The patient as mobile device
By Thaddeus Rutkowski
One good thing about being fired from my job was that I got three free therapy sessions as part of my severance.
I was distraught, no doubt about it, and I wanted to use my last perk. I wanted to speak to a professional, at no charge, about my personal crisis.
At first, I had a hard time finding a therapist. Maybe the therapists I called didn’t like the idea of giving free therapy sessions. Maybe they didn’t want to talk with losers, among whom I certainly belonged. But wasn’t that a therapist’s job, to work with losers?
I went to the only therapist who called me back. We met in her gloomy apartment, and she led me to a couch in her dark living room.
I began by describing my time at my ex-job. “I’d thought I’d be fired every day,” I said, “but I stayed for eighteen years.”
“You didn’t seem to like your job very much,” she said, “but you didn’t do anything about it,”
“I did a lot,” I said. “I had a double life.”
“You should celebrate that,” she said, “You should be happy about all the things you did in secret. You should be glad no one found out.”
She made a gesture to indicate victory, but it was hard to see her in the dim light.
The next time I saw her, I said, “You criticized me for working a job I didn’t like for eighteen years and not doing anything about it.”
“Do you think I was making a judgment?” she asked.
“You’re right,” she said. “I make judgments all the time. But the key is not to care what I think. That’s how you can grow.”
“What do you mean by ‘grow’?”
“See this phone?” she said, indicating the cell phone on a small table by her chair.
She picked up the phone and turned it so it was face-down. “That’s not growth,” she said. “That’s change.”
I understood that the phone could not develop or evolve. Only its position could be shifted. I was like a cell phone. I could only go from being right side up to being upside-down.
“Do you think I’m too old to grow?” I asked.
“You can have emotional growth until your last breath.”
I wanted to keep growing until I took my last breath. I wanted to leave the world that way. I would breathe my last and at the same time become more than an upside-down cell phone.
The third and last time I saw her, I said I liked the idea of growing at the moment I died.
“That’s what I’m offering,” she said.
“In three sessions?”
“Not in three sessions. You’d have to keep coming back.”
“For how long?”
“Until you die, of course.”
“But I don’t have insurance. My coverage stopped when I was canned.”
“I’ll let you stop coming,” she said, “but only if you give me a good reason.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t really have time. I have to look for work.”
“That’s not a good reason. The reason should be that you’ve achieved growth, that you’re more than a cell phone.” She flipped her phone over on the small table to emphasize her point.
I pictured myself living life without psychotherapy. I might change, but I wouldn’t grow. I’d be like that cell phone—on my back until someone turned me over. Then I’d be on my stomach.
I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life like a mobile device. What if someone needed to make an important call, and I wasn’t ready? There was only one thing I could hope for: growth when I took my last breath. When that moment came, I’d be home free.
“I’ll think about it,” I said, but I knew I wouldn’t.
“I’ve enjoyed talking with you,” she said.
She led me through her dark rooms to the exit door. I saw pieces of ill-defined furnishings—curtains, another couch, maybe a table—as I walked out.
Previously appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, June 9, 2016: https://flashfictionmagazine.com/?s=rutkowski
A Note About the Author: Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the books Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and the Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.