After four weeks of silence my phone rang. She was at O’Hare on a two-hour layover, so she thought she’d give me a ring. The program in San Francisco was a tremendous success. Lots and lots and lots of important work. Really. Plenty to mull over in the months to come. And yes, of course, we should get together. Soon.
I offered to pick her up at the Philadelphia airport when she arrived, but she said thanks, but she’d made other arrangements. “How about we meet for drinks at Bravo Bistro day after tomorrow?” she said. “Or better yet, the next day? I’ve got a whole lot of catching up to do, and by then I ought to be free.”
“That will be great,” I replied.
* * *
I was on my second scotch when Dr. Joan finally showed up. She had a nice tan, and she was coolly elegant in her dark pin-stripped suit jacket, over which hung a white silk scarf. Her trousers were sharply creased. Just a few gold accents at the throat, on her earlobes. I thought it might not be a good idea to embrace her because she might interpret it as too excessive a display of emotion in a public place. But then it occurred to me if I didn’t, she’d immediately demand to know why I was being so distant. But when I put my arms around her I felt her stiffen.
She wanted her usual, a martini with a pearl onion.
“So tell me about your adventures in California.”
“It was absolutely fabulous,” she said.
“May I ask you a question?”
“Was Todd there?”
She shook her head. It was more like an expression of disgust than a denial. She didn’t say anything. Yes, Todd was there the whole time. To guide her through all that “inner work.”
I hadn’t planned it at all, it just came to me. At that second. And it wasn’t at all dramatic or overwhelming, as I imagined such a thing might be. No, it was more like that T. S. Eliot end-of-the-world whimper. Or perhaps the snap of a small twig.
It’s over. All I need to do is say it out loud. So I did.
Dr. Joan didn’t appear at all surprised. “I kind of knew this was coming, sooner or later,” she said.
“So how about we put a cordial, formal end to it? A sort of brief summation and farewell?”
“That’s really a good idea,” I said. “But excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
I stood at the urinal thinking about what she’d said earlier about excavations. Archeology. What San Francisco was presumably all about. She and Todd shoveling the layered dust of their subconscious. Four weeks of digging, side by side, in the California wilderness. These tortured jealous thoughts of mine are what? Let’s see. They are merely another manifestation of…well, you know!
A bright white flash, probably like the one Saul of Tarsus experienced on his slouch to Damascus. I suddenly knew what I’d tell Dr. Joan as a parting shot. Yes, indeed. She expects something from me, and by God I’ll give it to her. Just a final bit of my rhetoric! Oh, she’ll love it.
I’ll tell her that in 1945 an Egyptian farmer was digging in his fields and unearthed a big clay urn, which he eagerly smashed open with his pick, hoping to find treasure. But he was disappointed. Inside was just a bunch of leather-bound papyrus books, written in Coptic, which turned out to be the texts of Gnosticism, an ancient religious movement within early Christianity.
I’ll tell Dr. Joan that Gnostics claimed to possess what they paradoxically called “knowledge of the unknowable.” They proclaimed they understood the hidden aspects of the divine, the cosmos, and—most important—the self.
And, in a famous passage, they insisted:
"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
I know what will happen after I intone my pedantic lecture. She’ll give me that regal, superior, detached clinical look of hers and then say: “So what’s your point, James?”
And I’ll tell her: “In all this, Joan, I don’t think you’ve brought forth one damned thing.”
I zipped up my fly, washed and dried my hands, and walked quickly toward the bar. Yes, that’ll be my summation, my farewell. Which that tightly-wrapped woman won’t likely forget. No sir.
But when I got there her stool was empty. I looked around. The bartender leaned over and said, “Your lady friend told me to tell you, sorry, but she was late for an appointment.”
“Oh. Thanks,” I said.
* * *