Prior to the incident, Joe had been working with his therapist, Dr. Avery Harlow, for getting on six years. Though more than slightly reticent at first, he had come, over time, to appreciate and confide in Dr. Harlow, often looking forward to their biweekly sessions.
This was especially impressive given the staunch opposition to the notion of psychotherapy that Joe’s family had imposed upon him since childhood — they bought heavily into the societal stigma against it — as well as his dissatisfying experiences with Harlow’s two predecessors, neither of whom (despite excellent references) were held in fond memory by their former patient.
It had taken almost ten months for the good doctor to succeed in getting Joe comfortable enough to discuss common stressors like work and relationships, more than twice that to coax him out of his fear for confronting family dysfunction — primarily involving feelings of judgment and/or inadequacy — and longer yet to broach the evincing of certain textbook oedipal tendencies.
By the time Joe got around to divulging details of his sexual shortcomings, as it were, the two had spent the better part of four years meeting in Harlow’s spacious, warmly lit office, which was located in the basement of one of the country’s more prestigious psychiatric hospitals, and archetypically decorated with wallpaper comprised of framed degrees and accolades, a plethora of medical journals and DSMs [Diagnostic & Statistical Manuals], plus the affluent workspace staple that is lavish wooden trim.
Dr. Harlow’s lumber of choice was American black cherry, coated with only the finest quality oil-based varnish.
When overcome by intense sadness or anger, Joe would refer to his therapist by forename, but only under circumstances of exceptional duress. Harlow did not object to this, as there was a small part of him which — however dormant — found Joe’s utter inability to deal with the basic obstacles presented by adult life somewhat endearing, if also closely nudging the border with pathetic. Nothing made ol’ Joe feel more desperately insecure than the quantity and depth of his desperate insecurities, the majority of which were rooted in social anxiety brought on by trivial externalities and self-referential paranoia.
Amongst the patient’s innumerable and debilitating neuroses was a predisposition towards questioning himself aloud, then reflexively apologizing for doing so, and thereafter losing himself in a toxic maelstrom of self-loathing and pointless contrition (commonly to the extent of acutely annoying whomever he was self-indulgently venting to).
Joe shifted and fidgeted compulsively when posed with a penetrating question, but not while focusing in an attempt to avoidantly answer it. If encountering trepidation in articulating himself — which verged on being pathological — he would pause for uncomfortably long periods of time rather than choosing to fumble for words, sometimes electing not to finish whichever thought had appeared to be forming.
The patient’s most frequent and transparent nervous tic was to unconsciously touch his facial hair — which was patchy and uneven — as if to constantly reassure himself that everything was, indeed, still all there.
Avery Harlow, M.D. was an Ivy League post-graduate, and thus perpetually clean-shaven; he wore the same exotic, rich-smelling cologne to work every day, but always in a tasteful amount which Joe resented feeling momentarily drawn to. In spite of having endured over a decade of grueling education and residency training, Harlow’s impeccable genes had endowed him with a full head of thick, well-groomed gray hair, the salt-and-pepper aesthetic of which made him extremely popular with female patients and interns alike.
The good doctor had also managed to stay in reasonable shape over the years, looking at 50-something very much like every 20-something gold digger’s wet dream. Harlow’s work attire was representative of his blue-blooded pedigree, never once deviating from a crisply starched dress shirt, freshly ironed slacks, brown Oxford shoes — matched, of course, with a brown leather belt — and a designer silk necktie tightly Double Windsor knotted with the unshakeable confidence of a man accustomed to the preferential treatment affiliated with stratified social status and a hard-earned six figure salary.
It was directly following a particularly disturbing and exhaustive session for Joe and Dr. Harlow, respectively, that the incident occurred.
The day’s topic had been that of Joe’s struggle with performance anxiety linked to an irrepressible childhood memory of traumatically walking in on his parents engaging in the act of bondage intercourse with the lights on; it had been visited time and again in sessions prior, but never with such intensity and candor. As a result, the patient was feeling extraordinarily vulnerable and distraught, while the doctor was faced with the psychotherapist’s professional hazard of being and appearing at once empathic and removed.
For the final quarter of the hour long session, Joe had been weeping bitterly and without respite. Harlow, practiced in the field of feigned analytical compassion, waited patiently between dramatic sobs, pairing sound, well-informed counsel with the same distantly concerned facial expression they must teach all future analysts to perfect in residency. He then concluded the session, as always, by cutting off one of Joe’s rants mid-sentence with a simple “That’s all the time we have for today”, seamlessly followed by a kind yet encouragingly dismissive smile.
One of Avery Harlow’s few quirks and favorite vices was the regular consumption of carbonated beverages, namely ginger ale (Canada Dry, never Schweppes). He would drink at least three 12 oz. cans over the course of an eight hour workday, sometimes more. This kept him well hydrated, gastronomically settled and, pursuant to the incident under review, in relatively perpetual need of using the bathroom. Somewhat less than fortuitously, Joe had downed two very large cups of iced coffee shortly before coming into the office about an hour previously.
In the interest of privacy, all patients were required to leave Dr. Harlow’s office through a side door, so as not to come into awkward contact with the next person who was scheduled for an appointment. Joe very tellingly obeyed the procedure twice a week, every week without fail; only today he was consumed in contemplating the depth of his seemingly irredeemable dysfunction, while also being distracted by blowing his nose and wiping the tears from his eyes.
Making his way at a slow, feeble pace down the corridor, Joe hung his head in shame, looking pitifully down at the thickly carpeted floor of the hallway, right up to the spotlessly white marble tile located beneath the fateful setting for this soon to be hellaciously mortifying ordeal, a white porcelain urinal.
However distinguished and well-funded an establishment of clinical medicine, the building had always been lacking in the matter of luxury for its facilities, especially on the basement level. The entire staff had been openly bitching about it for years, to no avail or even acknowledgement from the institution’s administration.
Less than 20 seconds later, Dr. Harlow absentmindedly walked into the restroom and up to its only other urinal, the one adjacent to Joe. Both became painfully aware of who was standing next to them, and, beset by the horrifying inevitability of what they were about to endure, instinctively followed standard protocol for etiquette in a men’s restroom, which is to stare silently and straight ahead at the wall in front of you.
The rapidly deteriorating state of affairs was not helped by the occupant of the restroom’s lone stall, who was audibly and violently struggling with a bowel movement which smelled and sounded a lot like one could imagine a botched colonoscopy would if it were being performed in the middle of a war zone.
We all know, however, that one can’t very well just stop and walk away midstream; it is simply out of the question. And so, as the air became heavier with the stench of human excrement coupled with the tension of situational strife, a twofold sequence of events took place involuntarily and in tragically perfect harmony. Poor ol’ Joe, yet again, burst unreservedly into tears with discernible hopelessness; while Dr. Harlow, yet unprecedentedly, burst into a laughter most boisterous and (perceivably) cruel.
Naturally, the good doctor’s intent was not to ridicule this woefully downtrodden patient of so many years and tears, but that is, of course, precisely what happened.
Neither had any control over their reactions, much less the ensuing consequences. Joe physically collapsed, crumpling with utterly graceless Freudian immaculacy into the fetal position on the clinically frigid tile floor; he proceeded to soil himself, pants wrapped around thin, hairless ankles, clutching all the while at his visibly dwindling manhood — which by now was so thoroughly emasculated as to virtually ensure the fate of his already crippled sexual identity to a life sentence of solitude and frustration.
Dr. Harlow continued to howl uncontrollably as he attended to the business of emptying his bladder with a steady stream of Canada Dry (which stream, on this occasion, flowed with extraordinary force and cadence); his laughter gradually subsided in strength and with time — quite a long time, it must be said — as his urine provided the horrid, tinkling soundtrack to the untimely demise of Joe’s ill-favored sexuality, until eventually, mercifully…the perverse waking nightmare came to a close.
Off the clock and out of the office, what then was the good doctor to do? He zipped up, stepped over the still quivering patient, then washed his hands and walked casually away from the scene of the crime and its wretched victim.
Avery Harlow never spoke of the incident to anyone (Hippocratic Oath and whatnot), nor did he ever see or hear from his patient of so many years and tears again. Joe joined his former therapist in the vow of undeviating silence, holding to it devoutly and for the remainder of his short life.
Neither would ever willfully access so much as a fragmented memory of the incident as long as they lived, content more understandably in casting the whole ugly sequence of events into the seedy, quagmired obscurity of collective human subconsciousness.
As for the man of sonorous and belabored defecation who had been confined to the auditory isolation of the stall for the incident’s duration, well he would live in disturbed bewilderment with regard to the whole thing through the end of his days. Diego was his name; he did not speak English.