The 5 Stages of Grief

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Chapter 16, Dr. Alexander

“Dr. Feinstein, please … I’ll wait. You can tell him it’s Dr. Alexander on the line …. Thank you.” Walter could feel the restless butterflies fluttering in the pit of his stomach. He hadn’t realized how nervous he was. Or was it that vending machine lunch from the cafeteria? Maybe a little of both.

Dr. Hershel Feinstein had been more like a father to him than a boss. A brilliant professor in his own right, he’d fought tooth and nail to bring Walter to the school. The Board had wanted someone with a higher profile. Better looks and social skills is what Hershel had said that meant. But he convinced them all the same, telling them, “If you’re not going to take the recommendation of the head of the department – one of the world’s leading minds on the subject – I see no reason to remain where I’m not respected. I will submit my resignation, forthwith.” Of course, they caved, and here Walter was all these years later one of the best in his field and all thanks to this wonderful man. He felt a tear slip from his eye and was on the verge of losing his nerve when the line on the other end of the phone barked to life.

“Walter! How are you son? – how’s Baltimore? I’ve been following the case on the internet. Not much has leaked yet, seems very hush-hush.”

Walter grinned, wiped his eyes. “Whoa – one at a time. I’m fine, thank you. You? How’s the bursitis – bothering you much?”

“No more than usual but enough of that – how’s the case? I can’t seem to get my fill of that stuff since leaving the field, now I’m forced to live vicariously through you. So out with it, what have you found? Is he a serial? A psychopath? Crazy? Or just trying to beat the system?”

Walter paused a moment. This is going to be much harder than I thought.

“Walter? Son? Are you still there? Hello?”

“I’m….” his voice caught in his throat.

“What’s the matter son? What’s going on? Can I help?” He could never hide anything from the old coot. The old man knew him better than he knew himself.

He took a deep breath. “Nothing’s the matter Hershel, nothing at all, everything is fine. As for the case, I just don’t know yet. Your guess is as good as mine, but I will do my best to keep you posted.” He took another breath, an even deeper one… then began, “It’s a woman. I met a woman and I think I’m in love with her…”

Dr. Hershel Feinstein listened to the young man on the other end of the phone. He wore a smile though his tears ran freely blurring out what little vision he had left. It had been more than twenty minutes, perhaps even thirty, since this wonderful boy – no, this wonderful man, he corrected himself began telling him of the red-headed pixie from Boston, now living in Baltimore, with origins from Ireland, from a long family history of police officers, who was an Assistant District Attorney as well as the single mother to a seven-year-old, a wonderfully sweet girl named Kayleigh whom he believed might-maybe even like him that with time he was sure she would and the restaurant and the wine and the other wine and she was the most magnificently glorious and brilliant creature he had ever met in his life and you have to meet her and and and…” he listened and he listened.

He was happy for the boy – no, man dammit! he corrected himself. He was sad for himself. Walter had become his life. He and Esther had never had children – couldn’t – and since she passed, over five years ago now, Walter had become his only family. The boy –his boy, he smiled, allowing himself this slip, probably doesn’t understand how much he’s come to mean to this broken down old man. He’s everything to me…

“So? What do you think I should do?”

“Sorry Walter, I must’ve drifted. Comes with old age you know. What were you asking? – what is the question again?”

“Should I resign from the University or just take a leave of absence?”

There, he said it. He could hear the silence on the other end of the phone, the emotion in the old man’s voice when he spoke, his struggle to contain it.

“Ahem… excuse me, Walter. I’m not sure I heard you correctly, can you repeat that again? Did you say you’re leaving the school? – leaving Stanford?”

Hearing the old man’s voice, the tremble, the fear, nearly crushed his resolve but he squared his shoulders and pushed forward. “Yes Hershel, at least for a time…. It is time to step out from under your wing, to stand on my own two feet as a man. If I fall, so be it, I will just have to pick myself up and try again. But I do not intend to fall….” The lump in his throat seemed to interfere with all of his words. He was crying, didn’t care. “You have been a great man to me, have watched over me, made me a man….” He took a moment to collect himself. It seemed his mentor did not mind, was most likely doing the same though would never admit it still believing in the irrational real men don’t cry code.

He wiped his eyes again, cleared his throat. “I need to ask you two last things, Hershel – even though you’ve given me more than I could repay in ten lifetimes.”

“It is I who—”

“Shush-up, I won’t hear it. We both know where I would be had you not taken care of me. So here it is – do you know anyone at either John Hopkins or perhaps the University of Maryland that would give me an interview?”

There was a long pause on the other end, the words startling him when they finally came, “Yes…, I believe I could arrange that for you if I pull in a favor or two.” Another pause, this one a shorter. “You said two. What was the other one?”

Overwhelmed with emotion, crying, smiling, not trusting his voice, not yet.

“Well? Come on lad, out with it.” He heard the rawness, the sorrow, the struggle to keep it under control in the old man’s voice – his old man.

He pulled himself together enough to speak. “You have taken care of me all these years and I know you have more than enough money,” he laughed, they both did. “Why don’t you come out here with me? It’s about time you let someone look after you….” The silence on the other end of the phone seemed complete, until he heard the tiniest of sounds, the slightest shutter and catch of breath.

His old man was weeping.

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