Damn the T. Here I am, stuck in a stalled train teetering over the Charles, barely breathing. People pack the car, suits and students wedged in tight near doors, hanging from poles. Faces grim, no one talks; I bet they’re obsessing about the billions of gallons of cold, murky water below. I know I am.
A cross-wind rocks the train. Lights from the Boston side shimmy on the pitch water. Late again for my shrink session. What an ungodly waste of time. I slam the textbook, shove it into my backpack and grope for my MP3 player. Radiohead loaded, I riffle though the week’s mail: Poets and Writers, Neuroscience, phone bill, AmEx, and a green envelope from the Harvard University Office of the Bursar.
I yank out the earplugs, snatch my cell. A ring. Good, at least there’s a signal, but then the answering service beeps. I sigh into the phone.
“Moth-er. It’s me. Ben.” Pick up, pick up. She doesn’t. “Uh, I got another tuition bill. It’s the third notice. Did you guys pay it? It’s like, uh, three months late. They’re gonna kick me out if it isn’t paid in two weeks.” Another pause. “Call me. Tonight? Please?”
Knees jittering, my damp palms rub my jeans. It’s so hot, so humid, all this carbon dioxide exhaled by my fellow prisoners steams up the windows. I rub a circle on the glass. Distorted lights reflect on the pitch black river. The air bears down. My throat constricts. Jesus, let me out. Let me out. I shut my eyes and breathe.
The car lurches. Passengers grab rungs, smiling and chattering in relief. The train slides into Kendall Square. The door eases open, chilled air assails me. I bolt up the stairs into the murky evening.
Low lying clouds spit icy flakes. By the time I arrive at Bruce’s office, sweat streams in a rivulet down my back. My heart hammers in my ears. I burst into the room and blink in the fluorescent blaze.
“You’re late,” Bruce says, not looking up.
“The frigging T broke down.” I yank out my water bottle, then tug off my damp sweater. “Jesus, it’s a sauna in here.”
Bruce’s eyes follow me pacing the room like a caged rat. He closes the door, flicks off the overheads. I sling myself onto the oxblood couch, worn shiny from time and distress.
“So,” he says. Irritation lines his voice. “How’re classes?”
“Tough,” I say. “My schedule’s crazy.”
“What’s tough?” he says.
“Just new areas for me, I guess.”
“What areas?” He removes his glasses, rubs them with a small cloth.
“Mental health epidemiology and I know nothing about epidemiology, I can barely spell the word.” I gulp from my water bottle. “Let’s see, there’s a class on clinical trials, it’s excellent but I have to bone up on stats, too. Whew. And, uh, one last core biology class, no problem there, and an upper level neuro class, also no problem, but both have labs and small group assignments that eat up tons of time. And creative writing on Friday mornings, memoir this semester, but not for credit. And, of course, there’s that honors thesis.”
“You do sound busy.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say.
“And your social life?” he asks.
I can’t corral my grin. “Well yeah, now that you ask, there’s this girl. Phoebe. Beautiful name, huh? Phee-bee. As in one of the original Titans, the one who consorted with her brother Coeus. Remember? Anyway, she’s a med student, in my neurobiology class – and we’re in the same study group! She’s gorgeous, simply gorgeous, with these amazing hazel-green eyes. And hair, you should see, like liquid gold, and–”
“You really like her,” He smiles.
“Ah, yes. Yes I do.” I bounce on the leather, instantly back in a good mood. “I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s an artist, works with clay. And quiet, kind of reserved. But a nice person. A good person.” At least I hope so. I chalk up her coolness to start-of-the-semester nerves – I get that way, too. “She’s different. Oh, and smart – did I tell you she’s in med school?”
“An older woman. And the verdict?”
“Too early to say, she’s pretty focused on school. Very serious,” I say.
“Well, good luck.” Bruce shuffles papers.
“Thanks.” I drain the bottle. “I’ll need it.”
“How are you otherwise?” he asks. “I was concerned about you after our last session.”
My legs stop jiggling. “Eh. I got over it. Took the train home to New York, found Pops alone in the study smashed on Scotch, snuck up behind and garroted him.”
His eyes grow wide. He jots in his notebook.
“Jesus. I’m joking.” My laugh sounds brittle. “I fantasize about him dying, though.”
“As in you murdering him?”
“More like he fries in a plane crash or croaks from some painful cancer,” I say. “I don’t think I have it in me to kill anyone, even him.”
“That’s reassuring.” The pencil scratches for what seems a long time. I pick at a cuticle. “Really, though, how did you process our last session?”
“Wrote some poems,” I say.
“May I see them?” He looks at me expectantly.
I close my eyes. “Poems take time.”
“There is nothing pretty or poetic about abuse.”
“Look,” I say. “The way I write is never direct. If you’re obvious, the poem isn’t interesting to read.”