See You in September

by

01/02/2001

600 West End Avenue, NY NY 10024

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

She listens to me.

She comforts me.

She keeps all my secrets.

She knows me inside out.

She is not my mother.

She is…my therapist.

The note sat on top of the July issue of Vanity Fair in her waiting room: “I will be on vacation from July 27-September 5th.”

“Where are you going?” I demanded as soon as our session started.

“Italy.”

“Really.” I had images of her sipping red wine and chuckling softly while she and a posse of Jungians studied a map of Venice. Meanwhile, back here in New York it would be humid and sticky. My upstairs neighbor would be practicing her vocal scales.

“Here,” My therapist handed me a typed itinerary of dates and contact information. “The best time to reach me will generally be in the mornings between eight and nine before I leave. So that’ll be, what, two to three in the morning for you.”

She flipped through last week’s notes of me. “Now I wanted to talk to you about something that occurred to me about that dream you had last week…”

My therapist was leaving town for over a month. 40 days. 960 hours.

In real time, that translated into four missed therapy sessions.

I would be an X in her calendar’s August.

I tried to comfort myself. I’d be saving so much money! New shoes. A few extra dinners out. Taxis! Maybe this would be good for me. But I knew I was fooling myself. I was walking on a tightrope without that balancing pole — my therapist, and I was terrified that while she was gone, something or someone was going to make me lose balance and go tumbling down into a sea of leering clowns.

And then it happened.

I was watching the end of the nightly news. At first I wasn’t sure what the noise was. I muted the TV and watched a silent weatherman spank the tip of Long Island. And then I heard it. A vocal strain so high-pitched it was almost inaudible. I squeezed my eyes shut and listened. It was my upstairs neighbor performing Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All.” My neck snapped down to my wrist. My watch said ten thirty-nine.

By now I was used to her vocal exercises. Each afternoon or early evening, my neighbor’s voice rattled down the heat pipe, landed directly in front of my television set and exploded all over my apartment. And her sessions usually lasted an hour. But she never practiced this late. Was this going to be the new schedule? How dare she. It was a weeknight! Just who did she think she was and just what rooming house did she think she lived in?

I took a deep breath and tried to look at the positive side. This could be a welcome problem. It was directly addressing what I had been dealing with in therapy. My assertiveness. It was a perfect opportunity to tell her to keep it down. It was, after all, past ten o’clock.

“Bee-cawse the grey-ay-test….”

That was it. I yanked the top lock open and stood barefoot in the hallway. Silence. Lucky for her, too, because I was just about run up there and tell her what I thought of her and her enraging late-night concerts.

“Laaa-earning to laa-uuve yourself aah-iis….”

Her noise echoed off the linoleum floor and punched me right in the face. Why hadn’t any of the other neighbors said anything? I stared at my painted toenails and listened:

“Bee—cawse the gray-ay-test…”

The yodeling went on for days. And so did my own struggle. Furious, I’d bound to my door. Once there, my hand hovering on the lock, my ear turned to the hallway, I’d freeze and strike a frozen Marcel Marceau. Then, afraid of the potential confrontation, I’d slink back to the couch and turn the TV up louder.

I needed encouragement.

I needed my therapist.

So I set my alarm for two thirty a.m.

Hours later, a jarring noise (not unlike my neighbor’s voice) bolted me upright from sleep. I stared at the clock’s glowing orange numbers. Should I call? Right now my therapist was probably having an espresso. Two thirty-five. Was this worthy enough of an issue to call her? Two forty-two. Should I call her to ask her if I should be calling her? Two fifty-five. She’d probably already left. I decided against it; I knew she would tell me to simply go upstairs and talk to my neighbor. I promised myself that the next night I would do just that, and quickly went back to sleep.

But the next night I decided I needed to go see a movie. I’d talk to my neighbor as soon as I got home, I promised myself. I called a friend. Her therapist was also out of town; her panic attacks were worse than ever. I called another friend. Her therapist was gone too. And she was in no shape to go to a movie until her therapist returned. At that point they would tackle my friend’s inability to tolerate movie-related noises, like popcorn crunching and the crinkling of candy bar wrappers. I decided to go home.

Soon after, there was a knock on my door. I squinted through the peephole. It was the Other Whitney.

“Hey. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’ve been practicing a lot lately…”

“Well, actually…” I stopped. Underneath Apartment 6-D’s eyes I suddenly noticed two large patches of dark, puckered skin. It seemed her singing wasn’t letting her sleep either.

“My therapist gave me a list of goals before she went on vacation. I finally booked an audition.”

Her therapist left her with a list?!

“Really? When?”

“Tomorrow afternoon. At three. Anyway, I wanted to ask you. I’m going away tomorrow night. Would you mind picking up my mail? I’ll be back September 5th.”

I sighed and smiled. I knew that date well.

“No, no, not at all. I’ll get your mail. That’s really great that you’re auditioning. Good for you….” I closed my apartment door and neatly folded my therapist’s itinerary and placed it in my desk drawer. As soon as she got back I’d really work on this assertiveness problem. And should anything pressing come up in the meantime, I could always call my mother.

But that’s a whole other issue.

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