You wake, startled, from a dream. Two of your patients in bed together, there’s no question in your mind who they are, but you aren’t sure why you are dreaming about Tony fucking Gloria. Elliot would have a goddamn field day with this. Hell, if you were your own patient you would have a field day.
But this is just another thing you won’t tell him.
You aren’t sure why you see him, anymore, since you leave out all the important things. But somehow it makes sense, and you have an appointed time on an appointed day, and it’s the only thing you can rely on these days.
You pull the covers closer to your chin. The down comforter is warm and your toes stretch all the way to the end of the bed.
Sleep escapes you, as you count backwards from one thousand. Somewhere around six thousand and seventy-four you give up, slip out of bed, and go into the kitchen to make yourself a cup of coffee.
Devastating, you said as he loomed above you, all heavy and thick with anger and guilt. Devastating, and you dream about her every other night. Hanging in a white dress from the rafters, like an angel, like a ghost.
You know, of course, that there were no rafters and that Gloria didn’t wear a white dress. And to find out, you opened the paper that next morning and your hand immediately flew to your mouth, dropping your coffee onto the table. It burned your hand; you didn’t notice until the next day.
That, you now know, signaled the beginning of the end. He was distant and frustrated, and your long legs were always crossed. He focused on them when he didn’t want to look you in the eye. In the beginning you were just another pretty face but you’ve proven yourself over the years and despite his claims to the contrary, you knew he looked forward to Tuesday’s sessions. You did too, something you never told Elliot, the way his life was constructed so differently from your own, the way his eyes hardened and you took a deep breath.
There are rules, and if you had asked, he would have killed for you. Battered and limping, he would have made that bastard pay. Justice works in different ways with Tony. But you said no, even though you aren’t sure you meant it, and he respected your decision.
He would have killed for you. Isn’t everything just a replacement for the next thing? Transference, the easiest thing to understand. It was Richard at first who made you safe, older and wiser and hard around the edges. And then Tony, wielding power you tried not to comprehend, though late at night you indulged yourself and wondered. He would have killed for you. How many people would kill for you?
Late at night it was Tony, his oversized belly and soft eyes that reassured you. And sometimes when your hand was rubbing your clit, circles and circles and circles again, gasping into the darkness, it was Tony you thought of, always Tony in your mind, Anthony in your sessions.
There are rules.
You failed Gloria, and he was afraid you would fail him.
Elliot said, Jennifer, it wasn’t your fault. You can’t save the world. But she was your patient, she trusted you with everything she had to tell, her darkness and her fears, threats of suicide. You always talked her down; it was what she expected. There was a dance that was carefully choreographed, and you alone knew how dangerous it was, careful to keep your steps precise, always teetering on the edge of chaos.
Gloria looked to you the way people look for a savior, and you fell from the cross, broken.
Another night, it’s the white gown again, and these are things you don’t tell Elliot, tell anyone. There are too many things you don’t speak about, to refrain from hearing, Jennifer, Jennifer, listen to yourself. You listen to yourself too much these days and it only brings you to a place that scares you late at night.
Jennifer, Jennifer, listen to yourself.
And all you can hear is silence.
When Anthony left, as you knew he would, he held your head carefully, softly, and you stood rigid despite your desire, almost need, to melt into his hands and feel safe, just for one moment. To forget where you were. You thought he was going to kiss you, and you would have let him, then broken away, saying goodbye. But it was a fatherly kiss on your forehead, leaving you alone with the memory of the pressure of his lips.
The door shut behind him and you stood still, as if waiting for him to open it again, but everything was quiet and you could hear your own breath reverberating over the silence. You had another patient. You had a practice to continue, but you took a moment to sit behind your desk, rest your head in your hands and call Elliot saying, Calling all cars.
He was gone before you could fail him. It was textbook Anthony and you predicted it from the first day, but you weren’t prepared for how much it hurt when the door shut.
You read somewhere that the peace sign is the symbol for a bomb shelter flipped upside down. If you flipped the whole world upside down, would it rain daisies? Maybe everything is slipping slowly sideways and your feet are beginning to lose traction and before you know it, your ceiling will be your floor. Maybe that’s the way the world ends.
You aren’t sure how he is going to manage. You worry about him, you worry about all your patients, but somehow this is different and every morning you find yourself flipping to the obituaries, afraid of what you might see.
He calls after three months to get a new prescription for his Prozac, but he doesn’t come to pick it up. You say, Anthony, I wish you would come back, and he only laughs, saying, thanks Doc, but I’ll take my own chances. You hope he doesn’t hear the desperation in your voice, something close to longing. You call his pharmacy and are told it will be ready to be picked up in three hours.
You still have a practice, a job, and people pay you a lot of money to listen to their problems, to help them see the world through the kaleidoscope differently. Colors and shapes always shifting and moving into something new, every time you turned the circle, even just a fraction of an inch. Everyone sees something else, and you try to see what they see, picking up on hand motions and minute facial expressions, but sometimes you read the picture wrong, go color blind, and then you apologize.
When the phone rings late one night and all you hear is deep breathing. You say hello into the void, initiating, like you were taught to do at school, and are answered by silence. You immediately think of Gloria and how you wished she would have called, but before you can say anything else a dial tone is ringing in your ear. Three seconds of hesitation, and then star sixty-nine, but the phone number was restricted. Somehow you knew it was Tony, reaching out and failing.
You wonder if you are both failing each other, in your own ways.
You think too much about failure these days, when everything is thriving and your son is healthy and doing well, when the thing that haunts your mind is a patient you don’t even see anymore.
Your world changed when Anthony Soprano walked through your door. Once you remarked, I never knew what RICO stood for, and he just gave you a small smile. It was unspoken, how much you knew, how you respected his privacy, never quite sure how much you wanted to hear anyway.
There were things you told Elliot, and Richard, in those early days, but slowly you learned to simply accept their disapproval, their concern. There are things they can’t understand, things even you don’t fully comprehend and when you talked to Elliot it was about other patients, the way you can’t sleep at night. Trazedone was the drug he gave you, non-addictive and easy, normal white tablets. You prescribed it for many of your own patients.
And unspoken, the way you recognize all the symptoms of depression in yourself, that you consider writing yourself an illegal prescription. You’d never ask Elliot, even if you knew it was right.
You’re a waste of his time, these days, your sessions filled with half-truths, but you’ve been on the other side long enough to know there’s something in everything you choose to say. And so you go, and so you take your pills, and so you wake up every morning and get dressed, and once a week you see Elliot and you tell him things about your life.
It always fills the hour. You always have plenty of things to talk about. Even with your vow of silence.
You walk into your office, Dr. Jennifer Melfi in gold on your door. You never booked a patient for Anthony’s appointment time, keeping that window of Tuesday open. You always hope you’ll hear a knock during that hour, but you never do, and so you find yourself sitting in your chair, legs crossed, staring at nothing at all.
Once, when you were in med school, you held a scalpel in your hand and felt an overwhelming sense of power. Life and death between your hand and the shiny silver scalpel. You knew your place was psychiatry, but this was med school and there were rotations. And in the palm of your hand was an instrument of God, and on the table someone, some body asking, pleading, for help.
You almost threw up. Someone said, Jennifer, and touched your arm and you realized you knew what to do. You sliced carefully. You kept your hands steady. And you had never felt so powerful before, a rush to your heart, your brain. Epinephrine, you told yourself. Remember to breathe. You had already decided, but you could see how this could become addicting. Power corrupts, you told yourself. But you have power, don’t you, over people like Gloria, over people like Tony. You wield it the best you know how but you don’t have a scalpel in your hand to help you find the way.
He’ll either come back, or die. This is something you know deep inside, in the place that tells you everything you don’t want to hear.
You want him back. You even want him back angry, turning his frustration on you, breaking your coffee table; you want to see him before you and know that he is okay, that he is alive, that he is breathing. You know you’ll continue to check the obituaries, habit after Anthony, habit after Gloria, but there’s never anything there that surprises you.
Your patients include someone who is afraid of dogs, someone who refuses to admit she has diabetes and so doesn’t take any medication, someone who can’t look himself in the mirror. There are more. You never take notes while your patients talk, your brain filing information away on its own. Notes later in slim files. Patients are distinct with their own histories and problems, and you are nothing if not a good psychiatrist, but outside the office they all bleed into one, and you wonder what you are doing these days.
You wonder if this is how the rest of your life will go, trying to save people from themselves, struggling to save yourself from your own mind. You wonder if you’ll ever take another patient on during Anthony’s time slot. You wonder, masturbating on your couch, about Tony and Carmella, if you’ll ever see him again, what you would do if you did.
You wonder what is wrong with you, and your heavy breathing relaxes. You get into the shower and try to wash him away with your sweat and grime, with your wrong thoughts and fears.
You wonder if life will ever return to what you thought was normal.
There is no normal, the psychiatrist in your head says, and you laugh. Rest your forehead against the tile and think, from the right perspective, everything is a failure.