Nervous in New York
by Nan Leslie
She had too much zest for life. She
knew she didn't fit in with the rest of her family; she'd always known
it. To her, life was all about chances—not that hard line, politically
correct read in the papers--until someone high up got caught, or worse,
convicted. It was in all of them, she knew. It was just a matter of whether
or not you chose to live honest. That didn't mean there wasn't a line
to cross or a bridge to breach. But if you'd ever contemplated going that
far then you had that in you too—and sooner or later you'd act on it.
Maybe it was you kid or your wife, maybe your boss or your best friend.
Whoever it was didn't matter. It was just the fact that it happened.
So when the time came for Claire, it came in
the form of a nervous tick in her neck that always started as soon as
the first boy came home from school. The second boy, who was sixteen and
two years older than his brother, would slam through the door as if materializing
out of nowhere and never fail to make her visibly jump. By the time her
husband came home—around five—and dinner was underway, she was sitting
at the table resembling an ostrich with her head popping out at odd angles
until the rest of the family set down their forks and stared.
"What's with you, Mom?" the oldest one asked
"You never used to have this problem," her husband
"Got any dessert?" the youngest asked, who was
bursting out of his jeans, even though they were supposed to be two sizes
too big. That's how they wear them now, he'd explained to her, trying
them on the store.
"I'll see the doctor," she said for the thirteenth
Finally she did see the doctor, who referred
her to a shrink, the safe kind who was approved by her HMO, a tiny woman
whose feet did not reach the floor while she sat across from Claire in
her sterile, but happening office.
"We've just moved," said the shrink, Dr. Eleesa
Ebubu, as if any change in location or décor would have an affect
on Claire's treatment. "Better address," she explained in a low voice.
"Got a good deal. I've wanted a downtown address for seven years now.
Why are you here?"
Claire told her.
"A manifestation of your feelings. Do you talk
about your feelings?"
"To who?" Evidently she had just said something
revealing because the doctor took notes on her legal pad, slipping the
pencil back behind her ear, and leaning far back in her swivel black leather
chair to contemplate this latest finding.
"Your husband, perhaps—friends?"
"This is something we should explore. When did
"About three months ago."
"Fairly recent. Any crisis? Deaths? Anything
that might have triggered it?"
"There was the time my husband left olive oil
and oregano spread out across the countertop with a slab of melting blue
"He never cleans up after himself."
"I see." The doctor looked pensive. Thoughtfully
tugging on her pen, but deciding instead to take a fresh approach.
"How is your relationship with your children?
Two, right?" She checked Claire's chart for verification, as if Claire
herself was not a reliable enough source to confirm it absolutely.
"Patrick and Jack. I call them Ren and Stimpy."
"You know…from that cartoon—never mind." It
was obvious to Claire that Ms. Doctor had never had the pleasure of watching
the two toons exfoliating hairballs. So much anal humor on TV these days.
It was no wonder kids were setting themselves on fire for laughs. Her
oldest lived and breathed The Survivor—had his own VHS of each
episode. Lately he'd taken to eating bugs—just to see if he had it in
him to be a contestant.
"And you're close?" Ms. Doctor led her.
"I maintain their basic needs, if that's what
you mean. And for the moment that includes meals, laundry, rides, money,
and the occasional shock when one says hello."
"Not close." Dr. Ebubu wrote it down.
"It's a teenage thing. Teenagers cannot stand
to be around their parents. It's fact, a legend going way back to Dr.
Spock and that early bonding thing. Only when I was supposed to be bonding
I was working two jobs and finishing up my B.A. But it works."
"I'm hearing resentment."
"You're way too late, doc. I got that back in
1978, two years after I graduated from high school."
"How about the husband?"
"How much time do I have left on the clock?"
"It's a start. I was nineteen. Nineteen.
I didn't think. I don't think I started thinking until I hit forty. I
just jumped right into things for all the wrong reasons."
"You're saying you picked the wrong guy?"
"Like a bad hair day."
"So now what?"
"Nothing. I've got this tick…"
"What's he like, your husband?"
"Like listening to Tammy Faye Baker talk about
her brand new life."
"Not much in common?"
"Not unless you want to include the ring at
the bottom of the bowl."
"Don't make me laugh."
"These are strong feelings."
"I'm just revving my engine."
"Times up. I'll see you next Wednesday. Here's
an RX for Zanex, and a sample so you can take one right away. Should help
to relax that nervous tick."
"How many can I take?"
"One. Just take one."
That means two is better. Claire went
straight to the drugstore and popped two driving home. She fixed real
hamburgers for them and a veggie burger for herself. Fries for them, nothing
for her. Dinner done. Next job: dishes. She loaded the dishwasher and
washed her hands with antibacterial soap for the seventeenth time that
day. Why don't I drink? Drinking would be so much better. But she
was not the type to drink. Liked her buzz, but without all the associated
blackout symptoms. Besides—alcohol made her tired.
The pills kicked in—nice. Very nice. All of
a sudden Dr. Ebubu was looking good. Wise woman. Knew her stuff. Or should
she be thanking the chemist who had made it all possible? Life wasn't
all that bad. She had the DVD all to herself tonight: both boys in their
room under deep hypnosis from the Sony Playstation 2. The husband? Snoring
and watching The History Channel World War II reruns at the same time.
She tiptoed up the stairs. She flipped through the stack of movies and
settled on one of her favorites: Man in the Moon. She liked it
because this family faced tragedy head on. They were poor—not dirt poor
but poor. And look at the husband. He cried when his wife was hurt—wouldn't
leave the hospital. That was love. Claire cried every time she watched
it. She changed into her flannel pajamas and picked up the remote. An
hour later she was asleep next to her husband, who had moved his snores
upstairs. They hadn't exchanged one word since dinner.
New York was a great town to get lost in. You
didn't have to go far: maybe ten blocks tops—and you were in another world.
Claire had thoughts about this nether world, the one without demands.
Dr. Ebubu was fourteen blocks uptown. So she qualified.
"Last time you were here you spoke about release.
Can you elaborate?"
"It's like I'm standing in the doorway of my
dream—see—and everyone else is in it, but I'm just passing through. Like
I'm not real."
"How does this make you feel?"
"Like dolphin-free tuna in a can."
"That's a strange analogy."
"Not if you knew me."
They looked at each other for a minute or more.
Claire had the feeling that it was a standoff and whoever gave in first
would be the first to go down. She tried to hold out, but couldn't. Maybe
it was the precious minutes ticking by, each one with its own monetary
value if you had the letters M.D. tacked on to your name. She noticed
Dr. Ebubu favored eighteen carat gold. You could tell by the color, more
yellow than gold.
"You like that?"
She seemed pleased. Probably fully vested in
her own 401-K by now. Claire could spot the type. Although she couldn't
blame her. Money equated freedom. "The pills you gave me. I think they
help." Think they help—ha!—better than lip-syncing to Celine Dion.
Better than sex. (Well, maybe not better, but just as good.) Better than
chocolate in every form, even that rich, thick hot chocolate they made
at au bain pain with cream and shaved almonds.
"Here." She dashed off a scribble and handed
her the slip. "This should hold you for a while."