SPOTLIGHT: Maybe My Name is Yes by Jessica Harman

(First 10 Pages)

I liked going to my psychiatrist’s. The session gave me a break from Bostonian dogma.

                Bostonian dogma. I don’t really know what I mean by that, other than people in Boston dressed smartly and I dressed fancifully. I was wearing a red skirt underneath a knit purple sweater that was see-through, or, as they say, openwork.

                On the subway ride to my psychiatrist’s, people, both men and women, were wearing fleeces for autumnal weather, and cleaner-than-clean pants. A fleece is a roomy jacket made of fuzzy, slightly breathable fabric. They come in sober yet sporty colors, mostly ultramarine, sometimes forest green, and sometimes black. I didn’t know what a fleece was until I moved to Boston.

The women wore ankle boots, and men wore dress shoes, brown or black.

                The Bostonians’ non-style affronted me. Where was their sense of fun?

                Of course there were people on the subway with other styles of dress, like the “I wanna be on T.V.” crowd, who were in college, studying communications, wearing several belts and winged eyeliner, or the femme fatale wannabes, who wore knee-high boots and read beat-up copies of Proust in the original French, while making a quiet spectacle of themselves riding on the subway, dressed in clothes they bought at Barney’s all the way in New York, just in case a photographer was there to discover them, finally. But these people were in the minority.

                Most people looked quietly smart, with their cozy but smart fleeces, who got off at the M.I.T. stop, or who got off at Park Street Station, presumably off to do intelligent things with equally intelligent people.

                I am of average intelligence. If you take one-hundred people, I am smarter than fifty of them, and less intelligent than forty-nine. So, technically speaking, I’m smarter than most of the people out there.

                I was pretty sure that my psychiatrist was smarter, much smarter, than that.    

My psychiatrist was a seven-foot-tall woman from Yugoslavia. She had a wonderful accent. Once, I asked her if she was from Czechoslovakia, but she corrected me. Her foreignness was not unlike my own. People from New England looked at us as if we ate weird food. As if we were somehow not as American born as we should be, but then again, neither of us were born in America. I was learning more and more why people just said, “Cambridge,” when people asked you where you were from, and you were from a place where wild dogs wandered the streets, like Greece. 

I was from Montreal. There are no roving wild dogs there, but it still classifies as a weird place to be from, with its corner stores that have buffets with tabouli, olive oil tomatoes (am I making that up?), and stuffed grape leaves; and its dentists advertising themselves with giant pink neon teeth in the windows of otherwise very serious stone buildings; and more neon on churches, advertising “St. James,” or showing an open Bible.

It was well known that we were different. Look at our hockey team. We knew what it was to have heart because we had nothing else.

Once, on one of my return trips to Montreal as I was bouncing back and forth between Montreal and Boston, I passed a sign that said, “Magical Life Starts Here.”

It was cool to travel the world. Get out of Canada for a while. Or, Quebec. We weren’t ever sure where we were in Montreal.

My friend, Max, travelled the world. India, Tokyo, Greece. He said once he waited for a ferry for eight hours when he was in Thessaloniki. Things like that happen when you travel, and you’re okay with them.

I hadn’t travelled the world, but I wanted to, one day.

I had a really smart roommate from Greece. We got along until I hit on him. My therapist (not my psychiatrist) had asked me when I told her what I was going to do, “Is there anything bad that could come of this?”

I said, “Not really.”

My therapist had a wonderful take on life. Kind of whimsical. She made me think of kites flying at the beach. Or expensive-looking women on yachts. Some type of scene like that. She was from Boston or surrounding area. She said of Boston, “I love it,” and you knew she did.

My psychiatrist found out that I was seeing a therapist as well, and asked me to only see one of them. I had to choose. So I chose my psychiatrist from Yugoslavia.

She had long black hair with bangs, and when she was very still she looked like a statue in a wax museum. She never took notes; She remembered everything. She crossed and uncrossed her legs, showing off the lace patterns in her dark stockings. Her feet looked uncomfortable in patent leather pumps. She smiled, now and then, and even laughed, but always at something unexpected, not when I was trying to make a joke. Red lipstick gave off the impression that she liked drama.

                My psychiatrist said of The Dudesie (who has nothing to do with The Big Lebowski, my friend Val’s favorite movie, which I have only seen half of, and it seemed too American to really get if you were from somewhere else), as an aloe plant wilted on her desk and the view out the window showed a city that had been built with a sense of grandeur in marble and concrete, “He is adorable.”

                The Dudesie came with me for one of my appointments. He was visiting me in Boston. Actually, I lived in Brookline with a few roommates: Val, Mash (short for Masha), and Larry.

You do that for someone when you’re with them. You go to their medical appointments with them. Like when I went with The Dudesie to his eye operation. Laser surgery to melt back his detaching retinas. The surgeon said to him, “Don’t move.” And then Dr. Chen pointed the laser at his eye, and the beam of light fixed him all up.

Dr. Bouyana, my psychiatrist with the supermodel height, red lipstick, and ash-black hair, said, “Why did you stay with him?”

That’s when I told her about the affair.

“I told him I didn’t want to sleep in the same bed as him, so he went into his studio and slept on newspapers. He did this for two nights. It broke my heart. His whole life, people have not really wanted him around for any length of time.”

“But your primary focus should be you.”

This is the part of therapy that I don’t like. Because, really, isn’t health doing stuff for other people?

“Is it so bad to have an affair?” I asked.

She said, “It depends on your tolerance level. Your beliefs.”

“Like if we had an open relationship, then it would be okay. In theory, he said I could date other people, but when it came down to leaving the house for a date, The Dudesie somehow sabotaged me. Like, there was this guy, Chris.”

“What do you mean, ‘sabotaged’?”

“Like he’d say, ‘You look like crap,’ just as I was leaving, with my makeup all done really nicely.”

But, it wasn’t me who was having the affair, not first. I only wanted to see other guys after I was sick over his cheating on me. He didn’t seem dedicated to me. Why shouldn’t I have a little fun? He made me miserable. Not at first, of course.

She gave me a look that asked me why I was with him.

“I asked him to leave. He had nowhere to go.”

That was the end of the relationship. In the beginning, it was all roses and daisies. Dandelion wine. Imported Slovenian sausage sandwiches at “Slovenia,” a great little charcuterie on The Main, which is St. Laurent Boulevard.

Once, we went there, and the woman at the deli had a canker sore.

The Dudesie said, “I’m never going there again. I don’t want anyone with a canker sore handling my food.”

He overreacted a lot.

I’d be lying in bed, just trying to relax, and he’d come in all full of energy from painting, and he’d jump on me and tickle me until I screamed with glee and kicked him in the nuts. It was the only way to get him to stop.

I am a woman and I don’t know what it’s like to be punched or kicked in the nuts. It seems like a vulnerable spot that makes men weak.

The Dudesie would be looking in the mirror at his gorgeous hair and dark complexion. (He was half Native American. His mother was Cree from up north. His father was French Canadian.) He was really, really hot. Hollow cheek bones, and a nose that caused me to say as I looked at him lying next to me in bed, “I thought you were a small-nose person, but really you’re a big-nose person.”

He just said, “Dudesie,” because he called me that, too. It was the nineties. Calling people “Dude” was in. Along with Calvin Klein perfume, like “One” and “Be.” Also, “Obsession.”


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