Midnight Valentine

By: J.T. Geissinger


“Do you believe in reincarnation?”

“Megan. We’ve been over this before.”

“And you’ve never given me a straight answer. It wouldn’t kill you to come right out and say one way or another.”

“What’s important is what you believe, and why.”

I sit up from the uncomfortable leather sofa I’ve been lying on every Thursday for fifty minutes for the past two years and look at Dr. Singer. He’s handsome in a 1950s-engineer way, crew-cut silver hair and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, a classic white button-down shirt. I knew within ten minutes of our first visit that I could trust him, knew also that I’d lie to him like I’d lied to every other therapist I’d visited before.

There are truths too painful to be spoken aloud. Some demons should be left to rot in the dark forever.

“It’s our last session, Dr. Singer. Which means it’s your last chance to help me.”

Though he’s trained to keep a neutral expression, he visibly winces. “Do you feel I haven’t helped you, Megan?”

Of course you haven’t. But it’s not his fault all my shattered pieces can’t be glued back together, so I smile and say something nice. “You’re the best therapist I’ve ever had.”

He studies me. Behind the horn-rimmed glasses, his eyes are the color of old denim, faded from the acid wash of too many sad stories. Too many poisonous secrets have bleached them bone pale.

“Will you call Dr. Anders when you arrive in Oregon?”

“Yes,” I lie. “As soon as I’m settled.”

“I hope you do. He’s a good man. Highly qualified.”

“You’re highly qualified too. Look where that got us.”

We gaze at each other while the clock ticks quietly on the wall. Somewhere outside, a dog howls. The sound is unbearably lonely.

“You’re an intelligent woman, Megan. You know therapy will never work if you don’t commit to it.”

“I’ve been here without fail every week for two years. That’s commitment.”

“Your body’s been here, but your mind has always been somewhere else. You’ve never been completely open and truthful. Tell me I’m wrong.”

I pick up my handbag from the floor, sling it over my shoulder, and stand, ready to be done with all this. I’ve got a moving van waiting, a new life to start, a thousand dreams to bury in the desert sand.

“I’ll make you a deal. Tell me if you believe in reincarnation, and I’ll tell you something true. Anything you want to know, I’ll answer honestly.”

Dr. Singer stands, unfolding all those gangly limbs of his, and comes out from behind his desk. He stops in front of me and props his hands on his hips. “All right. I suppose better late than never.” He’s thoughtful for a moment, then says, “No, I don’t believe in reincarnation. Or an afterlife, to be perfectly frank. I think this is as good as it gets, which is why it’s so important to make the best of this life. To confront our problems, to work through them, so ultimately we can be free of them and enjoy the time we have.”

Unsurprised by this answer, I nod. “Okay. Thanks.”

In an unusual show of affection, he rests his hands on my shoulders and gazes down into my face. He says softly, “Now here’s my question: why haven’t you let me help you?”

He looks so earnest. I’m moved by his obvious sincerity, by how much he wishes he could help me, by the goodness of this person who thinks all life’s problems can be solved by talking about them.

“Because no matter how much you might want to, Dr. Singer, you can’t help someone who’s already dead.”

I pat his hand, sorry for that look of dismay I’ve caused, then turn and walk out the door.

* * *

It’s a twenty-two-hour drive from Phoenix to Seaside if you go straight through, but I stop overnight in a town with one traffic light, rent a room in a cheap motel, and lie atop the bedcovers, fully dressed, staring at the ceiling until it gets light. Then I drink three cups of terrible coffee in the small diner attached to the motel and get back on the road.

The I-5 through California is one long, boring stretch of highway, crowded with eighteen-wheelers. I listen to a blues station as the urban sprawl gives way to fields of almond trees and cow pastures. The rolling hills of the central valleys are dotted with the rangy silhouettes of oak trees, and the long grasses are burned brown from the summer sun. I take a left turn at Portland, then it’s another hour and a half to my final destination. By the time I pull into Seaside, I’m exhausted and starving, but strangely relieved.

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