I’ve been writing 30 stories in 30 days as part of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) this month and my project is essentially 30 therapy sessions, with the same protagonist at various stages of his life. I came up with this idea without (consciously) thinking about the election and the state of the world. But now I’m using this format to work through my feelings and I highly recommend any of you other creatives out there do something like this too. I have a feeling that some truly important art is going to come out over the next four years.
November 9, 2016 11am – Jason & Susan
The room feels different to Jason today. Darker. Although the sun is shining, Jason figures that it must be hovering directly over the medical building and therefore bringing minimal light through the east-facing window. There is a slight grey haze hovering around the room. Jason is convinced he can see it, but knows all of this is in his head. The room, the placement of the furniture — the couch, the recliner in which his therapist, Susan Hecht, sits — it’s exactly as it always has been over the year he’s been coming here.
Susan takes a deep, audible nasal inhale, closes her eyes. Blows it out and opens them. Smiles at Jason. She can feel the change too.
“Well…” The word blurts out like the start of a sentence, but nothing follows. What is there to say, really?
“How are you doing…?”
“OK, let’s just agree to not pretend that we are even remotely in the same world as we were 24 hours ago.” Jason had considered postponing his therapy session, but having agreed, in writing, to pay in full for any cancellations made within 24 hours of an appointment…well, he didn’t want to waste a hundred dollars.
“I can probably guess what you’re talking about, but for the sake of assumptions, do you mind telling me what you mean?” Susan didn’t want to show up to work either. Jason was her second patient of the day. Her first, a 50 year old divorced business woman from France, never even mentioned the election during her session. This surprised her, but didn’t shock her. She expected a reaction from Jason though.
“We are all fucked.” Jason leans forward, holds his head in his hands, his greasy straight-brown hair falling over his fingers, hiding them. He suddenly sits back up, straight, his bloodshot eyes aimed right at Susan. “I’m not fucked, really. I’m a straight white guy with a skill set that will net me work in pretty much any market.” He half smirks, half trembles. “But what about everyone else? What about Juan, who comes to my house once a month and weeds and trims the goddamned bougainvillea? I don’t know if he’s here illegally or not. I’m probably being a racist just saying that, but the whole concept of racism has changed now. Hasn’t it? I mean, is Juan calling his family back in Mexico? Making plans to leave the U.S? Or is he saying his goodbyes, imagining that visiting his cousins and his abuelo back in Huatulco or Oaxaca or wherever he’s from is no longer a possibility?”
What can Susan say to this? She worries that her marriage to her wife, Sandy, will soon be ruled invalid once the Supreme Court sways conservative in just a few short years. She decides she will tell this to Jason. They can both express their worries to each other on this day.
“I hear you, Jason.” Susan stands up, heads over to a filing cabinet in the corner of the room. “I’m right there with you. The rules of decency and empathy, they no longer apply, do they?”
Oh shit, Jason thinks. She’s not searching for a gun is she? Not that he really believes she’s gone postal, but the thought does occur. Susan might be more wrecked by all of this than he is. When he sees what she pulls out from the cabinet though, he laughs and shakes his head.
“It’s noon o’clock somewhere, right?” Susan says as she sets a bottle of Maracame Gran Platino tequila on the table beside her chair. It’s not a new bottle. She pulls the cork from the top, smiles at Jason, tips her head back and takes a long, slow sip. A loud sigh as she rights her posture. She stands up and hands the bottle to Jason. “Highly unethical, probably illegal — but I know you aren’t an alcoholic, and I never drink alone.” Liar, she thinks.
Jason takes the bottle, turns it around to admire the label. “You don’t mess with the cheap stuff.” He takes a swig, pulls the bottle away from his mouth and a splash lands on his chin. He wipes it with the back of his hand. Then wipes his hand on his jeans. “Smooth.” He hands Susan the bottle.
“I have a feeling the alcohol industry is where we should be investing our money right about now,” Susan says, taking another swig.
“That is, if you have any money left to invest after next week,” Jason says, half-joking, half-despairing. “I actually think you’re in the perfect field for these times, Susan.” He’s got his legs slung over the side of the couch now, his upper body splayed across the cushions. “Your client base probably tripled overnight.”
“Ha!” Susan laughs, realizing that Jason is right. When the economy collapsed in 2007, she’d thought her practice would be ruined. Instead, she found that a lot of people chose to use their meager earnings on their mental health, forgoing meals outside the home and vacations.
“I never considered myself a political person.” Jason turns to look at Susan, who has her shoes off, the recliner leaned back as far as it can go. “At least not compared to most folks in the Bay Area. I’ve always leaned liberal, but I’ve never been an activist. I don’t go to marches. I don’t rally.” He says the word rally like it’s some sort of hipster terminology. “I always thought that I was slightly agoraphobic. I mean not to the point where I wouldn’t leave the house, but…”
“That’s what ‘fear of crowds’ is called. You aren’t agoraphobic.”
Susan sounds annoyed, Jason thinks, suddenly worried that he said something wrong. The tequila is hitting him hard. He’s not sure if he can stand up if he had to right now.
“Carol took the day off of work. I would bet that she’s still in bed.”
“I would bet that half of this country and three quarters of San Francisco are in bed right now.”
“I wonder if we can blame Facebook for any of this.”
“Oh, I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around. Facebook deserves its share.” Susan wishes she could be herself like this with all her clients. Just two well-educated professionals with over-active brains, passing back and forth ideas. Confiding in one another. She tries to think of a close friend of hers that she feels she can talk to about things like this; not a single person comes to mind. A creeping sadness begins to fill her and she reaches over to the lever on the side of the chair and returns it to its upright position.
“Are you OK?” Jason asks, noticing a sudden change in Susan’s demeanor.
“No.” Susan can’t lie. When Bush Jr. won in 2000 she was terribly depressed, especially with how drawn out and sketchy the recount bullshit was. But this feels worse. George W. was an idiot, but he wasn’t a narcissistic, egomaniac, sexist pig with no political experience. And the Democrats had the Senate. Now with the Republicans running all three facets of government, Susan can only imagine what sorts of backward-thinking legislation is going to make its way through the house and senate, with no real recourse. “I’m just flabbergasted. I feel hopeless.”
“Yeah. It’s like the opposite of the Obama ‘Hope’ campaign. We can all hold up signs that say, ‘Hopeless.’ That’s a rally I might participate in.”
“I’m sorry for putting this all on you, Jason.” Susan feels guilty for using his time on her issues. “If my billing system wasn’t so automated and electronic, I’d not charge you for this session.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? This is probably the most productive hour — well, 50 minutes — I’ve had in your office.” She can tell he’s joking, knows he’s had several breakthroughs under her professional guidance over the past year.
“Speaking of which….” Susan tries to focus her blurred vision on her wrist watch. 11:49. “We have one more minute.”
“Use it wisely,” they both say at the same time and then burst out laughing.
They both wonder if it might the last time they laugh for a long while.