|THE LAST VISIT|
by Debra Neumann I’m driving up to see you one last time. Our years of daily communion will soon end. I should be thinking about this, finding words – the right ones, to express myself clearly and succinctly. I must not omit anything. This is my last chance.Instead, I’m listening to the radio, to the market reports, although I never listen to them. Today I am absorbed with the types of steel and aluminum used in the production of beer kegs. I am also absorbed in the traffic, which threatens to delay my arrival, shortening our time together. An old dump truck, trailing branches and leaves, pulls out in front of me and slows me to a 15 mile per hour crawl. I curse – why couldn’t the jerk wait until I drove past the intersection to pull out? I can’t think about our last visit, yet I don’t want to miss one second of it. The truck, with me in its wake, is approaching the one-lane bridge. The bridge with the five-minute wait between signal changes. I easily would have made the green, but for Mr. Jerk trucker ahead. Here I sit at the signal, chafing at time lost from our visit. I could use this extra time to compose my thoughts, but they race around like gnats – the ‘no-see-ums’ that bite at exposed ankles in the summer time. My anxiety made palpable.With a screeching and clanging of gears, the truck starts up, issuing a fart of soiled air. I hold my breath, but in time am forced to inhale. The radio is now reporting the latest in unpleasant and horrifying news about the games those in power over me are playing. I switch over to the jazz station. The lyrics and music of the current tune, “The Adams Family” theme, match my mood, actually elevating it in a kind of diabolical, and frantic way. “They’re creepy and they’re kooky. . . They’re altogether ooky . . . Strange, deranged, the Adams Family.” The lyrics bounce around in my mind. I cannot escape the buzz in my brain and body. I feel like it is toying with me and recall the time my colleague’s seven-year-old kid tore the heads off my daughters’ dolls – each and every head—and tossed them in the pool. I vow to pull my thoughts together, to allow them to settle so the clarity of my feelings about our last visit might emerge.The early morning March sun rays pierce through the gathering clouds into the eyes of the oncoming drivers. I give thanks that it’s them struggling to see oncoming traffic, and not me. I think of a book that I just finished, “Shantung Compound.” The memoirist, an American expat interned at the Weihsien camp in China during World War II, describes the profound disruption of his liberal and altruistic moral foundation when he observed the self-centered, corrupt behavior of his fellow prisoners. When an American Red Cross truck arrived in the camp with a large store of food and supplies for each prisoner, no matter their nationality, the American residents claimed sole ownership of the goods, even though that meant the Americans would have sufficient goods for almost two years, while their fellow prisoners would continue to live on a bare minimum. Homo homini lupus (man is wolf to man), I reflected. The author reflected on the fact that even in the most moral and up-right individuals, self-interest and cruelty to others prevails in desperate circumstances. This is something you and I have discussed at length — the possibility for everyone’s inner wolf to attack when sufficiently terrified. Now turning into your neighborhood, I become wolf to myself, berating myself for not using my time on the drive wisely but rather scattering my thoughts like the proverbial seeds tossed upon shallow soil. I realize that I, too, teeter on the brink of terror at the thought of seeing you for the last time.Then I look up. The barren towering elms lining your neighborhood streets are bedecked with rose red rays of early morning sun. They shimmer like alpenglow on Vogelsang Peak. They have donned quince blossom caps to greet us this morning. I pull into your driveway and inhale this heart-rending beauty as I walk to your office. I want to show it to you, but it has vanished before you appear.Once together, I describe my scattered state of mind on the drive this morning, and we talk about how difficult it is to say good-bye, and the anxious and angry feelings that are stirred up in me under the buzz of thoughts. I share my recollection of the beauty I encountered on my drive, the glowing caps of the trees. We reflect on the beauty of nature that can encompass the losses of life and provide a respite from this terror-sodden world.And then it’s time to take my leave. When I walk outside, the sky has transformed. It is now leaden gray and dropping tears of snow, as my tears also drop. I am held by beauty today – the beauty of the rose red rays and the mirroring tree limbs, and now by the snow. My tongue seeks to lap up a delicate flake. Drinking in this magical beauty, I want to share it with you. I’ve only just left, and yet I miss you so already. I send a text, “look outside if you can, it’s snowing, it’s magical” and your quick response, “Yes, I see!” comforts me. Yes, I feel, no matter what, you will see it with me. About the Author:Debra Neumann is a psychologist and emerging writer who lives and writes in Bethesda, Maryland.