“I’m not tellin’ you why — I’m just telling you that’s the way it is.”
“Everyone just smokes. So you have to.”
“I’m not even saying I have to. I just ww-wanted to. I’m just saying it’s not a big deal.”
“Not a big deal! This is the craziest thing I have ever had to witness! I — I ‘m at a loss. Nicotene is a fucking drug! Goddamit!”
Melonie pivoted and slammed the door to my room on the way out. She was crying.
Just a couple of nicotene patches! You’d think she’d be relieved. But here she was squalling away as if she’d found a dead baby stuffed in my gym bag.
Two minutes to peel the two patches off my chest and stick them under the matress. She’ll be back at me — two minutes; poking at my stuff, wringing her tiny pink-nailed hands. And can I say? With her behaving like this. It’s just plain bonkers.
The therapist had that grin. You know, that grin that people get when the current rhetoric is on their side. The one that teachers and mothers get when they say that half your body heat is lost through your head.
The therapist was coughing up another dry old cliche: drugs replace self esteem. Microft stared at the man’s shaved chin and thin lips: try this one on, he thought, no one with a real life needs to busy themselves with other’s.
Microft, he said, showing the argyle on his crossed ankle. Trying to keep his hands looking “open” and “relaxed”. Tilting his head to demonstrate his open mind. Microft, would you mind telling me in your own words what you mean by “everyone just does it.”
“In my own words, I’d say, it’s just a no-big-deal, everyday fucking fact. I place no p-p-p-particular v-value on it, doctor: I jyyyyust do things sometimes. Just to do ‘em. Like everyone else.”
“You are like everyone else, MIcroft?”
“No. I just do things, sometimes, lll-like everyone else.”
“Trying to fit in?”
“No. Just being. nNormal.”
“If you were just being, normal, wouldn’t you simply pick up a cigarette and smoke it?”
“I get dd-d-dizzy if I do that. I wanted to smoke without ng-getting. Dizzy.” He smirked helplessly. “Look, being isn’t necessarily p-passive. You don’t need a p-urpose to hatch a plan. Sometimes, it’s all done just for the design.”
“Wasn’t the purpose of your plan to smoke?”
“The plan was to smoke without getting dizzy.”
The therapist tried looking untroubled. This had to be hard for a doctor, this stuttering twelve year old tossing his rhetoric away with such finesse. His mind had to be swimming. But surely he’d seen the IQ scores, read the newspaper articles, heard the hapless tales of my “teachers” — surely he’d come prepared!
“Luh-a-listen. This is all vvery w-well for mm-m-most people. Folks se-uh-s-see therapists all the time. They nget results. I believe it. But I’m smarter than you. This can’t do ffor me. I can’t do therapy. You tell them. You tell them I t-t-ttried.”
The therapist shook his head, “I’ll see you again on Wednesday.”
He didn’t, of course. He made the mistake of telling my mother what I’d said, trying to attribute it to some complex. But my mother knew I’d pronounced the death sentence: I’m smarter than you —always true when I uttered it. And it meant, in this case, that he would surely get nowhere with me.
Microft, I just don’t know what to do. Melonie was at me again and crying. You’re still a little boy, you know. But I can’t give you proper guidance. I don’t know how. Now let me tell you. Everything in me says that this little nicotene thing is very bad. But what can I do? I just. I. Chhyest don’t knnnow!
I’m looking out the window, wondering what I can say.
Melonie? I don’t. Know. Either.
On Monday I suggest something.
Mr Bleany is smiling. I’m sorry I’ve not read Huysmans, he says. An oversight, apparently. Against Nature, you say?
I tell him about the real flowers chosen because they look fake. I tell him that’s a metaphore for what mankind does. That’s what culture is. Fake stuff, constructs, mapped onto the world. Medicine, sure, but also dancing and archetecture, and fashion.
“I see. I seee. I see. I see-so…. hmm-mmm. Hmmm… So! Can we talk about this nicotene thing?”
“Oh. Oh yeah. Sure. Well, it’s no m-mbi-big-big deal.”
“Oh well it is to your mother. And that makes it a very big deal indeed. Wouldn’t you say?”
“That’s why you’re here, no? To help her guide you?”
“Yeah. It’s a load off her mind. Boy, I’ll tell ya!”
“So: Nicotene patches to break you into smoking?”
“Yeah. Backwards like. That’s what’s mmma-ah-making her. So angry —I guess. But that’s the thing. Just because it’s normal. To go one way. Doesn’t make it a cat— a cat-tta-tastrofffffie to g-g-go. The other way.”
“Addiction is the catastrophe.”
“But, Mr Bleany! You must n-Know that isn’t — isn’t true. Not. Not in iteslf. We need lots of things. All the tme. We need food. And that cc-c-costs a luh-lot. And k-clothes. And toothpase. All adds up. Well, h-aand sh-she’s got her her heh-heh-hair-ndeh-a-dresser. Why can’t I nneed something tthat costs? What’s the difference?”
Mr. Bleany keeps his head down while he’s listening. He keeps his head down with his pointer fingers on his lips. And he nods. This is part of why I chose to visit Mr. Bleany instead of that phoney therapist. Mr. Bleany thinks about stuff. He writes philosophy books. I’ve read his essays in The New Yorker.
“Microft, food, clothes, toothpaste, even grooming to various degrees: these fall under the category of sustinance and self-care. Smoking, drugs, alchohol; these fall under the category of self destruction. When we cannot help but indulge, we call that an addiction. An addiction is an uncontrollable need to destroy ourselves. No matter what the content of our indulgence.”
He had me there.
“And Microft? There are different ways to tell whether or not you are old enough to take the risks involved with destructive or addictive behavior. When you are on your own. When you are not responsible for others. When you’ve amassed enough experience to know which way you wish to go… Do you see what I mean?”
“Yes, Mr. Bleany mmmbut, luh-listen: if I, hypothetically, could be on my own. Only, yu know, I can’t because society says so. mmBut, if I am capable, let us say…”
“Christ, Microft!” Mr. Bleany laughs. “Microft, if you were adult enough to make ethical decisions for yourself, I assure you we would not be having this conversation right now.”
“Mr. Bleany, you’ll pardon my saying so. But that begs the question right there. I eh-a- I e-eh-expect more from you.”
“How about you expect more from me next week? Meantime, let’s assume you are capable of adult moral reasoning; let’s say that it wouldn’t cost you very much to put off your smoking experiment for a little while. Say, until we’ve had a few of these sessions.”
“Cool, Mr. Bleany. I can do that.”