NDJ:8 “Frank” by Michael Harty, PhD

Well, Frank, here we are again. You sit in your chair, I sit in mine; you instruct me once again on the trials of being your unhappy self. If I weren’t your therapist, I might be saying these thoughts aloud, but I can still think them.
Yes, I know you’ve had hard times. It’s tough on a guy to flunk out of college, lose his baseball scholarship, and have his father pull strings to get him a job. It’s tough to get fired for passing kickbacks to customers. It’s no fun going through two divorces and a bankruptcy, and trying to do business when you’re on the blacklist of every big lender in town.
But somehow you’ve managed to bounce back. You’ve always been a talker, always been able to sell, most of all to sell yourself. And now, even making allowances for your chronic over-optimism, it looks as though you have a winner. You scraped together enough credit to buy a down-and-out manufacturing plant; you expanded the product line, negotiated contracts with big retailers, and now the profits are rolling in.
If only you can keep your nose clean legally, if only you can resist the tantrums that drive your vice-presidents away, if only you can keep clear of the wine and the women, if only, if only…. Well, that’s why you came to see me, and I guess both of us would agree that it’s helping. In fact, I gather you’ve been singing my praises to your friends. Now two of them want me to straighten out their angry relatives.
But I have my doubts about all this appreciation, especially when you’re becoming such a part-time patient. Maybe you think I like having a non-paying hole in my schedule while you jet off to New Orleans to watch the Super Bowl, or to Ghana for a World Cup match – guess again. But for now, at least, I’m keeping it to myself.
* * *
So the deal went through – you sold your company. And none too soon, I know you’re thinking, with all those product-liability suits in the pipeline. But I’m confident you found some way to reassure the buyers about that.
How does it feel, getting a check with nine numbers in front of the decimal? A lawyer friend once let me hold a bank draft for a quarter million, and I thought that was big. You just cleared a thousand times that.
Ever think I might have some reaction other than elation on your behalf? I didn’t care much about wealth when I got into this profession – figured I’d study hard, work hard, save my pennies, things would take care of themselves. But a couple of decades later – make that a mortgage, a household, some heavy medical bills, and a lot of college tuition later – I’m not quite so relaxed about the future and not so sanguine in my assumptions. Right now I feel like saying: Tell you what, let’s just trade problems. You take my house payment, my car payment, my student loans, my insurance premiums, my taxes; I’ll worry about maintaining your three vacation homes and investing your two hundred million. Wouldn’t that be a fair trade? After all, if I hadn’t helped you get yourself under control, you might still be out there fighting off your creditors and trying to hustle the next deal.
Maybe I could figure out some way to get a commission, the way you used to do. Or maybe just a little codicil to your will – we may be the same age, but the way you abuse your body….
Lucky our time’s up, before I let something slip.
* * *
And here we are once more. Have you really changed, or is it just my opinion of you? I have to admit you surprised me, the way you responded to your wife’s illness – stepped up to support her, educated yourself about the disease, took her to her treatments, all the rest. I’m happy for both of you that it turned out so well.
And I guess it does make more sense to endow a cardiac treatment center in her honor than to endow my future — even that of my psychoanalytic institute, which is the kind of thing I used to imagine, listening to you. You were looking for a good cause, and I thought I had one. Or was one. Good thing I never let on.
Or did I?