Marriage Peril
Keeper of the Dream


by Douglas PageŠ

There is a noise when I walk that is not my shoes. I followed this sound one morning recently down a featureless office corridor, looking for Carlos Garcia, MFCC. A few days earlier my supervisors had encouraged me to present myself at the company's Employee Assistance Program. It was their way of saying I had one more chance. I was in trouble again.

Being in trouble when you're 45 is the same as being in trouble when you're 14. They still send you to the office. In the ninth grade it was the Vice-Principal's Office. This time it was the office of the Employee Assistance Program, a receiving facility for incorrigible aerospace engineers. There was no comfort in knowing I wasn't the first.

I found myself in an antiseptic company basement chronicling years of complaints against those same supervisors while being screened by a thin, hermetic woman with imbricate wrinkles who either recognized me from the ninth grade or had just eaten something terminally sour. She listened with sealed lips less than a minute, then, with a calculated sigh, looked at me over her glasses and consigned me to the Civic Center Building, to see Carlos Garcia, MFCC.

Carlos Garcia, she explained, contracted with my health care provider to counsel cases of chronic discontent. He performs a similar service for a nearby city, where he is provided a room two mornings a week. She slid one of his cards to me. Check. I was to make my own appointment. Mate.

Three days later I found Carlos Garcia in the Lawndale Civic Center, in room 126, a bone-smooth linoleum mausoleum empty enough for echoes, with two anorexic chairs and a Miocene desk the size and elegance of a hay trailer. The walls were the muted tones of colors exposed to years of indifference, the naked window opaque from neglect. His brindled valise lay yawning on the back corner of the expansive desk, a copy of The Prairie Schooner protruding from it like a tongue depressor. Nearby, a single rose the red color of hope stretched toward the morning from a clear glass flute.


Carlos Garcia motioned me in, pointed to the seat, relaxed back into his own chair, cupped his hands behind his head, studied me for a moment, then unscrewed his face and said, "So". I think it was a question.

I told him what I was doing there, how I was chaffing from 20 years in a career that didn't fit right, was still getting sent to the office, how the kids were grown, the hair the color of moon dirt, and my systolic pressure now higher than my weight. I told him I was too old to be scared but was anyway.

He squinted at me, like the air in this civic grotto had suddenly gone stale, like he'd heard all this before. "What do you want to do?" he asked, grating his words through a deliberate impatience.

I scanned the walls, gulping the gray taste of another pale morning. Finally I said, "I think I'd like to go write a book." I glanced at him, waiting for the cavil, for this absurd brick to break his face, for the Top Three Reasons This Is A Stupid Idea to tumble out.

Instead, almost without hesitation, he asked, "What are you waiting for?", like the idea actually made sense to him.

I turned away, toward the window, feeling my face tightening, and peered past the collied grime, toward a future I hoped might appear out of the confusion.

Then Carlos Garcia, an unvarnished keeper of dreams, unlocked my life. "Life is slipping away," he said, grinding a boot heel into the cracked and mottled tile, then scuffing an imaginary cigaret into oblivion. "Your life."

Six days later I quit my job, went to the beach with two pencils and a blue spiral notebook, and dangled my feet over the edge of a continent, like a child on a porch swing, wondering where they would touch next.


Note: The first story I wrote in that blue spiral notebook - a memoir about scattering my dad's ashes on some mountain train tracks he loved - won first prize in the 1994 Writer's Digest Writing Competition.


Comments? Questions? Purchase Orders? douglaspage@earthlink.net
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