Crying House

5 Jan

I take my house to the psychiatrist.

“What seems to be wrong with it?” the doctor asks.

“Projection,” I say.

The doctor clucks his tongue.

“Denial,” I tell him.  “Depression.”

He shakes his head.

“I blame it on the new neighborhood,” I say.  “He hasn’t been the same since we moved.”

“You understand that I don’t usually do houses,” the doctor says.

“The people next-door,” I say.  “They’re nice enough when I’m around.  But I wonder what they’re saying behind my back in front of him.  He gets paranoid about things like that.”

The doctor narrows his eyes and nods.

“Doctor,” I say, lowering my voice to a whisper.  “I would never say this in front of him, but his real problem stems from my divorce.”

“Why do you say that?”  the doctor asks, beginning to take notes now.

“He was very attached to my ex-wife.  Much more so than I ever was.”

“Yes.”

“The whole messy thing took more than two years to sort out.  And, you know, doctor, I never thought twice about it myself.  I mean, sure, it was tragic.  As a matter of fact, it was so tragic that sometimes I wonder if I’ll be able to go on.  But I know it’s for the best, and I’ve never let it bother me.  So I never really thought about the effects on him.  There were a few problems during the proceedings.  Some sticky windows in the spring.  Some dry rot under the stairs.  Nothing I would have attributed to the divorce.  I mean, who would, right?  I mean, we all live by this myth that if your house is emotionally balanced before the divorce, it will be emotionally balanced afterward.”

The doctor nods.  He is turning the pages of his notebook regularly now.

“So life goes on, am I right?  And it went on.  Day after day.  Legal bills were piling up.  I had to work overtime three nights a week just to make a dent in them.  I neglected him.  I’ll admit to that.  I should have been spending more time at home.  A house needs attention.  You can say these things, and they sound like clichés, but they’re true.  Aren’t they true, doctor?”

“Do you think they’re true?”

“Don’t give me that psychiatrist bullshit.  You think I don’t know that rap.  A man doesn’t live with a mental health professional for ten years without learning a thing or two.  Non-directive counselling.  All the little tricks so that you never have to deal with reality.  I know how you were trained to turn every word I say against me, Doctor.  How do you feel when this? How do you feel when that? Just answer the question!”

“Hmm.  I’m afraid I’ve forgotten what the question was.”

“Of course you have.  You’re so reasonable!  You couldn’t be the crazy one!  Well, who could it be, then?  Who could be crazy around here if it isn’t you?  Our options seem pretty narrow, wouldn’t you say so?  How do you feel about our narrow options, Doctor?”

“We were talking about your house.”

“That’s right.  Until you changed the topic.”

“Tell me more about his reaction to the divorce.”

“Like I said, for two years, while the proceedings were… proceeding.  For two years there didn’t seem to be a major problem.  Some dry rot I’ve already mentioned.  How could I have guessed?  I mean suppose a man comes to you with his house, and it’s got dry rot.  Not a lot.  A little in the risers of the stairs.  An occasional sticky window, for god’s sake!  Now this man tells you his house is suffering from ill effects caused by his divorce.  What do you say about this guy, Doctor?”

“What would you say about him?”

“Typical!  Let me tell you what you would say.  Acute Fruitcake Syndrome.  AFS, to use the scientific term.  Well, this time there’s proof.”

“What do you mean by proof?”

“I first heard it the night after the papers came through.”

“The divorce papers.”

“That’s right.”

“And what, exactly, did you hear?”

“Crying.”

“Crying?”

“Crying.  Up until that point, I think he’d been avoiding thinking about the divorce all together.  He’d occupied his mind with other things.  But when the final papers came through.  Even though she’d been living away from home for almost three years at that point.  Like I say, it didn’t bother me at all.  Or rather, I didn’t let it bother me.  I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.”

“Your ex-wife?”

“Who else?”

“Go on.”

“There was a hockey game on TV, and it went into overtime.  I went to bed at about midnight.  About three I woke up.  I thought I felt the bed shaking.  Then I heard this quiet creaking sound, and I realized that the house was swaying.  Back and forth.  I opened the curtains, and there was water streaming down the window panes.  I rushed down to the livingroom and opened the curtains down there.  Same thing.  The windows were streaked with water.  It was streaming over the glass by the bucketful.  But beyond the water on the glass, I could see the stars shining in the sky.   That’s when I realized that it wasn’t raining.  It was crying.  The god damn house was crying.”

“Why do you think it was crying?”

“On the very day that my divorce papers come through!  Come on, Doctor.”

“How did you feel when you realized that your house was crying?”

“I didn’t expect you to take this seriously, Doctor.  Why do you think I went to the trouble and expense of bringing the house here?”

“You want me to examine your house.”

“That’s right.  I’m paying for fifty minutes.  I’ve still got twenty left.  It’s right out in your parking lot.  I want to prove once and for all who is crazy.”

“What do you want me to look for when I examine the house?”

“You don’t have to look for anything.  I want you to see.  This house has been crying non-stop since my divorce became final three weeks ago.”

We walk across the lobby to the back entrance of the office building.  The Doctor brings his notebook and pencil with him, and he takes notes steadily until we are outside.  My house sits on a flatbed truck at the far end of the parking lot.  The driver of the truck is sitting on the front fender, smoking a cigarette.  The house is not sobbing as heavily as it was this morning, but its trembling clapboard is clearly visible.  Tears streak the panes of the windows, upstairs and down.  Water has collected in a pool under the truck and runs down the slope of the parking lot to the street.

“What do you say now, Doctor?”

The doctor narrows his eyes and puts the eraser end of the pencil between his teeth.  “What can you tell me about its childhood?” he says.

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