When I lived in D.C. for 17 years, I followed local custom and saw a therapist. The District of Columbia has the highest percentage of people in therapy than any community in the U.S. The late Dr. Paul Weisberg, a brilliant and often helpful psychiatrist with an astonishingly eccentric streak, predicted in 1981 at a party “celebrating my graduating from therapy” that I would die a violent death.

Perhaps, I will die a violent death. Perhaps, I won’t.

Yesterday, Dr. Imran Siddiqui, a surgeon at Geisinger Medical Center, surprised me by performing a biopsy right there in his office. Instead, my referring physician had suggested the tumor would be removed at the hospital to which I consented on the condition that she would make sure I was issued green socks instead of yellow—a subject requiring too much explanation for now. Trust me. The issue of sock color had left me sleepless with good reason.

Today’s explanation instead focuses on Paul (or more accurately as a prelude leading to Paul) primarily because the subject of preparing for death in 1976 (prior to Paul’s gloomy prediction five years later) became the centerpiece of our therapy after I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time at age 28.

Now, at age 66 the subject reappears and I am considering my legacy, preparing to write my obituary early just in case. Yesterday, at 2:45 p.m. while inserting the tumor into the proper receptacle, Dr. Siddiqui said there is a 50 percent chance the tumor is malignant. He said I should think “pretty thoughts” until the pathologist issues his definitive ruling sometime next week.

Why wait? On my tombstone let it read: “Joel loves women.” Keep it in the present tense. Almost certainly in my next life, I will love women just as intensely—preferably one woman at a time.

It was, in fact, my love for a woman [let us call her Susan] that brought me to Paul’s seedy office on the border between Georgetown and K Street where currently stands a luxury hotel where decades later I met the President of Uganda.

I met Susan by chance late in 1973 after moving to D.C. from San Francisco in the hope of finding a Washington job gleeful at the prospect that Richard Nixon soon would be impeached. My finances were so low I took a vow of celibacy so as not to distract myself from finding employment by making love to a woman.

I walked everywhere carrying copies of my resume (and writing samples) distributing resumes throughout our nation’s capital, which then was free of security roadblocks, meeting lots of women who were receptionists at House and Senate offices and in office buildings where the directory indicated promising prospects.

At one especially promising office building in Roselyn, Virginia—a short walk from Key Bridge–I handed a resume to Susan, who was providing medical documentation to a drug company. Susan was sitting behind the desk at the reception area. She took my resume to the back office where after a lengthy pause, I heard her colleague say, “We don’t have any positions open. Since you find him so interesting, why don’t you go out with him?”

Later that evening, we met at her apartment in Georgetown and I broke my vow of celibacy. It was an easy vow to break. Several nights and days later, Susan—whose moral scruples on other subjects were not the same as mine—disclosed a financial scam she was planning to perpetrate.

Susan explained that she had slept with her previous psychiatrist. When the insurance checks arrived at his office, the psychiatrist gave her the money and their amatory relationship (not sanctioned by the American Medical Association) continued until he relocated to another town. To replenish the lost income, Susan was using the telephone book to search for another accommodating therapist—starting with the W’s and working her way backward up the alphabet.

While lying in bed and explaining her plan, she asked me for a favor. She had already met Dr. Weisberg who instead of agreeing stated she had serious emotional problems she should address instead. Insisting there was nothing wrong with her emotionally, she had scheduled a second appointment to which she invited me along. The logic behind the invitation escaped me, but a sense that this was an adventure appealed. Despite the pleasure of our dalliances, I did indeed suggest to Susan that it might not be a bad idea to work on her emotional problems—which had displayed themselves clearly—an idea to which she took umbrage.

Nevertheless, we appeared on the Tuesday at the 2 pm appointment where I first met Paul. Susan argued she was not crazy. Paul demonstrated quite convincingly she was—although he never used the word “crazy.” Throughout the 50 minutes, I disappointed Susan by agreeing with the logical enumeration of her issues. After the session, I decided that I had loved the wrong woman, told her so thus ending our relationship, and weeks later returned to my own therapy with Paul realizing I had issues of my own worth addressing demonstrated by having partnered up with Susan.

Why do I write about this while waiting for the pathologist to look at my slides and conclude whether I will die?

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright © 2014 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

2 replies on “Legacy”

Relax, Joel. No screenwriter ever introduces a prophecy into his narrative unless the prophecy will come true. Since the prophecy (by a dead psychiatrist! what more guarantee could you want?) holds you will die a violent death, cancer won’t kill you, and probably the hospital won’t either. Something or Someone Else is waiting for you — but then S or S E is waiting for everyone. Unlike the rest of us, though, most of whom will die non-violently, you will probably be lucky enough to have NO WARNING. Therefore you can stop worrying about the risks you know about, because it won’t be those — you have the Screenwriter’s promise — it will be Something Else instead.

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