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Driving across the Plains
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“Full disclosure,” ‘Dan” said. “My sister is a therapist. Also, both my parents.”

“That isn’t something you need to necessarily share out about, unless you think it affects your participation in this group,” David said. “Do you think it does?”

“Well,” Dan said, looking around at the eight of us in the circle. “Does anyone else object?”

Everyone nodded their head ‘no’.

“Why would it affect his participation?” I asked David.

“Why don’t you ask Dan that?” David asked, looking at me.

“Ok. Dan,” I looked at him, he was at the almost opposite side of the circle. “why would that matter to your participation?”

“Well, because…obviously I come from a therapeutic background.”

I searched my brain for what that meant: ,’therapeutic background’. Did it mean this wasn’t his first time in therapy? Group therapy? Did he actually think, as some people do, that knowing a therapist gave him some kind of inside angle on this process? That it was unfair snooker, like a pool hustler, that he had a diagnostic advantage?

A pause fell over the group. David asked us how our respective weeks had gone and who wanted to start.

“Well, I guess….I mean….I will, if nobody else wants to,” Pammy said, blushing. She always acts like she is an intruder, a shy intruder, someone who hates to talk about themselves, yet, she begins every single session talking about herself. She’s a pale, slender woman in her early 30s, with great round blue orbs of eyes and a gamine kind of cut to her short curly hair. She dresses exclusively in pastels. I don’t know if that’s significant or not because I don’t come from a ‘therapeutic background’, but it’s not common in these days of earth tones and blacks. She has sleeping problems, also problems at work because she is always late account of the sleep problems. People at work blame her for stuff she isn’t responsible for and she has a hard time standing up for herself because she is always late. She eats lunch at her desk most days because she doesn’t want it to look like she’s taking more time off for herself but she feels like everyone is looking at her because once in a while she goes on Etsy or other sites to look for fun stuff, she’s into crafts and is always looking for ideas. Sometimes, like maybe ONCE, she was late to a meeting after lunch because she was finalizing a purchase.

I once read that some modern composer said that he drew inspiration for his monotonous work by driving across the Great Plains alone at a leisurely pace. He recommended that people try it. He said, “If it’s boring for an hour, try it for a day, if it’s boring for a day, try it for a week” and so forth. I want to tell Pammy about this. I want to tell her that she can take an exit from that long, circular, endless tromp across nowhere- land. I want to tell her that she doesn’t have to feel alone, different, despised, all she really has to do is set her alarm a few minutes earlier, maybe get a cheap battery-run clock from Target that you have to keep pressing. Maybe, while she’s at Target get, like, a dark grey sweater or something that doesn’t make her look like she just stepped out of the Easter Parade.

Instead, I listen to my group of fellow plains-drivers give suggestions which range from the anodyne, “Maybe go to bed earlier?” to the inane, “Have you told your boss that you feel like people are looking at you?” They are all trying to be helpful, they are kind, they feel sorry for her. Dan is looking at Pammy ruminatively, in the way that he probably feels a therapist would do.

David, on the other hand, asks Pammy if she likes her job.

“It’s okay,” Pammy says. “I mean, I’d like it better if the people were nicer to me.”

“What about other people you interact with?” David asks. “Neighbors, family, friends?”

Pammy starts crying and shaking her head. For some reason Dan starts shaking his, too.

I have been in this group for 4 sessions. My health insurance covers 12 so I have 8 more. I wonder what kind of drug or drink I could take that would make sitting through this 8 more times even possible.

I’m here because my boyfriend says that I have a lot of hostility. Not passive aggression, not gaslighting, no one has ever accused me of that. He says that I am hard to live with because I think the worst of people and my negativity is difficult to take on a daily basis. Wimp. My last boyfriend said something similar. My sisters aren’t speaking to me right now because apparently I ‘spoiled’ a baby shower by talking about Sudden Infant Death but I mean, for chrissakes, I talked about it, I didn’t create it.

I am trying to develop empathy and compassion for genus homo sapien but I don’t think this is the right place for me, not yet. I don’t think these kindly middle-class folk, Banderlog, really have anything to complain about.

I think I should put myself somewhere like Yemen or Syria or Detroit or any Emergency Room, some place with drama and suffering. I don’t want to cross South Dakota on a motor bike, I simply don’t care. But why don’t I? That is the question I want to ask but there doesn’t seem to be a mechanism in the ‘therapeutic’ structure to focus on that.

I don’t feel safe here. There is something in the banal routine of kindness that costs no one anything that doesn’t feel right to me, it doesn’t feel real. We are more like people stuck in an elevator together than like any kind of more essential grouping except that each of us wants something and we cannot get it on our own or we already would have. In that respect, I do have at least recognition of us all as being human together, for better or worse. We have needs. One of them is other people. But isn’t that the crux of the matter, the human situation which is that we all need each other desperately but at the same time we find one another to be very, very irritating much of the time?

Should I say that? Would any of these lovely fellow humans understand me any better? Or should I just keep driving?

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