He was a caricature of a child psychologist: sandy, side-parted hair, large wire-rimmed glasses, dressed like Mr. Rodgers. He spoke with a soft, low, monotonous voice, barely above a whisper.
I considered carefully, looking off to one side, and answered very slowly, “I’d have to say… my mother… I guess…” I was surprised at my response, because I didn’t feel close to my mother at all. What did that say about my dad, whom I adored?
I had started seeing this guy on my sixteenth birthday. I had slugged my sister a few times in a blaze of rage that I could not identify. She, of course, had been pushing my buttons with an unusual cruelty, but I suspect she was more aware than I what was motivating our angst: that is, the tension in our parent’s marriage. I was clueless. All I could see was that the quality of the food service had dropped dramatically in recent months. After the third plain, baked chicken in a week, I popped at my mom, complaining bitterly that such an indifferent menu made me feel like she didn’t care about us or something. To my astonishment, she completely lost it, screamed at me, suggested I feed myself, the whole bit. When I hit my sister, instead of talking to me about it, my folks dropped me off at the shrink.
I only remember that guy asking me leading questions, prompting me to talk. I don’t mind talking, and I am my own favorite subject, so I think he found me an easy client, but I usually left his office feeling gloomier than when I arrived. And when, genuinely upset and confused, I told him my mother had moved out, to an apartment over the flower shop on Main Street, a few blocks from his office, I only remember his gentle, whispery voice encouraging me to talk about it.
The only time I remember him actually talking to me was the day I arrived completely distraught and reported that the previous day my mother had told me — over lunch in her downtown apartment — that it looked like she and my father were going to go ahead with the divorce. Divorce? Who said anything about divorce? She’d been feeding me a steady diet of “Everything’s gonna be all right“, and, starving, I’d been gorging myself on it. When, in a state of complete shock, I had reported my mother’s announcement at the lunch table in the school cafeteria, the girls present exchanged glances, then turned to me with looks of deep pity. “Glen… when mom moves to a downtown apartment, divorce is what usually comes next.” I don’t know what was more shocking to me: the obviousness of this observation, or how non-obvious it was to me?
But at least I was seeing Dr. Shrink that afternoon! I told him the story, my voice constrained, an occasional shudder passing through my skinny self. And finally he opened up and started talking. At least, his lips moved and I heard the gentle murmer of his voice. He explained how normal my feelings were; that it was typical I would feel upset. He went on and on. I gazed at him unblinking until the air around his head began to shimmer, then his face itself began to blink and wiggle and melt, while his murmur droned on. I couldn’t believe it.
I was in the ER with a compound fracture of the leg, bone exposed, blood everywhere, and the surgeon was gently, softly explaining the physics of what had happened, that it was perfectly reasonable that a swing from an aluminum baseball bat such as I had received would naturally shatter my shin, that the pain I was experiencing was only commensurate with the injury, et cetera, et cetera.
And with horror I realized he wasn’t going to set the bone. He wasn’t going to stanch the bleeding. He didn’t even have any pain meds. I was on my own.