Therapy Session Four
“What about your father Morgan?” asked Dr. Nolan
“You know I think I’m ok with him… I’ve been thinking of things he and I did when I was a kid and things he did…”
“Like?” she asked.
“Like when I fell out of my bunkbed when I was nine and we were pretty far from the hospital.”
“And well… the heat of the small cab of the truck mixed with the smell of old socks and souring buttermilk made me want to throw up. My father sensed my unease and opened the wing window. The churning lessened, but as it did, the pain in my head came back tenfold; the same way the buttermilk at first eased Uncle Rex’s scotch-induced ulcer, then turned on him.
I was a little more than nine and the night before, my cousin, four years my senior, had let me have the top position in our bunk beds. It was one of those early triumphs, an epiphany, the sort of thing that would only be eclipsed later in my life by events like getting my driver’s license, falling in love, getting laid and turning twenty-one and having my first legal drink.”
Dr. Nolan smiled.
“I’d climbed the ladder slowly, savoring my ascent to glory, like one of my childhood heroes who’d summitted the Citadel; then the sweet sleep of the conqueror. But by 3:00 in the morning, restless in the sleep of the victor and a dreaming celebration, I‘d managed to roll off the edge. Those three feet or so of sleepy weightlessness must have been blissful to my subconscious. Wham! A formica desk broke my path downward. A couple of inches to the south and I would’ve cleared it and landed, much more comfortably onto some of that ‘thick pile’ shag carpeting.
Uncle Rex finished his buttermilk and threw the empty carton on the floor of the truck. His stomach cooled a bit temporarily but then went into overdrive. His face said it burned and he said ‘Damn stomach!’ and I was startled and couldn’t help but shit in my pants. And this movement on the far end of my digestive tract prompted a surge from my stomach.
I remember saying ‘I’m gonna throw up.’
Uncle Rex pulled over in time for my father to carry me clear of the truck. I bent over and puked in the tall, dry Northern California grass then felt a sudden sense of well-being.”
“On vacation in California?” Dr. Nolan asked.
“Yeah… middle of nowhere.
Then my father asked if I was all right?
I told him I felt better.
Rex threw out an old towel which from there to the hospital served as a makeshift pair of pants, an outfit I wouldn’t have to duplicate until years later when, on a late night surf trip to Seaside Park, a few wiseasses thought it would be cute to separate my friends and I from our pants while we were out surfing.
I saw a deer and asked my dad if he saw it too. I remember he said ‘Yes,’ sounding relieved, he didn’t think I could see.” He looked over at Rex, then pulled me a little closer. He’d woken to a screaming child, his bloodied son reaching around in a dark room trying to find the door.
For the first time since the fall, he was assured I hadn’t lost my sight. And for the first time in that long hour, I felt like everything was going to be okay.
I’m his only son. And looking back I can appreciate what he must have felt. That morning, in that sour-smelling truck, on that little mountain road, in the hour from Uncle Rex’s horse ranch to Sebastapol, my father and I had nothing of greater importance in our lives than one another. And for the rest of our vacation, the bottom bunk was just fine…
… that’s the way I like to look back now.”
“You and your dad are connected despite his anger.”
“Yeah… I mean… when I was little he came in and out of being cool. But now, just the cool stuff is sticking…
… I realize now that life is happening to everyone…
and though I know the connotation here might be that we are somehow victims…
what’s important is how to take hold of it?
How many times did you try or thought you were trying only to come full circle?”
“A lot.” Dr. Nolan answered.
“Life is happening to everyone… but like the little girl who knows the right time to move into the circle of the turning rope, there seems to be a space in time wherein you can join in and jump.
When I was a little boy I had a blue Schwinn “Stingray.” It had training wheels and I had wavy, dirty-blonde hair smoothed back with Vitalis. It was spring, 1963, in Portland, Maine. I was four and, down the street, Miss Summer’s garden, which seemed to encompass the known world, was in full bloom; wildflowers and bees, pollen and posies.
That Christmas I would stumble across the hiding place for presents. And I would, for the first time, feel a certain sense of unease about the world; how what was, may not be. This bit of uncovering wouldn’t be fully realized until several years later when, on Christmas Eve and needing to pee, I caught my father stuffing Christmas stockings with candy. It seemed we both felt the loss at the same moment; he mine, I his, me mine, he his. I don’t recall either of us saying anything. Just eyes meeting, his mouth slightly open, neither of us breathing, the fantasy dimmed. The holiday became something else. Belief became dependent on faith, not holy faith, but the faith that warms the motions we go through in ritual. When the veil’s lifted you can either smile or deny. I turned away for a while.
At age seven we took the training wheels off of my bike. My father held the seat and ran behind me. I could feel how his hand steadied the bike. My hands sweated against the blue plastic handle-grips. My eyes didn’t want to look beyond the handlebars but I was aware of the old maples that lined the street and all of the houses of all of my neighbors moving by me. And my best friend, having already learned this, sat comfortably on her pink girls bike, leaning against the curb.
‘I’m gonna let go,’ my father said.
‘No,’ I replied in a voice that seemed small to me and probably even smaller to my father.
‘You’ve got it,’he said as he let go.
I could feel myself pedaling wildly now. The handlebars struggling back and forth.
Leaning. Gravity. Crash.
My father caught up with me and reached down to help me up.
‘You OK little man?’ he said.
‘I guess…’ I said
‘You did well kid. C’mon let’s try again.’ he said.”
“Nice story Morgan. Keep the good stuff,” said Dr. Nolan.