You enter onto an empty Los Angeles freeway in the middle of the day, and when a freeway is empty in the daytime, it’s because there’s a massive accident somewhere behind you. Advancing down the middle lane, you separate yourself from all the madness, the mess, and it’s clear that there’s tragedy there, somewhere in your wake, tragedy that you hope you’ll never have to see. It’s back there, behind you. It’s someone else’s problem. And besides, you’re late.
Be grateful, you’re thinking. Who are you to doubt this? When the Universe gives you a gift like an open freeway, you don’t question it. You speed down it. You press the pedal down and watch the RPMs rise, the sports suspension of the M5 handling the open road with absolute agility. You’re in control right now. Total control in a moment of complete harmony, however fleeting moments like these are. No one gets to do 90 on the 101 at 11:45 in the morning. This is just for you. It’s the karmic product of your hard work or charity from a loving god. But those things aren’t real. It’s a make-up call for all the times you’ve been penalized or maybe the end of a losing streak, or maybe it’s just dumb luck, or it’s definitely just dumb luck, a product of a series of random events, orbiting around a center that simply isn’t you. Fuck it.
You’re coming from the valley because that’s where someone named Rachel or Jenny or something lives, and that’s whose house you’re leaving, the girl who made you late, because the water pressure in her shower was weak, because she guilted you into taking her to breakfast which you were able to weasel out of by going to Starbucks and getting her a scone or something, because you were drunk last night and forgot to set an alarm. You zone out, wondering for the next few minutes whether or not you had sex with her, though you assume you did, and then trying to remember whether or not you enjoyed it, or whether she did.
You park in the alleyway behind your therapist’s office and get out, polarized Ray Bans covering your black and bloodshot eyes, giving everything in your field of perception a slightly purple hew, like it’s all a little bruised but hasn’t gone fully black yet.
The alleyway behind your therapist’s office is also the alleyway behind the bar you operate-slash-sort of own, which is the only reasonable explanation for why you started therapy in the first place. If an appointment required more than stumbling up a staircase after waking up in last night’s clothes in the back of the center VIP booth for the third night in a row, you would’ve never made it, even though you and everyone else knew it was time. It was either that or AA… or church, god forbid. You wanted clarity. You needed reason. You need an I.V. and a Pedialyte.
You go around the block the long way, passing the thick metal front door of the bar, relieved that you don’t have to open it, not yet, and face everything that lurks there in the darkness that’s still hours away from lifting, hours away from the spark and burn of the soft orange glow of filament bulbs splashing off the black patent leather of a Louboutin covering the well-maintained toes at the end of a long, toned leg, as the bright red heel pierces the leather that you spent a month finding when you built the booth your occasionally call a bed. Each day, the natural light fades as the filaments come on inside the ‘tasteful’ (according to LA Weekly) vintage sconces that you bought at the Rose Bowl flea market. They really bring the whole place to life.
The thick glass window on the front of the bar is currently tarnished by a splatter of fresh vomit, and your stomach churns. Shift focus, you tell yourself. Ignore it. That’s not your job or your concern. You have people for that. You don’t clean up messes, especially not ones you didn’t make. Shit, that’s what you have people on payroll for.
At the end of the building, a security door guards the stairwell to the offices on the second floor. This is where your attempt at sanity returns each week like a probation officer, half-scolding, half-impressed you’re still standing there and not sweating in the drunk tank next to some sadist who nearly beat his baby-mama half to death. You press the second button from the top, next to the nameplate that reads “Dr. Drug Dealer” or maybe Smith or maybe it doesn’t matter because that’s the right fucking button. You stare through your dark glasses into the electronic eye of a camera at the bullseye center of a ring of dimly lit red lights evoking alien space ships and action movies and the horror of someone knowing what you’re doing when you’re unaware.
“You’re late,” says Dr. Drug Dealer, through the intercom. It’s 12:02. He said he wouldn’t continue to see you if you were late again, but he was lying, trying to manipulate your behavior. He can’t possibly find a more dependable patient than a drunk with anxiety and depression issues stemming from something unresolved in his childhood or something else that hasn’t totally been pinpointed yet and “may not be for quite some time.” Especially when that patient operates-slash-sort-of-owns the bar downstairs.
The door buzzes and you pull it open. It closes hard behind you and you methodically ascend as if each stair was twice its height. It’s that kind of morning. You open the office door and grab the key to the men’s room. Your piss is a disconcerting shade of dark yellow since you haven’t drank water in hours or days or weeks or something.
In the waiting room, you press the plastic button on the wall next to his nameplate and the switch lights up here, matching one in his office so he’ll know you’re sitting there, waiting, or at least so he says. He just saw you on camera and spoke to you on intercom, so it’s no mystery whether or not you’re here in his office. When you asked him what the point of this wasted effort was, his response was that it’s important to have routines and set boundaries and that he refuses to be the one waiting on you, “so when you’re good and ready, you press that button, and then when I’m good and ready, I come get you.”
It’s now 12:08 and you’ve already missed at least eight out of fifty minutes of this sessioin, costing you thirty-two dollars. Thank goodness for that freeway accident. Good looking out, Universe. You could’ve wasted at least another eighty or so, and that would be one less sushi dinner with one less Jenny or Jessica or Stephanie, or whatever. Wait, you think, that’s objectifying. Whoever. That’s what you meant. You’re working on it.
D.D.D. finally comes to get you six dollars later and he follows you into his office, the small space as depressing looking as ever, with only the flourescent tube lighting trapped behind the same thin plastic that covered the ceilings of your middle school detention room.
“Sorry about the lighting,” he says. “I know how you like the filament bulb, but what can I say? It blew.”
You’re not buying it. You’re angry, being manipulated by your shrink, but maybe that’s his job. Fuck with your head until it works right, but he’s ill-equipped for that task. It’s like a seventy year old mechanic fucking around with your buddy Stetson’s yellow Ferrari, only the Ferrari is you and D.D.D. is more like forty-eight. Let it go. Be calm. Another hundred and sixty-two dollars worth of ‘therapy’ and the good mechanic can pull the only two tools from his toolbox that anyone here ever needs – that silver ballpoint and that crisp little pad that lies spread out on his messy desktop like a Hollywood bimbo sunning herself next to the Roosevelt pool to even out her spray tan while taking pictures down the length of her legs to elicit ‘likes’ on Instagram, only existing to tease you for her own gratification. It’s lying there, still and emotionless, telling you to talk – no display of emotion or penance, no sign that all the ‘treatment’ is taking, making you work, making you try harder, the no drugs. Quid pro fucking quo.
You stare at Dr. Drug Dealer, thinking he probably smells terrible in the morning. His white shirt lost its dry-clean crisp days ago, probably, and the top edge of the collar is turning slightly yellow. You want to ask him what the fuck his deal is. “What’s your fucking deal, you high and mighty hack?” you want to yell. It’s not fair, you’re thinking. You’re both the same. Equals. Fuck that. You’re better. You might be sort of a fuckup now and again, but at least you don’t wear the same shirt three times in a row – not knowingly, at least. Just because that pad has his name on it he think he’s better than you? Yeah, right. That’s just about enough of this, you’re thinking.
The muscles in your legs tighten, ready to rise and walk out. Give him two fat middle fingers. Just like high school. They can all kiss your ass. They don’t know shit. Pussies, all of ‘em. Small brains, small lives. With problems just like you. Maybe worse. Who’s this guy’s therapist, anyway? He think’s he’s got it all figured out.
“Is something the matter?” asks the sniveling prick. These are the first words of the session, forty-seven dollars in. He reverts to staring at you with his beady yellow eyes through his horn-rimmed glasses that would be super chic if they were Oliver Peoples and he was anyone but the conniving little twat sitting before you.
Two can play this game, you reason. You stare back. It’s a conceptual tug o’ war over a crocodile infested moat and you’re losing. You always lose. You’re croc-lunch. Or dinner. Over angel hair. You’re a fuckin’ lobster. You’re a fucking halibut. You’re a bottom feeder in a dirty office on what may or may not be a gorgeous day. You can’t remember if you looked at the weather or paid attention to the skies. Sometimes the big details appear beyond the edges of your awareness. They don’t need to be noticed. They just are.
“We don’t have to talk today,” he whines. “We can just sit here. Of course, if that’s all we do, I can’t very well prescribe anything for silence, now, can I? And really, we’re both adults here. We don’t have to pretend you’re here for growth or healing or personal betterment, do we? God forbid you make any real effort to improve your circumstances.”
Why is he being so mean, berating you like this? This is tough love, minus the love. You’re an ant and he’s pulling off your legs. If you’re still standing two hundred dollars in, you get your drugs and you get to go home. You’re only here out of routine at this point, anyway. Maybe today is your last day. Maybe you don’t need the Valium and maybe the Ambien is what’s causing those dreams that remind you to drink away at least six to eight hours of every day. A full time job. Bootstraps. Personal responsibility. It’s all very Republican.
“You want me to open up?” you ask, finally. “Fine, here it is,” you rant. You don’t know quite how to vocalize it, you tell him, but you feel like lately you’ve been seeing yourself from the outside, operating in a distinct mind-body dualism where you’re equally aware of both senses of self and unable to reconcile the two. You feel like all your maxims are in order but that your brain chemistry is ‘off’ and it’s making it so your body just simply doesn’t desire to do anything worthwhile, even though your brain is totally on board with the program, the enlightenment, the new you. A resurrection of sorts. A “renaissance of character and action,” you explain. You’ve got this shit on lockdown, you assure him.
Dickhead Dr. Asshole chuckles.
“Of course you don’t get it, you philistine fucknut,” you scream in the lonely silence of the mind-only segment of your too-tired being. “Have you even read Descartes?” you ask, out loud.
“Have you read ‘The Power of Now’?” the twat spurts. “Eckhart Tolle?”
“The homeless guy that sounds like the automated Apple Talk voice?” you respond. “Yes, I have.”
“Did you try to apply those principles to your life?” he shits out, through his pursed, stupid mouth.
“What does that even mean?” you ask. “Of course,” you say, convincing no one.
You feel present, you lie to yourself. You feel there, you pretend. You always feel there, wherever you are. The liquor only puts you more there. That’s why you like it so much. Also for its taste and the social aspects and the way it makes you feel and the mystique and also because everyone else has a good time and laughs and carries on and fucks and relives it all the next day over mimosas on rooftops and Bloodies in brunch spots.
You’re in the ‘now’. You don’t look back. If you look back you’llknow why everything was so clear on the freeway, and all that can do is teach you things you should never know, show you things you don’t need showing. You didn’t watch them hang Saddam Hussein for a reason.
Certain things, when you see them, they don’t leave you, and they don’t leave you, the only option left is for you to leave you, to hover over yourself, detached, remote viewing your ghosts, using yourself as the medium, gliding around between the hands, hoping for the looking glass on a dirty old Ouija board in the house where this all started.
“Do you feel truly present? Really?” he asks, obviously not believing you at all. Motherfucker.
How do you answer that? How do you answer a question that has no relevant meaning to anyone but hippies and shamans and fucking sherpas and the woman at Whole Foods who lives in the small corner studio apartment in some building in the flats and has cats and paints most of the day who’ll be more than happy to tell you exactly how to ‘correspond’ to the Universe and how to get the most out of each day even though she’s five years divorced and has no job or formal education. She’ll teach you everything you still won’t know about quantum physics.
“He says that there is no past or future. There’s only ever the present moment, and then it’s gone into a new present,” the quack shrink utters. “You need to find a way to reach that place. That present. That’s the ‘now’.”
“Well, you know all of those new presents? Those are called the future. And the future matters. It deserves our though in the present. And those old presents? Those are the past. Those things matter too. And they exist. They all exist,” you argue.
“But only as memories,” he says, making you want to physically explode, cover him in gore and entrails, let him know how well his counterfeit therapeutic tactics were working, this second hand New Age spiritual replacement-religion nonsense. Maybe then your mind or spirit or whatever will finally be set free from its bodily prison, or maybe it’ll become vapor, or maybe it’ll all just go black, which is fine, because at least this session will be over.
Only sixteen dollars left, either way. Then you can leave. Only sixteen dollars away from walking out the door and away from here, going back to real time where it’s only a matter of hours before you walk through the back alley door to your orange filaments and brown liquors.
“Those memories? They are you. Nature, nurture. Holy shit. Everything that has happened to us dictates everything that will happen to us,” you say, in obvious frustration.
There isn’t enough time left in the session to delineate exactly how free will is an illusion or relay the fact that we can only discuss the motivations for our thoughts and actions ex post facto. That’s an eighty-four dollar conversation that will have to wait until next time, if there is a next time. And really, you’re not here to be teaching him, unless he wants to pay.
“What if the illusion is that the present exists?” you continue, all Socratic. You aren’t even certain this is an argument you want to see through to the end, but you’re sure that in one way or another, it’ll piss off Dr. Drug Dealer, and you want to be under his skin. Hopefully he’ll be led to believe you’re really starting to become unhinged and begin working the ol’ pen and paper in unison. Let’s try something new, you’re thinking.
“What if the only units of time by which we can contemplate the present are too short to even contain one singular thought? What then?” you taunt. “It’ll already be the future before the thought has finished occuring and the past will be where it began. Then the only real illusion will be the present, because let’s face it, this ‘work on oneself’ only matters in the future. If it matters at all.”
He barely reacts. It’s like he’s waiting you out. Like a mother waiting for her infant son to finish crying. “Get it out of your system,” your mother used to say.
“So?” you ask. “What about that?”
Dr. Drug Dealer stares at you, watching you rotate your arm in a ‘wax-on’ motion, wrapping the tug o’ war rope around your wrist and up your arm, inching him ever closer to the croc-moat, to his inevitable gruesome demise. Kill him, you think. There’s something in here with his signature on it. You can forge it, write yourself scripts for Ambien and Lexapro and Xanax and Wellbutrin and Effexor and that one for the smoking that makes you want to kill yourself as a side effect. Might as well take it anyway. Wanting to kill yourself is a side effect of life, too. And the Valium. Lord, please, the Valium. You can’t forget the Valium. The brand names drip off your tongue and collect in a little bowl that is the alphabet soup of corporate America. They blend with Air Jordan and iPad and Mustang and Blackwater or whatever they call that mercenary company now.
All you have to do is pull him into the moat and let the crocodiles tear him limb from limb, covering his yellow-stained shirt with viscera, engaging him fully in the present moment by erasing his past and future and planting him fully in a short, fleeting physical reality with no extant moment but his sad and painful ‘now’.
“That’s our time for today,” he says, in a calm so deeply normal that you realize he’s no longer tugging and you’re merely contesting ground which no one else even wants to walk upon. “File says you should still be good on everything for another ten days, so I’ll see you next week and we can discuss medications then.”
A sharp and cutting rage slices through you, signaling a defeat of agonizing proportions. How can it be that, just an hour ago, Moses parted the seas of the 101 freeway just for your driving pleasure and now this Ph.D.’d pussy spends the last hundred and sixty-eight dollars slapping you down? Fuck you, Universe. Fuck you, present.
He’s just mad that you know more about his job than he does. How can he correct the flaws in your existence when you understand the human condition so much more fully than he ever could? He lives in books. You live with the people. All the people. Thousands of them. You know them, their stories. Their experiences teach you far more than some rats in mazes ever could.
“I’m out of Ambien and Xanax,” you plead. “And Valium.”
“You’re not supposed to be. If you’ve run out, then you’re not following the specific dosage instructions I gave you. If you’re not following the instructions, then I can assume you’re treating the drugs recreationally, and that’s not what they’re here for. That’s not what I’m here for.”
You had a stressful week. It’s not your fault. Does he know how long it takes to replace leather upholstery ruined by heel-inflicted stab wounds? Does he know how stressful it is to listen to a blacked-out model tell you she hates you and loves you in intrinsically warring motivations, batting each other back and forth like the Newton’s Cradle from Skymall that you used to stare at for hours on your dad’s office desk, click-clacking as he shot golf balls into a coffee mug while verbally destroying mid-level management on a headset telephone? No, he doesn’t.
“A stressful week isn’t helped by overdosing.”
“I didn’t overdose,” you blast back in frustration, standing up as you slap your chest, proving your physical fortitude. “I’m here, obviously. I’m fine, obviously. I needed to relax and I needed to sleep. We’ve talked about this.” The crocodile is eating your arm. You pull away, missing everything below the elbow on your left side. “Now what am I supposed to do?”
“You’re supposed to regulate your behavior. That’s the point. What good is any of this if you refuse to regulate your behavior? Those medications are there to help you. They’re not magic. You need to follow the dosage.”
You shake your head. Doesn’t he know that he rents this office space from your father? Doesn’t he know that with one call you could have him out on the streets… maybe?
The small green square on the wall lights up. His next patient is there in the waiting room. On time. Probably always is. You aren’t leaving until you get what you came for. Be stern. Be convincing.
“My dad owns this building. You pay him rent. Do you really want to fight about this?”
“Do you think your father is unaware of our arrangement?” he asks.
You put your hands on your hips, indignant. “What happened to medical privacy? What happened to patient confidentiality?” you stammer.
“You know those security cameras on the outside of the building?” he asks. “What do you think is on the other end of those?”
You slump back down in your chair. Your father owns the castle. And the moat. And the rope. The crocodile is gnawing at your abdomen. It spits out your tired, useless liver and goes back to work.
“Listen,” Dr. Drug Dealer says, full of pity and scorn. He’s embarrassed for you, you know it. “I’ll write you up for three days worth. You need to stretch them over the week. Make them last. Only take them when you need them. Okay?”
“Three days? That’s not even worth waiting in line at the pharmacy for.”
“Well, have it your way,” he says, deadpan.
“Wait. Just write it. Fine,” you say, like anyone with a proper chemical dependency would.
D.D.D. presses pen to paper, giving you what you came for, or at least a piece of it. It’ll have to do. He rips the paper from the pad and hands it over. You take it with your good hand.
“I don’t know why I bother with this. I have a hundred friends that could just sell me this shit.”
This is your attack. This is supposed to bother him. He doesn’t care. He’s probably had this conversation a thousand times. He’s your only shrink, but he’s had hundreds of patients over the years. It’s a numbers game. Like when that nineteen year old last summer whose name you don’t remember told you you were ‘her second’ – totally disproportionate. Insignificant.
“If you feel like this is a waste of your time, you’re welcome to not come back. Remember, though, if you plan to cancel, I need twenty-four hours notice. Otherwise, see you next week at noon.”
You stand to walk out. Dr. Drug Dealer restrains the crocodile on a least that, you only now notice, he’s been holding the whole time. The crocodile licks his lips and smiles. He gives a small nod in some cosmic ‘thank you’ for volunteering to be the body and the blood and the sacrament. You check your insides and pull your Ray-Bans back on, twisting the cheap door knob and exiting from the flourescent office to the flourescent hall with the cheap grey carpet that’s thinning down the center walkway and threading along the walls.
Get out, you think.
Get the fuck out of here.