Thursday, May 26, 2016

A MATTER OF TIME

He had given away every last penny of an enormous inheritance—fifty-thousand here, ten-thousand there. He was homeless, but that didn’t matter, only that he missed being able to help others, as he once had done. I found this out when a stranger called me and said Kenny had given him fifteen hundred dollars and told him to see me for as many therapy sessions as the amount would cover. I remember thinking at the time: Inheriting a fortune is everyone’s ultimate fantasy, and Kenny just handed his out like cupcakes at a birthday party!
So, Kenny must have gotten the windfall from his Aunt Molly who had never married, and, as I remember, there was no other family. I met her once when we went to stay at her place on Martha’s Vineyard. And what a place it was! I guess he gave that away too.
“Wait, now let me get this straight,” I said to the caller. “Kenny is broke and homeless, and you are using his last $1500 to get help from me?”
“Oh…well, yeah…I guess… I mean, he said you’d be able to help me. I wasn’t sleepin nights since my dad died, and a lota other things happened too—lost my job, that kinda thing. Kenny said you would help me, and I believe him. He gave me the money before he was homeless though.”
“Yes, I see, that makes all the difference,” trying not to laugh out loud, or cry. I felt bad for being sarcastic, but I don’t think he noticed. “Let’s see what I’ve got here," looking at my calendar. “Next Tuesday at 2 pm, is that good for you?”
“Sure thing, Doc.”
I jotted down his contact info gave him directions, “Okay, see you next week.” After we hung up, I was sorry I hadn’t asked at least a couple of million questions I had formulated in those few minutes on the phone—some of the same ones I’ve had since I last saw Kenny. I knew it would be odd asking my new client questions when we met for the first time. He was the one looking for answers, but I figured I would get at least some of mine answered over time—that is, if he even showed up.
Not that I didn’t want to help the caller; Sam was his name. It’s what I do. I ‘m a therapist, and a pretty good one at that, but, I already resented Sam in a way for taking Kenny’s last dime. I was looking forward to finding out what had happened to my lost lover—lost in every way it seemed. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years, and we didn't part on good terms. It all got too bizarre and too complicated to deal with—even for me.
I told him he needed therapy, but I wasn’t going to be the one to help him sort out his life. That’s when he said, “There’s nothing to sort out, so fuck off.”
It was the last time I saw Kenny. I left in a huff never wanting to see him again. When things had simmered down, I tried to get in touch with him again (and again) over the next few months—texting, calling, emailing, and even writing a good old-fashioned letter—no response. I finally got up enough nerve to go to see him; I really wanted to see him, but he had moved and couldn’t be found. The city is a big place, but it’s still incredible to me that a person can’t be found—even if he doesn’t want to be found. He obviously did not want to be found.
So, Sam did show up for his appointment. We shook hands, and I invited him into my inner sanctum—a quiet room with big cozy chairs, muted colors, diffused light coming in the windows in the day time, and warm, soft lighting at night. I had created a place where my clients would feel comfortable and safe (I despise those words, “comfortable” and “safe”), so they would tell me their life stories, or at least the part of the story before the turning point, or after it as the case might be.
“Hey, Sam, before you tell me about yourself, I’d like to ask something about Kenny. Do you mind?”
“No, Doc, no, I don’t mind at all. Whadaya wanna know?”
“Well, you said Kenny gave you money before he was homeless, but how do you know he is homeless now?”
“Well, I saw him a few days after that night I was at his place...the night he gave me the money. Boy, was I surprised when he did that, but I wasn’t surprised to see him on the streets.”
“Oh? why was that?”
“Well, 'cause I didn’t even know he had any money.”
“No, I thought you meant that you weren’t surprised to see him homeless. Were you? I mean…you were friends, right?”
“Not surprised…no, we weren’t exactly what I’d call good friends or anything like that. He hung out with us at the shelter downtown, so we all knew ‘im, and he was always so nice to everybody. But when I saw his place, it was a mess, and I kinda felt I was in better shape than he was, and he didn’t look good."
“So, you are homeless too, Sam?”
“Oh, no, no, just kinda down on my luck these days. I have a place, but went to the shelter for meals sometimes after I lost my job, and that’s where I met Kenny. He talked to us…never seemed like he belonged there though. I kinda told him my sob story, and he took me back to his place that one night—probably on the worst night of my life. That’s when he gave me the fifteen hundred and told me to call you. I went back to thank him again a coupala days later. I knocked and rang the bell, and just as I was ready to leave, the guy across the hall comes out and tells me Kenny didn’t live there anymore. I saw him on the street about a week later, and he told me he was homeless. I lied to ya,Doc, ‘cause Kenny…he really gave me two thousand dollars cash, but I used five hundred of it for my rent. I asked him to take the rest of the money back ‘cause he needed it more than me, but he wouldn’t. That’s when he told me he inherited money and had given it all away. He said he only wished he had more to give. He said he didn’t need it.”
“Why didn’t you just keep the money and not come here?” I asked, sort of wondering out loud.
With an almost child-like innocence, Sam said simply,       “Well, Kenny told me to come to you; that’s why he gave me the money. He said you would help me.”
“I will certainly do my best," and we began the session.

It felt strange—taking Kenny’s money for my services. I offered to charge half the amount for the sessions, so Sam could go beyond the fifteen weeks it would cover at my regular rate, but he wouldn't hear of it. As the weeks went by, I didn’t learn more about Kenny, but I learned a whole lot more about Sam. He was a simple soul and honorable. I knew I would keep Sam on when the money ran out and hoped he would agree if he felt he needed more time. He was making progress though. He had found a job to keep him afloat, so he didn’t have to go to the shelter for meals, but told me he stopped by there from time to time to see the old gang, but there was no sign of Kenny, and, apparently no one else had seen him either.
“He just disappeared.” Sam said.
“And how did you feel about that? I asked but was thinking, Yeah, I get it. That’s what he did with me too—just disappeared.

Kenny and I met when we were at Columbia, finishing up our degrees—his in philosophy and mine in clinical psychology. It was love at first sight you could say. I was amazed to realize there was such a thing—unexplainable—that kind of attraction. He was intriguing, quirky, quiet mostly—not the small-talk type, but I liked that. I thought later, if I had wanted “normal,” I would have looked for “normal.” No such thing anyway. I know that for a fact!
His hair was dark and wavy, and his eyes were kind--a soft, misty brown. His skin was clear and smooth, like a boy's, but it was his hands that made an impression. They were perfection—a monk’s hands I thought—made for writing on parchment with a feather pen dipped into a pale blue glass ink well. Later, I saw that his handwriting had a grace and elegance about it, reminiscent of those Medieval illuminated manuscripts. And he did a lot of writing— all by hand. He wrote on various, obscure and abstract subjects—scholarly critiques on philosophers or theologians. He was intrigued with the lives of saints. All those original ideas and imaginations he had, and expressed them in such beautiful images, precise analogies, lofty metaphors and clear logic.
Who cared if it were only hormones or pheromones? The attraction was immediate, and I knew he felt it too. I don’t know how he would have described me, or what part of my body he thought was perfection, if any, but the feeling was mutual, passionate, intense—and ultimately doomed. Looking back, there must have been a genetic code for disaster in the nature of our relationship. We were too different, and he gradually ascended, or descended, depending on the way you looked at it, into an unreachable place, intent on becoming a saint himself.
It wasn’t going to work. His mind was like a black hole—sucking everything into it—and nothing escaped—all the facts, knowledge, ideas, probabilities and possibilities. Mine was more like a sieve, holding only what I needed to get through each day—the rest sifted through. Anyway, it’s how I came to think of “us”—opposites. Despite the chemistry, or maybe because of it, it all came crashing down.
“You know what your trouble is, Kenny?” I said during one of our increasingly heated arguments. “Despite your knowledge of philosophy and religion, you don’t really believe in anything, do you?”
We were sitting on his bed in the little room he was living in, piled high with books, strewn with empty wine bottles, half-written papers on his desk, ashtrays crammed with cigarette butts. He stood up, bare-legged in his white boxer shorts. I was already sorry I said anything, and wished we were still in the bed together, so I could put my fingers through his dark, matted hair and wrap my legs around his. He put his hands on his hips, made a half turn away, then back again, glaring at me with those eyes, always shining with an unearthly—maybe even heavenly look. Quietly, almost in a whisper and with a look on his face as if he just had a revelation, he said, “It’s not that I don’t believe in anything. I believe in everything!”
It was hard to have a saint for a boyfriend, as it must have been hard for him to have me, a born therapist, analyzing him in a way no therapist would if she wanted to keep her client. But I wasn’t his therapist; I was his lover and his anchor—I believed that. I had this weird thought—I was him trying to get in, and he was me trying to get out. I needed his ability to soar above it all—to what he might have called the “world of ideas” which encompassed the whole of creation—the only reality to speak of, according to Saint Kenny.
  If he needed me at all, maybe it was for my ability to focus on one thing at a time, to plan and to follow through. Kenny said we complimented each other. He said I thought inductively— from the specific to the general, and he thought deductively—from the general to the specific. Boy, was he deep, which I figured made me shallow. I guess I was shallow in my ambition for my own practice and to make a good living, shallow in my wish to own a piece of real estate in some remarkable location, shallow for my need to take vacations from time to time. My desire for and my pleasure in material things, and all the rest of it, was in direct opposition to what Kenny stood for.
  Like I said, we were doomed.
That became clear after those few days at his Aunt Molly’s. To me, it was paradise— the island in the sea, the blue sky above, brilliant sun pouring through a dream house. I made a big fuss about it. I told Kenny I could see us living life there. I was like a mystic in ecstasy, but not the kind Kenny read about in his Medieval texts. I knew he could have been just as happy in one of those remote, monastic beehive huts on Skellig Michael, off the coast of Ireland —happier most likely.
I snuggled up to Kenny on our first night there. The ocean breeze was cool, the full moon over the ocean—visible from our bed. The fragrance of beach roses and hedge wafting in, and our bodies warm together. I put my head on his chest—which I also thought was pretty perfect.
“What do you say, Ken? Let’s live here. I’ll set up a practice. You could write too, maybe finish a book in the quiet of this place—that book you’ve been working on.”
“It isn’t a book; it’s my theories and my musings.”
“You’ve just been musing all this time, really? Didn’t you ever think of sharing what you’ve learned, what you know?” I’d been wondering about where he was going with his work for a while, along with a lot of other things I didn’t dare mention.
“No, I haven’t thought of it! I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and I don’t want to leave the city. I like the noise and the grit of it and the people—all of them coming and going, even the ones lying on the subway grates. I’ve been thinking about doing something else too, instead of living only for myself. There is so much need out there.”
“You mean like I do—live for myself.” I thought I knew where this was going.
“No, I didn't mean that; you do help people, and that’s a good thing. I wanna do that too.”
“I didn’t know you thought of me as helping anyone. I mean, I certainly try.” I was touched by his comment, as if he needed me for an example of “good,” as he called it. “But, I don’t think I am the greatest example of good, that’s for sure.” I reminded him, “You’ve read, and know so well, the best of the best for inspiration on that score: Socrates, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, I mean…”
“Well,… I have their ideas, yes, and now I feel like I need to do something with them.”
  I silently agreed.
     When we got back to the city, at first he continued to live in his dark room, thinking and writing. He did some work part time in a library, earning enough to subsist—subsidized by me, which I didn’t mind. I admired his ideals, and I loved him, which meant I made sure we could both live the life I wanted—dinners, plays, weekend getaways—none of which seemed to matter much to Kenny.
Soon after, he took to walking the streets at night encountering all sorts of people who needed help. I began to question his judgement when he would bring back a bag lady or some other disheveled person with wild eyes.
"You may be giving these poor souls something to eat or a coat to wear, but are you effecting any real change in their lives?" I had to ask.
“It doesn't matter if they change their lives,” he almost shouted. “That’s your goal, not mine. I’m happy to help in small ways in a moment of need. You manipulate people and want them to live as you do.”
“You said I did good before, and I thought you meant it. Why are you being so hostile now?“ That’s when I said he needed a therapist—the last thing I ever said to him—a long time ago. We parted ways, and that, as they say, was that. I eventually came to accept that it was all for the best. Kenny was right; I did want him to live as I did, because, I didn't want to and couldn’t live as he did.
Exactly on the fifteenth week of the sessions with Sam, he told me it would be his last one. It kind of took me by surprise, but I had to agree; he was in a good place. “Well, you let me know, Sam, if you need to come in, and remember what I said—no charge, okay?”
  “Yeah, yeah, sure thing, Doc,” he said in his usual matter of fact way.
I had come to look forward to our sessions. I liked Sam. He had a natural kind of wisdom about him, and it didn’t take much to get him to think about things in another way, and he was able to make some changes because of it.  He had been in a rut, but was easily budged out of it. I would miss him; having him around made me feel close to Kenny, strange as that sounds.
“Okay, Sam, you take care, now."
Sam hesitated, then he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to me. “What’s this?”
“I dunno, but Kenny said to give it to you when we had our last meeting, so here it is.”
  I still can't remember Sam’s leaving the office. I stared down at the envelope in my trembling hand, and fell into one of those cozy chairs to open it. So much time had passed, but no love lost on my side. Was it a suicide note? I found myself thinking crazy things the moment before I opened it, desperately hoping it was the impossible—an invitation to meet him somewhere, anywhere. I wanted to look into those eyes one more time. Those old feelings and memories had been stirred up over the past weeks—rushing in and swirling around flooding my head and heart. 

*****
That was two years ago. I’m settled into my new practice on Martha’s Vineyard. The letter Sam brought from the law firm was a shocker. Kenny willed Aunt Molly’s house to me! When I went to see the attorney, he said he had met with Kenny only once, and didn’t know that much about him, except that he had been sick, even before the inheritance from his aunt. That explained his giving a fortune away, but why will the house to me, after all that time?
I may never know, but I was hoping to find some clues here among his papers left in the room we slept in overlooking the sea: the desk piled with his writings —and shelves full of books, boxes overflowing with his papers—all there for me to live with—alone.
Today, I found that letter I had written to Kenny years ago. When I unfolded it, a small piece of parchment fell out. On it, in his beautiful handwriting, he had written:
     I cannot live with you
It would be life,
And life is over there
Behind the shelf. 

     Wasn’t that the truth! But the lines weren’t exactly a clue—just a confirmation of what I already knew, but now I can’t get those them out of my head.