The Waiting Room
Jonas Swallowater is sitting in the waiting room of the
psychiatrist’s, the swell of the water encompassing his state of being;
the fear consisting not so much of generalized anxieties but the very real
possibility that he will run into one of his colleagues from his
institution of higher learning that, while no formal study that he knows
of or has checked into has been undertaken, should hold clouds-full of
clients or patients to rain down in exposure upon the college or the
public at large. A bad PR situation as far as anyone would be concerned,
even though “mental illness” and all its varying degrees is becoming more
acceptable, so acceptable that everyone is talking about Tony Soprano
seeing his psychiatrist.
The weather of the waiting room is not good. The
temperature seems to change from hot to cold; Jonas Swallowater, at times,
can sink back into the sofa pretending to himself and others that he is
relaxing, as if just a soft breeze were blowing in the air—it’s all in the
visualization. But visualization be damned. What if someone he knows walks
in, like a lightning bolt filling his entire system, going through a range
of emotions with only the foremost of shame being an external weather
indicator as he is sure the other person will not think he is here to have
his foot bandaged or receive a shot in a strategically placed location
that has nothing to do with the head?
When this person enters the waiting room, Jonas
Swallowater will feel his throat go dry and probably have a conversation
about the weather, so inane, with the other colleague.
“God, it’s hot outside!”
“I’m going to have to have my air conditioning checked.
The car is only two years old.”
“With humidity like this, I think it’s going to rain.
It’s not like we don’t breathe water all day.”
The other, who shall only be identified as Professor XYZ
and as one who teaches mathematical equations of the highest order, gets
called in before Swallowater.
Swallowater now sits there, observing himself in the
third person, having that ability of supposedly detached insight that is
such a blessing and curse, and considers the implications of his name, its
biblical connection, and the fact that Jonah had indeed some bad weather,
but so did Jesus in the bible, but who really wants to be Jesus. What will
he, Jonas, tell his colleague.
Sun, so bright it blinds him as he walks between
buildings to get his mail and makes him feel like a normal person,
whistling and watching the artificial and pleasant rain of the fountain
enrich the lives of walkers-by and the fish probably, spells everything
into a fine situation, when, upon entering the dark shelter of the campus
post office, which really should be bright, he runs into Professor XYZ.
Both of them just say hello, not even nodding any
conspiratorial or support-group type signals, and it occurs to Jonas that
weather is more an internal thing, though you can’t ignore the external
weather and the effect it has upon us. Some amount of sunlight is actually
good, and stepping into puddles with one’s loafers is not good, because
the loafers leak, and when you return to discuss modern American
literature, or even old British, the hum and blow of the air conditioning
system--yet another kind of weather-- makes Jonah’s wet socks feel most
unpleasant and cold. He has an immediate and focused worry about getting a
respiratory-affective ailment from this marked stimulus, and as he works
with the students on Lowell and that island with strange weather, he
launches into a discussion about internal and external weather, taking
with a poker face resembling the scientific measurement of a thermometer
or barometer answers from students, some of whom sympathize and probably
empathize with the states of mind of the poet. And he feels for a moment a
chill on his neck, thinking, thank God my starched collar is covering up
this shiver and my students don’t know that their perfectly normal but
bright professor visits a psychiatrist’s office. Only the math professor
knows, and their paths hardly ever cross, like equidistant parallel lines.
And then there’s the question whether we let weather affect our lives too
much; a question Jonas can hypothetically pose to his students, shielded
by the umbrella of open discussion under which his role can be
professional, and we’ll just leave it at that, time’s up.
Ulf Kirchdorfer has published poetry in Blue Mesa
Review, Poet Lore, New York Quarterly, The Quarterly,
Mudfish, The Chattahoochee Review, and Rolling Stone
magazine. Fluent in German and Swedish, Ulf has published translations on
subjects from bodybuilding to Jane Austen and Henry Miller. He is
currently looking for a publisher for his poetry manuscript "What is
Barking Inside Me," and at work on a novel for children.