The afternoon passed predictably in all other respects, just as Dr. Ed would have predicted. Everyone, he noticed, had performed exactly according to script. Nurse Sloggett, for one, had been her predictably efficient, invisible self. As regards his patients, those who seemed to be on an improving track had improved to a predictable extent; those who had been previously stagnant had remained predictably so; and those who bore the misfortune of a steadily worsening condition had indeed worsened, just as one would have, in fact, predicted. He did feel for this last group, really he did, but if pharmacology had not yet isolated the particular biological mechanism that was the mainspring of their disorder, what could be done for them? One simply offered an empathetic ear; an empathetic ear was all that they could count on. They endured, or tried to, beyond the horizon of science. Sadly (but predictably), however, human endurance had its all-too-human limits.
As he left the office for the day, Nurse Sloggett reminded him that she would be absent on Thursday to attend a memorial for her late husband, who had died in 1991. She would be replaced, she said, by the same, capable temp whose services she always retained on such (thankfully rare) occasions. She would be replaced by Vicky, Vicky Verky.
Dr. Ed’s wife was (again, predictably) out when he got home (he was on time; it was 5:15). Out shopping, most likely, Dr. Ed presumed, what with the stores now staying open late for Xmas. But she was always out shopping, Xmas or no. Shopping was one of her 2.5 essential, predictable things, her defining traits, the sine quibus non of her existence.
Now, when Dr. Ed had first met his wife, her behaviour had been wildly un-predictable. She had been all over the place, doing all kinds of things, whereas he’d only been in a couple of (very similar) places, doing one particular thing. Her unpredictability had been the only stable thing about her, it had seemed to him back then. In this respect, she had resembled, and had surpassed, the two great loves of Dr. Ed’s life:
(i.) His mother, Mary, from whom he had been emotionally estranged for 27 years but with whom he communicated, in a superficial way, regularly.
(ii.) Dark, dark-eyed Agnes Hume, a girl he had fallen for in high school and whose heart he had broken, when the going got tough, by . . . by going.
Back in 1983, when Dr. Ed’s wife had first appeared to him (a mystical apparition for a medical apparatchik) she had come across as almost, well—crazy—but this had seemed to be the ‘good’ kind of crazy. It was the kind of crazy that a man in need of a little craziness likes. It was ‘creative’ crazy rather than ‘destructive’ or ‘harmless’ crazy (both of which were just another way of saying plain-old-crazy). She’d been an electric crazy, a crazy with energy. When he met her, her kind of crazy had been as unfathomable as simultaneous knowledge of both the position and momentum of an electron. Oh, she was an electron alright, an erratic, perturbed energized electron, captured from another, far less attractive orbit by the infinitely greater valence that Dr. Ed had to offer.
She’d been a commercially unsuccessful sculptress, involved in a relationship with a surly, equally obscure Czech print-maker named Erazhim. For eight years they had lived and worked together, she and Erazhim, and for eight years the worlds of art and commerce had passed the two of them by. And the more workaday reality neglected them, the more their art rejected the sublunary world. They retreated into geometry. His wood-cuts, which at the outset of his career had had the draughtsman-like precision and intricacy (but not the love of paradox) of Escher, ended up looking like Etch-a-Sketches, black on gray, like a Miro without colour, form or composition. Her work, which had at first been a relatively pleasing plagiarism of Henry Moore, eventually settled on Archimedean (and then Platonic) solids. Her very last piece, created not long after meeting Dr. Ed, had been an acrylic cube.
She and Erazhim had been living with this neglect, and living in relative penury, for eight long years when Dr. Ed first met her at the wake of his mentor (and her uncle), Simon Sainsbury. Simon Sainsbury was a Professor Emeritus at the university and had been a past director of the Eastern Psychiatric Hospital, where Dr. Ed was working at the time. For his part, when Dr. Ed first met his future wife he had been celibate for sixteen long years. Not since 1967 had he had anything at all to do with women, excepting, of course, the requisite relationships of a strictly professional nature that are inseparable from the quotidian life of the psychiatrist. All during that period his one and only focus, his overriding obsession, had been his work. His work, his life.
Dr. Ed’s wife had changed all that, for a while at least. She’d brought to his world something that it had lacked, something that (he would never have admitted) he’d missed; it was something that, in the past (long-lost in the long-passed past, in the petrified forest of the heart, where ghostly, romantic ideals clutch on to mute yearnings and forever perform their static waltz, frozen in the tar sands of human time) Agnes and his mother had once provided: a bit of drama, a sense of danger, the knowledge of never knowing where one stands, the necessity of risk-taking, the primacy of continual courtship. When he met her, Dr. Ed’s wife had as many faces as a dodecahedron. By the time of their marriage, he’d learned to woo them all. First came the quickly traversed ‘front nine’: the Little-girl-lost, the Siren, the Wicked Step-sister, the Pandora-finds-Hope, the High Priestess, the Empress, the Courtesan, the Madonna, the Moll. Only much later, and much more slowly, did she reveal her Holy Trinity, her consubstantial three-in-one of haughty Hera, disdainful Daphne, and above all, moody Medusa.
Around this time, a few years after they were married, Dr. Ed’s wife had ceased her sculpturizing and commenced her shopping—which promptly became, as Dr. Ed called it, her thing #1. Around the same time, her unpredictability began to level out, to flatten, to move from three into two dimensions, from dodecahedron into dodecagon. But it wasn’t her shopping, her thing #1, that caused it, this loss of dimensionality. No indeed! For it was only in her shopping that she kept a residual portion of this former self alive. As her life (following the lead of her body, following the lead of her mind) steadily lost its elasticity, it was only her shopping that persisted in giving it form and meaning. It was shopping, in fact, that saved her. Her shopping had to become as mercurial, as energetic, as her former life had been; it just had to. For she had to express herself, and failing that she absolutely had to find a surrogate, to locate some other outlet for self-expression. And shopping was it.
It had taken Dr. Ed almost a year to discover, at the bottom of her seemingly random mercantile manoeuvres, a habitual pattern of procuration, a distinct method, and one that he eventually worked up into a handy algorithm: She would either shop in town on three (or four) consecutive days or she would go to the City for three (or four) successive days of shopping. In either case, she would buy three (or four) different colours of the same outfit, and either return either all of them or return none of them, the very same day: IFF [if and only if] all of them, then she would buy three (or four) different outfits at three (or four) different merchants on the three (or four) succeeding days, and all of these would be in the same colour. However, in every case, whether she returned all or none of the original selections, she would nevertheless return to the Mall the same day to purchase three (or four) appropriate accessories for each item purchased on that day. That made nine (or twelve, or sixteen) accessories in all, with each group of three (or four) subject to the same deliberations regarding the possibility of return or exchange as the initial three (or four) outfits!
That was his wife’s thing number 1.
Thing number 2 had to do with her family tree. Dr. Ed’s wife came from a long line of daughters who, somehow, had borne only daughters. Dr. Ed’s wife had 4 sisters, but no brothers. On her mother’s side she had three aunts (but no uncles), all of whom had given birth to varying quantities of daughters (but no sons). The maternal narrative pointing back to the families of her grandmother and great-grandmother and beyond told much the same tale.
Dr. Ed’s wife’s family were Evangelical Christians, and they spoke of it as a ‘blessing’ from the Lord, but it proved to be much more like a curse for the sisters of Dr. Ed’s wife, each of whom had felt compelled to thwart, each in her separate way, what appeared to be their biological and spiritual destiny. In the late 1960s the eldest daughter had become a Maoist, and had had herself sterilized. The second daughter had converted to Roman Catholicism and had joined a convent. The third daughter had married a missionary, and had adopted twelve children, all boys, when she and her husband lived and taught in the Ivory Coast. The fourth had become a hard-headed-and-hearted economist, rarely leaving her office atop the tallest of the phallic bank towers in the City. As for Dr. Ed’s wife, she had herself embraced the sexual revolution wholeheartedly, and had been on the pill since her last year of high school.
At first, Dr. Ed had accepted his wife’s outright refusal to discuss, let alone to have, children. He had accepted it when they were newlyweds because their sex life was so good (3x/week, without fail), and he would have been loath to ‘interrupt’ it. He had accepted it from year 3 to year 5 because he had been monumentally busy with his career. He had continued accepting it in years 6 & 7 because . . . because . . . he honestly couldn’t remember why because. By year 8 his acceptance had become second nature, and he no longer wanted children at all—and had developed, in fact, a particular aversion even to the idea of having them. Ironically, however, just this past September he had been rooting about in his wife’s closet, busily confirming that his wife was taking her birth control pills, when he spotted a bottle of Clomid, a commonly prescribed fertility drug. He emptied the contents into the toilet and tossed the empty container into the waste basket. And the incident passed without comment on either side.
It was around this time that a young man had appeared on his doorstep and had rung his doorbell. The purple dye on the boy’s face testified to the fact that it was ‘Frosh’ or initiation week on campus, and that he was most likely one of the first year engineering students, who were always out canvassing for one charity or another at that time of year, and Dr. Ed was quite prepared to give a little something to the cause, whatever it was, and he adopted an expression of good-natured neighbourliness as he made greetings. Dr. Ed was not at all prepared, however, for what the boy then said. He asked Dr. Ed if he was Dr. Ed, and when Dr. Ed informed him that he was indeed himself, the young man said, looking at the ground:
—Sir I . . . I think I’m your son.
* * *
Thing #3 about Dr. Ed’s wife counted, in Dr. Ed’s estimation, as only ½ a thing. It used to count as a whole thing, back when they’d first met, but now it didn’t. It didn’t count anymore, because it was, in Dr. Ed’s eyes, the most supremely boring, the most ultra-boring, the boring-est-est, most predictable thing of all about his wife. That thing, that ½-a-thing, was that she was the baby in her family.
Now, everyone knows that babies like to be babied, and that the baby of the family, of pretty well every family, does in fact usually get what is coming to him or her: lots and lots (and lots) of babying—of baby-abying, in fact, from their first coochy-coochy-coos right on up to their Sweet 16 convertible. And everyone knows that it is pretty much an inevitable and unavoidable fact that this would be, would always be, so. After all, families are families, and babies are . . . well, babies.
It is also inevitable that the non-babies in a family get treated to a significantly less amount of babying themselves, and resent their babied baby siblings—that is, to a certain extent. That certain extent is proportional to both the total amount of babying energy (and financial resources) available to any set of parents as well as to the perceived babying differential, i.e. the perceived percentage difference in babying, relative to a given normative standard. And in a family of 5 children, for example (such as in Dr. Ed’s wife’s family), the normative standard would be 1/5, which would mean that each of the 5 children would be entitled to 1/5 of a family’s love, attention, Xmas gifts, etc. Now, in a family of only 2 children, the normative standard would be ½, so that the perceived differential could be much higher.
Sibling resentment was thus the mathematical product of these three great factors: (i.) the Total Energy (or Carrying Capacity), Et of the family; (ii.) the Perceived Sibling Differential, Dp; and (iii.) the Normative Standard, Sn, which as a fraction turns the resulting formula into a quotient:
According to Dr. Ed’s calculations, then, Sibling Resentment (Rs) would be greatest in small, wealthy families, and smallest in large, poor families. It all added up. However, there was something else, something as yet unaccounted for by Dr. Ed’s model. Dr. Ed knew at a visceral level that sibling resentment was most likely to be felt and/or expressed by first-born children, who in terms of age are located at a further remove than younger siblings, and who must always feel that they were the ‘Error’ in the parental ‘Trial-and-Error’ approach to child-rearing. Dr. Ed was cognizant of this complicating factor, but to this date had proven unable to establish an imaginatively satisfying pseudo-mathematical model for it.
Now, Dr. Ed was himself a first-born. Verymuchso. And in the average first-born’s eyes, the babied baby of the family is a Biglittlebaby, a Crybaby, a spoiled-rotten-little-Bratbaby. In this, Dr. Ed was no exception; his attitude towards the baby-like qualities of his wife’s behaviour was not exactly a supportive one. But this had not always been the case.
When he had first met his future wife, he had courted her, as both he and she had seen it, with exhaustive rigour. In the first weeks there were flowers every day (something that struck his future wife as a delightful anachronism, a holdover from the dark suit/skinny tie days of young men borrowing their father-knows-best-mobiles and driving their dates through Eisenhowerville and McCarthyton to the Nuclear Sock Hop at deTocqueville High, with perhaps a chaste and wholesome fully clothed stopover on the way home, in the parking lot atop Big Rock Candy Mountain). There were also all manner of little presents, from boxes upon boxes of Moirs Black Magic chocolates, to books (The Love Poetry of Rod McKuen, Come Be With Me by Leonard Nimoy), long-playing records (Max Bygraves: Sing Along With Max, Ray Conniff: The Love That Loves To Love), and jewelry (two silver hearts on a silver chain on St. Valentine’s Day, a Star Sign charm bracelet on her birthday, a golden tennis anklet for Xmas). And Dr. Ed’s future wife took all of these, and more, in her stride, seeing it all as part of the natural order of things. After all, she knew the drill. She’d had male admirers before her dour and parsimonious painter Erazhim had come along, and she knew what to expect from the courtly courtier. So, naturally, she enjoyed being the focus of her future husband’s attention, and foresaw no reason why it must ever stop.
But stop it did, and it did so just as they were both getting comfortable with each other, too, just 24 months or so into their connubial adventure! The manner in which its surcease came to pass is full of complications in the medical sense of the word—replete with secondary eruptions and related, consequent paroxysms, but despite the rather convoluted trajectory of their relationship (marked by any number of fits and starts, by progressions and regressions, by bitter tantrums and sour recriminations here, and by sweet, tearful reconciliations and subsequent, pungent lovemaking there) its underlying pathology was in no way occult.
Aside from her refusal to have children, it had all boiled down to this: Dr. Ed had found himself in the discomfiting yet familiar role of becoming intimate with a beguiling, yet profoundly disturbed patient: he had stumbled, despite his best intentions, into a relationship with a person whose catalogue of needs and wants could never be assuaged, but were destined to continue metastasizing. Dr. Ed’s wife was, he eventually realized, someone who could never be satisfied with the tangible but finite rewards of the mating ritual of the human species. There just had to be more, always, always always. How had Dr. Ed ended up on this degenerate, embolic artery of life?
It was sometime around 24th months into his marriage that Dr. Ed had come to feel, with increasing acuity, that his problem had been self-inflicted, that in courting his wife he had participated in a kind of self-willed delusion borne of an entirely irrational and heretofore undiagnosed neediness of his own. His wife had thus appeared on his personal horizon in the classically delusional manner, much as fertile, green fields commonly appeared to sailors afflicted with the delirium known as Calenture, sailors who had wearied of and who had been worn down by their ship’s continual, aimless drifting in the doldrums of the tropics. The hot, sticky, airless tropics. The unending unreason, the sinister sensuality and the pointless passions of the tropics.
It was time, he’d eventually realized, for a return to the north! After the sauna, first a good birch-switching and then a roll in the snow! Out of the hot tub and into a bracing cold shower! Lassitude, be gone! Dr. Ed was not a man to tire easily, but tired had not begun to describe how Dr. Ed had come to feel about his wife’s unceasing quest to be nurtured and coddled. They both needed this, this limbeck or medicinal, this emetic, this purgative drug, this rhubarb and senna. And so henceforth—and so hence! No more mollycoddling!
—No More Mollycoddling! he had pronounced late one night, around about the time of his dissertation defence, when his wife had characteristically simpered that they were all out of Margarita mix and that there was no money in her allowance account (however could she expect to be allowed to go shopping, to go to town, if her allowance account was always empty?), and would he mind ever so much to pick her up some more?
—Hand-Holding Stops Here! he said. Newsflash: Coddling, Cosseting Condemned! Pampering Proscribed! Read All About It In Saturday’s Loyalist Ledger! Babying Babies Banned!!
* * *
Perhaps it was more complicated than that, their hymeneal negotiations, their bickering and dickering, their bartering and chaffering. Perhaps we fail to give Dr. Ed, and his wife, their due, perhaps just as Dr. Ed himself did. Perhaps, at some level, they have nurtured an intergrafting of hands, of eyes, of hearts, an ‘interassurance,’ as the Poet says, ‘of the mind.’ Perhaps they have cultured, in their own idiosyncratic fashion, a variety of love, and the appropriate metaphor might be:
Not transaction, but translation, a forever-
ferrying across the border
of duty-free goods.
Perhaps, too, we should not sketch her, as Dr. Ed has, in such broad strokes; perhaps there is simply more to her than is being suggested. Perhaps it is just not true that ‘there’s no there there.’ Hmm, perhaps. But again: her behaviour suggests otherwise. . . .
And perhaps Dr. Ed, moreover, shouldn’t be made out to be some kind of simpleton, some kind of caricature, some archetypal derivative, some mutant species of egghead/caveman. Perhaps. But he did say the things recorded here, he did in fact utter them. And since we can never really get inside mind of Other People, since we can only pretend to know what drives them—to discover what causes, explains, and, ultimately, excuses their actions—all we have to go on, to quote the Man himself, is their behaviour.
Everything else is, well, fiction.