Read an Excerpt
"So, if I get any calls today, tell everyone my own shrink bought me a one-way ticket to the psych ward of my choosing." Having delivered this morning's wisecrack to Carole, the sociable secretary I share with every other therapist in the unit, it's up the stairs to the communal kitchen with its so-solid soda machine.
"Hey, Daryl, can you change a dollar?"
"Sure, but only if it wants to change." This quip is made on command to a co-worker I know solely from these frequent forays to an otherwise foreign territory, the administrative floor.
Cold metal container of Diet Coke now obtained and clutched in hand once again, I rush back towards my office. With a quick flip of the tab and a refreshing sip, I skim the record of the first client of the last day of my week, then jump up again and approach the waiting room nearby. I already know she's there; on my route a minute before, I'd seen a somewhat familiar face through the glass partition that separates them from us.
I try to overcome the nagging dread and get down to my business at the Center, the part I like the best, seeing my clients; though, being forced to see way too many, imagery relating to assembly lines now abounds in my dreams. Next thing I know, precisely at nine A.M., a chipper, eager-to-please factory-mental-health persona of my own invention is greeting my lucky client and leading her to the windowless cubbyhole I proudly call my own. We assume our positions, my chair wheeled to come out from behind my desk, which borders the wall, and she in the only other comfortable chair afforded me, sothat she and I are now face to face, no more than a few feet between us.
"Nice to see you again! Let's see, you were able to file that restraining order against your husband?"
"What? No. I mean, I don't know what you mean ... I'm not even married!"
Oh, you only live together. Well, it has been a few weeks since I first met you. "That's right. You told me you were afraid to marry your fiancé--your sexual issues."
"Well, I'm not actually engaged to my boyfriend, but I do have a little problem with ... hey wait--I haven't even told you about that!"
"Nooooo ... I don't suppose you have. But I could tell. I'm a licensed professional therapist with a good deal of experience," I say with mock pomposity in order to attain some needed levity. It doesn't work. "Now, let's talk about that further." This time I'm going for sincerity and warm interest.
"Okay. I mean, do I have to, Daryl? That's not why I'm coming here!"
Oh. Right. "So there's something else you'd like us to address this time?"
"Remember I told you that my father..."
"Right! He was just hospitalized and was on a respirator..."
"My God! He is? I knew they wouldn't tell me if anything ever happened! Maybe I should ... wait! How would you know anything about my father? Do you know my stepmother? She comes here, doesn't she? What did she tell you? What's going on?"
Though I can hardly speak, I do have to take responsibility. "I'm so sorry! This ... this has never happened to me before--I must have been confusing you with someone else!" I hope that someone hasn't also had the misfortune of discovering this, me clueless all the while. "Let's start over, okay?"
If Paula T. was more sophisticated about therapy, or had more self-esteem, she'd have my ass kicked by the Powers That Be at the Center or she'd sue me for idiocy or she'd get up and leave. Instead, she seems to forgive me. I am a nice person, after all, and kinda charming in my own way, and I do genuinely like my clients--she must realize that.
"Those flashbacks--they're really getting to me. And they are affecting my sex life, though I wasn't thinking I wanted to talk about that. I don't know if I feel comfortable..."
"That's entirely up to you. We can explore whatever you'd like." Inadvertently, I've opened up a door for her. I can't be so bad after all.
"I guess you people can just pick up on these things, huh? That's pretty good!"
I smile modestly and take another sip of Diet Coke, telling myself reassuredly that yes, I can handle whatever comes my way. The last thing in the world I want is this burnout thing affecting my clients.
Unfortunately, my next session is with a guy who's not making enough progress to suit anyone who really matters. This is Ronald's fifth of the six sessions he's initially been allotted by his insurance, which would be perfectly renegotiable if six weren't also the magic number the Center would like me to observe as his limit, considering this is supposed to be a simple adjustment disorder. "I can't believe she left me," Ronald moans. "What am I gonna do? Why'd she have to do this?" The same questions I've heard in the previous four sessions.
Listen, Daryl, listen, I tell myself. Point number one in Therapy for Dummies--sometimes it's harder than others.
Here's an interesting fact: just because I do occasionally forget doesn't mean I don't listen. Every once in a while I have to remind clients of this. And I've heard Ron's particular refrain before so many times, from so many bazillion other clients whom I've seen in the past twelve years or so, I could never forget. Somebody please tell me I'm making this up and that I'm not really consigned to listening over and over again, day in and day out, for the rest of my life, to the same old tired themes.
What on earth could I be getting from this? I ask myself as he continues his monologue. Certainly it's not the money. In his job as a construction foreman he probably makes more than I ever will. And I bet he has at least six years less education than I do, meaning--among other things--no hefty student loans to pay back month after month until he's eighty. And to top it all off, he could probably tell his woes to a passerby on the street and get the same results--or even better.
With a co-pay of only ten dollars per session, Ron probably had no need to lie about his income on his Center questionnaire, which means I could look it up after he leaves. Only the non-insured, often the more economically deprived with debts up the wazoo, have to hope no one will try to verify their responses. That we do still operate on the honor system is a throwback to an earlier era, the one when we apparently trusted people, when community mental health oozed a desire to help the needy, the indigent. Give me your mentally disturbed, your poor ... Give me a break. Though it's yet to be inscribed on our purported not-for-profit portals, if you won't pay dearly for your mental health, we won't have food on our tables.
More private clients, that's what I should have. Two or three a week is nowheresville if I ever want my own practice. Unlike the Center, however, it's not the revenue I'm after; it's the satisfaction of running my own show, seeing clients who've chosen me as their therapist versus this place in their general neighborhood--clients who are more motivated, who care about their progress in a more visible way. If only I had the energy to develop a bigger practice. But how can I do that and work here full-time, too?
I can't continue this reverie forever. Change your mannerisms, Ron--give me a sign that you need me. Ask me something. Anything. I'm quick on my feet--or my ass, which I'm on so much, it's currently spreading to North Dakota. Hey, if I've missed the context, I'll rely on my excellent reflective listening skills: "You want to know what to do now that she left you." This will stall for time. Or I can turn the question back on you: "What would you like to do? Why do you think she left you?" After all, everyone knows that the therapist, not being a magician, doesn't have all the answers.
But here we are, needing some answers real fast, and it's the same old song. Well, why wouldn't he be repeating himself--I'm listening to it, aren't I? I mean, he doesn't know I'm not. Then again, I guess there's no one redirecting him.
So, I'll have to jump in. "How's the medication working?" Both the Center and your insurance company, Ron, are looking over my shoulder, breathing down my neck, wanting big-time to see the right results so you can be discharged pronto.
"Well, you know, I don't think it is working," he replies a little too testily, I can't help but notice. Maybe I had unwittingly cut him off, or maybe he'd already said this earlier and I missed it. Or maybe he's plain irritable. That being a frequent symptom of depression, I'll have to jot that down later, that his condition may be worsening. Sufficient grounds to plead for more sessions on his behalf.
Wrapping things up, including a re-referral to his Center psychiatrist, Dr. Carlin, to check on his dosage of Paxil, I'm free again. For ten whole minutes--minus those few extra seconds I gave him in order to finish his sentence. Free to do his progress notes, free to find out what important calls have come in for me, free to prepare for the next client, free to blow out my brains while I have the chance.
A little suicide humor. I've been using it a lot lately. If it sounds as though I'm angry with my clients, I'm not. Really. I'm angry with myself. That guy could be me, hating the way I feel--in this case about my career, not my marriage or divorce--being stuck in a rut with no foreseeable way out. Not that I don't love a good rut--every single day the same tuna fish sandwich for lunch--but this is indeed a terrible rut, a deep black stinking hole, a scary cavern of horrors, that kind of place clients often describe before they finally do what they have to in order to get better.
Well, maybe it's not all that bad.
While waiting for my student, Molly, to arrive, my other supervisee, Julie, the one who actually gets paid to be tortured by me, drops by with her annual self-evaluation. Soon we'll meet to compare notes on her work performance and she'll get to see the glowing report I'll write on her. If there were such a thing, she'd easily be Employee of the Year, having higher productivity than anyone, not just in the Adult Unit but also in the whole agency, meaning that she sees the most clients per month; whereas my productivity, by the way, is ever waning. She's also continually open to learning. She comes to me about anything she's unsure of, and she's receptive to my guidance. While she makes my job with her a snap, I can only speculate that she wishes she also had the ability to whip me into shape. I sense that she thinks I don't like my work; I can't let her know it's not the work itself, but the agency and the whole mental health field and what's happening to it that I can't stand. But--Julie likes me anyway. And she'll like me even more when she finds out I've managed to get approval for her to attend the Psychological Trauma Conference. It's a truly rare day when money is granted at the Center for continuing education, even though we need it in order to maintain our licensure, which is required in order to maintain our jobs.
"By the way, Julie, Molly wants to lead the women's issues group, but as a student she can't do that on her own and it was supposed to start a couple of weeks ago."
"And you want me to co-lead with her and help her organize it and set it up?"
"Would you? That'd be great! But with her semester ending in May, Molly might not be able to be there for all the sessions ... well, you'll handle it. And I've been trying to work on the stress management series for Employee Assistance, but--"
"Oh, I got some great ideas at the EAP conference--could I help?" That's the one they wanted me to attend in Colorado on my own dime--and I don't even ski--whereas Julie aspires for special certification in Employee Assistance, so I let her go instead.
"Fantastic! And I have some new cases to assign--there's a dual diagnosis, an obsessive-compulsive, and, oh yeah--a mildly retarded woman who's apparently been abused in her group home by a night-shift counselor. Could be kinda tricky." And if you don't take them, they're all mine. I used to take pride in my penchant for the more challenging cases; now I think I've been an under-appreciated fool.
"Sure, Daryl! Just put the forms in my mailbox and I'll book them. Oh, listen, I have to run. I don't want to keep my next client waiting and she often needs some help with her wheelchair. So, thanks! I'll talk to you later!"
I thought I'd given Molly, who now sits before me, a simple task. Look at our adult waiting list, I basically had said, the one that's increasingly unmanageable, and determine which prospective clients need to be called so they know we're at least thinking of them. I'd even refrained from joking about developing a line of Hallmark cards for such an occasion: Thinking of you ... going crazier by the minute!
Now she's supposedly finished her task. "Many of these poor people have been waiting for months to get seen!"
No fucking kidding, I feel like retorting. "Yes, I thought I'd made that point to you, Molly. Hence, our concern about them. Did you manage to organize them by the length of time they've been on the list?" Something neither my own supervisor nor I had felt like doing, so it had made sense to dump it on the student.
"That's not what you said! You said I should prioritize their needs!"
"No. If I used the word prioritize it was in connection to how long they've been waiting. So, what did you do?"
"I figured out who were the sickest and put them on top."
Oh, I see. Molly's own special triage. Tell me your problem, and I, a lowly student, will tell you how important it is.
Molly's a regular wonder girl, all right. You have to wonder how she got accepted into graduate school in the first place. Or why she chose to abandon the promising career she already had in butchery. Or why she still smells as though she just left the meatpacking plant. Or why and how, just last year, her husband not only divorced her but also managed to take the kids away from her. Though I do have my suspicions. Lo-ser, I hear a voice in my head say against my will.
"But Molly," I say after skimming her conclusions, "you've got marital and family problems on top! What happened to the people with the more severe conditions?" Any fool would know to use the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as a guide even if she was dumb enough to be doing the wrong thing to begin with.
"Oh, they're in there. But, you know, if they've been that seriously wacked-out for that long, I think they can hold on longer than those with more acute problems. We can save someone from a divorce, but can we as easily save the ones who are crazy?"
Well, that depends--save them from what? Killing themselves? Obeying the voices that tell them to kill someone else? I don't hear myself screaming this out, but I do feel the crevice my teeth have excavated in my tongue.
Though the last thing I need today is to counsel someone like Molly towards finding a prize place on a therapy waiting list of her own, I know I must. Her own problems continually get in the way of her work, and even though we're nearing the end of her field experience at the Center, I reluctantly have to ask myself, what becomes of her then?
When I arrive in the lunchroom, Helen and Tina are already there, saving me my usual place at our small round table.
"What do you think of us being forced to run two groups per week?" Tina directs to me. "Helen and I were both saying we can't handle more than the one we're each doing now."
"Well, that's one more than me. I have better things to do than find more reasons to put people into ... What is it with them and groups! They really think it's more cost-effective? They're wrong! Just think of all the time and energy it takes to put one together! And a lot of them wind up failing anyway! I'm not gonna do it. And at the next meeting, I'll definitely take a stand. Jeez, it's always something!" I finish and zero in on Helen's disbelieving expression. "What? I mean it this time!"
"Daryl Stone, you always go on and on like this and then you sit there in meetings and don't even utter a peep! You're passive-aggressive, Daryl," Helen Rosenthal announces as though this won't hurt my feelings one whit. Perhaps she's aware, after all, of the dislike I harbor for her but try to disguise.
"You do like to instigate, pal--without following through." Whereas I barely tolerate Helen, Tina's my only confidant at the Center, by far the best clinician in the Adult Unit--besides me on a good day--and I can tell she's trying to walk the tightrope of aligning with Helen on this issue without alienating me at the same time. "But that's okay. We don't take you seriously anymore--and we still love you."
Let's be real. You both expect more of me. It infuriates you that behind my mask of ever-present wit, right-on dissections of agency mismanagement, and promises to assert my various brainstorms and schemes, I'm a wimp. "Okay, so maybe I am too inhibited to say stuff to everyone at once. But if pressed, I'd go right to Madeline herself and tell her one-on-one just what I think!" Madeline's the Executive Director; none of us therapists has much contact with her.
"No! Don't do that! I mean, that certainly won't be necessary. Why would you go that high up? We--either Tina or I--will bring up our opinions in staff meeting. I have to go. I have some calls to make."
"Boy, is she antsy! What's her problem?" I ask Tina. It's not like her to not stay and chat about her newest hair care product or pry for more state-of-the-art Center gossip. "Is it something I said? I hope?"
I have to admit--I was burnt before even coming to the Center last year. Migrating here, therefore, made even less sense than all the other times I've jumped ship and changed jobs after finding myself frustrated, unfulfilled, and interviewing elsewhere. Next stop, some place where I can fall back on pre-collegiate skills like flipping burgers and making ice cream sundaes. Some job where your mistakes are something you get to eat. Yeah, just what I need.
Only Tina knows the real scoop on my burnout, or what she calls "compassion fatigue", a term she read somewhere. And I don't even have to say that much about it. Luckily, though, she believes my general competence and commitment to clients can make up for it. With a tendency to bring out the best in people, she obviously doesn't know--and I don't have the heart to tell her--how warped her projections can be sometimes. Either that, or she's living in my past. Like everyone else except my poor clients like Paula, she doesn't get to see me in action.
It was during my first week at the Center that Tina and I bonded instantly over lunch, despite being seated totally across the room from each other. A boisterous commotion, apparently inspired by an out-of-control client down the hallway, had sparked a mass exodus of concerned staff, leaving only me, Tina, and three now-emptied tables between us.
"Why'd you stay?" she'd asked when we'd made eye contact, mine rolling to get to their destination.
"I haven't finished my lunch. You?"
"If somebody needs me that badly to save their day, the least they can do is make an appointment," she'd responded with equal weariness. And that about sums her up: though solid, responsible, and hard working, she too has her limits.
Following lunch, my feet shuffle toward Joe's office. He's the head of Adult Outpatient Services and the guy I have to go to for my individual supervision. Because of my level of expertise, which far surpasses his, I don't have to do this on a weekly basis like everyone else in the unit, all of whom, though older than me by varying numbers of years, are less experienced in adult mental health. If only he were a worthy mentor, a guide, a sounding board. Instead, he's a jerk, a formality, a laughing stock. On his fast track to middle management, having majored in social work administration, he apparently forgot to practice some real therapy on real people. Ironically, he's younger than all his supervisees, at least five years junior to my thirty-four years--and he's the only man. So, naturally, as in past jobs, we women become less all-around important, being lower in the pecker order. And they call social work a women's profession...
I present a case he's expressed particular interest in, ostensibly because he was covering Emergency Services the night she first showed up, desperate for safety of some sort. But I suspect it's more related to a simple case of the hots. She's twenty-five, beautiful, and vulnerable, and she has a boyfriend about twenty years older who's "good to her" except when he's slapping her around.
I'm already closing the case and Joe's appalled. "What?! Did the abuse stop? Did she leave him?"
"N-oo ... Sandra seemed to want out, but after a few sessions of focusing on that, she no-showed."
"And you tried to reach her?"
"Of course!" Well, I did make a couple half-hearted attempts, totally afraid that thoroughly nasty man in her life would answer the phone, but no one was there. Then I almost wrote a letter, but I remembered that she didn't want to be contacted at home because he didn't know about her therapy. Then I panicked because I realized my earlier calls might have been detected by caller ID--it's the type of thing he'd have--and when he traced my calls to the Center, he would have totally freaked out on her. Unh--I can't even think about this. "I did everything I could."
"I think you have to get her back in here, Daryl. Don't you?" he asks in a what's-the-matter-with-you tone.
"Well, I wish she could use my help, but something apparently made her stop coming. And I can't do anything about that, Joe. Why? What would you do?" As if I care.
"I certainly wouldn't have let her end therapy."
Do you ever listen to yourself, Joe, you reasonable facsimile of her manipulative boyfriend? "Let her? I don't have any control over what she does about therapy or even if she gets hurt again."
My eyes start to fill up. When I try to continue my argument, the crying overtakes me.
Joe looks at me as though he can't believe his eyes--or mine. Not willing to expose myself to him for what I am, a tender and meek pussycat incapable of defending myself against one unfair verbal assault on my abilities from a married so-called professional who's thinking with an organ that isn't a brain, I conjure up and reel off a myriad of other possible woes I've supposedly been holding in until the right occasion to lose it came along.
"Supervision with Molly is so hard, and I've been working too hard--I mean, without vacation, and I'm in a lot of p-..." I was going to mention menstrual cramps, but I decide to draw the line. "I've got some ... personal ... things going on." That's the ticket--vaguely hint at distress so private he'll never ask for more, nor would I know what I'd say.
"Is there anything I can do?" he now asks kindly.
Yeah, be sympathetic like this all the time, don't badger me about my cases, give me a year off ... "No, they're ... my problems." The implication being that he has nothing at all to do with my malaise. What a laugh! How cliched, not to mention reminiscent of my role in past broken relationships, especially the ones with males: the whole tired It's not you, it's me. I just need some space right now. Well, make that forever. But really--it's not you. You can't help it that you're inherently unlikable, that time spent with you is hollow and insignificant not to mention days or weeks or months of my life that I'll never get back.
While wiping my tears away, I can barely fight against the immobilization that's come over me, my misery now amplified by having allowed someone I don't even respect to listen to my pseudo-confessions, warped words barely skimming the surface of what truly ails.
It suddenly strikes me that there's no time like the present to tell him my proposal. I have nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain if Joe is really in my pocket--er, corner--right now.
"Joe, maybe there is something you could help me with. I've been thinking about a project which I could start here..."
"Really, Daryl?" I can imagine him thinking: Is that really you, Daryl? Who are you and what have you done with my increasingly disgruntled supervisee, the one who, albeit diligent enough and almost functioning as my unofficial though never-to-be-recognized-as-such assistant, has never shown any team spirit or interest in fresh programmatic ideas?
"Well, maybe it's far-fetched, but it has to do with us seeing more gay clients here." Not to mention bisexual and transgendered and everything else that's politically correct to include, but just keep going now, Daryl, it'll be easier if you don't overdo it or look for a reaction yet. Though I'm out to all my colleagues at the Center, some handle it better than others. Joe, for one, makes his discomfort obvious.
"You see, I don't know, um, if you realize this, but there are a lot of people out there who won't come to a place like this because they're afraid the staff won't be sensitive or accepting." Like remember the time, I could query, that you tried to tell a gay teenager how he should dress so that he wouldn't attract the "wrong kind of attention"? I know about this only because Ryan wound up in my office after his overdose, refusing to see Joe and eventually explaining why.
"So, you know," I plug away, "we're not reaching maybe ten percent of the community out there. I mean, how often do any of us get clients who are admittedly gay or lesbian? It's much rarer a phenomenon than it should be. If they absolutely have to, they're probably seeking help here but without divulging their orientation, which the staff isn't picking up on enough. And, you know, most are employed--they'd be full fee."
At that, Joe's eyes light right up. I said the magic words! What makes me presume the widespread employability of gay people, I don't know. Maybe because we tend to have to be self-sufficient, given our lack of support and rights in the world.
"Well, Daryl ... that's ... an interesting idea. Why don't you outline your specific goals and plans in writing? Then I can take the proper time to review it and get back to you."
Sleepwalking back to my office, Joe and I being through with each other, I ponder that although his response doesn't exactly smack of excitement, neither is it an automatic thumbs-down. I should take this go-ahead as a sign to feel more optimistic about my future here. In fact, this should be lifting my spirits right about ... now. I tell myself to wait a little longer for that unfamiliar feeling to kick in. It doesn't.
Shock. I must be in shock.
In this well-earned mixture of mind fogginess, fatigue, and general despondency, I confront the rationalizations of my next appointment, my two o'clock. "But, Bobby, you're playing it risky, don't you think? How about going back to your 12-step program?" I urge.
"I'm just using coke occasionally. Come on. I'm doing fine at work. It's not like before; in fact, I've sold more cars this month than in a long time. I feel great!"
I've either got to stop drinking this stuff right from the can or reduce my intake--I feel quite a belch coming on. More energy is needed to suppress this than to do the clinical work I'm supposed to be doing right now. Well, at least there's caffeine in this one.
"But you've tried this before--remember? And you found that you couldn't control your use the way you'd hoped? Is that what you want to see happen again?" What I want to see happen is for this session to end soon. I've not only got to pee, I have to get another refill before my next client.
"No! But I can handle it this time." I sense he's exasperated with my line of questioning.
"So this time is different? It's all or nothing with you--you know that. Why don't you at least call your old sponsor?"
"Oh, please! I'm not in the mood for all that shit! He'll just tell me to get back to meetings--for Christ's sake, I'll have to hear all that God talk, hug all those pathetic people..."
"Yeah. Okay. It's not for everyone." Group togetherness--the misery loves company philosophy--isn't always the answer. Ask my food issues group, the one I just quit.
"Ya got that right!" he asserts, proudly pounding his booted foot onto the floor, seemingly pleased at last with me.
On this note I give up and let the rest of the session run its unproductive but congenial course. B'bye, Bobby. Maybe the rehab wardens will let you drop me a line next time.
One minute before three, while hurriedly reading over Rita M.'s referral sheet, I find that her employer, a manufacturer of chains, considers this a "job jeopardy" case. I see Alex Trebek saying, "She did a no-no at work." Who is Rita M., Alex? I confidently give my answer in the form of a question. I'll take Job Jeopardy for $500, Alex.
I hate these kinds of referrals. It'll mean, among other things, that she probably was coerced into coming here and that I'll have to find the time to be regularly accountable to her supervisor regarding the progress she would never care about making if it weren't for the threat of losing her income.
After fetching her from the waiting room and offering her the chair, easily ceding to her first prize for most wanting to be anywhere but here, I try to get us rolling.
"Is it true that you spit at a co-worker?"
"Yeah." No eye contact.
"Can you tell me more about the incident?"
"Didn't he tell you?"
"Ed. My supervisor. The a-h who sent me here."
"Oh. He gave information to Intake, but I need to hear it from you. Why don't you tell me what happened?"
"I don't wanna be here, ya know. It wasn't my fault. They make me mental--they should all be here!"
"You don't like your job?"
"What's ta like? It's an assembly line."
"What about your co-workers?"
"Got no use for 'em. They're all a bunch o' creepy assholes." This full usage of her favorite term for her co-workers is evidently a slip, so she asks me to pardon her French.
"Why don't you leave?"
"And who's gonna feed my kids? You?"
I sense that she's warming up to me. "Well, I meant ... maybe there's a different kind of job for you out there."
"Right. I've been doin' this for nineteen years. I'm not goin' nowhere."
"Maybe you could learn to express your anger differently, then."
"I'm not angry! Why does everybody say I'm angry? I'm just pissed off most o' the time!"
"Well, let's work on that, then."
"If I hafta."
Following Rita, I have time to learn that Ellie, a joy of a human being who's been wonderfully appreciative of her therapy with me, has left me a phone message about canceling her next appointment. I assume that Carole, who in addition to her secretarial duties also serves as receptionist and all-around unofficial head of Information Central, simply neglected to write down the part about Ellie wanting to reschedule. When I return the call, however, she fumblingly proceeds to inform me that she's actually doing so well that she'd prefer therapy ended for now ... if that's okay. Knowing she's fully capable of making her own decisions, that's all I need. "Sure. That's great. Just call if you need to come back," I express with sincere sentiment, my baser instinct only kicking in afterward, when I hasten to cross one more name off my client list. Who knows why I enjoy this so much.
Carole's buzzing of my intercom catches me in this dastardly act. This isn't the first time I've noticed a slight startle reaction lately when such annoying noises intrude; it's as though no phone call can be a good one. "Your mom's on line three," she announces.
I obediently punch the third button on my phone. "Ma? It's me!" I shout, temporarily forgetting, as I so often do, that a long-distance call, in this case from the Midwest to New England, doesn't mean out of earshot. "Everything okay?" Can't be--she never calls me here.
"Well, I do have some bad news ... I'm very sorry to interrupt you at your work, but I thought you'd need to know about this. How's your day going, Daryl?"
"Ma! Tell me!" Jeez, something horrible has happened, and she's making small talk.
"It's your father. He died last night."
"And?" What? His good-for-nothing ghost is howling at your door? What's the bad part?
"The funeral's on Monday."
I'm not in the mood for this. "What am I supposed to do? Get someone a card? How about you--would you like a sympathy card?"
"Daryl..." She stops. She's crying!
"I didn't think you'd be upset, Ma!" No, I just didn't think. "I'm sorry. Really. What can I do?"
"I was hoping you could make it down for the services, that's all. But never mind."
"You were? You mean you're going? Oh, I don't think I can do that--with work and all. That would mean a couple days off." From this job that, for any other excuse, I'd happily bound away. You say you stubbed your toe and need me to drive hundreds of miles to Kentucky and do all your chores? I'll be there!
"Everyone else is going, you know."
"Everyone? Who's everyone?"
"Well, that's different, don't you think? Jack's his brother; Dougie's his nephew. They must have had feelings for the guy. Jack anyway."
For all I know, Jack was still in touch with my father. At the very least he and Grandma were contacted as next of kin. Mom, on the other hand, hasn't been with him for, oh ... how old am I? About thirty-four years, give or take some months she was pregnant with me before he bailed. But she's so close to Jack, and so am I. He's like an uncle to me. I mean, he is my uncle, but he's also the closest thing to a father I've ever wanted to have.
"And Dougie's going to the funeral to support his father--and me. I'm sure they both expect to see you too."
Somehow I can take the guilt I'm supposed to be feeling and shove it. "But, Ma, I have nothing to wear." Though I mean this, owning nothing but jeans and various pants and tops I wear for work, even I realize how stupid it sounds at a moment like this.
"Oh, Daryl, I'm sure you have a nice outfit you can wear. You can wear slacks to funerals these days, you know."
"You sure?" My experience being severely limited in this area, my knowledge of dress codes is nil. Similarly, though with considerably more deliberation involved, I've avoided weddings too. However, whereas people I've known have chosen to get married, no one I've known has yet chosen to die. Which remains true. I think. I never knew my father. No doubt, though, so my life could get even more ridiculous, he did make the inconvenient choice to up and die now rather than later.
"Of course. A couple of girls wore them to Dougie's wedding. Remember? Oh, I forgot. You couldn't come for that either."
"Listen, Ma. I have to go. I'll think about ... I'll get back to you, okay?"
Really, Daryl? What's to think about? This is amazing. You don't go pay your respects to some father you never even knew. And if you're my mother, you don't go honor a dead so-and-so who a zillion years ago married you, got you pregnant, left you for no good reason, then married someone else. What's she thinking? And doesn't she remember that she's the one who banished him from me to begin with?
Another cut-in from Carole jolts me back to the real world. "Da, while you were on the phone, you got another call. Pamela Sharp. She preferred having me inform you versus leaving voice mail. Thought you'd get the message quicker this way. She said you have her home number."
Pammy's my only non-therapist pal, a distinction I value enormously. No psychobabble from her lips, no misplaced confidence in the power of therapy or its practitioners, especially since she once lived with one intimately, even more especially since said ex-lover, Liz, a woman I used to work with, screwed her royally. Pammy's my kind of gal--the Anti-Shrink.
Tonight's the party for her thirtieth birthday. I have to go. And maybe it will actually be nice, I've been thinking, to meet some new blood, to mix with other women like Pammy who don't care about such things as mental health and well being. She knows all kinds of people, has had more jobs since college than I've had private clients, just about. Though currently falling back on her economics major--some sort of technical writing thing--she's also working on her real estate license and trying to put together a rock band. Highly energetic--wired even--Pam perpetually finds herself overly busy but too into her life to care.
I reach her after one ring. "Pam! Getting ready for the big bash?"
"Don't call it that! I'm weirded out enough as it is!"
"Why? You love this stuff!"
"I guess. Well, I just wanted to know if you were coming."
"Don't I always do as I say?"
"But you didn't say! You never called me! If you hate the horn so much, why don't you at least get email?"
If one more person asks me that ... "I was supposed to call? But you told me your plans and I said I'd be there! Remember?"
"But then I sent invitations. Oh, never mind. I'm glad you're coming, Da."
"So, what shall I bring? You need any help?"
"Well, I am afraid of not having your type of food--considering I never know what that is--and no, Liz is here."
"Liz your ex? What about her beau? What's going on? Or can't you talk?"
"You rock, buddy! See you later!"
As if Pam should even consider getting back together with the woman who supposedly loved her, but said goodbye because she suddenly remembered a prior commitment to men. A no-good has-bian, the skinny little bitch, is basically what we called Liz when Pammy was so grief-stricken she couldn't eat for months.
As if my mom should even consider asking me to go look at the guy who, though he didn't know about my fetushood when he left, eventually learned of his paternity but never looked back. Deadbeat Dad. He could have at least helped financially. But all my mom had to do is say get lost and stay lost and that's what he does. So now he's lost for good. Big deal.
I'm not going. No way. This is so absurd. Crazy-making, as we say in the biz. I'll call Ma soon--tomorrow. Right now, I have to get out of here so I can go to the bank, buy a card and a gift, maybe get some new jeans, and prepare myself mentally for socializing, party animal that I'm not and never will be.