In the Dark (& other stories)

by Meryl Branch-McTiernan

After therapy, I walk into the bathroom of the Carl Jung Institute. It is completely dark. Darker than death itself, I imagine. Instead of touching the wall and reaching for a light switch, I find my way into a stall and sit on the toilet. Without the distraction of images, I can hear my thoughts more clearly, my thoughts about our session, about how my therapist doesn’t understand me. She is always asking me to tell her what I see. What images come to mind? I tell her I don’t think in images. I think in words. She asks me what I say to myself when I have these feelings. I tell her I don’t talk to myself. Thoughts flow through my mind, like waves crashing against the sand, picking up particles, shells, beach towels, and scraps of bread that the seagulls didn’t get to, and spit them back wetter, in a slightly altered arrangement. Tides go in and out.

I think about telling her I quit. I’m so good at quitting therapy, so much better than I am at getting out of any other unhealthy relationships. I imagine my dream therapist, someone who can help me see clearly the way the characters in Woody Allen movies do—a real analyst, oh how I want to be analyzed. I want someone to take the blinders off, but nobody can.

I am done peeing, and reach for the wall to find the toilet paper, and feel only the peeling paint. What a stupid idea this was, peeing in the dark. I worry that one of the Jungian analysts will walk into the bathroom, and turn on the light, and see that there is a lunatic who has decided to pee in the dark. And she will internally analyze me, but she won’t tell me what she’s come up with, because I’m not hers, her patient, her client, or whatever the proper term is these days. I dream that there is a person who can tell me something new, something I don’t know about myself. Why do I pee in the dark sometimes? What childhood wound am I trying to heal? What archetype am I playing out through this act of choosing to remain in the dark while I pretend to be looking for the light.

I decide to drip dry. Nobody will know. It’s my little secret. I flush the toilet and walk out of the stall. My eyes have begun to adjust. Right next to the door, there is a light switch. I turn it on and watch myself washing my hands, feel the heat of the water, believe in the power of the soap to make me clean. A printed sign next to the light switch instructs me to turn off the light when not in use. I defy the sign’s orders, and leave the light on. Nobody else needs to pee in the dark.

 

And The Other Hand Was…

Alanis Morisette had one hand in her pocket and the other hand was giving a high five. How novel giving high fives will feel. It always seemed like an annoying gesture. Last Spring, I went out to dinner with an old acquaintance from high school. Throughout the entire meal, she reached across the table, over the chips and salsa, and gave me high fives whenever we said something she agreed with. Afterwards, I didn’t know if I could see her again. Too many high fives. But now, I appreciate her gesture. I see her picture on my screens, wearing a mask, and wonder if she misses that physical intimacy, that social converging. Hands touching hands. Touching me. Touching you.

Alanis Morisette had one hand in her pocket and the other hand was flicking a cigarette. I’ve never had a cigarette. Not even once. I am orally fixated and knew I would instantly become an addict if I tried one. Every man I’ve ever loved was a smoker. In those last days in mid-March, when the city was still alive, however low its heart rate, I saw more people smoking than I’d see in years and I absolutely loved it. I walked around Chinatown and saw half the population wearing masks and the other half smoking. Yesterday, I passed a man walking down Great Neck Road with a cigarette in his mouth instead of a mask and I wanted to kiss him.

Alanis Morisette had one hand in her pocket and the other hand was giving a peace sign. We are at war, they say. Does that make Trump a wartime president? We are fighting a microbe, an enemy so much smaller than a pencil dot. We can’t see the enemy, but we can see each other. I have never felt such sorrow as when people jump off the sidewalk to avoid me as I approach. They are just following orders. Six feet of social distancing. Six feet that remind me that I am completely alone in this war. I have no team. No army. I am just an enemy walking amongst my neighbors, who are all enemies of each other. And I’m not even supposed to be walking.

Alanis Morisette had one hand in her pocket and the other hand was playing a piano. I used to play the piano, from second through fifth grade. I never took it seriously. It was something my mother wanted me to do because my grandfather was a musician. I took lessons, but didn’t want to practice. Instead, I pretended I was making up songs. Banging on the keyboard until my parents left the room. Eventually, my teacher, the serious Romanian pianist, with an ego even bigger than her teased hair, told my parents she didn’t want to work with me anymore. I never touched a piano again. Maybe when I get out I will.

Alanis Morisette had one hand in her pocket and the other hand was hailing a taxi cab. My last cab ride was on Friday the thirteenth. It wasn’t really a cab, it was a Lyft Line. It pulled up in front of my building on Canal Street. I saw that the backseat was already full. I would have to sit up front with the driver. As soon as I sat down, I started coughing. I thought about getting out. But I was already late to meet my date, a smoker, who I’d met in New Jersey the week before. We had a couple drinks at Fraunces Tavern, the oldest bar in New York City. We hugged goodbye, because we still could. And I decided to walk home.

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