ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching
Book Two, Chapter 124: The Outpatient
After Joshua drives off from our lunch meeting, I cross Jackson Street to the university’s outpatient center and ride the elevator to the sixth floor, entering the suite where the mental-health offices are.
Jene, my cognitive-behavior therapist, opens the reception-room door to wave me in, and we walk down the hall to our talk room. Before turning on the tape recorder, he asks: “Do you have any questions for me before we begin?”
Today I have three.
“Given Ernie’s need to numb his pain, and my need to escape pain, if he hadn’t married me, would he have married someone like me — a co-dependent? And if I hadn’t married Ernie, would I have married someone like Ernie — a dependent?”
Jene rolls back in his chair. “I think timing has a great deal to do with whom we marry. Ernie was ready for a relationship, and so were you.”
“Why did we never diagnose our problem?”
“Maybe I better roll back some more so you won’t kick me. . . . When did you diagnose the problem?”
“After Ernie died. But why didn’t we see the problem earlier?”
“Have you ever bought a pair of shoes that didn’t quite fit but wore them anyway?”
I take the question literally. Ernie, before I knew him, often wore shoes too tight for him. That’s why his toes were pointy; they’d been cramped for so long. And back when I was in college I wore a pair of new boots all day on campus before seeing, when I took them off, that they were two sizes too small for me; the sales clerk had wrapped up the wrong pair of boots. So Ernie was accustomed to a squeeze, and I didn’t even feel a squeeze.
“One more question, Jene. How many comfortable, honest relationships do you have in your life?”
He takes time to think. Holds up one finger. “One.” Holds up another. “Two.” Then another. “Three.” Then another. “Four.”
“Your wife,” I say. “And your two children.”
“One of my children.”
“My daughter. Haven’t you ever heard the expression: a son’s a son until he takes a wife; a daughter’s a daughter all your life? My daughter calls me and says: ‘Daddy, can you and Mom babysit for us tonight? And by the way, can we come over early for dinner?’ ”
“Who are the other two?”
“Two good male friends. One friendship goes back forty years. We talk on the phone once or twice a month, spend a week in the mountains with each other and our wives every December, and usually meet once in the summer. Last week I called to ask him if he’s decided where we’ll meet this summer. We live five hundred miles apart now, but that hasn’t stopped our friendship.”
“And the other friend?”
“My accountant. Perhaps because he knows so much about my financial life, we’ve grown to trust each other.” He turns on the tape recorder and turns to ask me a question. “Did you love Ernie?”
I still don’t know the answer to that question.