Marvin Fishman and Darlene Meriwether broke up. She called him a fool. A loser. A leech.
Actually she said, “You’re a forty-two year old loser, with no job, no money, no prospects, living in Malvern, Long Island, in a four-bedroom center hall colonial with his mother and a cat that lives in the basement and pees in her plants. What kind of a person does that? A loser fool.”
Up ‘til then they had dated fitfully. On and off. But then, that evening, over a bowl of vegetable jalfrezi she made from scratch, he said he thought he just didn’t think he’d ever get married again. Her face fell.
Only moments before, she had said maybe it was time for him to turn his life around and maybe would he like to bring a toothbrush and a change of underwear over with him the next time he came.
He looked at her. And that’s when he said that he wasn’t sure but he thought maybe he didn’t want to get married again.
“I’m not asking you to get married! You think I’d want to marry a loser fool like you?”
He looked at her. She told him to get up.
She told him he was leaving and that he’d have to walk home because she wasn’t driving him back this time or ever, nor would she give him the seventeen dollars for a cab, and no, she would not pack up some of the jalfrezi to take with him.
That was it.
He walked home. He sulked for a week.
His mother asked him what was wrong. A month later she asked if he was ready to look for job.
A month later she told him to leave. He asked if he could use her phone.
He called his old college roommate, a kind of dweeby, successful Transactional Analysis therapist, who took him in on the one condition that he join one of his therapy groups.
He had no other choice. He got a haircut. He polished his shoes, ironed his jeans, and decided that he wanted people to call him Marlon instead of Marvin.
Marlon helped out. He did the dishes. He made dinners and coffee in the morning. They talked.
“Listen, Marlon,” Seymore said, “you are only a loser fool if you choose to act like one.”
He convinced Fishman that changing his name, as important a step as it might be, was only a first step and that he “needed to change his life script.”
“Marvin’s story,” he said, “was a loser because that is how he saw himself and how he let others see him. But, Marlon, gets to start all over. Write new one.”
Fishman, of course, wanted a new start but deep down, though, he knew there was loser-ness in him. If therapy could erase that, make him a new man, then bring it on.
Around the therapy circle, he wanted to believe, the others were men like him. They had to be. Why else would they be there? Why else would they subject themselves to this ridiculous self-introspection. Hoping for a magical get-out-of-loser-jail card at $150 a session?
This aside, he listened. He watched. One meeting after another. It was not easy. The mere mention of what Seymore called his Parent Ego State, sent him into a discomfiting fog: the conflicting soft, nurturing parent set against the cold, critical one within him were both almost a physical presence in the room, elbowing one another and tugging at his limbs.
It was Seymore.
“Marlon, can you tell us what you’re thinking?”
“You haven’t said anything yet. I think we can all see that things are going on in your head.”
“My mother always told me that one day I would blame her.”
“She said, ‘It’s always the mother. And mark my words, one day you will say that I did it to you.’”
“Did what to you?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you think?”
“That one day when I’d get unhappy enough. Marry the wrong person, or get fired, or start drinking, and when I’d go see a therapist, like now, I would blame her.”
“What do you mean?”
He wasn’t thinking anymore. He was talking like a fisherman dragging up lines from the muck along with stringy green weeds.
“I saw her as a weakling. She took everything my father doled out, how he treated her, made her feel like a fool and all she’d do is get weepy.”
“And, I guess, I blamed her.”
“You blamed her for…?”
“For all of that. For being weak. For my being an angry shithead. For saying crappy things to people, treating them like shit. Not loving them.”
“Marlon? Was she like that? You think she made you like that?”
Marlon looked at the men around the circle. Their faces. The way they shifted in their seats, uncrossed their legs, leaned toward him. Spilling cold coffee from their cups. He saw among them the faces of his parents, waiting for his answer.
“No,” he said. “She loved me. She was the fragile and fearful one. Afraid of what others might think, if he’d leave her. He was the angry one. Not her.”
“And I… I think I was…was afraid of him too but then I treated her just like he did.”
“And did your father love you and treat you well?”
“No. He treated me the same way.”
And then, as if by some silent secret signal, the men rose as one, arms outstretched, and surrounded him as he stood to meet them, his head bowed like a penitent.
He was no fool, he thought. Self-revelation aside, he could play this game.