My office, as per usual, is spotless. For my next client, it has to be. If there is anything lying around, he will find it and fiddle with it until it breaks. He got a hold of my reading glasses once and snapped them at the bridge when I asked him a question that had startled him. That was the last time I left anything of value on my desk within his reach.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Holden. He skipped out on his last appointment, so it has been nearly a month. The last time I saw him, he complained about his girlfriend at the time being obsessed with the Beatles. Said something about them being phonies, with their long hair and ‘stupid, catchy music.’
I’ve left the appointment time before Holden’s free, because I know that he tends to be early without thinking to appointments, and he rarely knocks. At 10:03, there is a knock at the door and, without waiting for an answer, Holden saunters in. “Hey Doc, how ya been?” He beams at me. The smile on his face seems pained and nearly a grimace, not the usual jokey smile that Holden gives me when he walks in. I have known him for five years, and over those five years I’ve seen him sad and upset and happy and manic, but I’ve never seen him look quite like this.
He looks defeated.
“I could ask you the same thing. Are you alright?” I ask as Holden sits in the chair in front of my desk, scooting it up close. He pulls my pencil cup towards him and starts fiddling with the pencils. He ignores me. I grab back the cup and fix him with a look.
“Holden, answer my question. What’s wrong? Also, why did you miss your last appointment? I called your parents, D.B…. I even called Phoebe. No one knew where you were. Do you want to talk about it?” Holden takes off his ratty, tattered hunting hat at my words. He turns it over and over in his hands, avoiding eye contact.
He is quiet, composed. Then all of the sudden he starts talking. It is like a dam broke in him and all of the words are spilling out.
“Did Phoebe tell you she had her kid? Yeah, she got married right out of college, to that French guy, Jean-Claude. She met him when she was traveling, living in France to get inspiration for her writing. At first I was upset, but I couldn’t have said anything to her. I mean, it’s Phoebe. She wouldn’ta listened to me anyway. She can pretty goddam stubborn when she wants. I guess she learned it from me.
“I mean, I wish that I could have been there for her more when she was younger, but I was always away at those schools. She was one of my favorite people. Still is. I guess I thought that she should’ve gotten a chance to live before she became a mom, I guess. But she had a little boy. Named him Allie. I damn near cried when she told me.
“You know what else she did, Old Phoebe? She named me the kid’s godfather. How’s about that? Me, a godfather. Phoebe trusts me enough to be the kid’s goddam godfather. Answer me this, huh, Doc? How am I supposed to be this kid’s godfather if I’m killed in the war? How am I supposed to be around for him if I’m gunned down in Vietnam?” Holden stares at me.
It all starts to make sense. The President announced the need for a draft for the Vietnam War about a month ago. No wonder Holden is having an episode. He’s been drafted. I take a moment to assess Holden’s appearance, which is usually the first sign of his mental state. After working with him for five years, I’ve seen him at his worst and at his admittedly less than fantastic best. One of the first appointments he had, he ranted about Korea for two hours. He still had his military high-and-tight at that point and a righteous fury for the military. I think that was the one time I’ve heard him describe something without using the word ‘phony.’ He described the army instead as hell on Earth. And now he has to go back. No wonder he looks like he’s having a mental breakdown.
Holden leans back in his chair, running his fingers through his hair in frustration. It is long, very long, the top layer of dark curls covering up the gray hairs that make him look like an old man and not a man in his twenties.
“How come I have to go back there, Doc? I paid my dues. I did my goddam time. I saw a buncha my buddies blown up and gunned down and I thought I was away from that hell but now I have to go back. Why? Tell me why!” Holden’s anguish is palpable.
“I can’t tell you why, Holden. I don’t know why.” He eyes me angrily.
“Get me out of the draft.” His voice is quiet, but there is a rage behind it. I shake my head and Holden’s eyes tear up.
“Then what good are you? You’re a doctor, and you can’t do a goddam thing. Write me a letter, put me on meds, say my eyesight’s bad, I don’t goddamn care. Just get me out of the draft. I can’t go back there. I can’t. I won’t make it. And then I can’t be little Allie’s goddamn godfather, and I can’t read anymore of D.B.’s books. I won’t make it, Doc. You have to get me out.” Holden is crying. He wipes the mucus and tears off of his face with one swipe of his sleeve. I open my mouth to answer, but then I shut it. I can’t forge any papers for Holden. I could be imprisoned.
“Please, Doc. Please. You have to help me.” Holden stands and leans on my desk, his body all angles and points, the legs too long for the torso and the arms too long for his sleeves. I stare at his bony wrists instead of looking at him.
“I am going to goddam die. Aren’t you supposed to help people who are about to die? Isn’t that the point of doctors?” Holden grabs my wrists, pulls me to my feet, forcing me to look at him.
“Let go of me.” I say. Holden drops my wrists like I am made of burning coals.
“It’s been nice knowing ya, Doc. Truly. You’re an okay dame. Real goddam smart. But I ask you for one favor, one thing to save my life, and you say no. I am not going back to war. If you can’t help me, I will find a way to get out of it myself. I can’t go back, Doc. I still hear the screaming in my sleep. I still hear the bullets whizzing past my goddam head. I can still see my buddies on the ground covered in blood when I close my eyes, choking on their own tongues as they die in front of me. And I mean, you won’t help me from going back to that? You’re a goddam crook. And I’m done coming here. So thanks for nothing, Doc.” Holden shoves his hat back onto his head, so violently that I hear the fabric rip a little. Holden jumps at the sound, and his eyes tear up again.
“Holden, just sit! Talk about this before you do something rash!” I call after him as he races to the door. He slams it in my face before I finish my sentence. I call down to reception but I am too late. Holden is gone.
Two weeks later…
“Phoebe, hello. Thank you for calling. Yes, someone has informed me; I’m so sorry for your loss. No, Holden did not tell me of his intentions the last appointment we had. Yes, I had heard that Holden was drafted again. No, I can’t let you see my notes; I’m sorry - Doctor-patient confidentiality. Yes, the confidentiality still carries post-mortem. No, I did not know that Holden still had his gun from Korea. I don’t think I could attend the funeral, but thank you for asking, Phoebe. Oh, and congratulations. Holden told me about your son.”
So this is the closest I will ever get to fan fiction... It was for my English Class, as our culminating Catcher In the Rye project.
I don't know what else to say besides sorry.
Or you're welcome; I'm kind of proud of this.
I'm not proud of killing off one of literature's most beloved assholes, but I am proud of the writing.
Here is a thing that I did.
Love and kisses,