A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 14

Best Two Out Of Three

"When did you meet your wife?" Dr. Jordan asked.

"At school. When I went to college. I met her early on."

"You get along from the start?"

"I was a freshman and she was a junior. She tutored me in the sciences."

"No romantic inclinations?"

"Not when she was tutoring me. We went out for a coke now and then," I said. "She was easy to be with. I'd never dated much and wasn't comfortable with women. At was at ease with her."

"Whose idea was the cokes?" He asked.

"I don't know. I don't remember. We needed a coke at the same time and we went to get one."

"What did you think of her?"

"I thought she was a good tutor. I passed my courses."

"How do you get along now?"

"Fine. I don't mind talking about my wife. She's a marvelous woman. She puts up with me. Last time it was my mother and you've said you don't think I'm crazy. I just don't know where we're going with this," I said.

"We are going where ever you like. I'm here to facilitate the going. You decide the route we take."

"Seems more like you take a left turn now and then," I said, trying to remember why I bothered to make another appointment. "Do I get points for continuing with you?"

"No! In fact I returned your file to Mr. Morales that first evening. The findings on the matter he hired me for are complete. None of what we discuss now is of concern of the court or of anyone else. We're on your dime now," he said, lining up the corner of my file with his ink blotter. "Puts up with you in what way?"

"Pardon?" I said.

"You said, she puts up with me. How so? Just for clarity."

"I don't know. I just said it. It doesn't mean anything… I need a lot of space. I write much of each day and I need to be alone to keep my mind working on the task at hand. She takes care of the house, the kids, me in fact. She's a good woman."

"She works doesn't she?" he asked, grabbing the file and leafing through the pages.

"Yes, real-estate. Mostly out of the house. She has an office in Randalstown but only goes there to close a deal or to process papers through the firm. Mostly she sends things via the computer."

"When did you know your mother was alcoholic?"

"When she was sober one day," I said, squirming in my seat.

"How old were you, Tom?"

"Tom's my son. I'm Thomas. It was a joke. She always had a can of Budweiser in her hand. Her drug of choice. I don't remember a time when the top shelf of the fridge wasn't lined with it. She kept it on the top shelf because she liked it exactly that temperature. The milk could go sour on the bottom shelf or in the door but don't let her Bud raise above forty degrees. She got real pissy if I held the door open for more than a minute."

"Didn't you ever feel bad about having a drunk for a mother?"

"I felt bad when I didn't get supper. I felt bad when I didn't have clean clothes to wear to school. I didn't feel bad that my mother was a drunk. It was none of my business. She was the mother in charge, and I was the son who took what was available. I guess you could say she taught me to take care of myself. Good lesson to know."

"Your wife know your mother?"

"Know her? No! I wouldn't say she knew her. Of course I didn't know her. I knew to steer clear of her if possible," I said.

"Was she violent? Physically abusive?"

"She had her moments. She did her share with the backhand. Rattled my teeth a few times a week, but no, she didn't beat me. Mostly she wanted me to get out out of her way. Remember those cow scoops on the front of the old trains? That's how she user hand, scooped me out of the way."

"Send you to your room a lot?"

"Yeah! I spent my share of time in my room. I didn't mind. I read and watched the kids play in the street out front. There was always something happening on my street. Besides the domestic violence calls."

"Lots of domestic violence on your block?"

"Sure. I lived in Balmer. The blue collar Mecca of the U.S. of A. Lot's of Budweiser. Lots of rage. I thought it was normal," I said.

"You ever hit your wife," he asked, leaning way back in his chair in the darkening room but I knew he was watching my reaction to the question.

"No! If I ever hit her, she'd first hit me right back, and then I would be on the sidewalk a minute and a half later," I said.

"She can kick your ass?" he asked without emotion.

"What?" I said, laughing.

He smiled as he leaned forward and back into the light.

"Most men fear their wives. Maybe not most but a goodly number. There's a little bit of mother love there. A wife takes on many roles. Women are a lot more flexible in their roles than the men they marry. Sometimes they don't know it but in time they find out," he said. "Men rarely figure it out."

"No, my wife and my mother are nothing a like," I said.

"Not what I meant. Nurturing doesn't stop with the children. Men do nurture but not nearly enough. They are more likely to be nurtured. You weren't nurtured as a boy. Just the opposite. You were pushed out of the nest early. Even with your mother living in the same house with you, she wasn't available to you. Not in the role of mother in any event. You probably were attracted to your wife partially because she took the time to nurture you, teach you, encourage you, tell you that you were special. Like a mother might do."

"That's nurturing?"

"I'd say it is."

"My wife doesn't mother me," I said.


"She's a good woman."

"I'm sure. How long have you known each other?"

"Twenty five years."

"How long have you been married?"

"Twenty years," I said.

"You spoke of your street. In front of your house where the kids played. Did you have any close friends," he asked. "Throwing me off for the first time."

"One," I said. "I wasn't close to many of the kids on my block."

"Lots of kids on your block?"

"God, yes. Blue collar Balmer. Budweiser and screwing. That's what we're famous for, you know," I said.

"Why do you call it Balmer?" He asked.

"You obviously have never listened to Louis B. Goldstein," I said.

"Once Treasurer, right?"

"Exactly. It's how he pronounced it. Most Baltimorons shorten it so they can talk faster but mostly louder."

"You don't like Baltimore?"

"What's not to like. I lived there. I got out. It's a city. Most cities are a like," I said.

"There were some exceptional people that came from Baltimore. One of the greatest writers who ever lived was a resident of Baltimore," he said.

"Edgar Alan," I said.

"You don't think he was a great writer?"

"Poe? He was crazy too," I said.

"You crazy today?" He asked.

"I don't know. That's for you to figure out, isn't it?" I asked.

"A lot depends on what you think. If you think you're crazy, you can probably be crazy without a lot of effort. Do things that look crazy. Say things that sound crazy. Who was your friend?"

"Keith. He's dead."

"Was he your only friend?"

"Only one. I didn't like many people. That translated to kids to. I ran around in a crowd but they never knew me. They thought they knew me but they didn't. We had nothing in common."

"You like yourself?"

"What? Sure! No! I don't know. What kind of question is that," I said flaring.

"It wasn't multiple choice. Did you like who you were as a boy? And more importantly, do you like who you are now?"

"Who was I. I didn't have a clue. I just did it a day at a time, doc."

"You can call me Jay if you like," he said gently.

"Does the title doctor bother you? Don't you like yourself, doc? Did you have any friends when you were a boy?"

"You're angry today. There is a bitter edge to you and you are good at keeping it hidden, most of the time. Did you like yourself as a boy?"

"I just hoped I'd get to eat and tried not to get belted," I said.

"You got belted a lot?" He asked. "I thought you didn't."

"Enough! Enough that once you were you knew it wasn't something you wanted to get again. I managed to avoid it most of the time, but I knew there was a roundhouse in the making if I opened my mouth or moved too close to her," I said.

"Roundhouse? Did she ever draw blood?"

"What? Sure, I mean a tooth busts a lip, you bleed, that kind of thing. No, she never beat me until I bled. She more used the quick jabber, retreating out of reach."

"Did she say she was sorry? For making you bleed?"

"My mother? Get real. No, she never said she was sorry," I said. "My mother was never sorry about anything but reaching the last Bud."

"Did she say it after you grew up? I'm sorry for being a drunk and not protecting you. Something like that?"

"You're joking. My mother was never sorry about anything. No, she never said she was sorry," I said.

"How does it make you feel?"

"What? Pissed off. I don't want to talk about her. I told you that," I said too loud. "You know all there is to know. All I know."

"How did he die?"

"Who? Why can't you stay on one subject? I can't deal with this."

"Your friend. You said your only friend was dead. How did he die? I mean that isn't a complicated question."

"Keith was my friend. I don't want to talk about his death," I said, standing up, thinking about leaving.

"You leaving. We still have forty-five minutes," he said, not seeming surprised and not asking me to stay.

"No, I don't want to talk about my childhood. I've told you all you need to know about it. What good is all this going to do me? It was the way it was. I survived," I said, walking in front of his desk. "I moved on."

"Did you survive without consequences? Have you moved on?" He asked.

"Did I? You're the shrink. You answer a question. Did I survive it without consequences? I don't even know what that means."

"I think every time we get into your childhood, past the Bud and the view from your window, you start pacing and you begin to chomp at the bit. No, to answer your question, I don't think you escaped without consequence. I think something is eating on your insides. I think somehow, whatever it is that happened to you, it is tied to the boy still locked away inside you. This interloper has triggered something you've managed to hide since you were a child, but it is so painful a wound that it has now been opened and you are hemorrhaging and no one knows it. No one can see it, not even you. Surviving childhood isn't what being a child is about, Thomas. Surviving doesn't give you a pass through life."

"Yeah, what's it about? You do what you got to do to get out alive," I said. "Then you move on."

"You didn't think you'd get out alive?"

"When you're a kid you don't know anything. I don't know what I thought. It was difficult. I got out."

"Why only one friend?"

"I don't know. I didn't get along with most guys," I said. "I didn't want friends. I didn't need friends."

"What were you hiding? Did it involve your one friend?"



"No, I didn't get along with them either," I said.

"You date much?"

"My wife was the first woman I dated. I married her."

"You married your childhood sweetheart?"

"Hardly childhood. We were in our twenties when we married."

"But you'd known each other for some time. Since you were a freshman, maybe eighteen," he said. "She was a junior, twenty."

"Yes, I was eighteen and she was twenty."

"What was it about her that was different?"

"I got to know her. We took our time and decided we got along well. I don't think we were madly in love, but we both thought being good friends was better than intense love."

"Seems like an intelligent way to pick a mate. You don't let a lot of passion get in the way of reason. Sounds pretty mature to me," he said.

"There has been plenty of passion. Amy and Tom Jr. were the result of some of it," I said.

"Both expected ?" He asked.

"Not exactly. She was pregnant with Amy three years after we married. I don't remember the circumstances. We didn't want an only child. We planned Tom Jr."

"How'd you manage to keep from getting pregnant for three years?"

"The usual, birth control."

"You use condoms?"

"I did and then I didn't and now I've had a vasectomy. She was mostly on the pill," I said.

"You discussed her coming off? To have the children?"

"I guess we did. I don't remember. I think I was surprised about Amy, but she was a beautiful child. I was glad. Tom's a bit more difficult. We don't get along all that well," I said.

"He's a boy?"

"Obviously," I said. "You can tell because we named him Tom Jr."

"You're a boy," he said.

"News flash! I guess I don't understand, but what's new, huh?" I said.

"You're a roll model for him. What you are he will emulate as best he can. Daughters become mother's, sons become fathers, the never ending cycle of life," he said, humming Lion King music.

"I still don't understand where you're going with this," I said.

"You didn't have a relationship with your father. Most eight or nine year olds know exactly who their father is, what he's about. Yours did die young but you don't seem to have any concept of who he was."


"How do you know who you are? Your son sees you. He assumes he is supposed to act and respond as you act and respond. You are the professor, Thomas," he said sounding profound.

"I do the best I can. I'm a writer. He understands I need my space. It's not like I worked nine to five," I said.

"No, it isn't like that at all. It's like you are the person he looks to as an example. It's up to you to do the best you can for him."

"I Worry about that," I said.

"How so?"

"I worry I'm not a good father. I never hit him. Kathy wouldn't tolerate physical violence. I'm just afraid I'm not a good father," I said.

"What is a good father?" He asked.

"I should spend more time with him, you know, as a father. Let him know I'm proud of him."

"Spend more time with him," he said.

"I don't know how. He's almost grown. He doesn't want to have me interfere in his life."

"What were you doing at fifteen, Thomas?"

"Playing street hockey, baseball, football. Things like that."

"Did you need your father to help you?"

"Not really. It would have been nice if I could have asked him questions. You know, about girls, the things that were happening to my body. What to do with the rest of my life even," I said, thinking back.

"You don't think those are the same things that are on his mind. You didn't have a happy home. You went out front to live and get your needs met. You listened to street talk and figured out what went where in the girl department. He lives in a nice home and his father is right there. Don't you think he might want you to talk to him about his life, his decisions, what he should be doing to prepare himself for college or trade school?"

"I do think so. I just haven't figured out how to suddenly get involved in his life. Kathy does all that. She takes care of the kids," I said.

"And you."

"… And me? She does that too. She takes care of all of us."

"Maybe your son will meet someone like her," he said.

"I was just thinking about that. Hoping he would."

"It would simplify his life. He wouldn't need to do anything. His wife could take care of it," he said, but saying much more with his voice and face than he did with the words he selected.

"You mean I'm not really part of it?"

"Are you?"

"That's not fair. I write. It's not a team sport."

"You only had one friend. You only dated one girl. You did have two kids, but I'm not sure they were your idea. You've been a writer all your life by your definition. Isolated. Did you feel isolated around your mother?"

"Sure, it was best not to be around her. I went to my room whenever I could. Left her to cry in her beer," I said.

"Did she? Cry in her beer?"

"I think she was too drunk to cry," I said, with no feeling in my voice, maybe anger.

"You must hate that you hate your mother," he said.

"She's dead. I don't hate her any more," I said. "takes too much energy to hate."

"You did hate her?"

"I despised the woman," I said. "I wanted to kill her when I was a boy."

"How did it make you feel when she came to see your children?"

"Like I wanted to grab them up and carry them away from her. I was afraid I'd hit her in front of them. It made me angry. She was never there for me. Never."

"Did you do any of it?"

"No, I didn't figure it would be healthy for the kids. They couldn't understand my feelings or my experiences with her," I said. "Why expose innocent kids to the corruption."

"So you were a good parent. You wanted to protect them. Was she still carrying the Budweiser?" He asked.

"No, probably left it in the car with her man. Might have been drinking Champagne by that time. She married money after I got out of the way," I said.

"Maybe she didn't come just to see your kids," he said. "Perhaps she came to see her son."

"Don't make me laugh. She came to inspect the offspring, see if she approved of them," I said. "She no longer had a son."

"Did she approve?"

"I doubt it."

"You didn't talk to her about it?"

"We had nothing to say to each other," I said.

"It must be painful having a mother that was so unlovable," he said.

"I don't know what it is like having any other kind of mother," I said.

"Why that friend?"

"Who? Keith? Hell, if I had it bad, Keith had it worse. His old man use to kick the shit out of him. He'd come to my house to cry. He called it his safe house. Is that a laugh or what?"

"You're mother tolerated him there?"

"Didn't have a choice. I'd take him up to my room," I said. "She objected the first few times. I ignored her. First time I ever took a stand against her. Maybe him becoming my only friend had more to do with me defying her."

"He was a little boy?"

"Keith, hell no. He was sixteen the first time he told me it was his old man beating him up. He was scared to go home. He was twice my size and two years older. I was small as a boy. Didn't really grow until I was fifteen or sixteen."

"Two years older. Seems to be a theme of some kind. What happened to him?"

"Uh uh, doc. Not happening. That's one road we aren't going down. I don't have much left of Keith but what I got I'm keeping."

"No friends since then? Guys I mean?"

"Well, if you exclude Kathy, no. Maybe Todd Sweeney. No, I don't even like him most of the time. He's my agent."

"That his real name? Wasn't Sweeney Todd a character in a play? Bread maker or something?"

"Never thought of that. Very clever, doc! I figured it was his real name. You think it isn't?" I asked.

"Who knows? Just listening to what you say. It was a thought I had," he said.

"Free association," I said.

"Yeah, like that. Now you can be a shrink," he said, seeming relaxed with me for the first time.

"I burnt up last night?" I said.

"Run the heat too high, Thomas?"

"Literally," I said.

"I don't understand," he said.

"It was a dream, but it wasn't. It was real enough that I soaked my pajamas with my sweat. Enough to pee my bed. Haven't done that since I was a kid. It was real, Jay. I was burning. I could smell my flesh."

"Wow! Thomas, that's a tough one," he said.

"Was I in hell do you think? Am I going to hell?"

"Do you believe in a hell, Thomas?"


"Hell is simplistic. What you are describing is too vivid for a dream. I don't know what to tell you. Something powerful was working on you. Anything happen to bring on such a dream?"

"No. Nothing you aren't aware of. I never dream. I never remember dreaming. When I did dream it was some obscure crap, usually involving my dick and what I wanted to do with it," I said.

"You have that a lot?" He asked. "The dreaming with your dick deal?"

"When I was a boy? Every night. Not since then."

"It could be that we are getting close," he said.

"Close to what?" I asked, never ceasing to be surprised when he surprised me.

"What ever is eating you," he said, serious.

"I was on fire because we're getting close?" I said.

"You are, not me. Whatever it is, it must be close to the surface for you to have a dream that vivid. It's all I can come up with."

"His eyes were empty," I said.

"Come again."

"The boy. I saw it the first time. He didn't look at me. You know, he was looking at my eyes but he wasn't looking at them. He was seeing something way far away from me," I said.

"If he was hustling, Thomas, it's not unusual for prostitutes to disconnect completely from the act, even some times becoming someone else so there is no memory of what they do. They switch into their prostitute personality, switching back when they get done," he said. "The mind is a complicated apparatus."

"It was even greater the second time. He looked beyond me into another existence. It's like he wasn't there at all. He knew we were only going to talk. I felt really frightened by it. I wasn't frightened for me, I was frightened for him by whatever did that to him. I don't know what it was he was seeing, or what it was he couldn't look at, but what ever it was, it was pretty bad. I know what the looks mean, Jay. I had one most of my childhood. I could shut down everything and be like I was right there but never remember anything about it. My body was there but I wasn't. I'd escape, only coming back when it was safe. I don't think he could come back from where ever he was. I think he somehow got out there and wasn't able to come back."

"Like I said, when we face unpleasantness, torture even, our minds have the ability to disconnect, Thomas. We stop feeling, thinking, being a part of it. Our brains simply quit, throwing up a defense we aren't aware of, to protect our heart and soul."

"The eyes, did that just come to you. Did you just remember that now?"

"Yeah, right when we were talking about the brain. I remembered thinking I knew what he was feeling but I didn't know, you know? I don't know how to explain it."

"We've got a few more minutes but if you don't mind, we'll tack it onto your next session. I don't want to go any further today," he said. "I think this is a good time for us to both back off this thing."

"You think I need another session?" I asked.

"It's not my decision to make, Thomas. You seem to be holding things back. There are too many areas we dare not broach. There in lies the difficulty that we face. You've got to find a way to talk about those things you can't talk about. Until we can do that, I think you need another session, yes."

"I need to get some work done. Maybe next week," I said.

"Tuesday! 4p.m.," he said, opening his appointment book to pencil me in.

"Sure," I said. "I can make that."

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