Flight of Brothers by Jonathan Baumbach by Jonathan Baumbach - Read Online

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Flight of Brothers - Jonathan Baumbach

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In this dream we were running away from something, my brother and I, not so much together, as running along side each other, each in our separate universe. We didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, but the space behind us kept enlarging.

What will happen if they catch us? I asked.

You don’t want to know, he said. It was true. I didn’t want to know.

Why did I feel worse rather than better when I left Dr. Klotzman’s office? It was a question I had only recently started asking myself. Perhaps because I hadn’t told my therapist the truth or at least the whole truth. Perhaps it was because I didn’t know the whole truth, which was why I started seeing Klotzman in the first place. I confessed the partial truth to my wife which was perhaps why she left me. I didn’t want to discourage Klotzman so early in the game, which was how I thought of our therapy sessions. My wife used to tell me that if I stood up straight I’d feel better about himself. So I made an effort to stand up straight when I visited Klotzman. After awhile I subsided into my usual slouch. As I told Klotzman I was not myself with affected good posture.

The slouch represented me. I was hiding something that I wanted to stay hidden, terrible as it was. I took long walks by myself as if I might leave the unspeakable self behind. Alas, it went with me and returned with me. Klotzman gave the nameless a name, called it a free-floating guilt, but it was more or less than that. By boxing it with a name, Klotzman thought he could treat it, which was, I liked to believe, a free-floating illusion.

It went to bed with me and it woke up with me. It corresponded with my dreams. It got worse but rarely better. It was what brought me to Klotzman’s office in the first place. I didn’t believe in psychiatry, but desperation leads you into trying almost anything.

That day when I came home from therapy, the woman next door was leaving her apartment. I nodded to her, though we had hardly spoken in the years I had lived in the Riverwalk Towers. Would you walk along with me? she asked.

I’ve just come back from a walk, I said.

I hope this doesn’t sound presumptuous, but I need some company, she said.

I had nothing better to do so I considered her request. She was older than I was or perhaps the same age and though not interested in her sexually, I was curious about who she was.

You look like you need a friend, she said.

I had always tried to disguise my ongoing misery with a frozen face. I don’t need a friend, I said, but I’ll walk with you. She looked like someone I imagined I had beaten to death in one of my recurring dreams.

We walked out silently together, keeping a polite distance between ourselves.

I’m a doctor, she said by way of introducing herself, but I no longer practice.

I’m a contractor, I said, but I no longer contract.

She laughed. That’s a funny thing to say. I still work at a hospital outlet doing odd jobs.

You feel untrustworthy? I asked.

I reached a point where I no longer trusted my hands, she said. Can you understand that?

I looked at my own hands then put them in my pockets. By talking about herself, she was talking about me. I knew that couldn’t be so, but her confessions made me wary. Needing to fill the silence, I said that it looked like rain.

It’s not supposed to rain, she said. Do you want to turn back?

I wished it would rain or snow. It eased me, if ever I was eased, by being out in bad weather.

We can turn back whenever you want to, she said.

A couple went by with their arms around each other and said hello to us as they went by, as if we too were a couple.

This occasioned me to take a step further away from my companion. We were not a couple and not to be mistaken for one, though the more I glanced at this neighbor the more attractive she seemed. She had an unusual profile.

Let’s go back, she said.

We turned languidly around.

When we reached our mutual building, the Riverwalk Towers, which only had 12 floors, she thanked me for accompanying her.

The walk eased me for a few moments but when I was back in my six-room apartment, the same misery returned. It was good to know that walking with this neighbor was a positive thing to do. I tried to read but my concentration was poor so I put on the television set and tried to lose myself in someone else’s story. I watched a movie in which a man was accused falsely of a crime. In the end it came out all right but I knew the protagonist was guilty as assumed. It was my own story and freeing the other of the ostensibly false charge only made matters worse.

Since I had taken leave from my job—I hadn’t exactly quit—I didn’t know how to fill my day. I was concerned when not working at being found out, though I didn’t know of what.

I phoned Klotzman to say I’d like an extra session if one could be arranged.

I’m sorry you’re not feeling any better, Klotzman, apparently browsing in his appointment book, said on cue. I can take you at 8 tomorrow. Is that too early?

Nothing’s too early, I said. I wondered if I committed a real crime if it would relieve him. There were times I thought of killing Klotzman, but I wouldn’t know how to go about it.

I arrived at Klotzman’s office at 7:45 and had to wait for the therapist to arrive. I tended to arrive at Klotzman’s office in a state of restrained exuberance as if no expectance were beyond its possibility.

Klotzman arrived at one minute after eight—closer to thirty seconds actually—and led me into the office. I waited for the therapist to take his seat before I took the facing chair.

You’re looking better today, Klotzman said.

The remark gratified me. The world news was extremely bad today, I said, only partially joking.

And that cheers you?

No. Why would I be cheered by bad news? You must think I’m a horrible person. I feel somehow justified by bad news outside myself…

I felt his lips curl in a faint smile at the last remark. Are you saying that it corresponds to the news inside yourself?

Klotzman was particularly percipient today. You got it, I said.

And what is your personal bad news today?

I was disappointed by the question. My new found respect for Klotzman slipped away. If I knew what it was I wouldn’t need you, I said.

Don’t things change from day to day.

Well, I had a dream last night in which three men in stocking feet came to arrest me. When I asked them what I had done, they said there was no name for it. How can you arrest someone when there is no name for the charge? I asked. Just come with us, they said—that is one of them said, the one that talked. I won’t go, I said. There’s a crime in that, he said, resisting arrest. The last thing I remember is shouting at them, I won’t be taken away under false charges.

What happened then? Klotzman asked.

It’s a recurrent dream, I said. When I wake I expect to find myself in prison, but I am only in my bed.

You’ve made your life into a prison, Klotzman said. You see that don’t you?

Why do I do that?

You tell me.

Because I am guilty of something. I just don’t want to be taken away under false charges.

How do you know they’re false if you don’t know what the real charges are? We always came in these sessions to some unanswerable question.

Maybe you’re imagining that there are real charges, he said.

Maybe I am, I said. And maybe I’m not.

From there our sessions repeated themselves or ran downhill until time ran out and I went home feeling worse than when I came in.

Maybe I should stop seeing Klotzman, I thought, but I continued to believe that help, if there was any, was his to offer. Perhaps I needed to ask the right questions.

It was not that I felt guilty all the time. Just most of the time. The rest of the time I felt innocent of the obscure charges against me. I had a stubborn streak too. I would not be bullied by false charges. Not even in my dreams would I allow myself to be bullied. In one I stood up in court and insisted on my innocence. The judge, who looked like my father, stood up and said, It is only the guilty who need to insist on their innocence. It follows then, doesn’t it, I said that it is only the innocent that insist on their guilt. I am so innocent, I will tell you I am guilty just to throw you off the track. That’s the rub, the judge said, it is also the guilty that insist on their guilt.

When I was ten—this may have been a dream or a dream of a dream—I was at a rigid private school. I was put in detention, a prison-like room because I had hit a boy in the face. He had hit me first which is what I tried to explain to the interrogator.

You hit him harder than he hit you, he said. In fact, the boy was in the hospital.

I hit him hard so he would not come back at me.

When someone hits you, the interrogator said, you turn around and walk away.

I’m sorry I hurt him. Can I get back to my room now.

Rules are rules, he said. You are obliged to serve out the terms of your punishment. Besides, he says he didn’t hit you.

He’s a liar, I said.

There were no witnesses. It’s his word against yours.

I wouldn’t have hit him if he hadn’t hit me first.

There’s physical evidence that you hit him. You broke a bone under his eye. There’s no evidence that he hit you.

I didn’t mean to break a bone, I said.

You admitted that you meant to hurt him. Isn’t that so?

I guess so.

You guess so?

Yes. I hit him so he wouldn’t hit me again. Isn’t it enough to say I’m sorry.

You’re being punished so you won’t do anything like it again. That’s why you’re being punished. I hope that’s clear.

I want to go back to my room. You have my word it won’t happen again.

Sorry, he said. Out of the question.

I was close to tears, toughing it out. Don’t you people believe in forgiveness?

You’re not understanding me, he said. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if I hadn’t already forgiven you. That doesn’t mean I can rescind your punishment. I hope the distinction is clear.


You have your interment to think about it. And with a nod, he left the room and locked the door behind him.

The room seemed smaller after I had been abandoned.

A few days later I had another dream in which I was on trial for murder of a yet-undiscovered corpse. Not wanting to leave my defense to a stranger, I decided to defend himself. It was my intention to prove that I was not present when the murder took place but was at home writing a speculative treatise on murder, which was the subject of the charge against me. I put myself on the witness stand and questioned myself, moving back and forth from the witness’s chair to the interrogator’s space. The prosecutor complained that I was making a show of a serious matter, but the judge, a pleasant elderly man, overruled his objection, saying a trial was always a bit of a theatrical event. The treatise I wrote was purely theoretical, I said. Not only did I have no intention of killing anyone, I in fact, did not, which was what counted.

The prosecutor said it was not unusual for theorists to put their theorizing into practice besides how could I insist I wasn’t there without knowing who the victim was.

Good question, I said. "It