"Did you ever see a counselor?"
We were together in a nice house in Hilton Head, South Carolina, a house on loan to him during his sabbatical so he would have a place to write, because he needed to publish again, because he needed peace and quiet.
I was there because he was getting too much peace and too much quiet. He invited me for a week to help him get settled in, so he wouldn't get creeped-out right off, so he could establish his space, get used to the noises, be able to distinguish whether his thoughts were ghosts in the house or ghosts from his past. I was there to be the noise in the hall and to represent the ghosts from the past. He was on friendly terms with these specific ones because he had made his living from many of them and because they had given him his voice.
And because they had given me mine. They were the same ghosts. We were siblings, in our sixties, with worries about hips, cataracts, teeth, weight and our grandmother's diabetes, and dying. We were in our sixties and he was comfortable, even happy, knowing that one of the cemetery plots our mother bought following our father's car accident when were in our teens, was available for his use, whenever. We were in our sixties, old enough to be truly comforted by knowing where we would be buried. He could still be creeped-out by the noises in this new house, creeped-out like fireside stories at sleepover camp. But comforted by that plot, directly adjacent to his father.
"No, I never saw a counselor," I told him.
"You should have, during those days when you were having anxiety attacks."
"That's not exactly how you put it to me when I told you about them during those days."
"What do you mean? I'd already had some counseling by then. I would have encouraged you."
"No, " I assured him. "When I told you something of what I was feeling, you said I needed a shrink. You said it in a scary way, as if you thought I was crazy. That was what I heard. It's okay. You weren't at your most sensitive. And, I probably was... a little crazy."
He was quiet.
This is how we play in our sixties, the issues between us settled; his, his way - mine, my way. We used to make a tent under our mother's grand piano and tattle-tale to her if one of us got hurt. Now, with our referee long passed, we tattle on each other, to each other, just for fun. Somehow it comforts us.
"I forget," he began. "Did I pull the garage door down on your head or did you pull the garage door down on mine?"
"I pulled the garage door down on your head. Because you stuck your foot out and tripped me every time I walked through the room."
He was quiet.
"You should have seen a counselor," he said again.
"You need Jesus," I said.
And then we drove to dinner.
published 24 March 2012