Friday, January 20, 2012

Therapy Session Part 3

by R. Welch

[Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.]

A reporter with a camera crew was in the hall and wanted to talk to me. I was taken out through a different exit and into a room they must have for people in these - these situations. No windows. No clocks. It didn't matter. I had fallen out of time.

The room filled with people. David arrived. With old Mr. Meyers and Shelly. And my buddy, Jack, the one whose invitation I accepted a few weeks ago. Jack was there. He was a rock for me. That night, and many others. He brought a bottle of Scotch and later, on our way back from a funeral home we'd found in the yellow pages, where I'd picked out three coffins - some joints. And I swear my sister arrived later that night, but she maintains she didn't get to New York until the following day. And Nina's parents. That was horrendous. Her father started having chest pains and her mother became hysterical. I wish I didn't have to remember those screams. She fell on the floor in the middle of the hospital hallway, screaming no. Or maybe that was at the morgue. You know, I'm not sure where we were, or what was taking so long. We were all there until very late, drinking and pacing and bumping into one another. I've no idea what was going on. I was no longer living sequentially. One moment did not necessarily follow another.

Jack drove me home that night. It must have been close to midnight. I remember, because I insisted we take a detour on our way back. I wanted to see it...where it happened, and Jack, very reluctantly, took me there. There were 3 or 4 traffic cones set up along the curb near the corner, and they slowly came into view as we rolled down the street. It was unclear if they had anything to do with what had happened there, 10 or 11 hours earlier, but they stood like sentinels, near a pile of candles and flowers and stuffed animals. After circling the block a couple of times without success, we parked in a nearby cab stand and crouched together, in front of the display. Most of the toys had notes attached, some clearly written by children. They were decorated with drawings of flowers and people with sad faces - with dotted lines trailing down their cheeks. We read them to each other by candlelight. Several had Cody's name wrong. They called him 'Corey'. Somehow, that added to the sense that none of this was real; that it had all happened to...some other family. I sat with my friend on the edge of the curb and cried for them.


I was very stoned at the funeral. Quaaludes and Valiums. Whatever my friends could scrounge from their medicine chests and the bottoms of their purses. There were so many people and they all wanted to touch me. Take my hand. Clasp my elbow. Graze my back with their fingertips. I think it's some sort of...superstition. Like knocking on wood. Putting their hands on me somehow paid homage to the peril that had come so close and passed them by.
After it was over and I stepped from that dark church into the light, it was like an hallucination. There were TV cameras and lights and a large
crowd of people I'd never seen before; total strangers, who'd gathered
behind these barriers the funeral director had set up. There was a mixup with the limousines, and I ended up standing there for several minutes, with that crowd watching me. A woman pushed her way through, stepped around the barriers and proceeded to stumble across the street to me. I think she was some sort of homeless person. She was dressed strangely and she had a bunch of flowers in her hand. They must have been a kind of flowering weed she'd torn up from somewhere - the stems were still attached to the root ball. And she just walked right up - Jack stepped forward as if to prevent her approach, but I waved him back. She didn't say anything - just patted my hand anxiously as she gave me her flowers, like she was a soldier with a folded flag. I mouthed a silent thank you, and she crossed back to the other side of the street. I think of all the moments (and like I told you, for me, that whole week became just a series of moments, disconnected, like a broken string of beads) that one is perhaps the most indelible. It's probably because it ended up in a loop of tape that was played over and over for the next day or two on all the local television news outlets.  A photograph of me accepting this...weird bouquet was on the front page of the papers.  I suppose that's why it figures so prominently in what I remember of those few days.  It's possible I don't really remember it at all...

The next week or so is pretty much lost I guess. I don't remember much. My sister was the last to leave a few days later, I think. It was pouring and we stood under my building's canopy, holding hands while Ben, the doorman, hailed her a cab. If we said anything, I don't recall. But I don't think there were many words exchanged with anyone that week. Language - you know, words, can become very small. Offensive. Silence seemed a much larger truth...

Her cab pulled away and I stood in the rain, watching it move down the street until I lost it in the traffic and turned back to the lobby where Ben was holding the door. He did a spot-on Donald Duck voice and used to keep a dish of candy for the kids in the building. Cody and Michael loved him. As I approached the door I saw him take a newspaper and try to cover up the candy dish, and he saw me see him do it. He just looked down and shook his head as I passed.
I slept on the floor of our living room that first night alone in the apartment. Not intentionally. I was lying on the floor, in front of the fireplace, smoking one cigarette after another and blowing the smoke up the chimney like Nina had trained me to do, and must have dozed off. All those pills finally caught up with me, I guess. And when the sun came through the tall windows, so bright, I woke up stiff and blinded. Despite the fact that several days had passed, that morning was, in some way, the first "morning after" if that makes any sense at all. I watched the traffic on the street below for a minute or two, the whole city passing! And the sun, gilding the treetops in the park and the buildings on the other side - it was just an insult! The indifference of the city that morning seemed an insufferable reproach.

The windows were huge, and Nina and I had never gotten around to having them measured for drapes, so I took the winter blankets from the closet, four navy wool Pendeltons, and nailed them to the casements over each one. They stayed there for the next several months - until Jack talked his way in one morning and yanked them all down.


A lot of time went by - I'm not sure how much. The artificially lit living room became my base, with two outposts in the bathroom and the kitchen. I discovered you really could live in New York without ever leaving your apartment. You can even have your drugs delivered if you know who to call. I rarely went out. I developed a phobia about returning to our bed, and I never went in Cody and Michael's room and avoided even the hallway that led past their closed door. Old man Meyers told me to take as long as I needed and paid my salary, with bonus, for the next several months, until I finally let him off the hook and resigned. I know I went to Jamaica twice. Once when it was hot, and once when it was cold. But I couldn't tell you exactly when I was there or in what order. I flew to Key West too at one point. I was going to swim to Cuba for some reason or other. But rumors of stinging jelly fish as big as boats cancelled that plan. And I recall getting my passport. I was going to Belfast to buy my way into the IRA. I figured I would finance the purchase of some weapons or something and once I was in; once I was accepted, I would learn to make bombs. As crazy as it sounds now, it made perfect sense to me then. I never ended up going, I forget why, but planning the trip kept me occupied for several weeks. I knew I was being strange, and thankfully anticipated what my friends’ responses would be to these, and other equally deranged schemes and managed to keep them to myself. I had this whole secret life.

After several months of prowling around the country, following an itinerary that was determined by weather and whim, I found myself in some bar in New Orleans, talking to a woman who was almost certainly a prostitute, although we hadn't gotten around to prices. I bought her a glass of wine, and when she put her hand on my thigh I suddenly got up and went to a pay phone in the corner. I called Jill. I heard her say hello in my ear, heard her voice, for the first time in years and I was - overwhelmed. Somehow, in spite of having very deliberately dialed the phone, I was unprepared for the sound of her voice. And despite a concerted effort on my part, I found I couldn't speak. She kept saying hello and I stood in the corner of that smoky bar with the phone pressed to my ear so hard it hurt, and I couldn't say a word! She seemed about to hang up - there was a long pause, and then - she said my name, softly and, it seemed, with great tenderness. I burst into tears.


And so I flew up to Greenwich and moved into her house, which had recently sold. I helped her pack. That was the premise. I came to help her move back to Cambridge. But once I was there, it just seemed easier to stay. I had given up my apartment in New York. All my stuff was stashed in a friend's basement. I had no place to go and was pretty exhausted in every way imaginable.
I helped Jill get settled in her new place. And, despite the hurt and the betrayals I had subjected her too, she asked me to stay. It was unfair, probably. How could she send me packing? I was a total mess. I couldn't stop crying. It had something to do with being back with Jill. Her presence, back in my life, or me back in hers, brought out all these tears. Tides of them! I hadn't done a lot of crying after the first couple of weeks. But suddenly I was doing nothing but. I would walk to Store 24 in the morning after Jill left for work, and buy a paper or a cup of coffee and would start to cry when I paid the clerk behind the counter. I cried on the subway, on sidewalks, in grocery stores, museums. I sat in the middle of Copley Square one afternoon, waiting for Jill to get out of work, with my face buried in my hands, sobbing. This very nice couple came over and sat down on either side of me and asked what they could do. I was just out of control! Unshed tears don't go away. It's not like they get reabsorbed into one's system. They collect somewhere and wait. You can't deny an unshed tear! But I don't suppose I need to tell you that. Unshed tears must be your bread and butter...

But Jill put up with it. She stood by me as I groped my way out of that labyrinth of grief. What I was emerging from was so huge, it must have just dwarfed whatever grievances she still carried. And she had some! And they weren't small. But what could she do? We've never really talked about it, but I assume she must have - buried them. You'd have to ask her.

Which is more lucrative Doctor? The unshed tear...or the buried grievance? Jill and I probably have enough of both to pay your rent for years. know what? You know what she probably did? She probably forgave me. That sounds like Jill...

After a few months, I started working again. Part time, but still, I was working. And then she told me she was pregnant. And our first daughter was born. And then, a few years after that, another beautiful girl. My commitment to this life can still seem kind of...uncertain, sometimes. Jill and I even wax poetic about it, jokingly, once in awhile. How I loiter in the lobbies of the living - never quite manage to take the elevator to the rooms above. You know, sit down for dinner? But at least I'm no longer straddling the threshold, like some ambivalent guest.

And I owe that to her. I'll never be able to repay her for what she did for me. And I think we both learned some things, in spite of ourselves. How to let go, finally, and, maybe, how to forgive. And we made a life out of nothing! Smoke and mirrors. ...Look. I said before, this issue of Jill and me gets complicated. The fact of the matter is, I know I have a tendency to - to diminish what we have together. But I don't want to give you the wrong impression. It's just that the truth is, I have this problem with having gotten what I wanted where Jill is concerned...because it came at such a price. But we love each other very much. And it's a good life. More, and better than I deserve.


And so now I'm supposed to go back there. To see Jack. He's the one friend from the New York years who hung in there. It's funny, you know, how losing my family somehow resulted in losing my friends - our friends. Nina's and mine. But I don't blame them. Not a bit. In fact, it really had much more to do with me than it did with any of them. I mean, a lot of them did try. But it's hard to be there for someone who has unplugged his phone and doesn't answer the door. I shut them out, and only Jack kept trying. He was relentless actually, and I love him for it. He refused to give up on me, no matter how many times I pushed him away. Sometimes shoved! I think it was in the winter, after that first, horrible Christmas, when he somehow got me to go to the Y with him and we played a pretty ferocious game of handball. It's a great game for getting out your aggressions, and it was probably the first real exercise I'd had in 3 or 4 months. Whatever I was "getting out" - whether it was aggression or anger or something else, I was unstoppable! I slaughtered him! And afterwards, we were standing outside and he suggested we go for a beer and maybe catch a movie or something, which of course I promptly declined. And I guess he finally lost patience and told me to get over myself, and I became enraged. I jabbed my finger in his face and, among other things, told him to fuck off and he took a step back and very calmly pointed out something to me that up until then I had never even considered. That I wasn't the only person this had happened to. I wasn't the only one! He loved Nina too, and the boys. "And you, you ass!"

And over the years, he's proved that to me time and time again. He never allowed me to fall into the abyss, as much as I wanted to. He seemed to sense when I was on the ledge, and he would show up with a bottle of Bombay and his New York World's Fair cocktail shaker or one of his magic baggies. Sometimes all three! This happened over and over. After I left New York - on my fugue, or whatever the hell it was, he was the only one I kept in touch with. I called him from Greenwich, just before Jill and I left for Cambridge, and he's been up to see us a half dozen times over the years. He sends my daughters birthday and Christmas presents. He calls frequently. Jack is just - a true friend. I'm a lucky guy!

And a couple weeks ago he called and asked me to come down. He's a health care lobbyist now and is receiving some award for his efforts and asked me to attend the ceremony and spend the weekend at his place...which is about 4 blocks away from where Nina and I lived. And I felt I had to say yes. Actually, I'd love to see him. It would be fun, anywhere else but there. Negril, maybe, but not the West Side of Manhattan!

I guess I felt I owed it to him. To respond in kind, you know? Be supportive of him for a change? It has been 14, almost 15 years. Shouldn't I be able to do this?

Anyway, I said yes, and the closer we get to the weekend in question, the more I sense the floors tipping, and all my carefully arranged pieces starting to slip and slide. I actually called him last Friday and told him something had come up - I wouldn't be able to come. But he saw right through me. "You can do this, Adam," he said. "Get your ass down here and show yourself you can." He told me I'm a lot stronger than I ever give myself credit for.

Oh Jesus, people tell me that all the time. The one's who know, I mean. I learned pretty early on not to share it with too many. It's not something I like to talk about. Probably because it shames me. You know, guilt I can deal with. Guilt can be useful! It can lead to internal dialogues
that can result in insight and growth. But shame - shame is another story entirely. Because we don't talk about the things that shame us, do we? Not even to ourselves. It must make your job difficult! But once in awhile, at least for those first few years, I would get the urge, usually after having too much to drink, to let somebody know - know me! Sometimes it seemed dishonest not to. But it almost always turned out to be a mistake. No one seemed to know what to do or say as I blubbered in my beer, and l would sense their discomfort the next time they saw me. So I learned to keep it to myself. But invariably, when I would choose to share it I would hear how strong I was. How courageous. You know, to have survived such a thing. But it doesn't feel like courage. And it never felt like strength! And, to tell you the truth, I don't think I did survive. I had to reinvent myself. (I'm still working out the kinks...)


Well, I guess that's it. I don't think I have anything more to say. What do you think? Should I go? Too risky?

You know, I absolutely knew you would say that! Yeah, it pisses me off! Because at your prices I'd expect something better than asking me what I think. I don't know what I think! That's why I came here!

Well, I told you. Part of me wants to. I want to see Jack. It would be fun, to spend some time with him, just the two of us. But not there. Not 4 blocks away from...yes! From the scene of the fire! Very good, doctor! I'm impressed! And you didn't even write it down...

The summer had just begun when Jill and I moved back to Cambridge, and I used to go on these walks at night, up and down Mass Ave, Harvard to Central and back again. I wasn't really going anywhere in particular...I was just walking. One night I happened upon this sign in a gallery window off Brattle Street, advertising a show of Yoko Ono's work; a retrospective of sorts. I'd always thought her work was interesting in a provocative kind of way...and she was an intriguing person to say the least...anyway, I came back during the day. And as I walked through the show I was struck by how much of her work concerned the word "yes". Not just the famous painting that caught Lennon's eye. It was more like a theme that ran
through the entire exhibit. And I don't just mean the actual word either, although she was never shy about being literal, but Yes as a sort of - concept. An approach. And it got me thinking about what it meant - to say yes. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It became a kind of mantra. I'd walk around Boston, muttering yes, like it was the first word in this new language I had to learn. I kept finding broader and broader applications! One yes led to another. I look back on it now and it seems clear, but it wasn't so clear at the time. There were plenty of migraines along the way. And sometimes it was too big. I couldn't get my arms around it. But even so, it felt like it was leading me - somewhere. Here, I guess.
I had to learn to say yes - yes to everything! Yes to what had
happened and yes to the part I played in it. I wasn't where I was supposed to be that day! I hadn't been...where I was supposed to be...for years. And I had to say yes to all of that. But "everything" also meant yes to whatever remained, including the chance that I might be...surprised.

When Jill told me she was pregnant - I think she was scared I was gonna flip out or something - she asked me if I was okay with this news. If I was...happy. She wanted so much for me to be happy about it. And I heard myself say it; say yes, out loud, and it was like - finding Zuzu's petals! How about that?

I couldn't pretend to understand any of it. I wasn't even sure there was anything there to understand! And that's about as deep as I went, I'm afraid. The understanding part was gonna have to be someone else's job. My job was finding a way to survive. I needed to start somewhere, and saying yes seemed like a reasonable place to begin.


I wanted to name Ashley Yoko, but Jill wouldn't let me. She didn't like Zuzus Petals any better.


So, guess what? You were right! I really did know. I must have
forgotten that I did. Because...I'm gonna go ahead and go - to New York. I may change my mind a few times before I get down to the sidewalk, but for now, that's the plan I'm sticking with. It's going to be...extremely weird to be there, to say the very least. I'm sure I'll see things and places that will bring back memories I never would retrieve otherwise, and that makes me - nervous! But, I'll be okay. Jack will be there. I'll tell him to put Bellevue on speed dial. He probably already has!
Maybe its important that I go, if for no other reason than to just get it done. Show myself I can, like Jack said. But I bet there are a lot more reasons than that...

Huh? Oh, that. Well, what the hell, if it all tips over I'll just have to
set it right again, won't I? It's not something I want, but it wouldn't be the first time and probably won't be the last. And yes, you're right, there might be a better way to manage things than this balancing trick of mine. Probably lots of better ways, huh? Maybe that's something you and I can talk about on another day.

Can I call you when I get back...?

Yes. I will. I'll tell her. Tonight. When I get home. Yes. She will.
She always does.


  1. WOW! Nicely done, Ric.
    Thanks for the yarn. Hope you are well.
    Best - Matt B

  2. That's a gripping tale of life interupted, of grief and survival. Well done.
    Jennifer Nightingale

  3. Ric,
    Damn, you can write. Powerful.
    Dick F.

  4. Too distressed to comment much on this one. Devastating stuff, and yet, in the end, full of hope! It's going to take me a long time to get over the cop with the shoes...or the scene on the curb...or the homeless person with the "weird bouquet" or the phone call from New Orleans...I feel like I knew and understood these people, particularly the narrator. And the unique way you told the tale! SO well done. Superlative writing. Truly!