After the morning race for chairs, from which Julie emerges with four under an umbrella, away from the smell of the grill, McCormick remembers rising early in Laguna Beach to claim the curtained couch by that pool. Because his sister-in-law needed privacy and the softest seat.
He’s glad Julie, helping June into a shimmering mermaid suit she bought her on the way to breakfast, doesn’t hear the women in the row ahead describing elaborate exploratory, the chance of biopsy.
Why do they sit together, leisure and mutation? And, as June asks often, what do you look like when you’re dead?
Their visit to the funky Northwest recalls the disappointment of his beloved alma mater almost making him faculty when he finished his Ph.D.
But if he’d gotten that job, and not stayed in New York and found Julie again, where would the life force that is their daughter have manifested?
In the Peconic Bay mansion of a German fund manager Julie met at a private equity conference? Crammed into a two-bedroom bungalow with McCormick and a grad student who dropped out when she got pregnant?
No. Those are stories. Really, without this overcast day, June wouldn’t be anywhere.
(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.”
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.