• Green Lights, Blue Skies

    Lea Carpenter

    Spring 2020

    David didn’t have a single problem, at least not according to David. When Lizzie finally convinced him to talk to a shrink, he came home after the very first session and announced, “I’m perfect, apparently,” so she said, “you’re what?” And he repeated, “I’m perfect, can you believe it? That’s what your doctor said, perfect. I actually think he said it twice.” And as he spread jam on a leftover pancake, he went on to explain how the doctor praised his willingness to “try out self-reflection,” how that indicated depth on his part. And empathy. He leaned into that word when he said it, knowing it would resonate. Empathy had been an issue between them.

    “You don’t even know what empathy means,” she’d said, the last time they’d fought about it.

    “I know exactly what it means,” he said. “It means that whatever you feel is true.”

    He told her he wasn’t actually sure if the doctor he’d seen, the one she’d so carefully selected, even was a doctor. Which was so like David, who’d been bred to distrust. It was part of his pathology. It was part of what she’d hoped the good doctor could unpack. And perhaps he had sensed that, which was why he had to knock the experience. He asked her if she even understood the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, pausing as he often did to deliver a lecture on a topic about which he knew absolutely nothing and therefore about which he was infinitely knowledgeable. He told her he confronted the doctor about whether the doctor was, in fact, a “proper” doctor. And before Lizzie could question the use of the word “proper,” David was barreling on, as was his way. “I wasn’t sure,” he said. “I didn’t see any certificates on the wall.”

    And as she felt her blood pressure rise, he went on to say how the “quote un-quote doctor” had said, emphatically and with confidence, “You don’t have any of the problems other people I see have.” David looked at Lizzie, his wife of five years, and thought, Checkmate. He looked at her and thought, Take that, empathy. And she looked at him and thought that if she had a hammer, she would use it to smash through the wall.

    She could have countered at that point. She could have said something like, “A psychiatrist would never say that, never tell someone they don’t have problems,” only suddenly she couldn’t hear herself, she couldn’t see six inches in front of her. The room blurred to blues. She went to the window and looked out.

    He walked to her and crossed his arms. “People having serious problems,” he announced, “is an epidemic.” Then he laughed at the windowpane, as if windowpanes could also be intimidated. “People should really get their shit together, doll.” He often called her “doll,” as if he were a 1940s gangster, which in a way he kind of was.

    Lea Carpenter is a novelist and screenwriter; her new book, Ilium, is forthcoming from Knopf.

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