"I am interested in the various things we talk about when we think we are talking about something else."
Dr. Klein leaned back. I wasn't sure what to do.
"What things do we think we are talking about?"
He paused. I felt distant from myself a bit, and tried to focus. The burbling from the small stone fountain on the desk filled up the room. Underneath that sound, I could hear the hiss of the noise machine outside the door.
"Well, Cliff, what do you think we're talking about?"
"Frankly I'm not so sure right now."
"Not so sure?"
The noise maker kept the conversation private, helped ensure confidentiality, which is an important part of the relationship that we are trying to build in this room. The relationship is an important part of growth; it is in fact a vessel for change, in that it carries us each from one way of living to another. The distance cannot be measured in flat miles. It is more a game of inches, but that is what I am resolved to.
"I think we are talking about sex."
As he said it, I remembered several things at once: Maureen in my bedroom, trying to get me to fuck her without admitting that she was trying; and Elena, who screamed just as I was about to press myself inside her. I remember the feeling of losing my erection, which if it -- the feeling -- were a sound it would sound like a sad clown's whistle: waw waaaw.
"Tell me what you are thinking about."
"I am thinking about whether I need to have it at all; if the army ever gets bored of following orders or if it wants to try something different for a change, collectively; how come it takes so long to conceive of a way of living that might lead to greatness; and why greatness comes in moments and not some more enduring capsule. I am just riffing here. Just letting it flow. I am thinking of the trees I climbed outside the house when I was a boy, and why I tried to push my sister off them so many times. Did I hate her? Do I hate her now? I try to take care of her in a way that feels like love, but is it? How do I know? How did the first spaceship make it to the moon and back? Getting there I can imagine. But getting back..."
I regard him carefully. He is not an unattractive man, to me. I think about the patients he treats. I have never met them, and he has never mentioned them, but I have a clear picture of one in my head: a woman, blonde, short and cute, I can picture her talking and thinking about herself and her life's patterns, trying to climb to a height from which it becomes possible for her to actually see them, trusting Dr. Klein to hold her up there and believing -- and this is most important -- that once she sees them, the patterns, she can put her hands on them and make herself something new.
"I don't believe you," I tell him. "In my office I can only make space for you to do the work. I cannot make you work, and if you don't want to, if you'd like to keep riffing and telling me that these feeling truly matter to you, even when you and I both know they don't, well, I will not stop you. I get paid regardless."
Dr. Klein sat up. I continued. I told him I was sorry if that seemed crass, but the fact is he knows as well as I do that we get paid to do what we do -- to listen, and yes that does help on its own, but really (and I tried to make this point very clear, very eloquent, like a kind of music I hoped or the water on the rocks) it did not matter what I did. And then I told him why.
The next session Dr. Klein cried about what he had done, what he shouldn't have done. I listened and made a mental note to check on the noise machine's batteries. It's part of the job.