Something New Under the Sun
by: Thom Hofman
My therapist rents space in a gabled house on the north-facing side of the street. It’s a Craftsman that features second-story dormers and simple porch columns. The house is well-windowed, more so than the buildings opposite. This perhaps speaks to the architect’s acute sense of design. North-facing light is indirect light, meaning the sun never glares through the panes.
Instead, the house’s interior receives the sun obliquely, from different angles at different times of day. Place a decorative vase, its resident bouquet, in a north-facing window and there’s a color show that’s different every hour. New contrasts, shifting hues and values. There’s nothing harsh or unseemly about indirect light. It’s subtle, never abruptly revelatory. The receiving window features a fern.
I consider my therapist wise to take up residence on the second floor, the creaking and poorly-carpeted staircase something irrespective. Healing generally doesn’t take place beneath a spotlight, or in rooms with starkly illumined windows.
(A lesson from boyhood, maybe: direct sun and magnifying glasses start fires.)
She asks me after I’d explained myself for a good half-hour or so, “Do you know what a ruminant is?” I don’t realize she’s drawing a metaphor, so I launch into a definition that strays from her intent, something about ‘thinking too much.’ Thinking too much’ has the mirror of ‘feeling too much.’
I use too many words in the process. I deploy my own metaphors, referring to that term from Ecclesiastes–“everything under the sun.” It likely means the same “as everything above the grass”, both phrases describing a certain earth-bound and constant worry. As in: everything troubles me and everything is in both directions at once.
A pastor once said, “Ecclesiastes is about the meaningless of things.There’s nothing new under the sun.” A parallel and German phrase meanwhile suggests “kicking everything above the grass,’’ as if even the poke of dandelions deserves a foot to the head. It’s what’s led me to this soft-colored room with its equally soft light, soft leather couches, and readily available tissue boxes.
My therapist nods patiently, finger to her lip. Behind her is a white-board with a map she illustrated in dry-erase, all the people in my life listed and connected in some dense cartography. Regardless of complexity, the dominant shape remains a triangle with me, on top, alone, at the apex.
I’m not good at maintaining eye contact, so I find the table next to her unreasonably interesting. It’s of round design with curlicue wrought-iron supports. On its top sits a fern. Ferns, too, are fans of indirect light, sprouting their green feathers in absence of any overhead sun.
(Ferns decorate the front porch of this house. Also sorrel and melanistic grasses; things that survive the shade. The plants are purple and dark. Along the undersides of the ferns, fiddleheads exist in tense coils, threatening eventual unfurl. On the walk up you could almost consider this a sinister garden, in direct contrast to the re-purposed and warmly-hued glass ornamenting the entryway).
She says, “A ruminant is an animal with multiple stomachs. It chews grass – a cud. The cud’s passed back and forth in all these stomachs, over and over and over again.” She specifies “Cows, sheep,” not knowing I’m accidentally versed in biology and the gustatory habits of things. I’m a zookeeper.
Still, I shift in my seat.
“And if you ruminate, by definition, you’re thinking the same thoughts over and over again, like how a cow chews its cud.”
She doesn’t need specify that the cud, the bolus, always returns at some point to the mouth. You chew on things. Recite the same words time and again with bovine blankness, always this repetition of stomachs in peristaltic reverse. Always the constant gnawing. You’d like to evacuate it all – all of it – all these over-digested thoughts with you growing tired of repeating yourself. Simply, you’d like to try again. Wouldn’t a clean and vacated thought, in fact, be nice.
I clear my throat, and it’s not a parry, rather an elaboration. The mention of hoof-stock has me reciting the Buridan paradox. A goat sits between a bale of hay and a reservoir of water. Both are of equal distance to the goat, and both are necessary to the goat’s existence. The goat can’t decide which way to turn or what sustenance to take. In its indecision, it eventually dies, both of hunger and of thirst.
My therapist writes something down.
TURNING THE KEY
Typically, and when thinking, I press an index finger to my temple, another finger to the bridge of my nose. I close my eyes a lot, and cross my legs in accordance to etiquette standards best lost to a past generation. (A generation more accustomed to wearing dresses or striped wool-stitch ‘athletes’ on the beach).
The fern, meanwhile, is nice. It’s who–what–I feel I’m talking to, considering my difficulty with eye contact. The fern is in a neat and magenta pot. Because it’s afternoon, the light tends western and the right side of the pot is better colored than the left. The top of the fern is almost phosphorescent because the light is hitting the topmost fraction of the window, therefore the plant too. The sun’ll retreat in fifteen minutes, and then the fern will yet again be something dull.
I’m confessing ambivalence, the corollary to rumination. My therapist, meanwhile, adjusts her glasses.
She sits in a tastefully upholstered chair and I briefly worry that this may be something of fault. The fiddleheads may be carnivorous, the house too purposefully dark, the furniture too couched and managed. I’m paranoid at expressing too much on first session to a stranger in too manufactured a chair.
Primly, but summarily, she says, “You don’t want to be the goat.” My eyes switch to the dry-erase chart behind her wingback chair, all the illustrated and underscored lines.
“No,” I confess, “I don’t.”
She removes her glasses. The first session is over and I uncross my legs and depart from the couch. We have no practiced etiquette yet, so – her and me – we don’t shake hands or anything. We just stand up and temporarily free ourselves of being seated.
The therapist’s time clock is made of faux brass, like something you’d get from Pottery Barn, and I hate that cute detail. I sign out on the ledger, exit the door past the now-recessed and less sinister garden. I make my way across the street to where the car is parked. The leather’s hot from being in the sun. I insert my key in the ignition, turn it clockwise. It’s a simple turn to the right, this all meaning: start.
Thom Hofman is an author who writes about the trials and joys of fatherhood and his various experiences of mental health and disorder. He has been nominated for his blog writing and has had his work picked up for republication. Find more of his work at his website: daddymediumwell.wordpress.com.