I thought I might occasionally write to you, telling you tales from the lost years. This particular letter might fall under the "interesting people I met along the way" category, but I confess ahead of time that like most everything I write, it is written with a purpose. A good one, though, so read on...
Back in the early 70's, soon after I came to California, I had that second operation on my stomach, really rework of the time I was in the hospital back in high school. I staggered the two blocks from my Berkeley apartment down to the Herrick Hospital emergency room at 2:00 in the morning. They laid me out on an examination table, and soon the doctor arrived. He was a short little man, in his late 50's, wearing a hand tailored suit and smelling of very expensive soap. I told him about the previous operation, and my present condition. He tapped my stomach a couple of times, and asked me why I had waited so long to come in. I didn't really have an answer to that, but he said, calmly, almost cheerfully; "We're going to open you up and have a look."
The next time I saw him was a day later. I remember coming up from the anesthetic as though coming back from the dead. I peered at him through the morphine haze, and he said "You may not feel much like it now, but you're going to be OK. It was close though. Had you waited even another two or three hours, you would have died. But now you'll be fine."
As the days passed (I was in there for two weeks) I found out a little about him. His name was Richard Killen. (I still have his business card in my wallet, laminated in plastic.) The nurses spoke of him with awe, bordering on reverence. He was evidently one of the best, most expensive general surgeons on the west coast. I saw the young doctors, the interns, a notoriously know-it-all and arrogant bunch, revere him as a god.
I had been fed those two weeks only on I.V.'s and at the end weighed a mere 155 pounds. At a follow up visit to his office, a week after I got out, he gave me the most pleasant orders I have ever received; "Mr. Curtis, you must gain twenty pounds." I thought "Milkshakes!" and asked "Can I start right away?" He said "On the way home."
Before I left, I asked him how he came to be in the Berkeley emergency room at two in the morning, operating for nothing but insurance money, which was not a lot back then. He said that he sometimes got bored with his day job, and that he met the most interesting cases in the night. He saved my life, and I will never forget him.
And now to the point. Just as there are doctors who can heal the body, there are doctors who can heal the mind. I have many times mentioned Dr. Patrick Faggianelli, the psychotherapist who has listened patiently to my troubles for the last four years. Here is his picture, a little dim (the light was bad) but you get the idea.
He is my age. He was raised in Florida, and went to school in Canada, before moving to California. He has a wife and two children. I once asked him why he took up his profession, and after much reticence, he said that he had been very unhappy as a child. He said that he decided very early in life that he would do something to help other people from having to live feeling the way that he did, and that psychotherapy came along as a natural. He has a day job as a councilor, and supervisor and mentor of other councilors (evidently a respected position in the profession) for one of the state school districts up in Vacaville, working with seriously troubled children. Nights and weekends, he sees people like me.
A few months ago he told me about his plan to acquire enough of a private practice that he could give up his day job, for the State of California is a frustrating master to work for, especially if you are trying to do good. To this end he was thinking of advertising. I showed him about personal websites (for a man of the modern age, he is an incredible luddite, using the computer only as a typewriter) and even offered to write some advertising copy for him. Here are a few pieces of it. Please pay particular attention to the last one of the four:
1) "Suppose you looked forward to dental work. Just sitting down in the chair made it hurt less, and when they put the tools in your mouth, it felt good. Suppose the dentist was your friend. That's how I feel about Dr. Faggianelli's therapy."
2) "Are you worried about the money? As a prompt and direct result of Dr. Faggianelli's therapy I quit the dead-end sweatshop in which I had exiled myself for the last ten years and got a satisfying job in the profession which I had abandoned, with a real company, making more money than I have ever made in my life. Can one put a price tag on sanity? I gave him a raise."
3) "Has therapy helped me? In the beginning, I wondered. It seemed like I did all the talking, that Dr. Faggianelli never told me anything I didn't already know myself. But now I can talk to other people. I tell my Mother what's happening in my life. I have friends. I don't feel like an imposter. Next, I'm thinking of taking on my terminal stagefright, and playing musical instruments in public again. "Get a life!" has taken on a whole new meaning."
I dreamed that I was making a TV commercial for my therapist. I was a little boy of five or six, standing high up on the parapet of a castle, looking out through the crenellations. My voiceover said :
"AS A CHILD, FOR MY OWN PROTECTION, I BUILT MYSELF INTO A FORTRESS. I THOUGHT IT WAS A STRONG CASTLE, BUT AS I GREW OLDER, IT WAS MORE AND MORE LIKE LIVING IN A BOMB SHELTER..."
Now I am an adult, alone in a windowless concrete room, sitting on the edge of a bunk which is hung from the wall. There are a few books on a single shelf, and on the table are some sheets of paper and a black quill pen, standing in an inkwell. On the wall is one of those cold war era yellow and black radiation symbol fallout shelter signs, with the legend "MAX. CAPACITY: ONE".
Then I am in a short, dark corridor. The arrow of a lighted "EXIT" sign points toward the shaft of bright yellow light which is streaming through an open doorway. My therapist has his hand on my arm. He is talking calmly to me, and he, too, points toward the open door.
"DR. FAGGIANELLI TOLD ME THAT THE WAR WAS OVER. HE SHOWED ME THE EXIT, AND HELPED ME FIND THE COURAGE TO WALK THROUGH THAT DOOR, INTO THE SUNSHINE."
Now I am standing in a field, or a park, blinking a little in the unaccustomed light. People are smiling at me. As a little girl hands me a blue and yellow iris, I begin to cry again, but this time they are tears of joy.
"IT'S PRETTY OUT HERE. I ALWAYS LIKED FLOWERS."
Dad, this man has worked tirelessly, with all the skill he has acquired in a decade or more of study, and with the patience and kindness of a saint, to bring about the reconciliation we have now between us. Yes, both you and I worked hard at it, too, what he did he did primarily for my good, and I am paying him (though not near enough), but time and again he stuck up for you, often enough to make me very uncomfortable. Dr. Killen, the surgeon, saved my life, and Dr. Faggianelli saved me from living out that life as a bitter old man. You might consider writing him a short note of thanks, for getting back your son. He has told me that most people never even say "thank you." It would mean more to him than all the money.
He doesn't give out his address (not even to me. He says it's part of the profession, that some people pester their therapists at all hours of the night, if they can find them. Some of them ARE crazy, you know!) but were you to want to do this, you could send the letter, sealed, to me, and I will give it to him. Think about it.