The Profundity of Madness
By Robert Edward Levin
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My name is Hubbell Webster... although I've been known to answer to Hub or Dr. Web. This, of course, depends on the mouth calling and the situation beckoning, but for the most part either one will get my attention. Keeping my attention, now that's another story altogether. It seems I've been blessed with a high aptitude; high enough to graduate first in my class at Cambridge Medical School, only to go on and become a psychiatrist, or, as my esteemed colleagues are so fond of saying to anyone mindless enough to pay attention to them, a generously gifted, albeit strange psychiatrist.
Strange psychiatrist? An intriguing play on words, wouldn't you agree? In fact, it might just give new meaning to the term, symmetry - synonymously speaking, of course.
Granted, I have a fondness for sarcasm. And perhaps I'm a bit strange as well. However, it's not as though I'm an abstract painting in a watercolor world. If anything I'm just a lead-pencil doodle who tends to get bored easily.
Let's face it, how many schizophrenics and manic-depressives can you talk to? Indeed, many people find that sort of thing interesting and I guess for a time I did as well. But my god! There are only so many black holes you can dive into before they all start to look the same. Black. Certainly, to condense every one of my patient's problems into the same hermetically sealed jar of psychobabble is wrong. But like I said, I tend to get bored easily.
Besides, why spend time trying to decipher the inner workings of... shall we say... the clinically erratic, when the attendant insurance company is merely going to excrete a mind-numbing, thought provoking, "Hmmmm," before prescribing a hocus-pocus doctor with a pocketful of cheese-whiz pills?
Yes, well, oddly enough that ghastly approach to treatment has worked wonders for those restless, rambunctious and recalcitrant souls looking to spend a bit more time on autopilot. But it does little more than alter the toxicity levels of those looking to ascend from the hellish depths of true madness. That aside, however, why should I be above the, take two of these every four hours for the rest of your life, approach to medicine, when to do so is to give up afternoon tee-times with drug reps and insurance company execs?
Truth is, since I've never understood the obsession with chasing little white dimpled balls around a sculpted cow patch, the question is hypothetical at best. Nevertheless, I have played golf. Once. I made it all the way to the sixth hole, a par three I believe it was, only to discover that the game would be far more interesting if played in the image of polo. So - I saddled up my golf cart, grabbed my putter-shaped-mallet and away I went. Unfortunately my enthusiasm for implementing such a unique approach to the game was not shared by others and I was promptly asked to remove myself from the premises. Forever.
Of course, it's not the first time my conduct has dismayed the innocent. In fact, I've been in a situation or two... okay, maybe a situation or fifty, when my behavior has been probed, prodded, and even disemboweled, when I was hardly aware that I had even stepped on the taintless toe of another, let alone disrupted their snug like a bug in a rug little world. But you see? One need only be labeled for such perceived misdeeds before the perception becomes the truth. And, upon that inevitable occurrence the veracity, though forever contaminated by whimsical storytelling and self-serving exaggeration, is absolute.
Take that particular summer evening when I was invited to speak at a black-tie affair on the deviant element in society. Since I've always been of the learned opinion that no educated society can actually exist without deviants (for are they not the very reason we pass laws, without which, every last one of us might well fall prey to such behavior?), I found the subject matter rather blasť. Yet, when asked by a well dressed gentleman in the front row if I believed most deviant behavior was confined to the have-nots of the world, and after responding, ever so politely, I might add, "only if stupidity is confined to the haves," I felt quite the opposite, as an inspiring sense of amusement pulled hard at my sleeve - culminating in a sudden and rousing desire to moon the audience; surmising, as my ample derriere smiled at the face of the crowd, that such action would be viewed as deviant behavior confined to a prodigiously stupid, but fairly well-to-do have. Unfortunately I was not able to discern if the audience found any cracks in the theory of my presentation because I was unceremoniously whisked off the stage.
Yet, like most good tales, this lovely little adventure did not begin to evolve until such time as it began to degenerate. Specifically, by week's end there were widespread stories that before I was so brusquely escorted away, I doused the audience with the primal rumblings of some well-placed flatulence. False to be sure, but, when coupled with a handful of other purported misdeeds, a good ol' fashioned perception was created - one that has since trailed me like a foul odor.
Of course, it all goes back to the premise that I get bored easily; an excuse, that given its puerile implications, is often perceived as short on substance. Nevertheless, it is the truth. How else, in fact, could I possibly explain, with head held high, mind you, the circumstances surrounding the first of my three arrests?
It was a splendid spring day. I, however, was stuck inside the university teaching one of my four weekly classes. I had one eye on a window, where outside I bore witness to the frolic of campus life, and one eye on a student who decided to ask me if the inalienable rights of man call for self-rule, what is it about man's psyche that compels him to exercise his dominion over all other living creatures?
In as much as the question was not only a formidable consequence of absurdity, but a wayward departure from what had been the subject matter as well, I felt no obligation to articulate an answer, be it a sagaciously crafted, long winded soliloquy or a judicious recitation of the obvious.
Nevertheless, when I gazed out the window again, and much to my delight saw a campus security guard lumber inside a neighboring building (while his trusted horse remained tied to a tree), it was the very obvious I could no longer ignore. As a result, I turned to my intellectually challenged student, and asked, "Mr. Beezer, why do the dean and his merry band of regents employ the use of horses to help overweight security guards patrol a small, peaceful school like ours?"
Rather than wait for what likely would have been an inane response, I let the question linger, while I, in turn, made haste for the outdoors, where I freed the animal and climbed aboard. Yet, before embarking on a ride into the great unknown, I directed the glorious creature over to the flowerbeds beneath my second-story classroom, scanned the puzzled faces of the students looking at me through open windows, and proudly declared, "Because they can, Mr. Beezer! Just like I can!"
As for the ride itself? Well, now, let me assure you it was a most splendid experience, for it took me back to the summers of my youth, which, unfortunately ended when I turned sixteen - the year I began my freshman stay at college. (You'll recall that I was blessed, or, cursed as the case may be, with more than my fair share of aptitude). Nevertheless, I had the grand fortune of spending many a wonderful summer on my grandfather's farm, just outside of Chesterfield, New England.
My mother and father, decent souls though they were, often bemoaned, what they called, "Their inability to make contact with me." They found my energy level exacerbating, my interest in discussing politics at the ripe young age of ten, mysteriously curious, and my social skills a cross between Blackbeard the Pirate and Cyrano de Bergerac. Yet, those were some of the very same qualities that reaped my grandfather's attention. "The lad just needs some elbow room, that's all," he would tell my mother. "Give him some space to find himself, and find himself he will."
Unfortunately, I don't think my grandfather ever realized that in my case, finding myself was oft times the beginning to losing myself again, for I have been nothing in my life if not the mouth and morsel of my own food chain.
Nevertheless, my days on the farm were quite memorable. I would awaken each morning at the crack of dawn, throw myself at whatever hearty chore beckoned, although I must admit, milking cows never grabbed me near as much as it most certainly grabbed the cows, and then spend the rest of the day either working or exploring the wilds of the twenty-five hundred acres my grandfather spent a lifetime accumulating. Evenings, on the other hand, were tranquil by comparison, as the sweat of summer fun and toil was replaced by tall tales and wistful moments alongside the crackling flames of majestic bonfires.
Peculiar though it may sound, it was during this time when I began to understand the struggle of life outside of the books I had read; be it an animal fighting to stave off predatory savagery, a crop suffocating via the inclement hands of nature, a farmhand breaking his back to feed a wife and child, or, my grandfather growing older, yet constantly finding the strength to endure the tremendous responsibility he felt for the continued survival of them all.
It was also during this time when I first realized that my grandfather possessed a fondness for me like no one before, and I dare say, no one since. Interestingly enough, I did not reach this conclusion because I was showered with unnecessary affection or infused with unworthy praise, measures, that in the seasons of a boy's life I consider marginally beneficial, at best. My reasoning boils down to the simple premise that my grandfather made every conceivable effort to accept and understand that which my parents so freely dismissed as, my unorthodox composition, an undertaking, perhaps, without boundary, an objective, heartfelt, yet arguably futile.
Suffice it to say it was a very sad day when my grandfather died. Although strangely enough, I experienced a greater sense of loss when my mother and father sold his property, for on that long, dreary afternoon it was as if my grandfather's spirit was vaporized right before my very eyes. From then on, all communication with my parents was necessity driven. I was in the midst of college life and they... they were in the midst of plowing through my grandfather's hard earned money. Fortunately, grandfather made it impossible for them to squander it all, as I was left with one-half of his estate, money I've since used to repurchase various parcels of his once proud and seductive land.
At this juncture I suppose it also bears mentioning that grandfather possessed a unique fondness for reading The Classics, as well as breeding quarter horses. Ergo my extensive library at home, as well as my equestrian savvy, which, when I borrowed the campus security guard's horse, came back to me, as they say... lickety-split.
Fulton University was known, among other things, as having an exceptional psychology department and the longest pedestrian bridge in the eastern part of the country. I didn't care all that much about the psychology department, other than, I suppose, using it as a springboard to publish a host of articles and treatises in the various medical books and journals that deemed them worthy - but the bridge? My lord, on a spring day, with the hemlock and fir in glorious bloom, the wind subtle, and the roar of the river announcing that it is finally free of the confining embrace of winter, it is a fine place to run an animal. Not because of the bridge, mind you - because once across it there are rolling green hills that seemingly go on forever.
Of course, forever comes to an end rather quickly when the police are waiting for you... as they were for me shortly after the horse and I galloped our way over.
Fortunately, the university did not press charges, not that I actually thought they would. In fact, my only punishment, beyond getting handcuffed and having to spend a couple of hours in the backseat of a patrol car, came in the form of a monotonous discussion with a longwinded, though fairly amused dean. Unfortunately, my wife did not share in the merriment, inclined, instead, to describe the situation as just another revealing episode of my arrogant eccentricity, a concept she favored when she was in an agreeable mood. Similar, I suppose, to those instances when she would depict my behavior as confusing - not embarrassing, improper - not irrational, misunderstood - not delusional
- characterizations that frankly, I never paid all that much attention to.
I do not wish to imply that I did not care about and love my wife, however. I did... a couple of years back. She was a beautiful woman too, with radiant blue eyes, dark, finger-tussled hair that barely covered her slender shoulders, and skin as soft and smooth as a warm summer day.
In fact, we met on a warm summer day. I was riding my unicycle, which can be mighty interesting when you're casually flipping through the pages of a book, and she was walking toward me eating an ice cream cone. I thought little of the situation, and certainly never contemplated losing my balance, for riding unicycles was just like walking on my hands, another skill that I had become quite proficient at over the years, and yet, that is precisely what happened. I fell... rather, I crashed... into her. Neither of us was physically hurt, but I must admit, I felt more than a tad foolish because I ended up wearing the ice cream cone on my chin. That's correct, in the process of bumbling, stumbling, and tumbling over, Christina landed on me, I landed on the grass, and her ice cream cone came to rest on my chin, which, I don't mind telling you, turned into quite the sticky situation, what with the way it was melting down my throat and neck. Nevertheless, I managed to wink and, with a twisted smile strapped firmly in place, said, "If I don't take a shower for a couple of days my skin, particularly the area encompassing my chin, gets really oily and these strange looking things start growing out of it."
Well that did it, because no sooner did my light-hearted sarcasm take a spin through the air when she started to laugh, long and hard. I joined her, of course. I also joined her for dinner that night... as well as breakfast the following morning. In fact, it was during one of those many wonderful mornings when, after watching the sun break through the window only to dance upon her as though she were an angel of light, I finally admitted to myself what had to be so glaring to the rest of the free world - my face and body were no match for hers. How then... why then was she attracted to me? It was a question that jumped from my tongue the instant I jumped out of my bed.
"Because," she said, as though she had long anticipated the question, "in addition to the gentlest touch I've ever experienced and the softest, saddest pair of eyes I've ever looked into, you have a truly exquisite mind."
I do not know if I still possess a gentle touch, and I'm uncertain if my eyes remain a soft reflection of sad, but my truly exquisite mind did not last very long. In other words, a few years after we were married my escapades stretched far beyond Christina's comfort level. I do not believe there was any one event that caused this unfortunate circumstance. I did, however, first notice a change in my wife's behavior the night I spoke at Delaware Institute, the city's only private high school.
The students were fighting the imposition of a dress code and the school board president, Dr. Richard Samuel, a man I had come to know fairly well over the years, asked me to address all interested parties on what he described as, "The psychology underlying the mandate."
"Why me, Richard?" I asked. "I don't even believe in dress codes."
"I never assumed you did, Hub. But then, anyone who knows you knows of your tendency to test the waters... if you know what I mean?"
"Yes, I've heard those rumors," I replied, tongue-in-cheek. "Still, why do you think that what I have to say will carry your intended impact?"
"Because, Hub, those very rumors have made you a local celebrity of sorts."
"So who better to speak on the dangers of fire than a popular fire victim?"
"But I don't consider myself a victim, Richard."
"Nor should you, Hub. But the kids don't know that. The only thing they'll know is that you, a man who has been known to dance to the beat of his drum, believe in the importance of structure and organization. So what do you say, you ready to pack the house?"
"I say rubbish, but if it means getting off the phone with you then fine. I'll do it. But you owe me one."
It turns out that my good friend the doctor was correct because every seat in every row of the auditorium was taken, leaving those without to clamor for a spot along the back wall. Thankfully, my speech didn't disappoint anyone. On the contrary, I received a long and thunderous standing ovation, particularly from the school board members, the faculty and the parents.
So why, you ask, did my wife's behavior begin to change that night? Simple, because once I finished my lecture and walked out from behind the podium, I took off the overcoat I was wearing and stood before the audience in nothing more than my shoes, socks, shirt, tie... and... whoop-dee-do, my boxer shorts; an ironic display of dress in light of my inspiring lecture on the importance of dress codes... wouldn't you say?
And therein lies the problem - Christina didn't say. Not about the lecture, the inflamed article in the local newspaper the following morning, or that I was asked to remove myself from consideration for the deanship of the psychology department at the university, a post I only mildly entertained because she implored me to. Rather, for the next few months Christina went about her business as though nothing had happened at all. At the time I just assumed she was either too preoccupied with motherhood, as we were the joyful parents of a lovely four-year-old girl named, Rita, or, simply found the entire matter too trivial to be bothered with. It never occurred to me that she suddenly viewed me as a dangerously troubled man. In fact, it was only after I took part in a debate concerning gay rights that I first realized the depths of her newfound opinion.
And no I am not gay. Nor have I ever been. I merely took part in a verbal jousting because an egregious crime against humanity had been committed.
On a harsh winter morning a young, local boy of fourteen had been found hanging from a tree. He had been beaten and stabbed... and oh yes, his penis had been cut off. A nomadic group of Hitler youths had been charged with the crime, but rather than admit their obvious and senseless guilt, they brought in one of their own, a lawyer who's name was Randolph Watkins, and whose appearance was that of a storm trooper. Not only did he promptly and proudly declare his clients' innocence, he petitioned, and won, the right to assemble on the courthouse steps to debate any man or woman on, what he termed, "The impurity in today's America."
It was an offer I could not resist. Nor, after thrashing this genetically flawed worm of an individual with facts, figures and, if I do say so myself, stunning brilliance, could I resist taking a swing (or two), at him. So I did, to the approving roar of the many people who had gathered in attendance.
Unfortunately, the legal system saw it differently. You see, I was wearing makeup and a dress. I was also carrying a purse, which is what I used to smack Randolph Watkins with. I was not dressed this way to cause a disturbance or diminish the severity of the issues at hand. On the contrary, I simply wanted Mr. Watkins to be publicly humiliated by the very type of individual he was seeking to condemn. Yet, I was the one humiliated as I was arrested for disturbing the peace and assault and battery - charges that saw me spend a night in jail, only to stand in open court the following day (in full dress regalia, including purse), and have a female judge tell me, after so graciously handing me a two year probationary period, that I was making a mockery of women everywhere.
As for my wife... she didn't view my actions as a mockery toward women anymore than she viewed them an effective approach to shedding new light on an old problem. Instead, Christina determined my methods to be those of a man whose existence is dependent solely upon the evolving absurdity of the very situations he incites. "Worst of all," she insisted, "you won't stop until there's no way out - until you're dead, locked up in jail, or locked away inside your own childish insanity. And you know why? Because you have a void that cannot be filled. You just don't know it, that's your problem."
Of course I responded by telling my wife there is no such thing as childish insanity, to which she promptly countered, "Don't pull that psychiatry crap with me. You're a child and you're insane. So as far as I'm concerned you suffer from childish insanity."
Yes, well, I never thought of myself as a child, and I've certainly never thought of myself as insane. True, I've had occasion to question some of my exploits, but only when the relevant situation turned out differently than what I might have anticipated, not because my efforts were impelled by some misguided silliness or some maddening disease of the mind.
Nevertheless, according to Christina my troubling behavior was seriously threatening our marriage.
I didn't respond right then, languishing instead over the notion that those episodic adventures which first attracted my wife to, what she called my, "truly exquisite mind," were now doing just the opposite. What changed, I wondered? And did it matter? Of the former I can only guess time, space and the tolerance between. Of the latter, my god, with a beautiful daughter I so dearly loved and cherished - yes, yes, yes, it mattered! Like oxygen, it mattered! Therefore, I had but one choice... to do as Christina insisted and make an appointment with Dr. Sherman Wilkes, a twice-divorced marriage counselor.
I know, a twice-divorced marriage counselor sounds utterly ridiculous to me as well, but, since he was rumored to be a brilliant savior, this, according to Christina's pretentious group of nosy friends, and, since perception is nine/tenths of the law, this, according to me, what could I do, but go? So I did. Actually we, Christina and I, both went to see this fine, upstanding doctor. Quite a handsome gent to be sure. A finely tailored face, he sported a perfectly even tan, possessed a flowing crop of black hair (tinted gray at the temples of course), spoke in soft, eloquent tones, and apparently enjoyed smiling, for both his green eyes and white teeth sparkled quite often.
Interestingly enough, I'm not sure what he found so amusing. I suppose he could have been entertained by a few of my escapades, although Christina never told a story that wasn't laced with a solid dose of the humdrum, especially when she retraced every infinitesimal detail just to underscore her correct point of view. Therefore my reasoning was a fragile assumption at best. Of course, as long as I was committed to pacifying, what I sincerely believed to be my wife's well intentioned, but misguided course-of-action, what difference did his reason for smiling really make?
None - although, strangely enough I had a deep-seated desire to know. As such, the moment Christina was excused from our session, the good doctor having determined that it would be better if he and I spoke alone, I said, "Dr. Wilkes, I certainly don't mean to interrupt your train of thought - heaven knows, I have my fair share of interruptions - but I'm curious about something?"
"Yes, what is it Dr. Webster? How can I help you?" He returned, the question basking in the glow of his ever-present smile.
"Well, since I don't wish to envision myself, or my situation as a basis for your comic relief, I must know... why in god's name are you constantly smiling?"
Dr. Wilkes fidgeted in his seat for a couple of moments before telling me that his condition, though not intentional, was the result of a facelift gone astray.
"Interesting," I said, smiling myself at the prospect of getting a little too much nip and tuck with your nip and tuck.
Dr. Wilkes shrugged. I don't know, I've thought about having them fix it, but..."
Dr. Wilkes grabbed hold of the mirror on his desk, filled it with a lingering starry-eyed gaze, and then said, "I have a really nice smile. I mean a really, really nice smile. I find that it helps brighten people's moods, which is worth its weight in gold because moods can get pretty bleak around here. It's one of the many tools I use. Another happens to be my hands. Look at them, they're beautifully manicured. And boy, are they soft. So soft, in fact, I have couples hold them in their own hands - you know to get a sense of the very warmth they're looking for from each other. And if that doesn't work, though it seldom fails, I hug my patients. First the women so they get an accurate feel for what it's like to be held by a strong pair of arms, and then the men, so they get an accurate understanding of how it feels to the woman."
"You don't say?"
"Ah, but I do say. And if none of that works, well then, let's just say I've been known to teach the men about stroking their wives. Their hair, their arms... you get the idea, don't you?"
"Wonderful techniques, doctor, wonderful techniques," I said, the acerbity in my voice humming at full throttle.
"Would you like me to show you? I could..."
"No, no, that's fine. I understand everything perfectly."
"Okay, but that's not all of it, Dr. Webster."
"You're kidding, there's more?" I asked, tossing my hands to my cheeks.
"Yes, when all else fails, I instruct my clients on the importance of helping their partners release pressure. I show them various points on the body, the underside of the foot, the nape of the neck, the lower part of the back. Massaging, squeezing, all of it designed to release pressure, all of it to help them get in touch with one another. You sure you don't want me to demonstrate. I can just..."
"No, no, like I said, I'm perfectly fine. A demonstration, in fact, might just be more than I can bear right now."
"Perhaps, perhaps not. Either way you can visualize just how extensive the benefits might be, can't you?"
"Oh absolutely, absolutely," I replied, as I got up from my chair and headed for the door. "Not only that, I can also see, I mean really, really see why you have a reputation as a brilliant savior."
"What do you mean?" Dr. Wilkes asked.
"Well, quite frankly, I mean so long, goodbye, and toodaloo."
Convinced that my inappropriate behavior was the underlying reason we were no longer welcome at the office of Dr. Sherman Wilkes, marriage counselor extraordinaire, Christina returned to her silence. In fact, beyond obligatory discussions concerning our daughter, Rita, she did not speak to me for several days on end. It was a difficult time too, as I suddenly found myself trapped between what was quickly becoming Christina's emotional sterility, and my own deeply rooted sense of self. Would I... could I ever live my life with the same carefree wisdom that somehow brought me this far? Or, was the possibility of everyday life without the face of my daughter to look at as genuine as Christina wanted me to believe? Questions I did not wish to answer...which, of course, was the answer itself. I would delay this confrontation as long as I could by agreeing to see another marriage counselor.
Christina did not warm to the idea, however, until I once again acquiesced to her choice of doctor.
Stewart Baines, a marriage counselor never-before-married (a strange concept to fathom, I readily admit), was a sturdy looking fellow. Not necessarily large, but between his square jaw and broad shoulders he filled his chair quite differently than the slightly built Sherman Wilkes. He also sported a small scar just under the creases of his right eye, which, when coupled with his lightly whiskered face, lead me to believe that he had no immediate plans to become a poster boy for cosmetic surgery. The combination did, however, give him a ruggedly handsome look, an appearance furthered strengthened by his deliberate, but raspy speech.
Dr. Baines did share one ingredient with Sherman Wilkes, however. They both preferred meeting with Christina and I together, as well as the two of us individually. Was it an effective method of practice? Who can say? More importantly why did Dr. Baines feel the need to solicit my approval on the matter? Even when I suggested my uncertainty he pressed on, telling me that until such time as I was convinced, he would be unable to assist Christina and me in our efforts to resuscitate our marital bond.
Splendid, I thought. Exorcise the patient's freedom of thought. Coerce blind allegiance under a guise of futility. Introduce the fragility of a crumbling marriage to the rigidity of programmed treatment. Make them listen, make them listen, make them listen! Never change, never change, never change! You are right, you are right, you are right! They will improve, they will improve, they will improve! Never change, never change, never change!
Yes, well, far be it from me to express my real concerns, especially since my exceedingly cautious wife was convinced before she even walked through the door. Alas, what's a confused husband to do when the only clarity in his life is his love for the child born to him by the woman sitting to his left?
And so began our weekly sessions with Dr. Stewart Baines. Sessions that belittled my wayward style of dress as just another means to garner attention - sessions that determined my reckless behavior to be little more than my inability to harness, or, at a minimum, channel my brazen energy - sessions that sought to explore every intimate detail of the once divine sex life I shared with my wife, Christina - sessions that some three months after they began, Dr. Baines abruptly announced would end. "Your continued reluctance to embrace personal change has handcuffed us all," he declared. "It's not fair to your marriage, to your wife, or, for that matter, to me. Frankly, Dr. Webster, you and your obstinacy need something besides me - a psychiatrist, perhaps... one other than yourself. And should you get help at some point and want to try this again, let me know and we'll see. Until that day, however, I can no longer be of service."
So there I was, out in the proverbial cold once again. In fact, had it not been for my daughter Rita, my lovely Rita, I would have felt like an aimless shadow in my own house, for my wife, Christina, "repulsed at the very thought of me, sickened by the very sight of me," withdrew into a world of her own. A world defined by the haughty sparkle of a social calendar, the cavalier nurturing of a suddenly inconvenient child, and the cold, calloused walls of a separate bedroom. Yes, I was indeed deeply saddened by the poignant turn of events. I was not, however, so despondent that I failed to recognize the wonderful gifts that my little girl bestowed upon me - hope, meaning, and, perhaps for the first time in my life, a lucid perception of myself.
Rita gave me something else, as well; a playful companion to stroll the sandy beaches along the Atlantic (where we spent many a Sunday morning chasing seagulls and building sandcastles), the boutiques along Mill Avenue (where, after frolicking in the dew laden countryside of my late grandfather, we would often stop for ice cream), and the apple orchards north of Hastings (a personal favorite because I found great pleasure in watching my daughter fumble around in her efforts to extract apples from trees).
Yet, in all our splendid time together, there is perhaps one single moment that I shall forever cherish. It was the day I gave Rita a pony for her fifth birthday. Her mother, as had been the norm for almost a year, preferred to mingle with friends rather than celebrate something besides herself - an afternoon of superfluous shopping, a weekend of pamper and frivolous travel, a cocktail party, a dinner party... anywhere I wasn't invited and a dress code was employed. Of course, I, in turn, could not have been happier, for Christina's recurring absence gave me more uninterrupted time with Rita than I could have ever hoped for.
In truth, my plan did not call for the purchase of a pony. However, in light of my marital strife, the catalyst for what had become a continuing effort on my part to take stock of my life, I deemed it necessary to embrace my past. Most notably the summers spent on my grandfather's farm, for aside from the time spent with my daughter, they represented, unequivocally, the most gratifying times in my life. So yes, when I first saw the pony I was instantly reminded of the day my grandfather walked me inside his corral, his leathery palm gently squeezing the back of my neck, where, not twenty yards away, stood a magnificent looking animal. Snowy white mane atop rich black skin, his head bounced up and down, as though greeting my presence. And then, in a flash, he broke to his right, darted effortlessly to his left, and then broke back the other way, where he came to an abrupt stop, looked at me, and bounced his head once more.
"What do you want to call him?" My grandfather asked.
"I don't know, what do you?" I countered.
"Well," grandfather announced, "since it's your horse, you get to choose."
That may very well have been the first time in my life where I was left speechless. In fact, beyond hugging my grandfather with all the strength I could possibly muster, I stood in wondrous disbelief, graced by the spirit of both a beautiful animal, and the beautiful man who gave him to me.
For what it's worth, I named my horse, Sequoia, in honor of a great Cherokee scholar that I had read about as a child. More importantly, I named my daughter, Rita, in honor of my grandfather, Rennie, an exquisite man, who, to this day, I still think about. And as I watched my daughter marvel at the splendor of her new pony, I saw the likeness of his face in hers and my eyes grew moist. Of course, as soon as Rita leapt into my arms and told me how much she loved me, the tears I had been able to contain broke free.
Yes, well, it was several months before I heard my daughter speak those lovely words again, for less than a week after Rita and I celebrated her birthday, I returned home one night to complete emptiness... save for an old card table, a twin bed from one of the two guest bedrooms, a handful of chinaware, and my books (thankfully). Much to my dismay, my wife, you see, had not spent all her time gallivanting from one trivial happening to the next as I had so mistakenly believed. On the contrary, according to the letter she left for me on my new dining-room table, she had been setting up house... with Dr. Stewart Baines, no less. Christina further mentioned that she had filed for divorce, this, the result of my potentially dangerous transgressions, was planning to seek full custody of our daughter, this, the result of my potentially dangerous transgressions, and, had removed the vast majority of our joint savings, this (although she didn't say), the result of her wanton greed.
Nevertheless, I had the value of my grandfather's estate to depend on... and that is precisely what I did in order to hire the finest lawyer I could find. Yet, and notwithstanding the simple premise that I was truly distraught by the chilling turn of events, I did not desire reconciliation with my wife. Nor was I concerned about the household furniture, the money, or that she was living with Dr. Stewart Baines, circumstances that her lawyer said had everything to do with fear and absolutely nothing to do with a desire to cohabitate. (And I, of course, fell out of a tree and landed on my head at an early age).
That said, my one and only desire was to regain custody of Rita. As a result, I instructed my attorney, Mr. William Stark, of Stark, Chalmers and Stark, to do everything in his power to see the situation through. "No matter the cost, I do not want my daughter exposed to the baseless virtues of her mother anymore than I want her living under the same roof with that unethical and shameless bastard of a man."
"I'll do everything I can," Mr. Stark assured me.
Yes, well assurances aside, my case was unfortunately assigned to Judge Wilma Stevens, the same obtuse judge who put me on probation for assaulting that insidious Nazi lawyer after I battered him in what turned out to be an unrewarding debate on the courthouse steps. At any rate, she did not find my transgressions to be potentially dangerous. She did, however, find that I was not a suitable candidate for custodial parent, reducing my parental stake to visitation rights - once a week and every other weekend to be exact.
I was incredulous, to say the least. In fact, I sprang from my seat and demanded an answer. "How is that possible... how?" I fumed. "Is your mindset so predisposed that you're oblivious to the unscrupulous shenanigans of my pitiful wife and her lover... a man who I dare say will be brought before the medical ethics committee by the time I'm finished?"
Judge Stevens simply exhaled her pompous attitude, and said, "It's your personal history, Dr. Webster, nothing more."
Suffice it to say, after appealing the judge's ruling, to no avail, mind you, I was left with little choice but to make the very most of the short time Rita and I were allowed to spend together. Yet, we picked up right where we left off... chasing seagulls, picking apples, and, by all means, visiting with her pony, who, as I explained to my little girl, would be moving to a new stall just as soon as construction was completed. Shortly after the divorce, you see, I decided to build a country-style home on a beautiful two-hundred-fifty acre parcel of land that once belonged to my grandfather - land, you may recall, that I repurchased out of proceeds from his estate. Over the last several years I had actually been able to repurchase close to six hundred acres. Yet, not all the land was contiguous. Therefore, I chose the parcel most compatible for horses. And while it would be many months before the entire project was finished, upon completion there would a generous size home, a corral large enough to accommodate three to four dozen horses, a riding stable for Rita to learn proper technique, and, most importantly, enough wide open space to run, as they say... lickety-split.
Sadly enough, a single phone call from Christina brought my grand venture to a screeching halt.
"It's all your fault!" She screamed, the moment I put the receiver to my ear. "All your fault! If you hadn't gone after Stew, none of this would have happened!"
"Calm down, calm down," I implored. "I don't even know what you're talking about. What's happened?"
"Rita, she's been hurt."
"Hurt, what do you mean hurt? When? How bad?"
"She's in the hospital," Christina replied between sobs. "And it's your fault."
"What happened, damn-it? What happened?" I asked, my body trembling beyond measure.
"The malpractice grievance you filed against Stew. The medical board acted on it. They've suspended his license."
"Christina, I'm going to ask you one more time," I stated, the words barely able to escape my clenched teeth. "And if you don't answer me then so help me god I'm going to come over there and ring it out of you. Now, what happened to my daughter?"
Christina sighed before responding, "Stew beat her up. He was mad because of what you did."
"He did what?" I roared. "Where is he? Tell me where he is!"
"He left the house, I don't know where. And I'm still at the hospital so I don't know if he's gone back home."
"What about Rita, how is she?" I asked, my fury all but overwhelming my ability to hold still for an answer.
Christina sighed again. "The doctor said she's going to be fine. But..."
"But what?" I bellowed.
"She's suffered a broken arm. And her face..."
"What about her face, Christina? What about her face?"
Christina did not reply, and I no longer cared if she did. At that moment I only had room for two glaring thoughts: The welfare of my daughter, and the deranged man who jeopardized it.
As it turned out, Stewart Baines did indeed return home that evening, where, upon opening his front door, I unleashed a rage I never knew I possessed. I've often heard it referred to as father's rage. Still, having never studied the subject matter I cannot say with any degree of authority. What I can say, however, is that I pummeled Stewart Baines until both his arms were broken and his rugged good looks were reduced to an unrecognizable pool of red.
Of course, that is merely the beginning of the story's end. Stewart Baines, you see, in addition to losing his medical license for six long and arduous months, was handed a whopping one year prison term. According to the illustrious Judge Wilma Stevens, (oh yes, between my divorce and previous probation she retained jurisdiction over my person), punishment was minimized because, in addition to having a perfectly clean record Stewart Baines owned a reputation as an exemplary citizen of the community - which, in the predictable scheme of things, meant that he would soon be the proud owner of freedom... as he was paroled some five months later.
I, on the other hand, was not the recipient of such propitious treatment. On the contrary, after I stood in open court (having been charged with breaking the terms of said probation, as well as intent to commit bodily harm), and shamelessly admitted the barbaric facts, Judge Stevens said, "Your personal history, Dr. Webster, your strange behavior, it's all such a shame. From everything I've either heard or read, you've shown flashes of absolute brilliance, but brilliance is no excuse for behavior that is so unpredictable, so scurrilous. Quite frankly, I'm afraid you're capable of hurting someone else... perhaps even yourself. Therefore, I have no choice but to confine to Valley View Mental Institution until I'm properly convinced you're no longer a danger to anyone."
And there you have it... at the drop of a hollow gavel the sum total of my existence reduced to observation and speculation, deductive reasoning and estimation, interrogation and cerebration, inkblots... and if I'm lucky all the turkey hash I can gobble down, at the one... the only... venerable and vine-covered Valley View Mental Institution...
Where I remain to this day.
author: robert edward levin