You enter onto an empty Los Angeles freeway in the middle of the day, knowing that when a freeway is empty, it’s because there’s a massive accident somewhere behind. Advancing down the middle lane, separating yourself from the masses, it’s clear that there must be tragedy somewhere in your wake, one that you’re glad you’ll never have to see. It’s back there. It’s someone else’s problem, and besides, you’re late.
Who are you to doubt it? 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 the RPMs rise, your sports package handling the open road with startling agility. 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 all your hard work, you consider, or charity from a loving god. But those things aren’t real and it’s just dumb luck. A product of a series of random events, orbiting around a center that simply isn’t you. Fuck it.
You park in the lot behind your therapist’s office and got out, with your favorite Ray Bans – the gunmetal grey ones, the ones with the polarized lenses, the ones you paid too much money for in a small sunglasses shop in the Grove or in Studio City or wherever it was – covering your black and blood shot eyes.
Why you decided it was a good idea to start seeing the therapist in the office above the bar you own, you’ll never know. It just seemed like the most logical choice after you’d woken up in last night’s clothes and tomorrow’s sadness in the back of the center VIP booth for the third night in a row. It was either that or AA… or church, God forbid. You wanted clarity. You needed reason. You needed an I.V. and a Pedialyte.
You pass the thick metal door of the bar, thankful that you don’t have to open it, not yet, and face everything that lurks there in the darkness that was still hours away from lifting, hours away from the soft yellow glow of filament bulbs splashing off the black patent leather of a Louboutin covering the well-maintained toes at the end of a skinny, toned leg, as the bright red heel pierces the leather that you spent a month finding when you built the booth you sometimes call a bed. The natural light of day fades as the filaments rise inside the ‘tasteful’ (according to L.A. Weekly) vintage sconces you bought at the Rose Bowl flea market. They really bring the whole place to life. Between those lights and actual daylight, it’s a twenty hour day, like they have in Scandanavia – not that you’re ever awake for the first four. There was fresh vomit on the thick glass window but you ignore it. That’s not your job, you tell yourself. Damon will take care of it. Shit, that’s what you pay him for.
You walk to the edge of the building, where a security door guards the stairwell to the second floor where your attempted sanity returns once a 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 lower your dark glasses and stare 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 – these things are everywhere now.
“You’re late,” says Dr. Drug Dealer, over an intercom. It’s 12:02. He said he wouldn’t continue to see you if it happened again, but you know better. Where is he going to find a more dependable patient than a drunk with an anxiety and depression issue stemming from something unresolved in his childhood or something else that we haven’t pinpointed yet and “may not for quite some time” who happens to own 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 concerning shade of dark yellow. When did you last drink water? Good question. You press the plastic button on the waiting room wall next to his nameplate and it lights up here and in his office so he’ll know you’re sitting there, waiting, or at least so he says. He just saw you on the camera so how is it any mystery as to whether or not you’re in the waiting room? You asked him once and he said it’s important to have routines and 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 session, costing you thirty-two dollars. Thank goodness for that freeway accident. Good looking out, Universe. You could’ve wasted at least other eighty or so, and that would be one less sushi dinner for one less Jenny or Jessica or Stephanie or whatever. Wait, that’s sexist. Whoever, you mean. You’re working on it.
D.D.D. finally comes to get you six dollars later and he follows you into his office, 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 bulbs, but what can I say? It blew.”
You don’t believe him. You’re angry, being manipulated by your shrink, but maybe that’s his job. Fuck with your head until it works right. It’s like a seventy year old mechanic who used to fix cars when there were only, like, 14 different car parts fucking around with your pal Stetson’s yellow Ferrari, only the Ferrari was you and D.D.D. is more like forty-eight. Let it go, you think. 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. It’s lying there, still and emotionless, telling you to talk – no display of emotion or penance, no sign that all the ‘treament’ is taking, making you work, making you try harder, then 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 fuckin’ deal, you high and mighty hack?” you want to yell. It’s not fair. In your mind you’re both the same. Fuck that. You’re better. You might be sort of a fuckup at times, but at least you don’t wear the same shirt three times in a row – not intentionally, at least. Just because that pad has his name on it he thinks he’s better than you? Yeah, right. That’s just about enough of this, you think. The muscles in your legs tighten, ready to rise and walk out. Give him two fat middle fingers, you think. Just like high school. They can all kiss your ass. They don’t know shit. Pussies, all. Small brains, small lives. With problems just like you. Maybe worse. Who’s his therapist, anyway? He thinks he’s got it all figured out.
“Is something the matter?” says the sniveling prick. These are the first words of the session, forty-seven dollars in. He returns 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 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 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 so mean? Why is he berating you? 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. 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. Personal responsibility. It’s all very Republican.
“You want me to open up?” you ask, finally. “Fine, here it is,” you say. 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 was ‘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 ressurection, of sorts. A “renaissance of character and action,” you believe. You’ve got this shit on lockdown, you reassure.
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 inside your too-tired being. “Have you even read Descartes?” you ask.
“Have you read, ‘The Power of Now’?” the twat spurts. “Eckhart Tolle?”
“The homeless man that sounds like the automated Apple Talk voice?” you respond. “Yes, I have.”
“Did you try to apply the principles?” he shits out through his pursed, stupid mouth.
“What does that even mean?” you ask. You feel present. You feel there. 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 then relives it all the next day over mimosas on rooftops and Bloodies in brunch spots.
You’re present. You don’t look back. If you look back you’ll know why everything is so clear on the freeway right now 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 when 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?”
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 who lived in the small corner studio apartment in your old building who had a cat and painted most of the day and was happy to tell you exactly how to ‘correspond’ to the Universe and how to get the most out of each day even though she was five years divorced and had no job or formal education. She taught you everything you still don’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.
“Well, you know all of those new presents? Those are called the future. And the future matters. It deserves our thought 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.”
Only sixteen dollars left before you can leave. Only sixteen dollars away from walking out the door and away from here and going back to real time where it’s only six more hours before you walk through the dark metal door to filament lights 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 just an illusion or relay the fact that we can only discuss the motivations for any thought or action ex post facto. That’s an eighty-four dollar conversation that will have to wait until next time, if there is a next time.
“What if the illusion is that the present exists?” you say. You aren’t sure if this is an argument you want to see through to the end, but you’re sure it’ll piss off Dr. Drug Dealer, hopefully leading him to believe you’re crazy and start working the ol’ pen and paper in unison. Let’s try something new, you think. “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? 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.
It seems like he’s waiting you out, like a mother waiting for her infant son to finish crying on his own so everyone can return to rationality.
“So? What about that?” you ask.
Dr. Drug Dealer stares at you as 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 sudden and gruesome demise. Kill him, you think. There’s something in here with his signature on it. You can forge it. You can 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. Just take it, you think. Wanting to kill yourself is a side effect of life, anyway. 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-stain 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 Friday 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 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 your dad had on his 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 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 the 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. He probably always is. You aren’t leaving until you get what you came for. “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?”
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 think. “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.”
“Wait,” you say. “Just write it. Fine.”
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 had this conversation thousands of times. He’s your only shrink, but he’s had hundreds of patients over the years. This is how that nineteen-year old felt after that crazy night last June, you think. Insignificant. Powerless. A piece of a fraction of a story – a story that you strain to remember but one she won’t forget. It’s a numbers game.
“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 I’ll see you next Friday at noon.”
You stand to walk out. Dr. Drug Dealer restrains the crocodile on a leash 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 blood and sacrament. You check your insides and pull your Ray Bans back on, twisting the cheap doorknob and exiting from the flourescent office to the flourescent hall with the cheap grey carpet that was thinning down the center and threading along the walls. Get out, you think. Get the fuck out of here.