When I was thirteen, George S. had moved to Henrietta with two children, set up a practice, courted my mother, and lured her away from her job as nurse with Uncle Doc. My mother and I then lived in our green-siding little house near the cemetary. I didn’t like him much, didn’t want to move, and felt uncomfortable with the children, just toddlers really.
But, as families do, with silence, blunders, armistices, tacit agreements, and slow familiarity, we got along. We lived on the upper floors above his office, and later built a fancy house on the south end of town. From there I moved to college, dropped out, and later worked in Dallas at the Cabana Hotel.
His practice was busier than ever. He’d also bought the Schwend house just north of his office, and was renovating it for a rent house. A beautiful five-legged dining table from that house sat now in my Dallas apartment, and he was at the door.
“Don’t you have to be in the office?” I asked.
“Probably I should be,” he smiled, “But I can take off now and then. I just felt like visiting.”
I was flattered, but it was odd. We talked and talked; he was full of new projects, the rent house, some antiques. That evening he took us to Cattlemen’s steakhouse. Afterward, he wanted to see the movie Irma la Douce, which was a sweet-hearted romantic comedy about a hooker.
Now it was getting late, and he’d always been early to bed. A country doctor might be called from sleep in the middle of the night, so sleep was husbanded as a precious resource. But not tonight. He wanted coffee. He wanted to talk, more talkative than I’ve ever seen him. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.
Finally I had to sleep. I gave him my bed, and sacked out on the old sofa from my grandmother’s farm. It seemed I’d just dozed off when Clang- bang! Already it was early morning, and he was clattering in the kitchen.
Breakfast. More coffee, more animated talk. As it happened, it was my days off, so I was free. But he seemed behaving oddly to me, so I slipped away to call my mother. She was on edge.
“Ohmigod!” she said. “He’d just vanished. Something’s wrong. He’s been acting strange, and he just took off!” We talked. She thought. She decided. She asked me whether I could keep him for a couple of days. “It’s serious,” she said. “He’s destroying his practice.” She wanted to talk it over with Uncle Doc, and please call her back tomorrow.
I said OK.
By the next afternoon, I was bedraggled, exhausted. He was running on some nervous energy I didn’t understand. We’d driven the Morgan all over town, looking at apartments and scenery. I called my mother, and confessed I couldn’t keep this up. He didn’t seem to sleep; it was difficult to keep him from wandering off.
She told me to take him to X. Hospital, for psychiatric examination.
“Are you serious?” I said.
I had no other bright ideas, and I was already starting to get mad at him. I agreed.
At first it was easy, driving around in the Morgan. I just headed out toward the place; I knew where it was. He did, too. Along the way he became suspicious, glancing at me sharply.
“Where are we going?” he demanded.
I told him. He looked off into the distance. I wondered whether he’d start wrestling with the wheel. He leaned back.
“You know,” he said, “Your mother and I have been very worried about you.” He went on in this vein. It now seemed that he was taking me to the hospital.
I had no trouble getting him to go in; he led the way. At the desk he said, “I’m here to commit my son.” And I said “I’m here to commit my stepfather.” The nurse looked from him to me and back again.
“Please have a seat,” she said.
We sat. My nerves were rattling like a tamborine. They called my stepfather into an office. I waited. I spotted a payphone and wrangled quarters. I called our house. My Uncle Doc answered. “Where are you?” he demanded.
“I’m at X. Hospital,” I said. “I told them I was here to commit him, and he told them he was here to commit me, and they don’t know who to believe.” I wanted Uncle Doc to call them and speak to them, but he was too quick.
“Keep him there!” he ordered, “We’re on our way!” The line went dead; he’d hung up.
The nurse came to escort me into the office. An ancient psychiatrist, a contemporary of Freud and Jung perhaps, sat behind a wide desk, writing notes using a lovely fountain pen, with a hand that trembled and shook uncontrollably. With a kindly grandfather air, he looked over his glasses at me.
“Just how long have you been taking this L.S.D.?” he asked me. The rest of our little chat persisted along these same lines.
For about a hundred years of silence in the waiting room, I stewed while my mother and Uncle Doc were driving to Dallas. In a flurry, they arrived. Within a few minutes I was given leave to depart. Depart I did.
Soon after, I moved from Dallas. I abandoned the lovely table and my grandmother’s beautiful sofa. My haste to leave was strong. I was in St. Louis when my stepfather left the hospital and returned to Henrietta, to resume his troubled practice.
In St. Louis, I worked at the railroad, and in a hotel. It was there that I received a phone call. My stepfather had died.
I didn’t go to the funeral. It was just too much.