The doctor eyed him curiously as he entered the familiar office. “Good to see you again, Chase,” he said, removing his owlish, black-framed glasses and setting them, along with a folder, on the small table beside his chair. “I’ve been looking forward to catching up. How is your family doing?”
“They’re okay, I guess. I just found out Cindy’s been seeing a therapist, and Dad’s on a long trip so I’m not exactly sure how he’s doing.” He shook the offered hand when the man rose from his seat and stepped forward. “Thanks for seeing me on such short notice, Doc.”
“Fortunately for you, we had two cancellations this afternoon, thus the timing was advantageous. Go ahead and take your usual seat if you’d like. So, your sister’s in therapy, and you’re not sure how your father is coping?”
Chase shrugged. “Cindy’s doing well, I think, and Dad’s sent a couple of emails, but, who knows. He doesn’t say much.”
“Interesting. How about you? Tell me how you’re doing. You look a tad under the weather.”
Chase plopped down in the corner of the dark blue sofa and took a deep breath while Dr. Chorney returned to his high-backed, worn leather armchair. He’d always thought of it as the man’s throne. “I had a fever yesterday, but I’m fine now. Well, no, that’s wrong. I’m not fine at all, actually, which is why I’m here.
“I need help, Doc. I’ve made a mess of things with Hank, and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost him for good.” He leaned forward and buried his head in his hands, trying desperately not to fall apart. He focused on his breathing, aware the doctor was studying him. In through the nose, out through the mouth, in through the nose, out through the mouth….
“I see. There’s no hurry… continue when you can. Would you like some water?”
Chase shook his head and then slowly raised it, the battle won for the moment. “No thanks, I’m okay. I’m worried I’ll go into another depression, though, and that scares me. I spent the last three days in bed, and that’s how it started last time. I can’t do the hiding away thing again, and I can’t count on… I don’t have Hank to help me.”
“Then you’ve done the right thing in coming to see me. I’m not surprised you’re back here, to be honest. You weren’t able to open up, and I expected something had to give—and if you remember your previous visit, I expressed that concern.”
“I remember, and it turns out you were right.”
“Sometimes I do make sense,” he said with a smile. “What about anxiety—are you experiencing any?”
“Little blips, yeah, like just now. I had a panic attack last night, but I was able to put the brakes on it.”
“How did you manage that?”
“With the stuff you taught me… it worked.”
The doctor eyed him speculatively. “So, no pattern of attacks?”
“No, that was the first real one since before the last time I saw you, other than the occasional blips I mentioned. They don’t come out of the blue anymore, and I know why this one started.”
“And that was?”
“I was freaking out over Hank. He made it clear it was completely over between us… and… and that’s why.”
“Yet it didn’t take hold. That’s excellent!”
Momentarily buoyed by the doctor’s enthusiastic response, he found himself relaxing back into the sofa.
“Well, it sounds like you have a story to tell. So, talk to me—whatever pops into your mind—and take your time.” He finished up with a warm, coaxing smile Chase had seen many times before. It used to piss him off in the past, but it didn’t today.
He smiled back, but in truth, it probably resembled more of a grimace. Leaning forward, he began to speak, haltingly at first, and then the words came rushing out. To his own ears, he sounded pathetically frantic, but in reality, that’s what he was. At first he was all over the place, but Dr. Chorney was an easy man to talk to, so he soon settled down. He kept going until he got it all out, feeling drained but lighter by the time he was done. He didn’t have to wait long for the doctor to do his thing.
“Well, there’s certainly a lot going on with you, but I’m impressed with the conclusions you’ve reached. To do so when you are in the middle of a personal crisis makes me doubly so.”
“Really? So am I right? I was afraid to be happy?”
“Afraid? Well, fear masks many emotions. In this case, I have no doubt guilt is the basis for you doing something that was out of character. Engagements, and especially weddings, are powerful triggers. They are, for many of us—besides births—the epitome of a happy family event, and most often the biggest family celebration we can have.”
Chase nodded at this obvious truth.
“And in your case, your mother can’t be there. She doesn’t get to see her son marry.”
Sadness surged at the doctor’s blunt but true statements, and yet another light bulb flicked on. Chase’s thinking hadn’t progressed that far, so those few words helped clarify why he’d freaked out and ran from Hank’s proposal. It wasn’t just that he didn’t feel he had the right to be happy. His mom couldn’t be at their wedding.
“Oh, God. I get it now. Mom used to talk all the time about seeing me—and Cindy—get married. She loved to plan, and used to say things like Cindy should wear her hair up to show off her neck, and I should consider wearing royal blue for mine because of my coloring, and a suit over a tux, because blue suits looked better than blue tuxes. She was so good at… at stuff like that….” A familiar melancholy settled over him before more emotions reared their ugly heads, and he thought about how stupid he’d been not to have figured this out as well. “Fuck, I really screwed up.”
“And there’s the guilt talking, although now it may be more about Hank and what you did to him, rather than over your mother. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Chase nodded, too frustrated with himself to speak… but he was listening.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it’s not so easy to see clearly when you’re going through a process. You reacted to some deep-seated grief, and that’s not screwing up. It had to come out sooner or later, Chase. Your sister is right about what she called it. It is survivor’s guilt, and quite common with those left behind, particularly after a traumatic death. I expect your father would be working his way through some too… hence the sudden trip. It’s a classic response if you have the means.”
“Does it work?”
“Often, a change of scenery puts our lives into perspective because it removes us physically from a situation, and that allows emotions to sort themselves while we’re distracted by the new and unfamiliar. Anyway, back to you. You’re human, and you suffered the worst kind of loss through a long and draining ordeal, so go easy on yourself. Regardless of the why and the when, it was an important step to take in the process of letting go. It might not seem like it now, but trust me on this.”
“I should have stayed on my medication,” Chase muttered.
“Maybe, maybe not. You seem to be on the right track by coming here on your own, and you figured out the heart of the matter. To me, that means you are ready to face the guilt head on, and see it for what it is. Yes, it took a trigger, and now there are consequences to be dealt with, but there are benefits too.”
As he considered the doctor’s words, the clouds began to lift. “You mean I’m better?”
“With regards to your grief process, yes, I expect so, but that comes with a caution. It’s not to say you can’t slide back into depression, but I’m not seeing it as a major concern.”
“So, you don’t think I need to go back on the pills?”
Doctor Chorney gave him another of his patented speculative looks. “Do you want to?”
“God no, but if you think I should?”
“At some point, it’s something to consider if we feel it’s necessary, but for now, I don’t.”
“You seem disappointed.”
“I need help, Doc, so maybe it would be a good idea, just in case.”
“Ah… a tactic. Do you think being on medication will help your situation with Hank?”
“What? No! I just thought….”
“Continue please. Thought what, Chase?”
“I don’t know… that it might keep me from doing something stupid.”
“Being human is not stupid.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I know what you could mean, but I want you to rethink your reasoning. You did something that was unwise, yes, and it threatens your relationship, but you didn’t go through with it. You’ve convinced me you’d already made that decision, which means you didn’t cross over the threshold of being self-destructive. You ended up making a rational decision in the end.”
“Yes, but Hank doesn’t believe me. He thinks I slept with that guy.”
“That may be, but you know the truth, so how would medication help you? You made the right choice without it, didn’t you?”
Chase nodded, certain he would not have gone any further than the one kiss. He had responded, though, and that did not sit well.
“So what you’re doing now is piling onto survivor’s guilt with the guilt of turning down a proposal and kissing someone in a bar.”
“I hurt him, doc.”
“Yes. And he has his own issues to work through. Telling him you’re back on medication won’t change the past.”
“That’s not… do you really think that’s what I’m doing?”
“You want to rush in and fix everything, and there is a high probability you’re thinking Hank will be there for you if you go back to not being at your strongest, the way he was when your mother was ill, and the way he was just last evening.”
“You mean…?” Chase looked away from those knowing eyes, before finally meeting them again. “Wow. I’m an ass.”
Dr. Chorney smiled, and his voice softened. “No, you’re not. You’re just a desperate man who wants to fight for the person he loves, but I must again caution you—that desperation can backfire when it has you playing games, and trying to manipulate a situation or a person.”
“So… what do I do? I don’t want to play any games, and I don’t want to manipulate anyone.”
“I don’t have the consummate answer for that, but I do have suggestions if you’re willing to hear them?”
“I do. Like I said, I need help.”
“We all do at times. So, my first suggestion is we schedule another appointment for this week, and the next. Things can change from day to day. I know you never wanted to do it before, but write down whatever crosses your mind—anything that happens, or something you want to talk about.”
“I can do that. Is that it?”
“No. Us humans, we like to think we can force the issues affecting us. We tend to try to fit those things to our schedule and let it be about what we need, but it’s been my experience that never works over the long haul. Do you understand?”
“I’m not sure. Do you mean I need lots of therapy?”
“Maybe, but that’s not what I’m saying. I’m talking about Hank. The few times we talked, I’ve found him to be a deep and thoughtful man, and he was so obviously in love with you—and very protective—so I would assume he didn’t make this decision easily. I’m suggesting if you challenge him and his choices too soon, you might drive him further away. You can’t make him reconsider—his mind may be set. Let him work through his feelings about seeing you with someone else.”
“And being rejected,” Chase added, his hope dimming once more.
“From what you’ve told me, and from what I know of Hank, I don’t believe that is his issue.”
“He said he understood, but I don’t know….”
“Take him at his word. I would hazard to say it’s more of an issue for you now that the proverbial dust has settled.”
The doctor laughed. “That’s okay too. Think about it. Didn’t you really want to say yes when he asked you to marry him?”
“Yes. Yes I did. It was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.”
Dr. Chorney fixed him with a challenging stare. “I want you to think of one more thing. What if you had said yes, and then went about sabotaging your happiness, oblivious to the fact survivor’s guilt was impacting you. What then?”
“I… I never thought of that.”
“Well, I believe you should. We can’t cover up our fears and our deeply-rooted issues and expect our lives will work out, because they seldom do. If you’d said yes, that’s what you’d have been doing, and how much might that have hurt Hank down the road?”
The question didn’t require an answer, but it gave Chase much more to think about.
Walking around the home he could no longer call his, his emotions were in turmoil. Rex must still be at Stacy’s, and that disappointed him. He could have used some devoted dog love. He’d hoped Hank would be around too, but once there, he felt relief he wasn’t. Dr. Chorney’s advice had him questioning his motivations where his ex was concerned. Mostly, though, it had made him afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing out of the desperation the therapist had pointed out. The last thing he wanted was to push Hank further away.
Sitting on the couch he’d shared so often with his then boyfriend, he pictured how exhausted the man had looked that morning, and it tempered his own self-pity. This was hard for Hank too, Chase understood that, and he deserved to be put first. It was clear now he had intended to play on Hank’s sympathy by going back on medication. That would have been unfair, and something he didn’t actually want to do. He’d told the man he wouldn’t try to take advantage of him, and he wouldn’t. This time, he had to conquer his demons on his own.
Putting himself in Hank’s place, Chase would have had a hard time forgiving him if he caught him the way he’d been caught, at least at first. He would have run as far and as fast as he could, and he would have been devastated. So, there would be no game playing on his part.
It was sobering to see two boxes of his stuff in the corner of the master bedroom. He opened the first to see Hank had removed his socks, underwear, and tee shirts from the dressers. The rest of his clothing, though, still hung in the closet. Did it hurt the man to see those items mixed with his own when he opened the drawers? Did he do it when he was at his angriest?
Opening the second box, he was surprised to see his pillow taking up most of the room, covering up his odds and ends of jewelry and other items, as well as the digital camera inherited from his mother. That hurt. Sitting on the end of the bed, he looked around the room that had been their refuge during both good and bad times. Yeah, this was really happening.
A few minutes later, he mustered up the will to get on with the task, and after two trips to the car, carrying the clothes that were on hangers, he returned to the apartment for those boxes. He’d contemplated leaving his keys, but, while the furniture was pretty much all Hank’s, there was still a bunch of his stuff throughout the apartment, like the paintings of his mother’s hanging everywhere. He couldn’t bear to take them down… not now. Hank could stack them in a corner if they bothered him.
Picking up the two cartons, he left the bedroom, only to return with his pillow in hand. He stood by the bed for a few seconds, and then placed his pillow back in its old spot beside Hank’s. They, at least, belonged together. Hank could throw it out if he chose.
Okay, so maybe it was a little game playing, but he was sending a message to the man he still loved with all his heart, and it felt right. Chase made one more stop before he left. His favorite photo of the two of them hung over the desk in the spare room. He half-expected it to be taken down, but it was still there. After staring into Hank’s azure eyes and touching the glass over his life-filled smile, he took it down and placed it carefully in with his other things. Had he ever really deserved him?
Locking the apartment door, he stood frozen in front of it, and wondered. Was part of Hank relieved he no longer had to deal with a head-case like him? With eyes burning and beginning to water, he walked away.
Thanks for reading, and thank you to Timothy M. for his editing skills. Please share your thoughts with a comment, and if enjoy reading the story so far, please leave a 'like' at the top of the story page itself. Cheers!