Leonard

by Christine Brandel

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“There are advantages to knowing one’ll die by suicide,” I said to my shrink.

He looked at me with what can only be described as disdain. Do they teach shrinks that look in school? Because I can tell you, I’ve seen it on a number of occasions. This shrink is called Leonard. I don’t think he goes by that, though. Sometimes when I’m imagining our conversations, I’ll try referring to him as Lenny or maybe Len, but neither works. This guy is so a Leonard. But I don’t call him that during our appointments. I call him Dr. Winslow because I can tell he likes to keep things formal, he likes that respect. He probably didn’t get his needs met when he was young, and the whole title thing makes him feel valued. He’s that obvious.

“I don’t like when you talk like that,” he said. I already know he doesn’t. His words and disdainful looks don’t tell me anything I don’t already know. He can’t help me—we’ve both known that from day one. But he’s the only shrink in my neighborhood who takes my insurance so that’s why I keep coming back. I’m sure he appreciates the steady money, but I think he also likes seeing me. He’s a little bit fascinated by me. My problems are out of his league, so I’m interesting to him. I’m like a patient he’s read about in case studies, but never dreamed he’d actually have sitting across from him one day.

Of course, that could just be my narcissistic personality talking. If he were any kind of capable psychologist, he’d have already noted that rather than letting me diagnose myself. But he hasn’t. So I have to.

“I appreciate that, Dr Winslow, but at the same time, it’s true.”

“All right then,” he said, exhaling long and slow. “Let’s hear these advantages.”

“Just forget about the depression bit for a minute. I, unlike you, know that I’ll never be a vulnerable elderly person. I’ll never slowly lose my sight. I’ll never have to make a decision about whether or not to have chemotherapy. I’ll never have to move into a care home. Those are all quite hopeful things, if you ask me,” I said. I gave him a little smile as if to say, cheer up, Len.

“How can you say you know those things?” he said. He fiddled with his pen. He didn’t even pretend to take notes anymore—he had a pen but no paper anywhere within reach.

“Because if I’m ever in those situations, I’ll just top myself.”

“What if you’re not in a position to do so?” he asked.

“I’ll do it before I get to that position,” I said.

“But what if you can’t?” he said, turning his chair a bit more towards me. “Let’s say you’re in your late seventies and you start losing your eyesight and your doctor says you can no longer live on your own. What would you do?”

“Save up my meds and overdose,” I offered. “Or go get a gun.”

“You’ll never be able to get a gun if you’re going blind. And you have no meds—there aren’t medications that stop blindness. And don’t bother suggesting hanging. You’re too weak and feeble to sort that.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll jump off a bridge.”

“You’ll never be able to climb over the guardrails,” he said. “You’re all bent over.”

“Walk into an oncoming train?”

“You can’t walk anymore. Your balance is shot, your muscles have atrophied.”

“Not a biggie. I’ll just drive my wheelchair straight into traffic. I mean, I’d rather not—I’d rather not involve others, but if it came to that . . . problem solved,” I said.

He shook his head. “That won’t work, I’m afraid. No wheelchair. You’re bed bound.”

“Why no wheelchair?”

“I forgot to mention that on your seventy-fifth birthday you were hit by a bus—that’s why you’re all bent up. All the emergency surgery and hospital stays have drained your finances. You can’t afford a wheelchair. Certainly not an electric one. A church heard about you and donated some crappy manual one, but it fell apart when you first sat in it, and that’s how you broke your hip.”

“Hold on,” I said. “You can’t trick me—if I’ve had these accidents, I’d have access to some kind of medications, painkillers or something. They’re not going to let an old lady suffer.”

He shook his head again. “Your doctor won’t risk it. Not with your heart.”

“What’s wrong with my heart?”

“It’s fragile. You don’t know it yet but by then, you’ll have a history of family heart problems. It’s how both your parents will die. That’s why they can’t do that last surgery, the one that’d keep you from being all weak and bent. Well, that and your inability to pay. You’re alone, bed-ridden, poor and blind. It’d be impossible for you to kill yourself.”

And that’s when I saw it: a little smile. Not on his mouth—in his eyes. He’d triumphed. That’s how he was interpreting this.

“Well, you got me,” I said.

“I’m just trying to help you see the beauty of life. I don’t like you talking about suicide. Life is good, you know,” he said.

I nodded a little.

Then he looked over to the clock which said that my time was up.


Christine Brandel is a writer and photographer. In 2013, she published the chapbook, Tell This To Girls: The Panic Annie Poems, which the IndieReader described as a “well-crafted, heartbreakingly vivid set of poems, well worth a read by anyone whose heart can bear it.” To balance that, she also writes a column on comedy for PopMatters and rights the world’s wrongs via her character Agatha Whitt-Wellington (Miss) at Everyone Needs An Algonquin. More of her work can be found at clbwrites.com.

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