(McCormick has discovered that Sal Bergen referred him to his ex-wife for marriage counseling…)
Because he hasn’t yet agreed to lie on the couch three times a week, McCormick can study his analyst’s face.
Setting aside Sal’s Parkinson’s, he sees guilt in the tremorous lip.
“You didn’t think I would find out. You thought the two of you could have a little rehearsal of your conflict through me and Gwen. Do you do this to other patients? You’re sick, Sal.”
McCormick watches Bergen blink and purse. So sweet, for once, to be angry as he fucking wants with no fear of smack down or freeze out.
And now leaving Gwen won’t be his fault.
(He’s recalling therapeutic passages that led to the moment at hand...)
Elaine Southard was recommended to McCormick and Gwen (his partner of twenty years) by Sal Bergen, McCormick’s analyst.
Sal and McCormick’s signal exchange had been punctuated by Bergen gasping, dropping his shaved head into his hands, and saying “The self-deception is just breathtaking.”
That inextinguishable memory lit up when Southard, describing her own divorce, said “marriage can be an arena of sublime self-delusion.”
At his next session with Sal, whom he loved, McCormick said, “You sent me to your ex-wife for marriage counseling.”
Sal flinched, and the sadness in his eyes was something they could not help each other process.
When McCormick, during guided meditation, hears “Direct gentle attention to any areas of discomfort,” he opens his eyes to sneak a peek.
Bruce Blend is a cool looking cat. Tweed jacket over jeans that aren’t skinny or, on the other hand, just a pair of denim slacks. Sharp-edged goatee that says, this face belongs to a dude whose shit is together.
Blend is the best looking shrink he’s seen, excepting Elaine Southard, whose jeans were tight. Whose brown boots gleamed.
Once McCormick told Dr. Southard that human love should include adoration. And she said, “Maybe you just want a puppy.”
Along with Decatastrophizing, Dr. Bruce Blend taught Attention Shifting (Catch then Devalue the ineffective…Shift to healthy alternatives…Repeat as necessary…), Countering Probability Overestimation (Could my negative prediction be driven by the intense emotions I’m experiencing?). And, of course, Mindfulness (Present-Centered, Non-Judgmental Attention).
McCormick applied these techniques to the pretty millennial neighbors who let their Pit Bull (Cooper) trot to the elevator without a leash and blew bong hits into an air vent that whooshed skunky reek into his and Julie’s kitchen.
This thought—Lindsey and Andrew are unbearable, self-regarding assholes who will get my kid mauled and stoned—definitely needed CBTing.
Posting only pictures of garbage did not attract a slew of Instagram followers.
Maybe that’s not all McCormick was after.
He told Julie, who claimed not to notice unless they were pointed out things like melting snowbanks that shed chicken bones and soiled underwear, that he wanted to see art when he looked at trash. So life would be more beautiful and she would hear fewer complaints about the city.
Just one of the ways he deployed Dr. Bruce Blend’s mindfulness therapy. Decatastrophize, Blend urged. Slicks of shit and cigarette butt are disgusting, yes, but not signs of the apocalypse.
(Now that his morning funk has been rocked away by Steve Earle, McCormick is free to discover a new record from a favorite band…)
Because Julie called her high-school mate John Darnielle a genius, he resisted the Mountain Goats on principle.
Dylan was an ego-object back then. Making Bob share any space crowded McCormick when he really needed to feel large.
His change of heart wasn’t gradual. The recognition struck while hearing:
I remember California, I remember Malibu
I remember the states and the names of the cities but I don’t remember you
It was the perfection of college lit review writing. Things you just thought, rhymed and adored. Who hadn’t searched for that treasure?
Defeating jealousy gives him room. With pleasure, he listens.
From the steps he watches June bounce onto the camp bus. The rows call her name. She blows him a kiss. Makes him glad, but still, he wants to go blue.
Not dirty blue. Gloomy blue. He goes upstairs, puts on Steve Earle—I know I can always count on you—and composes himself.
A lit agent once asked why McCormick’s author felt no compassion for his characters. Wonder what that guy listens to in the morning?
His golfing buddy Jay feels the same way: “You’re funny, man. You should write funny. Everything isn’t a lesson.”
Well, that’s not true.
McCormick, peeking around the lockers to see who’s creating the ruckus, finds not a skin-tight, crew-cut, but long hair and eighteenth-century beard with a draped tank and mod Nike booties.
Whoa, what’s in the blender bottle? Gym Hipster, chugging, declares:
“This dick’s on my Instagram every day saying, you shouldn’t eat that after weights. I said, hey dick, I am 20 pounds lighter than you, I can outrun, outlift, and certainly outpunch you. Your arms are broomsticks compared to mine. Look at me and look at you, then tell me again what I need to learn about nutrition and definition!”
He’s even with Black Speedo Guy most of the lap, but in the final yards McCormick’s breathing falters. He takes a ragged gulp, a short stroke, hits the wall late.
The victor hoists himself out of the water, making a show of stripping off cap and goggles and pounding his ears.
The principle of this guy is his gut. It’s a big-pumpkin gut, a pregnant-lady gut, hanging way over his distressed Lycra waistline.
“Thanks for the push,” Black Speedo says, winking.
McCormick, who feels kinship with the manatee at even two pounds over his wedding day weight, says, “my pleasure.”
Once he saw Salman Rushdie hold up a book and say, “This is a hundred thousand words. That’s a hundred thousand choices. Impossible to get them all right.”
McCormick loves Enchantress of Florence.
McCormick is a hundred words each time. Only. He’s related to Haiku, and Tanka and Tweets. His choices, those made and those remembered, tax him to exhaustion.
He turned to the woman with him at Rushdie and said, “It is hard to be made of words.”
She said, “No. It’s like brushing your teeth or making the bed.”
She was wrong or she was mean. Either way.