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
December 16, 2019, 8:28 A.M.
Lee didn’t stop for coffee. He’d given the habit up a year before. Well, not completely. Most days he white-knuckled it past his favorite coffee stop. He’d given up a lot of his bad habits. Unfortunately, this change usually didn’t make Fridays any easier. The energy and the excitement he might have felt for the week on a Tuesday were usually gone by Thursday afternoon. On Friday, Lee often felt like Mark Twain’s sinking ship. He had no more cargo left to throw overboard.
Lee checked his service. No calls. He called Chief Moore. “So, what’s going on out there?”
“Sorry, Doc, nothing to report. No one’s seen your guy. His family is in the dark as well. Haven’t seen him or his car since late yesterday. Who knows? Maybe he’s got a girlfriend we don’t know about.”
“Well, maybe,” said Lee, sounding a little disgusted with the whole matter. “Anything from the state or the Feds?”
“The fire marshal didn’t think anyone was in the cottage. Of course, that’s hard to say for sure, given, well, you saw it, and the Feds, as usual, aren’t telling me anything. I’ll call you once I hear something.” “Good, good,” Lee said absently and hung up.
“Well,” said Lee to himself, “nothing else to do but wait.” Lee continued his conversation with himself. “I hate leaving things this way, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to change our plans again.” Lee and Liz had put off going three times — before Liz’s surgery, the flooded basement, and an airline strike.
But not this time. He hadn’t been to Europe in years. It was only a week, but they wanted to be back by Christmas to spend it with their daughter, Dru, and her boyfriend, Rob. Their relationship was starting to look serious. Lee had mixed feelings about that. Grandchildren had begun to seem like a nice idea. But “giving away” his only daughter? She was a young, independent woman now, her own person, and would, as Liz reminded him, decide to what and to whom she gave herself.
So Lee’s resolve on this Friday was to just get to mid-afternoon and leave. He had a light day. Mostly paperwork and phone calls. He did, however, have to get through a two-hour supervision session with Erica, a young psychologist, just finishing her requirements for licensure. And, of course, there was lunch with Rick.
As he pulled into the parking lot, he was reminded that most of his colleagues were considerably younger than he was. There were a lot of hybrids in the lot now. Roger’s old Jeep was gone, and so was Roger, traveling in Europe. Bill’s Volvo wasn’t there either. He was off sailing somewhere. Most of the old crew had retired. Just Lee and a few others, like Rick Forester. He had almost forgotten about Rick. But, unfortunately, that was usually impossible. Rick had insisted on taking him to lunch before he left for his trip. A lunch with Rick usually meant he was in some kind of trouble.
Lee pulled in to the space closest to the building. Although he was no longer managing the practice, Lee had retained the best parking space. His “time away” had been reason enough to hand over the responsibilities of management to someone else. Yet, it had been time to do so. Lee had little interest in continuing to deal with the day-to-day problems of running a clinical practice. His office building was an old farmhouse built just after the Civil War. The therapists and their clients felt comfortable there. But it was an old building, constantly needing something. And then there were the clinicians. Overall, a good-hearted and competent lot, but all independent practitioners, meaning they worked for themselves, set their own hours, and as they frequently pointed out, decided what they would and would not do.
Getting them to move together on anything was like herding cats.
And, last of all, there was Loretta, the receptionist and office manager. A short, stocky woman, under five feet with frizzy black-from-a-bottle hair; a woman of unknown age. Lee was sure she was in her late seventies or early eighties. She had come to work for the practice after her husband’s death. They had run a bed and breakfast up the coast, but a bed and breakfast took at least two people to make it work, so she had to give it up when her husband died.
Loretta ran a tight ship. Work meant seven each morning, organized and focused. Disorganization and Dr. Forester, often one in the same, drove her crazy. She still looked to Lee for direction, even though Jim Hardy was officially in charge. She was one of the few who still did. Dr. Hardy’s star was rising and Lee’s was setting.
“Dr. Brazil, the Internet’s out again this morning, and most of the clinicians are complaining that their cell phones aren’t working as they should.”
“I’m sorry, Loretta. I don’t know what to tell you. That’s Dr. Hardy’s department. You need to talk with him.”
“And the land-lines don’t seem to be working right either. I don’t know what’s going on.”
“No one does, Loretta. The paper this morning said something about
increased solar activity. Is Dr. Hardy in yet?”
“No. He won’t be in till noon.”
Lee thought for a moment. Should he? No!
“Loretta, I’m sorry, but there’s really not much I can do about this. I’ll
talk to Jim when he gets in and see that he gets on it.”
And with that, Lee started up the stairs to his office.
Lee’s office was on the second floor. The centerpiece of the office was a small, painted fireplace, an “Italian fireplace” the realtor had called it, when Lee had bought the place forty years before. Lee had used it frequently in the early years of the practice, but it hadn’t seen a fire in a while. It, like a lot of things now, Lee felt to be more trouble to bother with than they were worth.
The room was large. Tall Victorian windows, tin ceiling, all original. Overstuffed bookcases lined the walls. Awards, plaques, and a couple of prints from local artists of the North Atlantic covered the wallpaper that Lee had never liked. An old couch from his practice in Tennessee took up most of the space on another wall. Lee kept it, although he doubted it was that comfortable, since his clients seemed to choose to sit in his grandfather’s old rocker or the Swedish recliner he used for teaching relaxation exercises. Lee settled into the work of the day. He made a few phone calls and began plodding through case reviews and sign-offs with Erica. As he did, he thought of the past. Lee could remember when he and his office manager had installed the first PCs for word processing and billing. Before iPads and smartphones, and he couldn’t recall what the newest “must have” mini micro-widget was called or what new and unnecessary things it did.
The practice of psychology was now heavily “evidence based,” meaning that all therapy should be based on research evidence. Lee had no problem with the concept, but felt that much of the “new psychology” was pseudo-science, just like medicine. Blinking lights and numbers didn’t make a science. Lee still believed psychotherapy was more art than science, a view no longer in vogue in the profession. And he believed healing was still in the relationship between the therapist and the patient and not in an algorithm. Lee had always worried about attaching a number to a person, such as a 309.4, which might give a clinician a false sense of confidence in what they were doing.
Psychologists would soon be licensed to prescribe psychotropic medications in Maine. Licensing had changed in eight other states, almost all rural, where there was a shortage of well- trained psychiatrists. Although Lee supported the movement, he was concerned about the impact on the profession. Writing a scrip was indeed easier than helping people learn to deal with painful issues in their lives in a new way. Lee worried that, like psychiatrists, many psychologists might do what was easiest instead of what was best for the patient.
“Dr. Brazil,” Erica’s voice focused Lee, “you will need to sign off on this one, too.”
“Yes, of course,” he answered, still lost in his thoughts.
Dr. Erica Bowdin was slim and attractive, with blond hair worn tied back and blue eyes. Fit. She listened to Lee’s suggestions and direction, although he doubted she agreed frequently with him. She was a bright and articulate woman from a family with money — the money to send her to the right schools. She was in the vanguard of the new psychology. Leading the charge. Jim and others were pleased that she had decided to join the practice.
“Well, Dr. Brazil,” she was still uneasy calling him Lee, “looking forward to your trip? I was in London and Paris late last fall. Paris is such a special place.”
Lee was now the one feeling uneasy. “Well, yes, they are, aren’t they.” He wasn’t about to tell her that he hadn’t been to these special places in years. “It will be a short visit. I wish it were longer,” he said as he moved toward his office door and opened it.
She followed. “Well, enjoy,” she said.
Lee looked at his watch and remembered lunch with Rick. He grimaced. I wonder what he’s gotten himself into this time? Rick was a colleague and, yes, a friend, although Lee seldom saw him outside of work. He had worked in the practice for the last ten years. A psychiatrist, now in his early sixties, semi-retired although not by choice. Rick’s reputation among his colleagues had suffered a number of blows while Lee was away. He’d gotten himself into trouble with the Board. Nothing too egregious — inappropriate comments about his personal life to a patient. And, God knows, his personal life was a mess. It had been a mess for years. Twice divorced. Alimony, support for children he never saw.
But today Lee decided that he would take a pass on Dr. Forester. He would let Dr. Hardy worry about whatever there was to worry about.
As Lee started down the stairs, he heard Rick’s door open.
“Lee, wait up.”
“I’m sorry, Rick, I just can’t do lunch today. Too much to do before I leave. We’ll have lunch when I get back. If you need something from the practice, talk with Hardy.” Lee didn’t wait for a response from Rick. He turned and headed for his car. He quickly opened the door and started the engine and pulled out. He had escaped. He was on Forest Street.
Why not the Forum, he said to himself. I can check on Ken too. The Forum was just a few blocks from the office. It was small and dark. The sun had come out, and with the snow it took a while for his eyes to adjust. It was a nice place, with white tablecloths and candles. Great for a night out, but a little strange for lunch in Winterpool.
Marie, a woman in her late forties with long brown hair and bright brown eyes, was working behind the take-out counter. Lee ordered a gyro. He could eat it and continue to proof the reports that needed to go out before he left. Joey, Marie’s son, began to prepare the sandwich.
“Well, how’s he doing?” asked Lee.
“Oh, your boy, he’s doing fine. He’s a hard worker, I think. Come see,” said Marie, as she moved toward the door to the kitchen.
Lee followed. Marie opened the door.
“Kenny,” she said, “Doc’s here to see you.”
Ken was a big man in his late thirties. His size, combined with his temper, had frightened people and limited where he could live and work. But in recent years, with the help of Lee, he had gotten his temper under control. He had lived at home all of his life until just a few months ago when he moved into a group home. The job in the restaurant, which Lee helped arrange, started a few days ago. He knew Steve had a soft spot in his heart for guys like Ken. Steve and Marie gave him the title of sous chef and general assistant to the executive chef, Steve.
Ken looked up and smiled. “Doc, when are you starting on that new book?”
Lee returned the smile. “Soon. Why don’t you give me a call and we’ll talk about it? Looks like you’re doing a great job.”
“Well, I hope so,” said Ken with indecision in his voice. “I really want to.
Steve, who was leaning over a pot of something that smelled wonderful, joined the conversation. “He is. But we’re not paying him to chit-chat with the likes of you, Doc.”
“Okay, okay,” said Lee. “You call me, Ken.”
“I . . . I will.”
“How’s your hand?”
“Fine,” said Ken, trying to ignore the question and continuing to work. “Okay,” said Lee, closing the door to the kitchen.
Ken had been attacked by a couple of local kids. Marie called them thugs. They targeted people like Ken who were a little different. But Ken, who was a wrestling fan and who had been studying the martial art Kali, carried the day and sent the two running for home. Unfortunately, he had broken a finger in the scuffle.
“I called their parents, Doc, and told them they better leave my Kenny alone or they will wish they had,” said Marie.
Lee turned to Marie and said, “You tell ‘em . . . Thanks, Marie. I appreciate you guys.”
When Lee pulled in to the office parking lot, Lee could see Loretta standing just inside the office door. She was waiting for him. Something was wrong. She was talking to herself.
Lee opened the office door. Loretta turned the conversation she was
having with herself toward Lee. “I couldn’t stop them.”
“What are you talking about, Loretta? Slow down.”
But Loretta’s agitation was increasing. “They’re in your office.”
“Who’s in my office?”
“Two men from the government. They showed me their . . . well, I don’t know what they showed me. They said it would be better if they waited in your office.”
Loretta started to cry, which really didn’t require much since her son’s accident a few months ago.
The waiting room was empty. Lee pushed past Loretta.
“It’s okay, Loretta. Just calm down. I’m sure it’ll be okay,” he said over his shoulder as he started up the stairs.
Lee’s office door was ajar. He pushed it open with force.
“Come in, Dr. Brazil, and close the door,” said a familiar voice from the past.