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Knitting Fiction

Sisyphus

Published on: April 18, 2023

Do not—whatever you do—do not think about stuffing him in the trunk of his car. Just DO NOT think that thought. Oh shit. I already did. I’m not even in the fucking room yet and it’s already started. STOP!

     “Come on in Pete and have a seat.” Pete and Dr. Waldt are standing in the doorway of Waldt’s consultation room as he gestures Pete toward the burgundy couch. 

     “Yes, thanks,” Pete says. But what he’s thinking is, Okay, you can do this. Find the picture. Focus on the raven’s jewel. Keep your eyes on the prize. Walk across the floor. Take long, confident steps. Then turn and sit. You can do this. And he does. Once seated, Pete leans forward to look down at the carpet, then slides a few inches to the right on the couch so that he can reposition his two feet to fit within the squared pattern, as he did on his first visit. He leans back and places the palms of his hands down flat on his thighs, takes a deep breath in through his nose and exhales slowly through his mouth. I wish Cindy was here. But she’s not. 'Pull up your big boy pants' is what she would say. Pull up your big boy pants; you can do this.

     “How are you doing today, Pete?” Dr. Waldt asks. 

     “I’m okay.”

     “I ask because I can’t help but notice that you move and hold yourself as though you feel anxious.”

     “Well, yes. I guess I am pretty nervous.”

    “I wonder if, overall, you might carry quite a lot of anxiety?”

     “Not always. But sometimes.”

     “Seems like this situation,” Dr. Waldt gestures with his hand to indicate the room. “Seems like coming here to talk to me is a high anxiety situation for you.”

     “It is and before you ask me ‘why’, let me tell you I don’t know.”

     “Are you this anxious when you meet with Melissa, your marriage counselor?”

     “I’m pretty nervous there too. But it’s not as bad as it is here.”

     “Do you think, maybe, Cindy being with you helps you calm down?”

     “Oh yes, Cindy definitely helps me keep calm. But she was with me here last time and I was still freaking out. I don’t know why. I don’t know why.” Pete removes his hands from atop his thighs and makes them into fists. Right fist above left fist, he begins pounding them together. He begins rocking back and forth.

     “I also notice that you have developed some methods of self-calming. Like now. When you rock yourself and pound your fists together. That’s a method you use to calm yourself, don’t you think so?”

     “It must not work very well because I don’t feel very calm. Hey Doc, is there some medication, a pill that I could take that would help?”

     “There might be. We will definitely talk about that later, when we put our heads together to try to figure out what to do about all this anxiety. For now, as uncomfortable as it is, let’s talk more about the anxiety. When is the first time . . . . looking back now on yourself as a child. When is the first time you remember feeling this anxious? Do you remember how old you were when you first started rocking and fist-pounding?”

     “I was nine,” Pete’s answered quickly, with an emphasis on “nine.”

     “Seems like you remember quite well. Seems like it is a painful memory.”

     Pete stops fist pounding. He rocks forward and stops, then places his hands over his face and begins to weep. “The first time was when I got. I really understood. That Grandma would not be back. That I would not see Grandma again.” He was sobbing between his words. 

     They sit together, Pete and Dr. Waldt. Pete on the couch, rocked forward, face in hands and weeping. More than weeping. Groaning. The male grunting sounds of screams being caught and smothered in his chest. In his throat. Tears, snot and saliva dripping from face and seeping its way between his fingers and down his forearms and onto his lap. Suffering let loose into the daylight of a room. Suffering experienced in the presence of another human being. 

     They sit together Dr. Waldt and Pete. Dr. Waldt leaning forward in his rocker, elbows on knees, hands clasped together. Perfectly still. Stone still. A lifetime of absorbing profound loss pulling down on his face. Already hallowed, his face appears now to be chiseled, in the right angles, of granite. His dark and lively eyes giving the only sign of life.

They sit together, Pete and Dr. Waldt. Pete feeling and expressing his suffering. Dr. Waldt absorbing and contemplating Pete's suffering.

     Pete’s weeping quiets down. Hands still covering his face, his gasping begins to change to breathing. He removes his hands from his face and leans back.  He tries to wipe his face with the back of his hands and then pats the pockets of his pants. He looks at Dr. Waldt who motions toward the box of tissues on the side table beside the couch. Pete reaches over and pulls out tissues and wipes his face, hands, arms and the lap of his pants.

     “How are you feeling now Pete?”

     “Exhausted. Empty. Grandma would say. “Wrung out. I’m wrung out.”

     “But still alive, Pete? Are you still alive?” Dr. Waldt asks. 

     Pete does not answer immediately, instead to looks closely at Dr. Waldt for a few minutes. “Yes, I’m still alive.”

     “I ask because I’ve noticed that sometimes—and this is especially true when it happens to children—sometimes when grieving cannot be expressed and instead has to be buried, people get this idea. They come to believe that the grief is so huge, so powerful, that if it is unearthed it will surely destroy them.”

     “But I’m still alive,” Pete said.

     “Yes we both agree that you are still alive. You are not destroyed. This is not a walk in the park. But neither will you be destroyed.” 

     Dr. Waldt reached into the drawer of his side table. He moved a small bronze sculpture of Sisyphus from the drawer and set it on the side table on top if his laptop. Then he removed his yellow pad and fountain pen from the drawer He began writing while speaking. “I’m going to write a few reminder notes for you. First, although you feel exhausted now, during the week before we meet again, you might find these same feelings come back. Maybe not as intense, but also, maybe worse. Sometimes when people begin to experience this sort of grief it will shake out more memories. I want you to know, if this happens, you can talk to someone, like maybe Cindy. But you can also stuff the memories back down where they were. You know how to do that. You have been doing that for years. Then the next time we meet you can take them out. Here’s another option. I have included my phone number. Call me if you need to. It’s okay to call me if you feel overwhelmed. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can and we’ll figure something out.”

      Dr Waldt tore off the sheet he’s been writing on, stood, walked across the room and  handed it to Pete. “If something comes up that is hard to handle, talk to someone, or push it down and save it until our next conversation. Either way feel free to call me if you need to.” Dr. Waldt remained standing. Pete stood. He folded the yellow paper and tucked it into his shirt pocket. 

     “Am I going to be okay, Doc?”

     “Yes, you are going to be okay. Not right away. This will be hard. As a matter of fact, I'd like us to meet more frequently. Would it be okay with you if we meet twice a week for a few weeks?"

"Yes I can do that. But I'm going to be okay, right?"

"Yes, you will be okay. I have no doubts about that.” 

     Pete holds out his hand and Dr. Waldt shakes it. They walk together to the consultation room door. Pete leaves. Dr. Waldt closes the door and returns to his rocker. He places the yellow pad and pen back in the drawer. He removes the Sisyphus from atop his laptop and sets it back into the drawer and closes it.  

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