By Eliot Gregory
I listened to the puddles of rain splashing up underneath the car as we drove down the highway. The sky was pewter and looked as if it might rain some more. It was a fitting day to be going where I was going.
George drove. Our friend, Doris, sat in the passenger seat of the car. My car. It seemed appropriate for me to sit in the backseat of my own car, representative of my life. I was no longer in the driver’s seat. Frankly, it was a relief to let them make decisions for me.
“It’s so nice to be insane, no one asks you to explain.” This line kept going through my head in a loop, over and over. I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it–perhaps it was part of a song, or maybe just something I had read–but all I could remember was that one line.
I wasn’t insane, though. I was a drug addict. And no one was more surprised than me.
In high school, drug addicts were brought in to speak about the horrors of addiction. I usually read a book during these testimonials. None of it applied to me. I was smarter than that. Now, though, every time I heard the word addiction I cringed.
It was April 20, 2011. Doris knew a psychologist in the next town and after months of pleading, she and George had finally talked me into going for an appointment. Just one visit, they said. Doris set everything up and scheduled it.
When I heard her say the date, it the first thing that came to mind was that it was Hitler’s birthday. I knew I shouldn’t think about that, but it had to be a bad omen. I was certain that a normal person would think of something happier and lighter. Instead, I thought about how Hitler and all of his SS officers carried cyanide capsules in their socks and were expected to use them in emergencies. I wondered how I could get cyanide. I’d have to find it in another form instead of a capsule because I can’t swallow capsules.
The idea was intriguing, though. I doubted I could order it on the internet. I’d heard it was a very quick death, though I couldn’t remember whether the word painless was used when describing such deaths. I just didn’t know. Was it painful? I wasn’t that much into pain.
The idea blossomed in my head, gaining steam with each mile passed on the road to the psychologist’s office. I knew I couldn’t look it up on my home computer. It would be recorded that I had searched for the information. I could go to the library if I could get myself together. I wondered if that kind of death would look like a heart attack. Heart attacks were prominent in my family. I had to make sure there was no curiosity by investigators as to the cause of my death.
My twin brother Bradley recently recovered from a very deadly form of leukemia. We have always been close and his potential death was too much for me to handle. I was still surprised that he was alive, quite frankly. I remember walking the halls of the hospital wringing my hands when I thought he was dying. It was such a painful thing to watch. Too painful. More than once I stared out from the fifth floor railing that opened onto the atrium below. It would be quick, I thought. But what if five floors up wasn’t quite enough?
It was the worst time of my life watching my twin suffer and nearly die. For 25 years I had worked as a teaching assistant in the same school. I thought I was surrounded by loving people who cared for my family and me. Of all people, I thought they would understand. They didn’t. Instead, they fired me.
I often told myself as I opened the tranquilizer bottle that anyone in my circumstances would do what I was doing. There was no other way to get through it.
George turned into the parking lot of the psychologist’s office. My stomach turned to ice. It was the last place I wanted to go.
I thought fondly of Dr. Lemon, my former psychologist. I hadn’t seen her in almost 15 years, but we had stayed close through letters and email. All the time that Bradley was in the hospital fighting for his life, I felt her near me, but the idea of seeing her during that time was too much. I just couldn’t get myself together enough to call her. I smiled as I thought of her and how I almost hadn’t gone to that first appointment just because of the psychologist’s name!
Then it was too late. She was gone. She was 88 when she passed away. I was lost without her in the world.
“It’s time to go in!” Doris said as she got out of the car a little too loudly. Her voice could really be obnoxious sometimes. I sat in the backseat clutching the armrest and seat padding. It was drizzling, but my resistance had nothing to do with the rain. I just didn’t want to go in. George opened the back door and urged me to get out with the look that always won any argument. I did.
We walked through the light spring rain and I noticed that on the window of the psychologist’s office were the letters spelling his name, Robert McGill, followed by a series of letters indicating his education and licensing.
It’s supposed to assure people that he was licensed, I thought. I wouldn’t have known the difference. I didn’t care how many licenses he had. I just wanted to go home!
The waiting room was not what I expected. It had three hard wooden chairs that looked as if they were carved out of a tree. I thought there was probably a good reason not to have comfortable chairs in the waiting room. People wouldn’t loiter then. There were magazine racks filled with Cowboys and Indians magazines. I had never heard of a magazine devoted to Cowboys and Indians, at least not since I was a boy, but Doris picked one up and started reading it as if my world wasn’t falling apart.
Dr. Lemon would be so sorry for me if she could see me now, sitting in some strange psychologist’s waiting room in a total panic.
Then the door to the inner sanctum opened, and Dr. Robert McGill asked us all in. I kept reminding myself that it was just this one time, just to make Doris and George happy. Doris had told me that the good doctor had gone to the same grade school I had. She probably thought I would be more eager to go to the appointment knowing this, but I wasn’t.
I had a vague memory of Dr. Robert McGill. He was a jock and jocks like him made fun of me. In fact, somewhere in the back of my memories, I was pretty sure we had a schoolyard altercation. It was almost a daily event in my life back then. As I sat in the chair he offered, I hoped he wouldn’t remember me.
Even without that horrible nightmare of a memory, I could tell immediately that he was someone who could never understand me. Few people did. Doris is case in point. She had obviously made a mistake. I couldn’t tell this man anything at all about my life. I had asked to see a lady psychologist and here I got Dr. Cowboys and Indians. It was clear that he was light years apart in thought patterns and lifestyle from me. I sighed loudly to let Doris know my first impression. It was turning into more of a disaster with each minute that ticked by.
Doris handed him my bag of pills. He made a big effort to pick it up, acting as if it was the heaviest bag he had ever lifted. I watched him warily as he picked up each bottle and commented on its use. I felt attacked. Finally, he put the bag down and looked over at me, tired.
“I see that you are going to Dr. Marvin?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, my voice shaking more than I wanted it to.
“Do you need all these pills?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered. I shifted in my seat and felt lightheaded.
From the look in his eyes, I could tell he was angry. Maybe I should have said no? Instinctively I leaned more toward George as the doctor continued.
“I have seen so many people whose lives have been ruined by this man,” said the doctor, clearly furious.
I was flabbergasted. Couldn’t he see that I would not still be alive if I hadn’t had those pills to blot out some of the pain? Suddenly, I was the one that was angry. I didn’t like this man putting down my medical doctor. Dr. Marvin understood how horrible life can be. He helped people get through the unbearable times. I felt the need to defend him right then and there.
“Dr. Marvin didn’t put those pills in my mouth! I did that myself!” That told him!
“He sure set the table though, didn’t he?” shot back Dr. McGill with lightning speed. He burned red and nearly rose from his chair in anger.
I had no answer.
He sat in the center of the room in a chair with a word processor from the 80s balanced on his thighs. His thoughts seemed suddenly far away. The timbre of his voice softened as he asked other questions, but I could tell there was another not so comforting voice just underneath.
It didn’t matter, I thought, because I had just made up my mind. I was never going back there. I was there in the first place because of Doris and George, but it was the last time I would ever be in that office.
In my mind, I could hear Dr. Lemon’s voice saying, “Run! Run as fast as you can!”
As I stood up to go, Dr. McGill asked if I could come back the following week.
I said, “Sure.” There was no conviction in my voice, no real commitment. I said it knowing I would cancel the appointment later.
Eliot Gregory is a new contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. We look forward to hearing more from him in the coming weeks and months.