyes searching the different colors of the office, not looking for anything in particular. I realize how much I enjoy color. And I start to miss Kristen. I have been trying to forget our kiss, but it’s impossible. It’s replaying over and over in my mind.
“Does this positive thing you are talking about, does it have to do with a woman?”
I look at her, my mouth half open in a suspicious smile. No point lying to her. “Yes,” I say. “It does have to do with a woman.”
“What’s her name?”
Dr. Monica’s face lights up, “My daughter’s name is Kristen. How wonderful. Tell me about your Kristen.”
I try to use words that will make me look sensitive and worthy. The kinds of descriptions that might be used in one of her romance novels. But I’m not a brilliant novelist with hours on end to come up with the perfect description for my love.
“She’s just . . .” I say, stumbling for words, “. . . she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever come into contact with, and the closer I get to her, the more vanishing she becomes. Does that make sense?”
“Are you scared you’ll lose her by inaction?”
“I’m scared,” I explain to her, “that I’m going to lose her . . . period. I want to protect her from the terrifying world she lives in. I realized that I have been, at least at some point, cold and bitter to her, and I don’t know if she’s gone . . . or going.”
“And you think you may have lost her, already.”
“I believe that I lost her a long time ago,” I say. And as the words are escaping my mouth I regret saying them. I sound like a nut-bag for sure.
But that Dr. Monica, she’s a sly one. She doesn’t change her posture, or question my words. She extends her hands and asks, “Do you trust me enough to indulge my experiment?”
She flattened her hands and turned them palm-up. “Lay your hands on top of mine, and try and touch them as lightly as possible, as if only one tiny atom of your hands is in contact with mine, lighter than air.”
What the hell, I figured. This is not even in the top-ten list of goofy things I’ve done with shrinks. I placed my hands over hers, hovering, coming into contact only barely. So gently we could have almost slid a sheet of paper between our hands.
“Alright, now . . . close your eyes and I want you to describe what you feel.”
I close my eyes, take a breath and slowly exhale. “Okay,” I say, “I’m feeling the warmth from your hands in my palms.”
“What colors do you see?”
“Yellow,” I suppose. “Maybe yellow and gold.”
“And inside these colors what can you see? Look really close,” she says, her words soft and subtle. “You’re looking three . . . looking two . . . looking one . . . “
And then there is this spark, this bright bolt of electricity.
“Just relax and tell me what you see inside the wonderful yellow and shimmering gold.”
All the sudden I get hit with a flash of Kristen in trouble. It scares me. All the yellow and gold has been tainted with blackness and drought, awful noises exploding around me.
“What did you see, Jack?” Dr. Monica says, obviously noticing something behind my eyes, or the reaction of my body.
And then another flash. And I see Rupert, and the others. They’re running from something. Things are crashing all around them. Creatures with fiery eyes are chasing them.
“Jack, take it easy and breathe. Tell me what you’re seeing.”
I open my eyes and my hands are shaking erratically. My teeth are chattering. My body is shivering and cold. My chest, where that giant gash was, it’s burning as if the incision was fresh. As if those Gatherers had just dug into me.
And I look at Dr. Monica without words to describe what’s happening.
“Can you save her, Jack?”
I nod slowly, numbly. “Yes.”
“Then you go and save her. You do whatever it takes, but you save her.” She takes hold of my trembling hands and she lowers her voice to just above a whisper, “You are more than the sum of your parts. You have no idea how important you are. What you see in the mirror, and in your dreams, it isn’t fair.”
This Dr. Monica seems to have faith in me, and I wonder how that can be. How can she be so sure that I am a good person? How can any of us be sure about ourselves? Or anyone else for that matter?
“You go and you save her. And you help anyone else you can along the way. Let your passion be your weapon. Because, Jack, if you don’t do this, you will not only never forgive yourself, but you will die inside. Maybe only a tiny bit right now. But there will be other times, other opportunities lost.
“Doorways,” she said, “. . . once closed, are impossible to open.”
I asked, What if it means sacrificing my past?
“If you love Kristen, then it’s not a sacrifice at all. It’s fate. And to turn a blind eye on fate, either because you are scared, or negligent . . . that is the only sin in the universe. Because all you’ll ever have left are the deafening echoes of regret.”
And then she stood up, lifting me by my arms. Slowly she brought my hands together so that they were touching, and she smiled. “We all need a savior, Jack. Be one.”