Craig Greenman

Flying to Paris

1.

I’m flying to Paris tomorrow.

No. This time I’m going. I will buy a ticket and go.

I need a vacation. That’s what everybody says. When you get tenure, you deserve a vacation.

But I start thinking.

Haven’t I wasted enough jet fuel? And what about the poor–aren’t I laying it on a bit thick, saying I deserve a trip to Paris?

There’s a name for this attitude: “major depression.”

That’s what I was diagnosed with today.


2.

My therapist’s office is a tiny blue room with an air conditioner that only blows freezing cold air.

“You’re a good person,” she says.

I shrug.

“Believe it,” she says. “It’s true.”

“That’s what Hitler said,” I reply.

“I mean”–I correct myself–“he told the Germans that.”

“Hitler said what?”

“He told them.”

“Sorry?”

“Nothing,” I reply. (I wave off the topic. Next!)

“You’re comparing yourself to Hitler?” my therapist exclaims.

“No,” I say. “But I can’t just say I’m good.”

“You’re good,” she insists.

My therapist is an attractive, middle-aged woman. She likes dogs. She has pro-dog stickers on her car. One of them reads: “MY DOG IS SMARTER THAN YOUR HONORS STUDENT.”

I was an honors student.


3.

“Did you find three good things about you?” my therapist asks.

(I get the joke. There are a lot of braggart parents. If my therapist loves dogs so much, she probably doesn’t have children, which is tough for a middle-aged woman. The problem is I liked being an honors student.)

“I thought it was three things that I liked about myself.”

“No,” she says. “Three good things.”

“I can say I like things,” I reply. “That’s subjective. ‘I like ice cream.’ But I can’t just say things are good. That’s objective. I need some third-party evidence.”

“The point is for you to affirm yourself,” she says.

“Hitler affirmed himself, too.”

“No.”

“He did!” I cry. “Mein Kampf: I’m smart, a good talker, and I don’t like Jews!”

“You’re not even Jewish,” my therapist says.

I dismiss this. “There might be something I think is good,” I reply, “but when I compare it to reality, it sucks. So I need someone else’s judgment.”

“Why not believe me when I say you’re good?” she counters. “I’m a third party–so you could believe me.”

“I’m paying you,” I say.


4.

My friends will say I’m good; they’re biased. My family will say I’m good; they have to. Even God takes an interest.

“So you’re out of luck,” my therapist says.

“Yes,” I reply.

“Which shows you’re formulating the problem badly,” she says.

“No.”

“But you have to live,” she says. “You can’t even buy a plane ticket.”

“I don’t have to live,” I point out.

“Of course,” she says. “But then you’d be wasting a lot of money on me.”

“True!” I say. “So we’re back to money again–and interest.”

“So living is the ultimate value, then?”

“Getting the most out of it,” I say.

“Yes.”

“That’s what Hitler did, too.”

“Oh, Hitler,” she moans.


5.

“Look,” I say. “Maybe if I count up all the reasons why I’m good and compare them to all the reasons why I’m bad, the balance sheet will come out in my favor. I know I’m not as bad as Hitler.”

“Excellent,” she says.

I think for a moment.

“Here’s the thing,” I say. “I’m an American. That means I live off poor people around the world.”

“Including in Paris,” my therapist says.

“Not in Paris,” I say. “So much as in the places it’s colonized.”

“You didn’t colonize them.”

“Sure,” I say. “But I still profit from it. The slaves never got their forty acres. I got my forty acres, from my grandpa in Wisconsin. It brings me a regular check.”

“Donate it,” she suggests.

“I can’t. It’s capitalism. Success goes to those who pay out the least. Look at Wal-Mart. China.”

“Haven’t millions of people been gentrified in China?” she asks.

“They live in dormitories.”

“It beats Mao.”

“Mao was necessary,” I say. “They had to get rid of us. Didn’t you know Forbes ran opium?”

“We’ll have no Forbeses, then. Better unions.”

“But if the profits are coming from opium addicts. . . .”

“You’ll never fully acquit capitalism,” she says. “If you’re waiting for that–well, you’ll never be happy!”

“No,” I say.


6.

“Perhaps this will appeal to you–given your religious background,” my therapist says. “Augustine said: ‘Believe and you shall understand.’ You believe first in yourself. Then you’ll understand why.”

“Hitler believed in himself, too.”

“Ugh,” my therapist says. “Using Hitler as a fallback,” she says, “shows you do believe something–you’re bad–and you understand everything else accordingly.”

“Should I not believe, then?”

“We all deserve to live.”

“How?” I say. “We didn’t earn it.”

“What if you’re a Hindu?”

“Yes,” I reply. “But then you weren’t good enough to escape the wheel.”

“Your Christianity is a problem,” my therapist brings out. “You think you’re sinful, but you can’t be forgiven because you don’t believe in God.”

“That’s why you need to believe in yourself,” she adds.

“I’m not Jesus,” I say.

“Yes,” she admits. “But you’re not Hitler, either.”

“So on balance. . . ?”

“There is no ‘on balance’!” my therapist exclaims. “Life is worth something, and you’re alive!”

“Hitler was alive,” I remind her.

“Yes.”

“Was he good?”

She looks closely at me. “Yes,” she says. “If you must.”


7.

Last week I drove through Pittsburgh. I almost hit a man picking up trash from the side of the road. He was wearing an orange vest, but I didn’t see him.

Inside that man was an entire universe. The cars–the trash–the trees–a life was alight inside there.

If I touched him–if I ran him over–I would change a universe. Every human being is a universe, if only because he or she is.

It immobilizes me.


8.

“So you’re bored at parties.”

“Right,” I say. “The people are nice. But the ‘gifts’ they bring each other–their words–are lame.”

“I include myself in that judgment,” I add.

“Of course.”

“I’m boring,” I say. “This whole conversation is boring.”

“Yes.”

“It’s boring to listen to somebody talk endlessly about his problems.”

“Yes.”

“But I like people,” I say.

“Excellent,” she replies.

“All the same,” I add, “at a folk show, when they’re singing, ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’–that’s boring.”

“I agree,” my therapist says.

“You’re wrong,” I reply. “Because I crave their love, and their not judging me. It’s not fair to judge others when you don’t want them to judge you.”

“‘Do unto others. . . .’”

“It works if you’re like the others. I’m not.”

She shrugs.

“I don’t even like therapy,” I say. “I only act like a depressive to please you. This is all a stupid game.”

“You’re not a depressive,” my therapist states. “You’re just depressed.”

“It’s major depression, you said.”

“Yes. That’s my diagnosis.”

“I hate your fucking diagnosis!” I shout, suddenly exasperated. “I hate you, and I hate all this bullshit.”

My therapist raises an eyebrow. Then she smiles.


9.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“That’s fine,” she replies.

“But maybe we should explore those feelings,” she adds.

I nod.

She leans in. “Please continue,” she tells me.

I pause. “Well,” I say, “you told me I’ve got to affirm myself–but I’m paying you to do it.”

“I want you to.”

“If I’m in therapy,” I explain, “there’s something wrong with me. So you have to tell me when I’m well.”

“I want you to say so.”

“Who can judge his own mind when he’s mentally ill?”

She smiles. “Foucault,” she says.

I jump up from the couch. “Do you see what I’m getting at?” I cry. “Talk therapy is for narcissists! We pay you to find ourselves! A person can’t just decide he’s good! Either he is or he isn’t! It’s not just an opinion!”

I sit back down.

“I don’t even want to go to Paris!” I shout.

“No?”

“I’ve already been there!” I continue. “Ten years ago! Why go again? I want to go to China!”

“Why not go?” she asks.

“My ex-girlfriend lived there once!”

“Oh,” my therapist says.

“Besides,” I say, “it’s a human rights issue! How can I support a place that doesn’t allow people to unionize!”

My therapist is silent. She is considering something.

“William”–she calls me by my first name–“may I suggest something, and please don’t take it personally?”

I nod.

“You feel guilty about everything,” she says. “You even feel bad about disliking therapy. But have you ever considered that we might not care?”

“It’s occurred,” I say.

“That we might even like you?”

“But I could run you over.”

“You could run us over,” my therapist agrees. “But you won’t. And it will have nothing to do with your sense of responsibility. It will simply mean you’re well-trained.”

“I’m a machine, then.”

“In part,” my therapist agrees. “Is that so awful?”

“It detracts from my dignity,” I say.

“Is it dignified to not be able to buy a plane ticket?” she counters.

“But if I fly to Paris–if I use the jet fuel–I rape the Earth.”

“No.”

“You want me to be a rapist,” I repeat.

She looks at me.

“You want me to act–damn the consequences,” I clarify.

“If they don’t say ‘no,’” she says. “Rape is when they say ‘no.’”

“But they can’t say it,” I argue.

“They can.”

“Patriarchy has shut them up,” I go on. “We men have silenced them so badly that they can’t even say ‘no’ when we’re raping them.”

“Aren’t you giving patriarchy a little too much credit?” she replies.

“And women,” I go on, “will accuse you of silencing them. They’ll shut you up for their cowardice.”

My therapist bristles. “William,” she says, “women–like men–have certain techniques they use in interpersonal arguments. Not all of them are fair.”

“So I’m taking you too seriously.”

“No,” she says. “You should take women seriously. Seriously enough to know they’re responsible for their own voices.”

“What about patriarchy?” I ask.

“William,” she repeats. “What if patriarchy is not about silencing women’s voices–but about your feeling responsible for them?”


10.

The session is ending. I can tell by the clock.

“The Earth would be better off without me,” I try.

My therapist sighs.

“Less of a footprint,” I explain.

“The Earth,” my therapist says, “is only worth something because of the things on it. You and I are two of those things.”

“That are destroying everything else.”

“Let’s bring this back to you,” my therapist says, “because we’re running out of time. How can you, William Love, affirm yourself, without God or a third party, and without drawing any conclusions about capitalism, gender, and the environment?”

“Good question,” I say.

“That’s what we have to work on,” she says.

“Okay.”

“Good.”

“Except,” I say, “we never defined what ‘good’ is.”

My therapist groans. “I have to go,” she says. She stands up and shakes my hand. “Will I see you next week?”

“If I don’t fly to Paris,” I reply.





Craig Greenman teaches philosophy at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. His fiction has been published in the Potomac Review, PANK, Grasslimb, and other journals. It has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web.


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