Much to my relief, the doctor is a bright, gentle resident—the kind that I hope will win Gary over to the medical profession. For now, at least, until he gets past these feelings of hopelessness that I do not want escalating into suicidal tendencies. The doctor is Asian, but his first name is Hans, with a German pronunciation. Dr. Kim listens to his heart, checks his blood pressure and takes a medical history. Diabetes? Heart disease? Asthma? No, no, no. The usual doctor questions.
Gary talks and sighs and talks some more about how guilty he feels and that he has wasted his life. He hangs his head over his lap, rubs his forehead again and again. His brain teems with despair. I sit in the exam room listening and my insides cringe. I feel like I am eavesdropping on someone's therapy session. I suddenly know more about Gary than I had learned about him during the past six months. I look at my watch. Gary's been speaking for two hours. The doctor says Gary has all the signs of depression. But he asks Gary to come back in a week. He doesn't prescribe antidepressants because Gary fears losing his FAA license, and, besides, Dr. Kim wants to wait and see. I leave, comforted by the possibility of Dr. Kim taking care of Gary.
I go to my father's for Christmas in Texas. Gary heads first to his Connecticut apartment and then to California for his dad's eightieth birthday and Christmas. He can't take advantage of his airline perks and fly free since he is on medical leave. He pays full fare because he insists on flying on his airline, even though he could get a cheaper fare on another. He does not want to arouse his parents' suspicions by arriving at a different terminal, on a different airline. It would mean telling them that he's out sick and, upon hearing that, they would ask why.
I check my voicemail the day after Christmas. I hear a voice that is exuberant. It's Gary on a phone on the airplane. He had a great time and was glad he went. Later on, I find out that his call to me was part of a dialing marathon during which he made $600 worth of phone calls on his flight back East. His voice on the message shakes. Is it because those phones make people sound like they are calling from the plane's wing rather than from within the passenger cabin? I replay the message. I try to separate bad phone connection mixed with engine noise from the voice. I become the human version of the equipment the FBI uses to filter out noises on a recording they've gotten from a kidnapper to figure out where the lawbreaker is hiding out. All based on movies with FBI agents I have seen. The cadence of his speech sounds odd, rushed. I dial Gary's home number.
"Hey, how was Christmas with your dad?"
"How was Christmas with your folks?"
Yes, he enjoyed his visit. Within minutes, his upbeat voice fades and he reverts to his down-on-life script.
I hang up the phone. On the surface, it's your friendly post-holiday, you tell me about yours, I'll tell you about mine exchange. But the conversation bothers me, nags at me. I can't put my finger on what is not right about him. I make a mental note to check in on him in the next 24 hours.
The next day, I call Gary after I get home from Texas. While waiting for him to pick up the phone, I hope that the Gary who answers will be the one who is witty and sarcastic, challenging and intelligent.
"Hi, it's me."
"Delia! So how was Christmas with your father?"
It is déjà vu all over again. I do not point out to him that I had told him the night before. I retell him. OK, so maybe it's just jetlag messing with his memory. I sit on my couch for awhile, staring at some PBS cooking show. It may be television worth watching but I lose interest in Jacques Pepin making a beef tenderloin. I walk across the hall from my living room and into my office. I pull three books off my shelves: American Medical Association Family Guide, Merck Manual, which is meant for doctors, and its new counterpart, the Merck Manual of Medical Information, Home Edition, written in plain English using medical jargon only when necessary. After flipping through pages and pages, I have a list of conditions whose symptoms include memory lapses—brain injury, delirium, dementia, depression. To confirm my jetlag theory and to put my mind at ease, I call a few hours later.
"How was Christmas with your father?"
This is not a depressed man speaking. A day later we argue again over the phone.
"You. Need. To. See. A. Doctor. Again," I say, raising my voice.
"If anyone finds out that I have some mental illness or AIDS, my career is over."
"You hate your job anyway. You need help."
After twisting both arms, I persuade him to see the young resident again. I tell him he can stay in my spare room. Gary drives up that night. I am not prepared for the man I see at my door. His face is gray and looks thinner, more gaunt. He paces around the house. Not knowing what to do, I suggest that we go out for dinner. At the restaurant, I order for him. He can't decipher the words on the menu and, when he sounds them out loud, his pronunciation echos a first-grader learning new words.
Next: Gary has an MRI