Fiction Fiction 2009


What I know now is that I should not have continued shelling out 200bucks a pop to you. On some days I felt you two were picking up a frequency like a dog whistle that I just wasn’t able to hear. Of course, you might just have a great gift for empathy, but then I’d have to ask where was this gift when Jerry was trying to have me committed to the attic like that woman in Jane Eyre who set everything on fire.

My first choice of a therapist was Ashley Hoffman, but he is so brilliant and popular, a patient has to die for you to get an appointment. So I chose a Dr. Levine for his good Jewish name, because I had decided that the only way I could get some objectivity to counterbalance what had become Jerry’s religious fervor was to find a good atheist or agnostic or Unitarian. Well, that is not information that you can find anywhere in an advertisement. So I thought I could go the more subtle route and look for a good Jewish name, which I did, only to have another bad joke played on me. Dr. Levine’s mother, I discovered, was a Baptist, and that’s how he had grown up down in Alabama, with Mr. Levine nowhere in sight. His accent was thicker than mine, and he used the words bless and blessing all the goddamn time. Jerry liked him, of course. Jerry likes talking to men better than he likes dealing with women, even though he won’t admit it. I know you picked up on this too, but I’ll come back to that. I felt that this lack of separation of church and marital state was a big conflict of interest. I wanted to tell Dr. Levine that I wanted to sue his ass for false advertisement, because the field of psychotherapy has a great and rich Hebrew heritage. But, of course, I didn’t. Instead of that I told Jerry that Dr. Levine had to let all his clients go, because he was suffering a nervous breakdown of sorts, and then I opened the Yellow Pages, closed my eyes, and found you. The name Love sounded prophetic at the time. Ha ha.

But I did like how you always had the daily paper and People magazine in your bathroom, except sometimes when I started reading, I forgot that I had to go back in there and hear what a difficult person I am. Remember that time you had to come and get me and I told you I was feeling sick? What I was actually doing was reading about David Koresh and thinking how Jerry’s new religion was getting on my nerves, but at least he wasn’t that bad. Not yet anyway. Of course, I wanted to know what to be looking for in case the turn he’d already taken got worse.

Love or Apathy. The Game of Marriage. The Game of Monogamy. Some would say Monotony. You take turns. You go round and round. Sometimes you have to pay a penalty or lose your turn. Still, making a big change isn’t easy, and that is what I was often thinking while collecting myself and watching others coming and going. The people I saw leaving who looked good and all together were already done deals, I suspect. You could tell the ones who already knew they were out of there and were just going through the motions to appease the other one enough to get a better deal during the divorce—more money, more time with the kids. I mean, so many people go to counseling for the kids, and that’s a good thing when it works—kind of like a sermon when it’s good and inspirational and you can use what you hear—but it can also become selfish. All that money that could go to college, and all that time that could go to taking them fun places. I mean, I spent a hell of a lot to get bored and wander around getting creeped out by your spooky violent and primitive art stuff.

I wish I could get all that money back from you. One day I added it up and it totaled at least a new car, which I really need these days. Do you remember how Jerry wanted to have me diagnosed as crazy? And then how he was hoping I had brain cancer? “Something is causing your abstract thoughts,” he said. I mean no offense, well, actually I do mean a little offense, I never understood why you didn’t get pissed off and tell him to let you tend to your own business. I mean, you listened to him sitting there in all his born-again glory. He would have loved a reason to have me drugged or lobotomized so I’d just drool and go along with whatever he said whenever he said it.

I am someone who does believe in the higher power of necessary medication. Amen. At times, a smidgen of this or that is just what you need. I loved the feel of Demerol when I was in labor, and I don’t know what I would have done without that epidural—scream out lots of terrible things, I suspect, which I did anyway. And this drug they give you with a colonoscopy is just a dream—you’re relaxed on one side, wide awake and watching television. I wanted to nominate myself for an Emmy. And I believe in spiritual highs, too. What I don’t believe in is someone having the power to dictate someone else’s spirituality or aesthetic code. Like if I hate corduroy, that is my business, not his.

But I did not marry a born-again person and so, yes, I did have a problem when he up and got all religious on me. That religious business was just another way to control and manipulate. “You aren’t smart enough because you aren’t Mensa material. You aren’t neat and clean enough even when you say you’re trying. You aren’t saved, because you haven’t cried and humiliated yourself by confessing to the congregation all the awful things you have done in life so they can heal, bless, and forgive you.” That is not who I married. I mean, I didn’t marry a luxury vehicle, I know that, but I did marry what I thought was your basic white stripped-down Corolla. I married Jerry Barnes, Toyota dealer, who in grade school was told that he scored in the genius range on some stupid aptitude test and has spent his whole life doing things like the Rubik’s Cube to prove it. He was a lot of hot air but nice enough and kind of cute on a good day—a lot shorter than me but I didn’t think much of it, especially since Dudley Moore and Susan Anton were an item around the time we were dating. People would say, “There’s Dudley and Susan,” and I liked that. I know that’s stupid, but I was also only about 22 years old and still going to school for interior design. I liked a margarita on a Saturday afternoon and a glass of wine while cooking dinner, and so did Jerry, but now he is a teetotaler. He can’t do anything halfway or in moderation. Forgive my diversion, but thinking about first meeting Jerry made me think of my neighbor’s little Chihuahua, who is all the time trying to mount my Lab, Sheba, and I say, “There’s Dudley and Susan.” But now Dudley is dead, and very few people even remember that he was ever with Susan Anton. I loved that movie Arthur. Jerry did too, back when he was Jerry.

Presented by

Jill McCorkle is the author of five novels and four story collections. Her most recent collection of short stories, Going Away Shoes (from which this has been adapted), will be published in September.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.


Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.


How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In