Saturday, December 29, 2018


The time between Christmas and New Year's Day is not quite "liminal" but it is not quite like "ordinary" time.  For instance, Adele and Daisy, best friends, have a little free time because their therapy clients are generally preoccupied, though they will soon return with renewed dilemmas.  One always hopes they don't kill themselves.

The ladies met at Starbucks, the one that's railed off in a bookstore, enjoying coffee as though they were in a bar swigging alcohol.  Just over the rail was a rack of magazines, undoubtedly aimed six weeks down the road for Valentine's Day.  The covers asked, "Is Love Obsolete?" and "It's All Just Chemical."Should You Monkey Around?" and "Curse You, Doctor Harlow!"  That was the scientist who proved that baby monkeys craved cuddling more than mother's milk.

Daisy, looking at them, said, "Do you think the public understands what it really all about?"  

Adele shrugged.  "Does anyone? Do we with all our training and fancy theories?"

Laughing because Adele rarely admitted limits, Daisy rose to go back to the counter. "I'm going to get a refill -- plain Americano this time.  If anyone thinks there IS such a thing as a plain American."  The barrista was not a kid with tattoos and metal bits, but rather an older woman.  "Did you have a good Christmas?" Daisy asked.  She wasn't being polite -- she was really curious.

The barrista came out of her mist and looked at Daisy closely.  "Pretty good. I didn't get the kids everything they wanted, but they want too much. This year they didn't complain.  They're picking up on the starvation and invasions. The media pushes all that pretty hard." She set out the mug of fresh coffee.  "Would you like something to eat?"

"No, not right now."  Daisy was a bit jolted by the idea of a spoiled Christmas, but it was good to think of alert and sympathetic kids.  Maybe with tablets?

Adele had been watching newcomers, a young caregiver, maybe Mexican, pushing along a wheelchair for a quadriplegic black man, maybe a veteran. He was missing a foot.  Softly she said to Daisy, "This is like flashing back to Vietnam!"  At the counter the woman loudly asked for a tall skinny grande with chocolate.  "My husband will have a caramel machiatto.  Sorry if I'm shouting.  He's deaf so I talk too loud." It was not a Mexican accent.

The two friends laughed at their assumptions.  "So, Daisy, what are your therapy groups saying?  Have any overcome being depressed and deprived?"

"They fall into categories.  The D and D ones think that Christmas is about money and things.  If they don't have all the stuff, they're upset, even though after Christmas they complain about taking down the decorations and cleaning up.  It's not just the poor ones -- the ones who have enough money are worse."

She took a napkin from the little pile she had brought to the table and wiped up the wet rings.  "I have a lot of academics and wanna-be sophisticates who deny Christmas and every other religious event. They think being smart is the same thing as being dour and dark.  What about you?"

"I'm thinking about giving up one-on-ones.  The amount of game-playing possible at Christmas is incredible.  So much opportunity.  So much self-destruction."  She shifted in her chair and pulled at the scarf around her neck.  "Maybe research.  Maybe I'll just take a few months off and write a book."

"Do you know how to do that?  Books are a lot of work and you need contacts."

"No."  They stopped talking and watched the young wife help her husband with his drink, carefully letting him sip a bit at a time, clearly practised at this.

"What is love?" suddenly asked Denise. "We say sex, we say bonding, we say attachment, we say habituation, we say economic security, we say endorphins or even that mothering hormone, you know. . . "

"Oxytocin," offered Daisy.  "How about a craving for excitement and adventure?  I love my husband dearly -- we can barely find the differences between the two of us -- but sometimes it's nice to be surprised."

"What would surprise you?  Something good."

"Hmmm.  Well, how do I know?  It wouldn't be a surprise if I could expect it!"  She laughed.  "I think I'll get a cookie.  Something for you?"

"Yes, please.  Surprise me!" More laughter.

The "Mexican" woman wiped her husband's chin, gently.  Maybe she wasn't Mexican at all.  Maybe she was from a Middle Eastern country.

Daisy was back and put a plate down for Adele. It was a small pastry, twisted and with a dollop of something and a dusting of something else.  "What is it?"

"I dunno.  I can't pronounce the name and I can't spell it either, but it looked good, so I just pointed.  My cookie has macadamia nuts.  We're very sophisticated."  They nibbled and swigged contentedly.  Then Daisy asked, "Why did you never marry?  Were you ever tempted?"

"Actually, it was about this time of year and I always think of it, especially in the years when there's snow on the ground.  I had some writing to do and went to a ski lodge to work on it, figuring everyone would be being athletic and busy so no one would interfere with me.  I'd been to a conference there earlier."

"He was sitting in front of the big picture window that looked out on the mountain, so beautiful and so dangerous.  His leg was in a cast, the old-fashioned white plaster kind because this was a long time ago -- but there was no writing on it, which suggested he was alone.  I vaguely remembered him from the conference and knew he was also a therapist.  Well, more credentialed than that.  He was either a pediatric psychiatrist or a psychiatric pediatrician -- an MD anyway."

Daisy was VERY interested.  More than she should be.  This was something her friend had kept secret.  "He worked with little kids?"

"Well, he worked in a prison."  Daisy's mug went down with a surprised plunk.  "Not little kids but adolescents -- fourteen to eighteen.  Seriously twisted kids who had been very badly abused since early in their lives.  Hard cases and then, mixed in, b some victims of circumstance who shouldn't be there at all."

Silence.  Then, "He really needed that mountain."

"I've never known anyone who was more empathic than this man.  He could see into people.  It was far more than sympathy.  We stayed together a few days and then kept in touch with email.  I gradually came to understand that empathy -- really sharing minds -- was his defense in life.  I only had glimpses of his childhood but it had been pretty terrible. He'd had one excellent grown-up friend who always asked, "What did your attacker think he was doing?"  Gradually, he began to understand most people.  But he said some of them were not really human.  To try to share their minds was to go into darkness."

"What happened to him? Did you lose touch?"

"One of the boys full of darkness stabbed him with the sharpened handle of a toothbrush.  He died. In that place they now saw off the handles of the toothbrushes."

More silence.

Before they left the coffee shop, they stood and held each other a while.  The married couple watched and understood. 

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