He rode up on a bicycle and rested it against the Bangalow palm shading the office roof. Strode over to my door and put out his hand, saying
‘Oberon, but most people call me Obi.’
‘Peter, pleased to meet you.’ I shake his proffered hand.
‘Oberon describes me – a satellite of Uranus.’ He smiles ironically.
‘Peter, the rock, though I prefer mountains.’ I reply.
Obi is a thin, almost emaciated looking guy maybe 55 years old, looks in his 70’s, nearly 2 metres tall, probably 80 kilos, long blonde curled hair with a pronounced Scandinavian accent. Wearing unbleached linen shirt and pants, the expensive ones without a label. Waving his hands down the front of his body, in a gesture of, “ta da! this is me”, like a rabbit out of the hat. He stood in the doorway and said,
‘I didn’t always look like this.’
‘Imagine – suit, tie, 100 plus kilos, sleep deprived, cocaine fed litigator.’
‘Nah,’ I said. ‘I can’t imagine that, please come in or do you want a door stop interview?’
‘Done plenty of them. This your office?’
‘Yep, come in, it’s safe.’
‘I’m a carpenter now, simple life away from the bright lights, regular at NA, sober 10 years.’
‘In just a few words you say a lot of things about you that matter? Is it speed dating?’
‘No and in fact none of it matters.’ He replies. Suddenly the bon homie manner drops, as he flourishes an imaginary silk scarf in his left hand. The tight muscles on his face sag and give way to sadness. An old sorrow behind his lips and eyes, lightly hidden by forced smiles. I wonder what cruelty he could be capable of with that hidden pain. I felt my guard go up, and then rebelled against my defensiveness and decided to cut through the charm.
‘Did you suffer neglect or cruelty at the hands of care givers?’
‘Oh man you don’t waste time!’ He protested.
‘It looks to me like you’ve done a lot of that already.’
‘Oh hell, I will sit down. No couch?’
‘Floor cushions or arm chairs.’
‘Cushions.’ He sets up a bank of them and rests against the wall, legs outstretched. I take a chair beside him, not looking directly at him.
‘My father was a psychoanalyst in Stockholm, expected a couch you see.’
‘An oncologist. No time for us. Big careers.’
‘Twin brother and a sister with Down’s.’
‘Who cared for you then.’
‘We pretty much had to bring ourselves up. The down’s girl had a carer until she moved into a home.’
‘They had high expectations of you and your brother?’
‘Astronomic, hence the name and we bought it. I the law. Simon, medicine.’
‘Twas so. You can guess the rest.’
‘Okay,’ I said taking up his challenge to qualify myself as his therapist. ‘Latch key kids became high achievers to get parents’ attention. Worked butts off. Drugs and alcohol to numb. Big careers. Big money. Bigger burn out. Crashes. Meets Australian chick in Amsterdam. Migrates, hoping for laid back life style. Relationship sinks under weight of baggage. Devil may care absence of pre-nup. Lose half in property settlement. Probably no dogs; no kids because of an early vasectomy. Mmmmm – how am I doing?’
‘Forgot the brother.’ He replied, jaw dropped.
‘Jeez, don’t tell me.’
‘Yep, took his own life with meds, silently. I ran away to Australia. Met the chick here. No kids but two dogs, now shared custody. Was a pre-nup but felt so bad gave her one of the houses. Diagnosis?’
‘Life threatening losses. LTL,’ I replied, trying for humour.
‘Little sense of self.’
‘No idea of what he wants, who he is or where he is going.’
‘Another case of self-estrangement?’
‘Bingo. Garden variety alienation.’
‘Well you’re in the right place. That’s my thing.’
‘So doctor. What do you suggest? Thrice a week for the rest of my life?’
‘How long a life do we have to work with?’
He searched the floor, moving his head from side to side, as if looking for an answer that he discarded years ago.
‘I don’t have my brother’s courage so not that way. Perhaps a nail gun accident. Not sure but not long.’ He laughed as if to shake off the seriousness. I wasn’t disarmed by his deflections but I felt pissed off with him for treating his life with so little respect. Like it was the other shoe of the pair, one that he could dump in the bin without any regret – such was the magnitude of his loss of self. More likely, it was the size of his rage at Simon leaving him to deal with life alone.
‘We’re you the first born?’
‘No, I was three hours after Simon. I don’t think my mother ever forgave me for coming out alive. Simon was always telling me to catch up, so yeah he led the way but I didn’t follow him to the end and he made sure I couldn’t But now I think I’m ready to catch up with him.’
‘I thought maybe I was here to save a life but now I am wondering if it is to help you end a life before you can start your own.’
‘Nail on the head, doc.’
‘Well that’s a relief. Have you done this therapy gig before.’
‘Not likely. NA is enough therapy for me.’
‘So why now?’
‘A cliche I know but a new love found me, and I don’t want to fuck it up.’
‘Have they truly met you?’
‘That’s the problem. He keeps asking me what I want and I can only answer just to be with you.’
‘That’s too big a burden for him, to feel he is your life?’
‘Exactly. He’s afraid of dependency, you know update my old coke habit for his love juices and get hooked on him as the sole supplier.’
‘Ouch. I get it. Does he come from a secure background?’
‘Oh yeah. His family have taken me in, and that’s confronting.’
‘I see all their kindness and connection, all their playful arguments and their hugs. We never had any of it, and if we had Simon would still be alive.’
‘I get it. Maybe you’re afraid you could sabotage this new love in order to confirm Simon’s decision and give yourself permission to end it?’
‘That’s a bit freudian isn’t it doc? Like some sort of post feminist oedipal conflict?’
‘Am I sounding like your father already?’
‘A bit and look at your age, what 70 or something. Shouldn’t you be enjoying the company of your hundreds of grandchildren, a fourth or fifth wife forty years younger, rather than digging into the unconscious of lost souls like me.’
I laugh, naturally and self-consciously, discomforted by the speed and accuracy of his thinking. He must have been a fierce advocate, street smart and quick on his feet.
‘Maybe I should be and I’m not.’ I reply. ‘Only second wife and seven grandkids. This is a vocation, part time. I have plenty of room for your journey. It’s a familiar climb and I know the passage well. And when you find your own feet you won’t need me any more. I’ll wave to you from the rocking chair at the lookout. In the meantime I have some homework ideas for you.’
‘Write a letter to Simon from your heart and head. Remind him of the amazing things you did together, how you survived and thrived, how he influenced you and how his influence lives on. Then write a letter back from him.’
‘You are one crazy guy.’ He said with a broad inquisitive smile. ‘I’ll do it. I will write one to my sister too.’
‘Is she alive and well?’
‘By all accounts.’ He says as he laughs and gets up of the floor. I’m not sure if this is a hug or a punch coming toward me. He puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out a wad of cash and asks how much for twenty four sessions, one a week. I do a quick calculation, he hands over the money. We shake hands, same time same place next week is arranged, and he is gone.
It took me days to get him out from under my skin. I later dreamt about Simon’s silent death. Apparently he went hiking midsummer, on Sweden’s High Coast trail. Three days into it, he set himself up in a crevice on a steep rocky slope, took the meds and went to sleep. The night’s cold sealed his death. His body was discovered a week post mortem, covered in a dusting of snow. I had wondered if some part of Obi was buried up there with his twin. In my dream, I woke up on a bright mid summer’s night on the rising red granite rocks of Ångermanland, and shaking off some snow, noticed an ink and wash drawing had been left on my sleeping bag. It was an image of Simon on the hillside looking up. In the evening sky above him there was a second sun on which he had drawn Obi’s name, and the words: ‘leva. följ mig inte solsken’ (live. don’t follow me sunshine).