First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
Cathedral of Notre Dame
December 21, 2019, 1:35 P.M.
Well I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree . . .
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.
~ Bob Dylan
The same limo was waiting at a different side entrance. Lee’s previous handler opened the door and Lee slid across the seat. Aman took the seat next to the driver.
Bermuda, Lee thought. He hadn’t been in Bermuda since he had taken a cruise there with his family and his 95-year-old mother. Lee and his wife and daughter had taken the cruise mainly for her. She had always wanted to go on a cruise. She loved it. It was her first and her last. She died in the early winter of that year.
But there was something else about Bermuda. Lee’s patient Frank often traveled there. The patient with the strange dreams, who disappeared and then reappeared just before Lee had departed. When Lee had checked in with his office yesterday, Loretta told him that Frank had not called back. The more Lee thought about it, he felt that Bermuda, in some strange way, was the right place to be going,
The limo drove through a security checkpoint and onto the tarmac. It stopped at the foot of a stairway, the one that food and supplies are usually carried up.
“We’re here,” said Aman. “Up the stairs now. Debbie will get you settled.”
Lee objected. “Shouldn’t we go around to the other side of the plane so I can board with the rest of the passengers?”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Aman, directing Lee toward the steps.
“Off you go. Your luggage will be on a later flight.”
“Don’t look so concerned. Just enjoy the flight and look for our man when you get to Bermuda. He will meet the flight.”
Lee trudged up the steps muttering to himself, Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the flight. When he reached the top of the steps, a young blonde female flight attendant was apparently waiting for him. “Mr. Jones,” said Debbie.
Lee stepped through the cabin door.
“I guess,” Lee said, with obvious hesitation.
“Let me help you find your seat.” She put her arm around Lee’s waist and walked him through the galley. She said something else that Lee couldn’t make out. He could barely hear over the noise in the cabin. A drunken Jingle-Bells was competing for the attention of the group with an obscene version of Frosty the Snowman.
“Great,” Lee grumbled to himself, “a party plane.”
“Yes,” said Debbie, “but they should settle down once we’re in the air.”
“Sure,” said Lee, sarcastically.
“Here,” said Debbie. “You’re sitting next to Dr. Wagner.”
Dr. Wagner, a large man, slightly balding with white hair and large dark-rimmed glasses, appeared half in the bag, like most of the passengers. He rose and extended his hand as Debbie introduced them. Lee took his hand and tried to smile.
“Jones, eh?” said Dr. Wagner, obviously not convinced that this was actually Lee’s name. “You’re like half of the people on this flight.”
Lee looked puzzled. Wagner shook his head and smiled. “You don’t understand, do you?”
Lee started to answer, but Wagner interrupted. “Most of the people on this flight work for the ‘United States government.’” He gestured quotes with both hands, spilling some of his drink on the passenger in front of him.
Lee still didn’t respond.
“It’s a spook flight,” Wagner laughed loudly. Lee still looked confused.
Wagner leaned over and whispered, at least he attempted to whisper, “CIA.”
Lee smiled again and said, “I see.”
“Everyone needs a little R&R around the holidays, even,” and he leaned closer to Lee again, “spies, right?” said Wagner.
“Right,” said Lee.
The pilot interrupted their conversation by announcing that the plane would be taxiing out for takeoff and that everyone should please take their seats and get buckled in.
The flight attendants were busy doing last call before takeoff and trying to herd passengers into their seats. The noise level increased as the pilot maneuvered the plane into a position for takeoff and as passengers shouted to be heard.
Dr. Wagner was having difficulty finding his seatbelt buckle. Lee came to his assistance, found the buckle and snapped it in place.
“Thank you, good sir. Let me buy you a drink. Debbie?”
“No, that’s quite all right. When we get in the air, you can buy me one,” said Lee.
“O-k-ay,” said Dr. Wagner, slurring the word.
The pilot advanced the engine throttle and the plane rumbled into the sky. Wagner ordered himself another drink and asked Lee what he would have.
“What the hell,” said Lee, “A Jack Daniel’s Manhattan.”
Debbie smiled. “Right away,” she said.
“So, why are you on this flight, Mr. Jones? What business do you have in Bermuda?”
Lee hesitated. “Well…”
“Come, come,” said Wagner, “you can tell the good doctor. That’s my job, to listen. I’ve listened to . . . well, you wouldn’t believe what I’ve listened to.”
Want to bet, Lee thought.
He waited and then continued on. “Do you have a good story?” He looked at Lee and smiled. “Something more than just cheating on your wife or killing someone?” He looked away. “I’ve heard it all.” He turned to Lee again. “How about sex with your pet . . . no, no?” He turned away again. “I’ve heard that one…was it a Golden Retriever or a Great Dane . . . I don’t remember.”
Lee smiled. He remembered. It was a Great Dane, and Lee had thrown up after the session.
Wagner continued on. “I can tell you stories about some of the people on this plane. But…” He put his finger over his mouth. “Mum’s the word. Patient confidentiality, you know?”
Lee knew. “I’m sure,” he said, and began fumbling with the seat pocket, looking for the in-flight magazine. Dr. Wagner was beginning to make Lee feel very uncomfortable. In the last few years, Lee had tried to put aside much of the craziness that he had dealt with in the past. But Wagner was pulling it up.
Dr. Wagner rambled on. “Most of them won’t even speak to me in public. They pretend they don’t know me when they run into me.” He turned again to Lee. “Hell, we all work in the same building.” He finished his drink. “Drop their dirty laundry off with me and pretend they don’t even know me.” He leaned over Lee who now had his head buried in the in-flight magazine. “I hold their hands for months or, for a few of them, for years, and they don’t know me.” His speech was slurred. “And the rest? They’re scared of me,” he sneered. “Afraid to even sit next to me on this plane.”
Lee looked up, “Is that so?” But Lee knew it was so. That was one of the hardest parts of the job. He was the repository for other people’s stuff. Which often left little room for his own. That’s what burnout was all about. Becoming cynical and angry.
The drinks came. Just a couple of sips by Lee, and he was ready to cheer the good doctor on. He’d certainly been in the same place. In many ways, he felt the same way and almost said so. But he didn’t.
“So that’s why I’m getting the hell out of the agency. Too many years. Too many sad stories. I’m full up.” Wagner leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes again. “I can’t hold any more of other people’s garbage. They can get themselves another shrink. I’m out of here January 1.”
He sat up and looked Lee in the eyes. “You know what I mean, don’t you?”
Lee didn’t respond. He certainly could have. He had as many stories to tell. Lee remembered how he had felt when he first started in the business. He was going to change the world just like the young police applicants he used to evaluate. Not as a cop, but as a psychologist. But just like the young cops, he had grown more cynical with every year.
Wagner looked at him again and forced Lee to make eye contact. “I think you do understand. Yes, I think you do.” Wagner paused and closed his eyes and leaned back in his seat and then muttered, “Oh, shit, you’re not from the front office, are you?”
“No, no,” said Lee. “I’m not. What you said will stay with me. Mum’s the word.”
“Good,” said Wagner, as he closed his eyes. In a few minutes, he was snoring.
Lee looked out the cabin window, but there was nothing to see. He thought again about the toll that human misery had taken on him and all those who tried to alleviate it. The healthcare providers he had worked with. The clergy, police officers, and the social workers and folks in Lee’s profession, like Wagner.