I had about five months sober when I linked up with my shrink seven years ago. At that time, he was in NYC and I was living in Los Angeles and I loved our sessions. He became my mentor. Everything he had in life, I wanted. He always seemed well-composed, he gave articulate answers, he could make fun of serious shit and wore his humor like a trench coat. I really loved Skyping with him and looked forward to our sessions very much.
Then one day I logged into Skype and he seemed a bit off. Something had fallen from his desk right as the video screen popped up and he fumbled to pick it up off the floor. No idea what it was. Maybe a pen. Seemed like not a big deal, but there was something about it that scared me; like something was off. I can’t really explain it, but you know when something’s wrong.
“Are you cool?” I asked playfully.
“Yes, just–tell me. How are you?”
And so our session went, as usual, and when it was time to get off the call, it ended like always.
The next week I logged into Skype and his tie was not in place; it was a bit crooked. Again, unimportant, but to me it seemed odd. I mean, he was always the most put together man on planet Earth and for some reason, after a year of us Skyping, he was now fumbling to pick shit up off the floor and showing up to work with a crooked tie. I had never seen him in any other way than completely collected, so it made me nervouos.
“Are you okay?” I asked him.
“Yes, let’s talk about you.” I could tell he was pissed I was trying to assess him.
My first thought was he was high; that he relapsed. A big reason I went with him was because I had just gotten sober and wanted a doctor in recovery to prescribe me my medicine. I couldn’t afford any slip-ups so I wanted to make sure I was doing everything right. The thought that he may be high after decades of sobriety terrified me. But I brushed my worries aside and went on with the session, telling him of my inner demons and manic behavior.
Then came the last week I ever spoke to him.
I logged onto Skype and he was barely recognizable; he looked terrible. His hair was messy, his tie crooked, he was sweating a bit and he seemed all over the place. I knew he hated when I asked him if he was doing okay, but I couldn’t help myself. I was worried about him.
“Hey doc… sorry but, are you okay?”
There was a pause.
“Actually no. I’m not. I have some back pain and I’m on these painkillers and I feel like shit, but tell me… how are you?”
I had never heard him curse I don’t think. Maybe a few times but it was not a regular occurrence, even though I cursed every other fuckin word to him. But I tried to not let it bother me and proceeded as always, but it was hard to concentrate.
A few days later, I got a call that he died.
I was getting a tattoo at the time, so I stepped away from the ink gun to take the call, but the person on the other line–a doctor friend of my shrink–would not give me any information about what happened.
I went back to the tattoo table and looked at my artist…
“My shrink just died.”
And I sat down and there was silence as he finished my tattoo.
“I’m sorry” he mighta said to me…
“Yeah…” I mighta replied.
All week I was fucked up in my head. What the hell happened? How could this be so sudden? Finally, someone else called me: another doctor friend of his. I asked her what happened and she told me he had died of cancer.
“How long did he know he had the cancer?”
She told me he had known that he had only a few weeks to live, even on our last session. I thought to myself… Why didn’t he cancel? How could he possibly show up to work knowing he had less than a month to live? I couldn’t believe it. I was in awe; sad that he was gone–devastated actually–but more than that, I was so damn honored that he actually showed up for me in his last remaining days on Earth. What a soldier.
The woman on the phone told me she was taking over his practice, but that she would handle my sessions at the same rate if I was interested. I told her “Look… I can’t afford this anymore. Plus, I don’t wanna start all over again.”
She said, “Well, how about you just email me once a week to let me know how you are, for free.”
So from that day on, for the last seven years, I have sent her an email every week. Whether I was on the road, sick, going through a breakup, in Peru or backpacking Spain, I never missed more than maybe two Sundays (the day I write her), if that.
Still I recall those weeks when I thought he was getting high again; that he had fucked up his sobriety, when all along he had terminal cancer and was succeeding in a way that most people can never comprehend. Showing up at all costs. Truly giving a fuck. He still amazes me.
What a fucking gangster.