(I was stuck for an idea tonight, so I did what I always do when I’m stuck – I asked my husband for help. This story is based on his suggestion ‘a sailor who’s afraid to go on the ocean’)
I thought I knew his story before he sat on my couch. He had edged into my office, keeping his distance from me and from anything even remotely ‘shrink-like’ in the room. He was nowhere near my notebook, or my pendulum, and he didn’t even glance at my books. His head was down, and his jeans and plaid shirt were rumpled. I knew he worked on the boats – long shifts on, long shift off – and I knew that could wreak havoc on a relationship. I knew his employers were paying for his sessions. I figured he must be a textbook case of a man whose wife had found other entertainment while he was away, and the resulting fall-out was affecting his job.
I was wrong, of course, that was obvious as soon as he started talking.
“I can’t stand the damn water any more, Dr. Grant. I just can’t stand it.” He fidgeted on the couch like a kid in a principal’s office. “Everything was fine, then suddenly I couldn’t stand the sight of it another second.”
“Oh?” It was all I could think to say.
“Yes, I was near the end of my last six week rotation, and I looked out over the rails to the water and my heart jumped clear into my throat. I knew then that I couldn’t do this any more. I went right down to my cabin and didn’t set eyes on the ocean again until we were docking. Even then I kept my back to it.”
“So you don’t plan to go back?”
“How can I go back to something I can’t stand the sight of? I know that Estenhauser wants me to smarten up and get back to to work, but it’s not happening. If I ever see the water again it will be too soon.”
“Okay, but you’ve done this work all your life. Are you ready to try a new career?”
“I’m going to have to, aren’t I?”
“I guess so, but is that what you want?”
He didn’t have a quick defensive reply for that. I looked up from my notebook to see the water pooled in his eyes. He wasn’t crying yet, but it was only a matter of time, a matter of volume.
“It’s not what you want, is it, Mr. Singleton?”
He quickly shook his head before wiping one eye and then the other with the back of his left hand.
“Maybe we should start again, hey?”
He nodded and sat up a little straighter. I smiled and pulled my notebook closer. Now that we had that out of the way, we might actually get somewhere.