SHOUTS & MURMURS
by John Kenney
(Used with Permission from John Kenney The New Yorker)
How do you know when you are healthy enough to say goodbye to your therapist? And how should a therapist handle it?
A therapist’s office, Central Park West.
Patient: I just heard a funny joke.
Therapist: (doing the crossword ) “Rose is a rose is a rose” writer. Five letters.
Patient: What was the big deal with Gertrude Stein? She was, like, the original famous-for-being-famous person. The Paris Hilton of the twenties.
Therapist: It’s going to be tough to finish this if you keep talking.
Therapist: (puts newspaper aside) There. O.K.
Patient: So listen to this one. What’s the hardest part about rollerblading?
Therapist: I don’t know, what?
Patient: Telling your dad you’re gay.
Therapist: That’s funny.
Patient: Who are you texting?
Therapist: A friend. Can you hear me with your iPod in?
Patient: What? Let me turn this off.
Pause. They smile at each other.
Patient: Do you think there’s a God?
Therapist: I don’t know. Why?
Patient: Just popped into my mind.
Patient: How much time do we have left?
Therapist: Forty-five minutes.
Patient: Good weekend?
Therapist: Why do you ask?
Patient: Just making conversation. Sometimes, on my iPod, I put a song on repeat and listen to it over and over and over. Like, I listened to “When the World Is Running Down,” by the Police, ninety-six times yesterday. Amazing song. Do you do that? Is that normal?
Therapist: I don’t do it, but I know people who do. Do you want medication for it? There’s a pill for that now.
Patient: No, I’m good. I see that you’re doing sit-ups down there.
Therapist: (on the floor) Yeah. Trying to get in shape. PlusI’ll be honest I’m a little bored.
Patient: Oh. Well, that kind of leads into something I was thinking about.
Therapist: Go on.
Patient: So I’m thinking of ending.
Therapist: Ending what?
Therapist: (stops doing sit-ups) Why? I think we’re making progress.
Patient: I know. But it’s been twenty years and . . .
Therapist: Let’s not get caught up in “numbers.”
Patient: . . . I find I don’t have much to say anymore.
Therapist: How does that make you feel?
Patient: It doesn’t. How does that make you feel?
Therapist: What was the question?
Patient: I guess I feel like I’m better.
Patient: Why? Do you not think so?
Therapist: Well, you’re the expert.
Patient: I didn’t mean to suggest that. It’s just that, well, I’m . . . happy.
Therapist: Happy? And you think that that’s what this is about?
Patient: Isn’t it? I mean, twenty years is a long time, right?
Therapist: Who’s to say?
Patient: It’s been good. It’s been weird at times, but good.
Therapist: Remember the vacation we took to Monument Valley?
Patient: That was pretty great, except for that sunburn I got.
Therapist: And we took that Spanish class one summer. So fun, right?
Patient: That was fun.
Therapist: The meds.
Patient: Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Prozac, Effexor, the illegal one from Mexico, and all the side effects. Remember that estrogen drug you put me on by mistake and I started growing breasts?
Therapist: (laughing) Hey, that was a typo and I apologized for it!
Therapist: Well, if you really think you’re ready, then all I can do is wish you the best.
Patient: I appreciate that.
Patient: The role-play thing a while back got weird, right? The costumes? The whole astronaut thing?
Therapist: Why judge it?
Patient: All right, then.
Therapist: All right, indeed.
Patient: (chuckling) I really hated you sometimes.
Therapist: (chuckling) Ditto.
Patient: (still chuckling) And now that it’s ending I have to ask: there were timesI just know itthat you weren’t listening to a word I was saying, right?
Therapist: (smiling) Not a word.
Patient: (smiling) Amazing.
Therapist: (smiling) Can you blame me? You never shut up. It’s like you were born without a filter. The whining. Mother, father, brother, boss, girlfriend, blah, blah, blah. Who cares?!
Patient: (still smiling) It’s largely been a horrible waste, hasn’t it?
Therapist: (smiling) Pretty much.
Patient: (smiling) All that money and time.
Therapist: (smiling) Three words: house in Umbria.
Patient: (smiling) Is it this way with all your patients or just me?
Therapist: (smiling) Just you.
Patient: (smiling) I see. Well . . .
Therapist: (smiling) Good luck.
Therapist: (softly) Do you worry about being homosexual?
Patient: What’s that?
Patient: Did you just ask me if I worry about being homosexual?
Therapist: No. Yes. Why?
Patient: What do you mean? You just asked if I worry about being homosexual.
Therapist: Do you?
Patient: No. Why?
Therapist: Your “joke” earlier.
Patient: It was a joke.
Therapist: Was it?
Patient: Wasn’t it?
Therapist: We have to stop. Let’s pick up here next week. ?