“You really want to do this?” He looks up from his box of little cards, adjusting his eyeglasses.
His look is a nice blend of shyness with integrity, calling to mind some unassuming schoolmaster digging himself out of a bomb shelter in the London blitz and then opening a street school for orphan boys.
“I really do.” I slap the table edge with my fingertips. “It’s time to face down this memory, this shadow in the back corner of my mind.”
He flips through the card box. “Memories don’t always work that way. If they stay out of sight, they may have a reason.”
“But there may be a reason to say, Enough already. To just move on and jump into the stream of life, and not be so alone any more. So I’ve found a therapist, and here we are.”
He nods, and arranges some little cards on his desk. “Let’s start with these.” He picks up a crystal on a chain. “Do you like butter?”
“Butter? Me? No no. I don’t even bring it into the house.” I hold up both palms, in case he’s about to pull some butter out of his desk and offer it to me. “Last time I bought some, I woke up in the middle of the night walking the floor eating a stick of it and then thought ‘What am I doing?'”
He waits for my butter objections to wind down, and meanwhile takes away two cards and puts them back in the box. He lays two more cards on the table, and tries the question again. “Do you like it?”
“Oh.” He may have a point. “Yes. Sugar too; can’t stop eating it. It must be balancing something, and I’d love to find out what that something is.”
“Did you try quitting? That might tell you.” He’s not being sassy, either; he sounds interested.
“Um, no. Didn’t try that.”
“Okay. One of these five.” He takes out a fifth card and holds the crystal chain poised over them all. “Do you ever walk up stairs on all fours?”
“Only when nobody’s looking.” Idea. “Mm, is that normal? Do other people do that when nobody’s looking?”
He tips his head, and brightens up a little at the thought: imagine, a world of people going up stairs on all fours but only when no one is looking. “Maybe.” The crystal swings in gentle arcs over the cards. “When you were growing up… any eye ailments?”
“Never. Only the usual. Sties, blepharitis, pinkeye, plugged tear ducts. Wore a patch over one side or the other pretty often.”
“Mm. Any eye injuries?”
“Oh no. None of that. Just minor mishaps. The time I walked into a holly wreath. Well, and walked into a door frame, and fell in the dark against the back of a chair. And… then fell on ice against a pole and spent Christmas Eve in the emergency room with a black eye. Your childhood stuff.”
“I see.” He puts the fourth card away; there are three left. “Shadow in the back corner. What is that like?”
So I tell him.
The crystal starts spinning. He looks up, furrowing his brow.”Ever read Coma?”
“Don’t know it.”
“Way you describe some of this, I thought…”
“No.” Troubled look at the cards. “‘Raven in the Storm’?”
“Song. John Gorka.”
“Russian root, feminine short form, adjective ‘bitter.'”
“Gorka means ‘bitter.’ Never heard of him.”
“Ok.” Two cards left.
By now my Catholic readers, all both of them, will say “When you were troubled by past memories, why didn’t you go to church for spiritual direction and the sacraments?” I did, to a series of brisk hardworking priests. After their outspoken responses, I was too afraid to try any more confessionals for the next eight years. Without confession, and without that sense of forgiveness and redemption, I grew more uneasy around prayers about sinfulness and humility and the blood of Christ. At that point, anyone coming at me with an upfront Christian message about repentance would have sent me right out the door.
My friends did warn me that homeopathic remedies and crystal dowsing are a nonsensical placebo.
But if you have only catastrophic out-of-pocket medical insurance and can’t afford most doctor visits; if homeopathy is a cozy old-fashioned room with high ceiling and wood floors and tall windows and serene touches (polished slab of semi-precious stone; jade plant tree; tabletop fountain); if placebo means “I please,” a remedy that can’t do any harm and costs exactly one dollar; if it’s an hour with an acupuncturist who pays attention to thoughtful questions and thoughtful answers and offers gentle counsel and wonderfully non-sequitur dialogues (still a kind and tranquil memory 20+ years later) — I was ready to take it and be grateful.
Now, his study door cracks open.
A very small bright face and small smile peer in. The smile drops to a little O of dismay at sight of a visitor. But with a glance to check in with Dad and to check out me, the little O pops up to a smile again. Surprise! — he’s got a bumblebee to show us, a plushy plump one with merry yellow stripes that fits over his hand like a muff. “Bzzzzz…” he comes humming in, almost head level with the desktop. The bee gives Dad a plush kiss, knocking his glasses a bit askew.
Dad laughs under his breath, cupping his palm to stroke his son’s hair and turn him back toward the door. “Mom will have your lunch fixed by now. Tell her I’ll be out in half an hour.” Dad silently closes the door and re-skews his glasses with a raised brow of apology.
I sit back beaming, and clasp my hands to my heart.
Like in Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward. One minute the patient is careworn and weary, telling about her case in hopes of treatment; the next, the doctor’s beautiful St. Bernard strolls in: Somehow the arrival of this calm, thoughtful dog refreshed and cheered Lyudmila Afanasyeva, and as she rose from the table she thought that her case was not so bad after all…. “This is why I came today,” I assure him. It’s to get better and have a family life of my own, where any minute a boy and his bee pal can bzzz right in!
My counselor has one more question. “‘Not be all alone any more,’ — what is that about?”
“If I knew why…” it comes out a bit rueful.
“No no, I wasn’t questioning being single.” He sounds respectful about it. “But the meaning for you?”
What else would it mean? “Means I didn’t become a lovable enough person; not good enough for anybody.”
He raises his head, giving me a long look. “Mary. Have you shared that impression with your new therapist?”
“Sure. He knows.”
The clear prism spins on its chain, balanced on three fingertips like a little thurible of incense, catching a spark of sunlight on the back edge of every loop. “This one is it. Larkspur.”
He explains the indications for choosing the larkspur. He prepares the remedy, seals it in a very small narrow jar about the size of my thumb, and at the manual typewriter writes up the instructions. “If you really do want memories…. Your therapist is welcome to call,” he offers; “and if I can’t pick up he can leave a message on the tape and I’ll call him right back. What’s his name?”
“Oh… He probably won’t call. I mean, he doesn’t know; it hasn’t come up in our sessions.” Operation Total Recall didn’t come up because the new therapist, though trained in medical hypnosis to help patients in chronic pain, flatly refuses to use hypnosis on me. He too has this idea that if my mind has kept some recollections tucked in mothballs, then in mothballs they belong until the mind is ready to process them.
“You mean — you’re taking larkspur to access a memory, and haven’t mentioned this to your therapist? Then do talk to him first, before trying any.” He’s eyeing the jar in my hand as if wondering whether to take it back and refund my dollar.
I try not to smile. Cancer Ward again! Dr. Vega trying to wrest the jar of toxic homebrew issyk-kul potion from the hand of her patient, Kostoglotov. “But these remedies don’t have side effects, do they?”
“Not in themselves. What I’m thinking about is the underlying memory. More important, it’s what YOU think about the memory.”
“What could happen?”
“It’s your wealth, your riches. You are a person who could suffer anything to keep that safe. But if a memory comes up that makes you even think that your wealth is threatened, or was never real to begin with –”
“Wealth?” I’m laughing. “I’m not rich.”
“It’s not about money. Your treasure isn’t money; it’s an inner world of connections.” He takes two more prescription cards, and writes numbers on both. “One for you, one for your therapist. This is our home phone. If anything unusual comes up, please call me. Any hour, day or night. Promise?”
That gets through to me; he sounds serious. “Promise.” I give him a hug; he hugs me back.
And off I go, to begin the new adventure.
Next: Part 2 of 3