The only thing I’ll miss here are the free lunches provided by the drug companies on Wednesday afternoons—especially the delicious Cobb salads. Those annual bonuses were chickenshit…”
by mark tulin
“We hate to see you go,” my supervisor said, patting his heart. “You have been one of our best therapists. It’s not often that we come across someone like you in our practice.”
It was nice to be finally appreciated. I wondered why it took so long? If he valued me so much, why didn’t I get the love before I decided to pack up and move to California?
“You’re just like family,” he gushed. “It’s going to be hard to see you go.”
A part of me enjoyed the praise. I was like that comedian who gestured to his audience to stop the applause with one hand and ask for more with the other.
My boss had multiple Ph.D.’s and was a very persuasive communicator so I could feel the influence of his words, even though I knew it wasn’t sincere.
“How can I make you forget about taking that job in California?”
I smiled and thought: part ownership in the company, a book contract, a mansion on the Main Line, a pound of flesh.
Even if he convinced me, it was too late. The decision was made. I sold my house, the moving van was coming on Wednesday, and I would be in Santa Cruz by late Friday Night. There was no turning back.
He opened the door, turned to me and said: “There’s still some time to change your mind. Just give me the word.”
Once he left, I packed up the rest of my belongings—my updated DSM, lava lamp, Chinese checkers, hanging plants, a large bottle of hand sanitizer, and my favorite coffee mug with the picture of Sigmund Freud smoking a cigar.
My mind flashed to a few of the clients that I’d miss. One brought his guitar to our last session and serenaded me with Uncle John’s Band by the Grateful Dead. Another client drew a portrait of me sitting on my swivel chair in deep thought.
An hour later, as I removed the thumbtack from the Buddha calendar on the wall, my supervisor knocked on the door. “Come, follow me,” he said with a sly grin and a curl of his finger.
I followed him down the carpeted hallway, imagining him offering me a Brink’s truckload of money, a new Mercedes, and whatever other enticements that would be needed to keep me.
I imagined the satisfaction of telling him that no amount of money could keep me here because I’ve decided to give up psychotherapy and recreate myself in California. I might become an actor, or perhaps a screenwriter. I collected plenty of unfulfilled dreams wasting away as a therapist for the past thirty years.
Instead of him bribing me, it was worse. It was a farewell party.
Farewell parties were about as comfortable for me as having a root canal. Nobody was ever honest at a farewell party. My co-workers always say how much they’ll miss you and hate to see you go but, in the end, they can’t wait till you’re out the door so they could get all your clients.
As I followed my boss like an indentured servant down the hallway, I heard the laughing, chatting voices of my peers. They were holding drinks and munching on pretzels.
Anxiety thumped in my chest as I walked into the staff room. I found myself surrounded by most of the people that I worked with every day. They congregated in a large semi-circle like a coven of witches—lips spread in broad smiles, eyes like hawks watching my every move, wondering how I would survive the torture that was about to follow.
My body was present, but my mind was somewhere crossing the country, heading out West in a Toyota Prius with my girlfriend to parts unknown.
Led to the middle of the room by an overly cheerful secretary, my face turned bright red from all the smirks and sinister laughs. Suddenly the place closed in on me. My white dress shirt seemed too tight, and I hastily loosened the collar.
Awkward beyond belief, l stood there with the supervisor’s heavy hand weighing down on my shoulder like the Sword of Damocles. As he gave me a cliché-ridden testimonial saying how much the practice was going to miss my professional demeanor and clinical expertise, I felt like melting into oblivion.
“Speech!” called out some anonymous voice in the crowd.
A small vein in my left temple throbbed. I cleared my throat with a couple of short coughs, biding some time to think about what I was going to say.
“I just want everyone to know how amazing…” I paused for a second. I was tired of lying. I hid my true feelings for the past thirty years and I wasn’t going to do it anymore.
“No, honestly, folks. The only thing I’ll miss here are the free lunches provided by the drug companies on Wednesday afternoons—especially the delicious Cobb salads. Those annual bonuses were chickenshit. The free CEU credits that the agency provided were boring beyond belief. I’m grateful that I got health insurance, but the coverage sucked, and the deductibles were too high!”
There was dead silence as shocked faces looked at one another. But just as quickly, my co-workers started laughing again thinking that it was just a joke.
One of the managers who was rather attractive in her tight-fitting Navy blue skirt handed me a large, unwrapped cardboard box.
“We all chipped in to get you something special to take to California,” she said. “Don’t be shy, open it up. ”
I foolishly imagined a Smart TV or a new computer or something of value that I could use in California. Instead, there was no love inside the box, just a few gag gifts that spoke volumes about how everyone felt about me.
When I stuck my hand into the box, I pulled out two rolls of toilet paper; one wrapped, the other looked half used.
I held them up with a baffled look.
“That’s so you have something in case there’s an earthquake, and you can’t find a bathroom,” a voice called out.
The group burst into laughter.
I pulled out a blue, twenty-foot cord and raised it above my head.
“That’s a rescue rope, in case you find yourself dangling off a cliff at Big Sur,” said the giggling bookkeeper.
What followed was an endless supply of empty presents like a string of bad dreams.
I pulled out a can of soup with an easy-open lid in case I got hungry while I was out of work looking for a job. I held up a pack of Rolaids if my stomach became upset from all those hot peppers in Mexican food. There was an extra large Band-Aid just in case a building fell on me, a tube of antibiotic cream when I get bit by a Great White shark. And a bottle of 100 SPF sunblock to protect my bald head from the California sun.
But they weren’t done yet.
The final gift was a chocolate ice-cream cake with the words “Good Luck in Cali” in italic red lettering.
My boss handed me the cake cutter, but I didn’t take it. Instead, I sat and watched them devour each delicious piece of ice-cream cake while having no recollection that I was lactose intolerant nor had a severe gluten allergy. Eating one of those slices would have no doubt sent me to the emergency room.
While everyone was enjoying a slice of ice-cream cake, I imagined being on a surfboard in the Pacific ocean paddling out past the seals and the dolphins and waiting for that perfect wave to come my way, leaping up in one beautiful motion, balancing myself perfectly and riding the cresting wave under a big glistening curl. Then my supervisor tapped me on the shoulder and woke me from my reverie. It was time for the exit interview.
(illustration: john richen)
Mark Tulin is currently recovering from a career in psychotherapy. He moved to Santa Barbara from Philadelphia to write stories, practice yoga, and to find a sexy Latina who knew how to give good foot massages. He has been successful on all three counts. His poetry and links to other quirky stories can be found at crowonthewire.com as well as here in the Vault of Smoke.