As the majestic snow fell upon the tree outside of the hospice window, James regretted ever being here. During the year, he could be strong, or at least strong enough to keep him out of the ‘nut house’. But with his onset injuries and Christmas just around the corner, he was unable to hold it together, let alone focus on what was going on right in front of him.
“So, what did you like to do best before the war?” said Doctor Smith. He didn’t know how to speak to veterans and was extremely awkward at starting conversations; not an ideal trade for a therapist. “Did you practice a sport?”
James looked up from his focus on the frosted trees outside the window; this was the first question that Doctor Smith asked him today that he was willing to give a serious attempt to answer.
“Yes, football”, he said with hesitation, as if thinking of a time before-the-war was long ago; in a separate lifetime.
Doctor Smith quickly stood up and closed his binder, detecting the awkwardness in the room as a third party; tangible but its location was unknown all at the same time. Conversation with the most untalkative is like pulling teeth.
“Well, you will be able to play football again, better than ever!”, he said, trying to sound promising. “All the pain will go away. You are a fortunate young man. Then you will play football like a champ’!”
There was a somber, depressing silence in the room as both James and Doctor Smith acknowledged the solid cast that ascended from James’ knee to his heel, down his right leg.
James winced at it a little. It was one of those cut-to-10-years-later moments. Slightly unbelievable that he would be in this situation, in this town, in this office. This case was not part of this budget, he never envisioned this moment in his long-term plan.
“What will you do when the war is over…?” the doctor asked, another attempt at small talk. He wanted to say, “if it’s over”, but isn’t this the place where people pay for optimism? Regardless, he, like the rest of Europe, hoped the war would end soon, but he could never be too sure.
James looked up from his now focus on his knee and glanced at the Irish flag hanging from the wall.
“I will go to the States,” he said. “Maybe marry.”
Doctor Smith was not impressed.
“The more a fool you are. A man must not marry. He cannot marry. He should not place himself in a position to lose. You already did that once,” he said as he looked back at James’ knee. “Men should find something they cannot lose.”
James was puzzled. “But why would I necessarily lose it?”
The moment those words came out of James’ mouth, he wished he could stuff them back in before Doctor Smith ever noticed. James knew the weekly routine; he would come to therapy, say something to through Doctor Smith off the deep end, and spend the next 56 minutes listening to Doctor Smith and his advice that had no real reason for anything. At least one thing was planned in his life: next week’s notorious discussion all over again.