A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 12

Get A Grip Brittle

Jay Jordan was located in Bethesda, Maryland. It was straight down 95 and around the "mixing bowl" to the right. I picked him out of a list I secured, thinking I didn't want to visit anyone in or around Baltimore. If I had to do it I wanted to do it my way, and so I sat waiting for Mr. Jordan after his day was officially over. I was like a caged animal once he led me to his office. I paced near the closed door, feeling restrained in a way that would be impossible to explain.

"Your attorney faxed me the record of the court proceedings and his comment," he said holding up papers that looked as though what was copied on it had no regard for the confines or symmetry of the paper, not to mention the amount of ink involved.

"I bet that's an interesting read. His comments," I said, remembering the way John Foster Morales looked at me.

"I see here that you're a writer. I write a little myself. Poetry and the like."

Mr. Jordan said the one thing that left me cold whenever I met someone new that had knowledge of my chosen profession. The Sunday afternoon novelist that never once worked at it seriously, jotting down the random and clouded thoughts that coursed through their brains when they were unable to successfully anesthetize it with booze and drugs and the tube. One day they all intended to share them with the world. The single novel each of us has inside him, but that sometimes the real writers take twenty years to get a single publisher to acknowledge it exists, even if it doesn't matter much that it does.

Mr. Jordan stood by his desk, his finders extended down barely touching the fine glossy dark mahogany that meant he was successful at what he did. Lots of lunacy between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, I reasoned. The desk was a model of perfectionism, everything squared and neatly arranged, the fax from Morales placed in the upper right hand corner of his ink blotter once he moved to his chair. It had been read and then carefully placed back into his neat little world, almost seeming like an extension of the dark gray blotter it rested upon.

After waiting long enough for him to realize I had not the slightest interest in his written works of art, I said, "Yes, a writer. It's how all this started, Mr. Jordan,"

I wanted to be formal a while longer to leave no doubt we weren't becoming buddies and talking shop over large glasses of cold draft beer. He was the doctor and I was the writer and therein we would both reside. I still stood as he took his seat.

"All this, meaning the boy you were arrested with?" He asked, not delaying the subject we were both their to talk about.

"Yes, I was taking a book to my agent. That's where I encountered the boy," I said.

"Have a seat. You met him at the meeting?"

"No, on the street," I said.

"And you were arrested with the boy? I don't understand."

"It was later on," I said, not wanting to go into the whole story of how I ended up with the boy.

I was only there to get off the hook with the judge and my wife. A quick trip to my shrink and a clean bill of health to show everyone that might ask, and one more fantasy gone through my brain and it would never become a book. I figured the case was weak enough and my first amendment rights were strong enough that all I needed was to wing it through this part of the proceedings to be on my merry way once more. I didn't want to relive the entire episode with this guy, just impress him with my intellectually balanced brain.

"There was another boy, some time earlier, I believe," he said standing with me, then circling his chair before reaching for the fax. "Oh, not some time earlier. Just a few days between them."

He looked troubled. His dark hair was made to seem darker by his clear dark brown eyes. A shrink with a clear brain, I reasoned. He was either examining me from the outside in or thinking to himself of all the things this could possibly mean.

"Yes, the first boy was actually the second boy, and through his efforts, I located boy one who I was arrested with second," I said, thinking it made sense to me.

"Why did you need to see that first boy? I'm a little lost here. It's something like coming in at the middle of a mystery movie. This isn't very detailed, except your two separate arrests are obvious. Have you ever been arrested before?" Mr. Jordan said, looking up from the fax and staring directly into my eyes for the first time.

"Depends on how you define arrest," I said, being succinct.

He was the shrink. Let him figure it out.

I decided this might take longer than I first thought. I took a seat, watching him square off the fax again before he sat down in order to keep us on the same level. There were streaks of gray near his temples and in front of his ears. He kept his eyes on me as I sat waiting for another question or some revelation I couldn't think up on my own. He just stared, fingers now touching the fax, waiting for what, I don't know.

"Kid stuff. I was from Baltimore as a kid. It was a right of passage. Petty little stuff that never went far. I doubt there's a record of it," I offered in way of explanation.

"But you have been arrested in the past?" He asked.

"Yes!" I conceded, adding nothing to the answer to clarify it.

"Not sense you were a boy and you are forty, forty-five."

"Something like that," I said.

"You've sold a book?" He said, moving his eyes once he'd gotten me to answer a few questions for him.

"Two in fact," I answered.

"Good, good! What are you writing about?" He asked.

"It isn't developed yet," I said.

"It concerns this arrest I'd guess?"

"Not rally. I'm still taking a break after the last book."

"Says here you are doing research. What's that about?" He asked.

"It does back to the boy. There was something about him. I don't know," I said, not knowing. "I can't classify it research yet. I don't know there is a story in it."

"It says here you are prepared to argue your first amendment rights as your defense. You reserve the right to talk to anyone, pay anyone, for information in your research. A child?"

"A child on the streets of Baltimore. Those are mean streets out there. Streets I'm quite familiar with. He has something to tell me. I want to know what."

His questions weren't anything I wanted to answer. Were there answers? I couldn't explain my actions to my attorney, my wife, and now I couldn't give a reasonable explanation to my shrink, and it made me mad.

"We can be informal if you like. You can call me, Jay, Thomas. Can I call you Thomas, Mr. Brittle?"


"Are you nervous?" He asked, examining the fax for more.

"Agitated," I said. "I'm not used to the third degree. I grew up."

"What about me agitates you so?"

"Not you, it's your questions, my being obligated to answer them so you can say I'm a good boy, at heart anyway," I said.

"And what is it about my questions that agitate you?"

"Well, in fact there aren't any answers to most of them, not answers that would make sense right now. I mean I can give you the facts of the situation, tell you how I met the boy, but I can't explain what came afterward. He has something, knows something, or is leading me to something I need to know about. I can't tell you how I know this. I just do. I can't explain it to you and I couldn't explain it to the judge, but I know what I know."

"This aggravates you? The fact you can't explain to me what you were doing with young boys, driving around in a car, in the middle of the night?"

"It isn't anything sexual if that's what you're thinking," I said.

"I wasn't thinking that. I'm here to help you deal with what's bothering you. This IS bothering you. I don't mean the court case. You are having difficulties understanding your own actions. I would be in your place. You seem like a man that is in control of his life. You don't like feeling helpless or not knowing what it is you want to know. We'd like to think there are reasons and even answers to everything, but it isn't always true. You might never find what it is you are searching for."

"I'm not crazy. I'm not a child molester. He has something to tell me. I need to know why he got in my car. Once I talk to him I will be able to move on," I said.

"You think so?"

"Yes, I think so. I'm not nuts. I'm certainly not dangerous," I said.

"No, I don't believe you are either. I believe you are troubled, not in any legally defined way. I can write a letter to the judge saying that you are fine. They are worried about putting you back on the street without restriction after two similar episodes in only a few days. You can understand that in this day and age a judge is held accountable if he puts someone back on the street that could have been kept behind bars before doing something harmful, especially when it involves children. Political necessity means the judge must be sure."

"You think I'm okay?" I asked. "You don't suspect I'm nuts?"

"I think your fine. I think something has happened that you need to find out about. I'll fix a report that will ease the judges concern for you. Mr. Brittle, I think you need to figure out what is troubling you about this boy. You obviously need to resolve it before you are going to be able to move forward. Are you able to write at present? Is this holding up your work?"

"Not really. It keeps coming back on me. The meeting with him. I don't understand what he wanted. He seemed so familiar. I can't shake it. To work I need to concentrate and that I can't do."

"Well, your attorney has paid for another," Mr. Jordan checked his watch, "seventy-four minutes. I thought I might make it home for a warm meal, but we may as well get your money's worth. It's what I went to school for. I have a degree and everything, I might be able to help you some. Why don't you let me try since we've dispensed with the busy you came for."

I told him the entire story, being extra careful detail it completely. He poured us both cold glasses of water from a large silver carafe on a table under the window with the blinds closed tight to keep out the afternoon sun. I went through the chain of events without him saying a word. He leaned back in his chair, folding his hands on his lap, closing his eyes as if he were seeing it.

"Who do you think he is?" He asked. "Or represents?"

"I don't know."

"You said he seemed familiar to you. In what sense do you mean this? Does he look like some one you might know, sound like someone? How so?"

"Familiar. I don't know. I can't tell you how he seemed familiar. I felt like I knew him from somewhere. I don't know. I don't know," I said. "He looks like no one I know. The voice? I paid little or no attention to it. It was what he said, how he said what he said."

"It's okay. If we talk about it, what he said, what it means, we can probably figure out why this is troubling you. There might be a simple explanation that has simply eluded you. Talking about it might bring it into clarity for you."

"There is one thing he said that I can't get a grip on. When I picked him up the night we were arrested, he said, "You've got to go back. At the time I took this to mean he wanted me to go back to where he'd met me. I remember the words being out of place in the conversation we were having. Like suddenly he remembered something he'd forgotten to do. While I had time to think, well, it was just afterward that we were arrested and I never did get to ask him where he wanted me to go back to. I think it has something to do with the mystery surrounding him. What do you think it means?"

"You've got to go back? Being a psychiatrist, I'd say it has something to do with your past, but under the circumstances, it could mean anything. Back in the conversation? Back in the car? Back to the first meeting? Back? Back?" He said, seeming to be measuring the word. "If you'd had more time with him, perhaps you'd be able to assign some greater meaning to the phrase. It could mean nothing. Turn around, go back. You didn't have any sense of what it meant? Nothing struck you when he said it. Think about when he said it."

"He had asked me if I knew him. "Do you know me? You've got to go back." Does that make sense to you?" I asked.

"It could mean anything, nothing."

"I felt a chill when he said this. Maybe it was how he said it. I felt the same chill just now. "Do you know me? You've got to go back." In fact I felt that same chill the first night I met him. I wrote that one off because I thought it was because I expected him to pull a gun or a knife on me. Anyone might get a chill from that. I wasn't thinking about him until he walked away. That's when he seemed familiar. Nothing up until the point when he walked away from me, then I thought I knew him."

"Was it the way he walked?" He asked.

"I don't know what it was. I wasn't thinking about anything but my life and my manuscript. I didn't have a clue what the boy wanted," I said. "It was only afterward that I thought about his motivation."

"I can understand how this might disturb you. You live a rather secluded life, don't you?"


"You don't interact with a lot of people, stick mainly around the house?" He asked.

"What's that got to do with anything? I work at home. Of course I spend a lot of time around the house. I work ten or twelve hours a day," I said, agitated once again. "It's my job. Like you work here eight or ten hours a day, more when new clients need you."

"Your ability to read people, situations, is proportionately linked to the amount of time you spend doing it. If you don't meet with a lot of people, perhaps your ability to read what was transpiring might have been distorted," he said, sipping from his glass.

"I don't think so. I need my own space to create my stories, but I'm with people all the time. The characters in my stories."

"Happily ever after affairs?" He asked.


"Happy ending type of things, and they lived happily ever after. Do you write that?"

"What has that go to do with anything?" I asked, more agitated by the new line of questioning.

"You work in a room with the door open. I'd say it is out of the way. People pass but not often," he said. "And they know to keep their distance. Man working!"

"How do you know that? You've talked to my agent, my wife?"

"When I closed the door you were made uneasy by being closed in here with me. Do you have any fear of intimacy? How did you get along with your mother?" He asked, cutting the question off just like you might cleave the end off the deli salami to expose the meat.

"My mother? We aren't going there, Mr. Jordan. I lived with her for nearly eighteen years. When I left there, I left her."

"Jay, call me Jay. You might need to go there. Who and what you are has a great deal to do with who and what you were, more importantly, who molded you into who it is you are today. You had help with that. It usually goes back to Mom & Dad. Not always, but usually. I take it those were not joyous time for you?"

"You can forget that line of questioning. I never knew my dad, and my mother was a drunk and what I knew about her I would rather forget," I said.

"Your mother was an unwed mother?"

"No!" I protested.

"You're father didn't live in the house with you then?"

"No. I mean he did. He died when I was young," I said.

"A baby? You said you didn't know him. He died before you were three or four?"

"I didn't know him know him. He was in and out of the house when I was a boy. He mostly yelled and drank and left," I said.

"And mother just drank and stayed?" He said rueful.

"I don't see what this has to do with what I'm here about," I said.

"We took care of what you are here about in the first few minutes. We are here about you now," he said.

"Oh, yeah!" I said.

"We are trying to unlock a mystery. We aren't having a lot of success unlocking it head on. Perhaps we can outflank it. We might need to ease our way around and come at it from another direction. Sneak up from behind. Mysteries are like that, Thomas. They resist head on assaults. They are prepared for head on assaults. They're waiting for head on assaults. They are able to resist and match force with force, but if you come on an angle or from behind, they aren't prepared for that," he said. "You outflank something to get control of it."

"I really don't remember much about my dad. He was in the house. One day he didn't come home any more. He was killed on the job."

"You were nine and didn't know your father? You were an only child?"

"Yeah! I don't think they wanted me. You didn't get abortions back then. My parents didn't. It wasn't done. He knocked her up and they were stuck with me," I said. "Each other too, I guess. I don't think they loved each other."

"That the way you felt? They were stuck with you?"

"I never got the idea they wanted me. I was mostly in the way until I was old enough to get out of the house. Then, I was out of the house until it was time to go home, and then I was in the way again," I said.

"Meaning what?" He asked.

"Gone! Later! I'm out ah here. I was maybe eleven, when I started roaming on my own for more than just going and coming from school and to the store. I had my friends. We played hockey, baseball, football. A game for all seasons. Some time we played on the street in front of my house, some times on another street. Just as long as I was out of the house."

"You only went home when you were expected?"

"Pretty much. I had a room of my own upstairs. I could watch the street to make sure someone was down there before I went out. Then I'd go to my room and read after dinner, do homework, that sort of thing," I said. "I never knew my parents."

"You weren't happy?" He asked.

"Never gave it much thought. I was happy to be out of the house if that's what you mean. I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere back then. I was just putting in time."

"How do you feel about it now?"

"Looking back? My childhood? I was just putting in time?" I said.

"How's your relationship with your mother now?"

"She's dead," I said.

"How did you feel when she died?"

"I felt like I no longer had to protect my kids from her. I felt good I didn't have to see her again."

"You felt obligated to put up with her?" He asked.

"We didn't see each other for years after I left home. I went to college after high school, lived on campus, made a life, married my wife. Had kids of my own. I had no mother through any of it. I didn't call and I didn't write."

"Why did you start seeing her again?"

"She contacted me. Grand kids. Every mother's dream, you know. Maybe she just wanted to see if it was any easier to like grand kids than it was to like your own kids. Luckily she wasn't very interested after seeing them. Didn't express any great need to have them come over to watch her drink," I said, a ragged edge to my voice.

"She was an alcoholic?" He asked.

"No, she had stock in Budweiser. I don't know. Alcoholic is someone that seeks help, my mother didn't need any help. There was hardly enough for her," I said.

"You hated your mother?" He asked.

"No! Yes! I suppose I hated her. If not wanting to ever see her again is hating her, then I hated her. That make me crazy?" I asked.

"Certifiably. Mother's make us all crazy, Thomas. How close are you to your kids?"

"I don't know. Close I guess. I work a lot. They go to school, Tommy Jr. has sports, Amy, my god, she's dating, works on the school paper, has a gazillion things to do every day," I said. "I don't see them except when they pass my door. My open door. They lean in and say high and tell me if they need cash or if something good has happened. I think we're okay. I'm there in the house for them," I said.

"Like your father was for you? In the house?"

It was a rude question. He may as well have slapped me in the face. A man doesn't want to think he neglects his own kids, but I neglected mine. Kathy took care of them, raised them, took care of the house, me, and made sure everything was done so I could sit back in my study and make up worlds that I could control.

"We've been at this much longer than I intended. I need to call my wife. Perhaps you'd like to come back and have another session. Business hours work fine for me if you don't mind. I did this as a favor for John Foster. He's a fine man. Good attorney," he said, standing in front of his chair, moving the fax around his desk.

"Do you think I need to see you again?" I asked. "I only wanted…."

"My evaluation is simple. You are a mentally competent husband and father of two. You aren't a threat to society or to yourself. That's the line the court will be looking for.

"I think you are troubled. This event with the boy has triggered something in your past that isn't quite as well put away as you have assumed all these years. Frequently the past will come back to haunt us if we haven't resolved some aspect of our lives, some relationship. Some times we move on before our brains are ready to move on.

"Something triggers a memory, an event, something that happened to us that left a scar. One day it's ripped open and we're bleeding inside, but it has been so well and so securely locked away that the only way to unlock it is to find out why we needed to hide from it in the first place.

"You didn't have much of a childhood. Your parents lacked basic parenting skills. You mostly raised yourself. That's not that unusual. There is something that has been disturbed on the inside of you and it's now eating you from the inside out, Thomas. If we don't deal with it now, you'll be dealing with it some time in the near future. There is no time like the present to take care of things. You have started to look at your past. Why not continue and see what we can drag out? Maybe get to the bottom of what this is really all about. Then, you move on with your life."

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