A couple of weeks back, my Five Minute Friday friend Lisa challenged her Friday writing crew to present not just words, but the “back story” of their lives as well. By doing an honest job at peeling back the corners of our lives, we — you as readers and me as writer — connect on a deeper level.
I try to present “back stories” into my life through my posts. You guys probably know as much about me as anyone. But there is one thing very few people know.
On the outside I appear to be in control. Not much rattles me. But it has not always been that way. And that’s the tale I’ll weave today.
There was a kid in our neighborhood. Jimmie and I weren’t particularly friends — he went to rival St. Bonaventure while I went to Don Bosco Tech. But since he lived one house down across the street, we occasionally would throw a football or baseball around and shoot hoops in his driveway. After we graduated, he went to Villanova, while I attended Manhattan.
He was outside shooting baskets during Thanksgiving break, so I stopped to just shoot the breeze — and a couple of baskets — to see how he was doing. He said it was tough, going from a small school to Villanova, but he was getting by. He asked me about my Manhattan experience.
It was horrible, I told him. I knew what he was talking about, going from a small school to a large university. DBT had a graduating class of 70 … Manhattan had classes two to three times that size. And I wasn’t doing that well either.
Next thing I know, he says, “You should talk to my mom. She good at that.”
His mom was a psychiatrist.
That should have been the end of the story, but a couple of days later as I was getting ready to pull out of the driveway, there was a tap on my window. It was Dr. S. As I rolled down the window, she said she heard I was having problems in school and she was available to talk it through. “Just let me know,” she said as she handed me her card with her home phone written on the back.
“I’m okay,” I persisted. “Besides, I can’t afford it.”
“Don’t worry about that. Just me a call when you’re ready,” she added.
Now, Karen and I were not dating at this point, but we were talking … quite a bit. I often would go to her house at night for a cup of tea — yeah, tea — and we would just talk. One night a couple of weeks after my encounter with Dr. S, I mentioned it to Karen.
“I think you should call her,” she said matter-of-factly. “You’re not happy. All summer you were pretty happy. We [as in her and Bernie and me and Nora] had some good times, but now, you’ve changed.”
I still wasn’t sure about all this, but in mid-December, I gave Dr. S a call. Next thing I knew I was sitting on her couch in her living room spilling my guts. She didn’t say a word. “Good, see you Thursday night.”
I wasn’t going to go back. But I did. She was a little more engaging, but I still seemed to do more of the talking. At the end of the “session” she said, “I have an assignment for you. I want you to think about what you want … what makes you happy. Have a good weekend. I’ll see you Monday.”
Monday I told her I didn’t want to be an engineer. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew engineering was not my field. I also told her I didn’t want to disappoint anyone … my parents … my teachers … my friends.
“Good,” she said, “now we’re making progress.”
In short, she told me I could never disappoint anyone more than myself. I had to do what I wanted. Without being selfish, she told me I needed to know “me” and everything else would fall into place. You won’t succeed if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, she said, and you can’t love anyone else until you love yourself. With that, she said we would take the holidays off but to call her in January. But during that time, reflect on who I was and wanted to be.
When I next saw her, I was, well, happier. I was transferring out of engineering into liberal arts. I had started working part time for the newspaper and I enjoyed the diversity and challenge … even if it was just answering phones and writing two paragraph stories.
The “session” lasted about 15 minutes. “You sound like you’re in a better place,” she said. “Just give me a call if you want to talk things out, but I think you’ve come a long way.” She gave me a hug as I walked out the door.
I never called Dr. S again.
As I think back about the sequence of events, I realize she wasn’t there to fix me. But she was there to help me fix myself. Just talking things through put them into perspective. It was a lesson I learned and kept close to my heart ever since.
I was fortunate. For the next 40-plus years, Karen was my Dr. S. I could talk things through and not expect an answer or solution. She was a great sounding board.
I lost that when she died. And I found myself in that same dark, confused place. Fortunately, I was astute enough to recognize I needed outside help … outside intervention. That’s when I joined a grief support group and for eight weeks talked through my feelings, fears and thoughts. Gail, the moderator, didn’t have answers but led the group to reach their own answers. I’m still in touch with some of my group mates. Universally, they agree Gail helped us make that transition from grief to acceptance.
Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Nobody is perfect. Discover your faults, admit them — then, correct them.