Maybe he’ll have to call Bruce Blend, the expensive mindfulness provider uptown. Blend helped with the environmental stuff two years ago. Now if the neighbors are loud McCormick doesn’t fear home invasion. If the heater goes out he knows Julie and June can snuggle under a blanket. No one’s freezing to death on his watch, but other perils have risen.
Will Bruce know their chances of having to flee an inbound missile? Will he downplay the harm of a race-baiting president? Does he know if there will be fish in June’s ocean? Guns in her streets? If she will hope?
According to his grandmother, people named Grivas died with their own hair and teeth.
And McCormick always believed going gray at thirty meant he wouldn’t suffer baldness. If he didn’t wear hats he probably wouldn’t recede at all.
As for teeth, he’s replaced what God gave him with titanium more than once.
He texts a photo from the chair to Julie (Jung-hye), who’s at lunch with her brother-in-law, niece, and June. They lost their sister, wife, mom, aunt (Sun-hi) in April.
He hates kimchi, but still feels left out. He taps another text:
Dr. Lotus says I have complicated roots.
(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.
(McCormick and Julie adjust to Dr. Serlek’s opinion that they have less than a 5% chance of conceiving on their own.)
In the days after the appointment, they Googled. McCormick read In Vitro Health Outcomes, fearing the karmic cost of science’s assistance. Julie bookmarked adoption sites and made calendars showing where their careers and income would be in two years, or seven. They touched their laptops more than each other. Not what McCormick had intended when he’d suggested leaving this up to nature.
Had they kept a chart of basal body temperature and cervical mucus, he would have known, that morning Julie cased herself in lycra and tied back her hair, to be ready when she returned, sweaty from the gym.
(Julie and McCormick are talking about their visit to a fertility clinic, which they made just after getting engaged…)
In the waiting room, Muslim and Orthodox women stare straight ahead. In a little room with drawn blinds there’s a slick easy chair and a crinkly pee-pee pad. He remembers the porn he watched.
She feels guilty dragging him there, but she’d assumed long odds. She has to have the facts.
The results are slow swimmers, tired tubes. Dr. Serlek might have injected the hormones right then if they’d written a check.
Walking back on a hilly east-side street, McCormick says, “Let’s see what Nature does before jumping into that.”
Julie is two steps ahead saying something he doesn’t hear.
As if her teeth were on fire. She clawed and whimpered. Hives sprouted in the nook of her right arm. McCormick wiped the peanut butter off her lips. Julie called the doctor. A modest dose of antihistamine seemed to end the crisis. Julie left for work. She was presenting to all of North American sales.
McCormick took June to art class, by the end of which her movements were slow and wobbly, more animal than human. Sometimes extreme cuteness made him think of her that way. Today danger did. Her breathing was shallow. McCormick saddled up the stroller and prayed.