I’m not sure who it was that reminded me of Colonel Buendia but at first it wasn’t me. Buendia, the picaresque character from One Hundred Years Of Solitude, inconsequentially lays down on a hammock and sticks a penknife in his ear to remove the earwax. These plain, careless remedies remind us that some don’t care what the condition’s called or what the protocols are for proper repair. Back in the day of everything, people did what they could with whatever emerged as a problem. They made do, did what made sense; they looked around, picked at the bits and pieces and tried trial and error. Think of Moonwatcher in the book that followed that movie about cavemen staring at a monolithic plinth, and conjure that discovery of bone-as-weapon plus the exultant surge of primordial rage. That earwax was likely gone after a sincere excavation, and if Buendia had damaged his interior with his spiky tool, he’d never know.
I wander through the circumstances, the routines and the change-ups, looking for meaning amid the residue of adventure. Joe walked me through the fall-out of his move, showing me the dusty garage and the folded-out driveway of his new home. It looked like that aftermath of a beach landing; the invasion force was on stand-by, and the sergeant at arms—Joe’s partner, Sue—was ably performing an inspection of supplies. It had been one hell of a month for Joe, it seemed, but he looked grounded and lean, if a touch grizzled, having changed his lifestyle, dropped a few pounds, and dispensed with old ways of working. He was ready to do some talking about some stuff about which we’d been writing. So far, I’d been doing more of the talking. I’d done more of the writing too, come to think of it. Joe, he did stuff, got stuff done that you could look at. He showed me a room wherein he’d fashioned a new office space: a den of retreat from the partners, daughters and grandchildren wherein he could read and maybe write, plus do his job via zoom.
“No more live sessions?” I asked with veiled nervousness. I felt vaguely like a dinosaur, thinking I’d be one of the few holdouts still plying a trade in physical spaces, with the sights, smells, and tactile temptations all nearby, either in my face or else at arm’s length. Joe glanced over to a king-sized bed with ornate posts fit for a king, situated in a corner. We thought the same thing. Maybe not, he suggested, alluding to the “transferential” problems that occur when people glance at suggestive objects.
“You think a couch is that much different. They’re still lying down. You’re not. It’s almost as provocative”
Yeah, but that wasn’t his thing either, he replied. That was my deal, he said as he patted my back. My co-author is proud of me, says I’ve come a long way, surpassed him even. I chuckle. So, why is he the one with the five-thousand square foot compound and the Tesla under the oak tree while I take insurance and will charge less than a hundred dollars per hour if a patient really commits. Still, it’s not all about the money. It’s also about the image: you know, about the books on the shelf; about the artwork above the couch; about the grain of the wood on the door and the kitchenette with the adjoining bathroom with hot lights. About these patients: you wanna show them everything except the bed. Show ‘em what you read, that you have good taste in art; that you will make them comfortable, not make ‘em walk too far if they need a break from their associations and dreams. And if they do need your WC, let ‘em know that your shit doesn’t stink, that you even do that with style.
That wasn’t Joe. Dreams move on, scaffold the residue of what actually happens and build a story for you. That was Pedro showing me what analysis is in his neck of the woods. What he also does right is take a whole month off during August. It’s analytic tradition, he says. Patients go on vacation, so he does too, which leaves his office vacated and dark, revealing an overlong sleep, a hibernated ambience. What will they all share when they get back, I wonder with him. And will you remember what it’s like to listen quietly as you wait for something that grips your imagination, cuz only then will you be happy to be back doing the job, knowing it’s back, like it was waiting for you. Catching whiff of the displacements, the reversals, and slips: this is what the game, the work, is all about. Meaning, it’s what’s fun about the process, not so much the stuff that the couched are aware of—what they’ve come to report. Me, I like listening for what they say but don’t know they’re saying, as that gives me a leg up, with an ear and mind full, and I don’t mean wax now. That gives me some work to do, something to sink my teeth into; to deluge my thought with metaphor.
I came back from my not quite a month absence not expecting much more than a quiet rapprochement. I wondered who would return, and who wouldn’t, plus who would return. Some people change, you see, when you leave them. They turn around and leave you too. Or else they turn around and say they didn’t notice you were gone, just to be assholes—just to show they don’t need you. Anyway, enough about family. Enough about patients, even. What about the people who rarely see me, who won’t have even known I was gone? Matt was a near miss after a three-quarter year absence following that serendipitous high school reunion of last year. He didn’t know how lucky he was, calling me out of the blue. Ha, inside joke. I’d thought about him a day or so before my trip. Where was he? I wondered of my only fan—the only person in I-can’t-remember-how-long who has had the guts, the self-esteem, the sheer confidence to say that I was better at something important, only to then leave, go back to his life on the East Coast. He’d really wanted this meeting. It wasn’t like he’d missed me, like we were long-separated friends re-connecting–more that he’d missed something that I’d happened to write about. I was a good listener already in high school, but back then no one was talking—everyone was too busy being cool, concealing who they were, not sharing themselves. Nowadays, high schools regularly employ counselors: adults, of course, whose opinions mean the world except in the tinder box of teen interaction. It seems Matt had discovered something about me that he hadn’t previously known and it would also seem that his opinion still means something to me. It’s still etched in my mind, his fellow writer’s feedback: you’re miles ahead of me. Maybe I’m doing the wrong thing for a living, I’ve pondered at times. But then, I should pause on that thought. Matt was only saying that I’d produced a masterpiece, that my style (of writing) was brilliant. Style. No big deal. But he wasn’t saying I’d do better than he. With his self-assured air, generous, at-peace, Earl Tea-sipping gentility, he was comfortably admiring upon his return, and eminently settled in a life that he was already looking back on as if he’d long-since plateaued. Maybe none of that’s true. Maybe it’s all a dream. But he did pay for all the food and drinks.