So, David, what brings you here?
Everything felt so familiar, so comfortable: the moss green walls, the brown leather sofa and chair, the box of tissues inside a burnished, earth-toned holder. And yet I can feel my stomach churn and head vibrate. I’m not the one asking the questions and Ballantyne sat there, expecting my answer.
It’s a control issue. I can’t control myself. Someone’s taken charge; I do what I’m told and I’m not running the show, but there’s no one else here, is there? And… I hesitated. I know a Pandora’s box when I smell one and this was it.
I messed up. I’ve lost control; I thought I could live a double life and let myself revel in the thrill of it but it was an illusion. The bubble burst as soon as Claire found out what I was doing. She saw my naked photos and ads for sex. On my computer. My conscience, my integrity, they evaporated. All up in smoke.
The ole Buddha ploy. Ballantyne was using that mix of curiosity and compassion that was my own standard operating procedure. Not insincere, no, but learned, applied, an empathetic tunnel burrowing into the gravelly distance between us. A silent tunnel, a passage into which I could shout my failings, letting them echo between us. Ricochets. Fragments to be wounded by. Actions to be hanged by.
You’re not gonna say anything, are you, John? I get it, I know, but it doesn’t make it easy. You’re the first person I’ve talked to and I need to hear something back.
Nothing came back. Just the feeling of air moving down my throat and of the soft leather under my hand. Tell him? Spill out shards of story, fragments of what made no sense to me or anyone else? I was paying him. Let him draw the tale from me, give it shape and meaning, the journalist’s job, and the shrink’s. Let the comfort of its form assuage me for the depravity of its content.
But he just sat and waited. Let there be light and there was no light. The expectant listener. Curious and compassionate. Ready to enter into a world he did not know, had not experienced, but could understand in that mysterious way we have of comprehending the incomprehensible. Beyond words, true. The words were up to me. They’d be the mortar we’d use to build and inhabit it together until it became familiar, even a bit worn, and then ready for demolition. Later. Now, I had to begin.