TICK, tick, tick. The antique clock on the credenza counted out the seconds with perfect rhythm. Usually I found the steady march calming, but not today. Today I could not stop fidgeting; each precise beat seemed like a countdown, but to what, I didn’t know. It hit me suddenly that time, which can be measured down to the smallest standard unit—hours, minutes, seconds—is anything but standard and exact. In reality it’s fluid; years are gone in a flash, a few minutes can seem like a lifetime. I gave myself a mental shake. My thoughts weren’t usually so deep.
Recrossing my legs for the umpteenth time, I turned my attention to something simpler, like the leafy maple tree outside the window, its limbs heavy with bundles of seeds about to drop and spin to the ground. A fluffy gray squirrel ran along the closest branch and came to perch on the ledge. He peered in at me with his beady little eyes as if I were some curious oddity behind glass.
“So, how are you, Eric?”
“Fine,” I replied automatically, then I caught the lie. “Well, obviously I’m not fine or I wouldn’t be here.”
Dr. Evelyn Kessler regarded me stone-faced over the tops of her expensive Gucci glasses. I’d quickly learned she had no sense of humor. I also knew she’d beat me hands down in any staring contest so I looked away, back out the window at my new friend the squirrel.
It was my mom who first suggested that I try therapy. We’d grown closer in the years since my dad died, although the relationship was still strained at times. At first I resisted—no way was I going to pay someone to listen to me talk for an hour—but after another miserable year, I figured if she could get her life back on track after the hell my dad put her through then I could at least give it a shot.
“The last time we spoke you had just started seeing someone new. How is that going?”
She knew perfectly well how it was going. “It didn’t work out.”
“I see.” Dr. Kessler jotted down something in her notebook. I wondered how many identical entries detailing my love life she had made over the past six months.
“And yes, I do know that it’s all part of a pattern,” I sighed. “I fall for beautiful young men who never stick around precisely because I’m neither beautiful nor young.”
“I doubt that’s why your relationships fail.”
She was probably right on that score but wouldn’t hear it from me. Since finally coming to terms with being gay more than a decade ago, I’d certainly had my share of lovers, but I’d never had a relationship that lasted more than two weeks. Usually they left long before that. I could never quite escape the feeling that I didn’t deserve to be happy.
Dr. Kessler crossed her legs and rested her leather-bound notebook in her lap. “You seem even more hostile than usual, Eric. Is there something particular that has happened?”
Reluctantly I pulled out the invitation that had arrived in the mail yesterday from my bag and handed it to her. She turned the old-fashioned, crisp cream paper over in her fingers and read. “Hmm, your high school reunion. Are you going?” she asked.
“Of course not.”
“Why not? I thought you told me high school was the best time of your life.”
“It was,” I said, although privately I admitted I might be lying a bit. “It’s been downhill ever since.” That part was entirely true.
“I imagine your friends would like to see you. Do you keep in touch with any of them?”
I hesitated and looked down at my hands. “No.”
Dr. Kessler raised a perfectly arched eyebrow and jotted something in her book. “Why the aversion to going?”
I gripped the arms of my chair until my knuckles turned white. “Because I’m a fucking cliché, that’s why.”
“Well, I’m him, aren’t I? The washed-up prom king. The high school football star who bottoms out and winds up a miserable bastard. Jesus, I may as well be a used car salesman.”
“I don’t think you’re washed up at all, Eric.”
I disagreed with her on that point. I was nearly forty, painfully single with a dead-end job as manager of a local grocery store. That didn’t sound too upbeat to me. Then again, what did I know—I didn’t have a fancy college diploma, either.
“Eric.” Dr. Kessler put aside her notebook and leaned forward in her leather chair. “It seems to me that everything leads back to your last year in high school. This is a pivotal period in your development—your sexual confusion, your father kicking you out of the house, the end of your football career….”
I looked up, shocked. Was all that in her notebook? Had I really revealed so much? When I first decided to enter therapy, I was sure I wouldn’t give up my secrets, but without even realizing it, over the past six months I’d blabbed more than I thought. Apparently, we had covered a lot of ground.
I supposed I had confessed how I left home the week after high school graduation, only to return a few months later with my tail between my legs when an injury in the third quarter of the season opener ended my football career. Without my football scholarship, college had been impossible. But I hadn’t told her everything about that time. I hadn’t told her about Jake. To my astonishment, I felt the unfamiliar sting of tears in my eyes. I hadn’t cried in ages.
“Eric, what really happened your senior year?”
There was a boy....
The alarm on her watch chimed discreetly. She actually seemed disappointed. “I’m afraid our time is up for today, but I would really like to resume this discussion next time.”
I grunted noncommittally as I gathered up my jacket and bag. She handed the invitation back. “You should go to the reunion,” she said simply. “It might be just what you need.”
After our session ended, I sat in the car in the parking lot with the engine running for a long time. I withdrew the invitation from my jacket pocket and ran it through my fingers.
Parkside High School
Class of ’91
Come have fun with us as we
get caught up on the past 20 years
It conjured up memories I’d spent half my life trying to forget. I couldn’t think about high school without thinking about Jake. I leaned back against the headrest. Jake.
Heart’s “What About Love?” came on the radio, and my hand shot out to turn it off—that was definitely a reminder I didn’t need right now—but something made my finger hesitate on the button. “Something’s missing and you got to look back on your life. You know something here just ain’t right,” Ann Wilson sang. I couldn’t shake the feeling there was a message there somewhere. The thought made me laugh out loud as I punched in another station and pulled out of the lot. I really had to be messed up to look for meaning in eighties rock.