It nags, doubt does, follows you to work, grabs you by the neck at 2 a.m. or as you sit chatting in your boss’s office, but we’re talking about lower-case doubt, as in, “He’ll give me that promotion, right? I’m the best person for that job. Everyone in the company knows that. He has got to give me that promotion. I think.”
At least that’s what we’re told at our Doubter’s Anonymous meetings. They have coffee and snacks during the break, but hardly a soul eats. You never know exactly who made the sandwiches. Did that person wash his or her hands after using the restroom?
The instructor says we should confront our insecurities. Upper case doubt (DOUBT) is the topic of the seminar March third at the Civic Center. “Helpful Hints” will be the first topic covered. Put a compass in your car, so you can avoid those awkward moments. ”I think I’m going North, but…” Buy Post-It notes. Good ideas, but I don’t think they will work.
The seminar coordinator will then explain the subconscious nature of doubt, how to confront this emotion and face it down so you can smile in the morning like you really mean it. My entire support group is going with me. The tickets start at $35 and Doubter’s Anonymous members in good standing get 10 percent off if they pre-register.
They’ll tell me at the seminar which legal drugs can help me control the upper rear quadrant of the temporal lobe of my brain, where doubt is harbored. These are legal FDA approved drugs. Everyone knows those herbal remedies don’t work.
Finally, the evening will end with a performance by that inspirational group, Doubtless, direct from Cincinnati. The seven members of the group met during therapy sessions and decided that they had a message that had to be told by music. They’ve been doubt-free for almost six years now and are an example to all.
Their sax player was once on Saturday Night Live, I’m told the guitarist is better than Jimmy Hendrix. Yeah, sure. I’ve been ravaged by doubt. You could ask my wife, if I still had one. I almost got married in ’85. Cindy was a sweet girl, probably still is, but you never know. I went to Carlson Jewelers, a block off of Vine and Sixth. I picked out a very attractive ring. They said you should spend two months salary on an engagement ring. That’s the rule of thumb in the wedding ring business. But I thought maybe six weeks would be good enough. Still, that was almost three grand. I have to sleep on this decision, I told the nice young man at the counter. Well, I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept awake thinking of one figure: $3,000. I should have been thinking of Cindy’s figure in a semi-transparent nightgown.
Maybe that nice young man wasn’t so nice after all. Maybe five weeks salary should be the rule of thumb. Four weeks would be better. Cindy didn’t believe in doubt. She liked to dance and she knew how to dance with flair and she could figure out what type of dance it was. ”Samuel,” she’d day, “This dance is not a polka. It’s a waltz. We dance like this.” If I followed her instructions, I danced without embarrassing myself.
What would be wrong with three weeks salary as the rule of thumb? That conniving young man at the counter could substitute cut glass for diamonds. By the time I found out, he’d probably be in Jamaica somewhere spending my three weeks salary. He couldn’t have nearly as good a time if it were only two weeks salary.
Cindy had eyes that could look through solid granite and hips, when they swing to and fro, that could make a person forget about weekly salaries altogether. To hell, you might say. When I was growing up, my mother used to jokingly call me “Doubting Thomas.” I didn’t know what she was referring to until I took Bible studies when I was eight years old. Those apostles, they’re so gullible, I thought.
Maybe one weeks’ worth of a person’s paycheck should be enough to buy a diamond ring. Carlson Jewelers didn’t sell any rings that cheap. I had to look elsewhere. Cindy and I used to bowl on Thursday nights, go to the movies on Saturdays. We went to Jamaica for three days, probably stayed at that same hotel that the clerk at Carlson Jewelers would have gone to if I had bought that ring.
When I gave Cindy the ring, she kissed me before she looked at it. ”This looks a lot like the ring that my parents gave my sister when she was confirmed.”
“It couldn’t be the same ring. Nobody would spend $79.99 on a ring for a confirmation.” That was the last time I saw Cindy. Then I met Dale, a female Dale, as in Dale Evans, wife of Roy Rogers. I swore an oath to myself that I’d change. Dale could not dance well, so I had to teach her all those steps that I had learned from Cindy. ” A step to the left, a step back, then a twist; are you sure?” We were made for each other. Dale would look out the window each morning to make sure that the sun was still rising in the east.
When I gave her the ring worth 13 weeks of my earnings, she looked up at me and said, “Thank you. Can you give me a week or two to think about it?”
Wedding preparations were painful. We couldn’t figure out the perfect date or the perfect color for the bridesmaids or the type of flowers. Then Dale turns up pregnant, and my mother says, “You got two weeks, Sammy. Get married.” We did, at the Church of people with sing off-key.
Doubt is a horrible thing. Certainty is, too. You watch these movie stars and politicians on television, giving their opinions on this or that and they’re so certain they’re right. Then you have people like Dale and me. We don’t trust the earth to turn on its axis. It’s done so for a few billion years, but what guarantee do you have about tomorrow? None.
We named our baby girl Jane. That was Dale’s mother’s name. It was also the name of the woman who tamed Tarzan, a strong woman. Jane had no doubts since the day she was born. She played us like we were in a casino, sitting at the blackjack table and she was the dealer, which is to say, we lost. Oh, we won a little every now and then, just enough to make us think that maybe we were real parents. But, we weren’t. We would put Jane to bed and she’d cry.
“Do you think it’s wise, Sam, to let her cry? It might hurt her self-esteem.”
“That’s true.” Dale didn’t think we could make it on my salary and I took a part time job at a convenience store, stocking shelves and mopping floors. Dale started to look at me with blood in her eyes.
“Why are you coming home at a quarter after ten?”
“Well, I work ’til ten. I have to close up.”
“You’re seeing another woman, that checkout girl with acne, the one who smokes outside the front door of the store when she thinks no one is looking.”
“Sure. I get off at ten. I go over to her house. I get there at six minutes after ten. We get everything over by twelve minutes after ten. I take a shower and I’m home at a quarter past ten.”
“You’re fast when you want to be, Sammy. You got me in under two years, didn’t you?” That was that. Jane didn’t understand, probably thought we were both fools and she was right. Dale and I shared custody for a number of years and Jane just progressed, doubt-free from kindergarten on.
“Really?” they would ask my ex-wife and me at school conferences. ”She’s your kid?” Dale would blush. It was that blush that made me buy that expensive ring in the first place.
In middle school, Jane won every academic award that could possibly be won. I was there for all the school plays and debate championships and the playoff volleyball games. ”She’s your kid? people would ask, puzzled. In high school, Jane was valedictorian, prom queen, state softball pitcher of the year and debate champion. ”Really? She’s your daughter?”
At the graduation ceremony, they announced that Jane was going to Yale via a full scholarship. I looked across the high school gym at Dale. Maybe we could get back together? I doubt it, I thought. Breaking up is hard to do. Getting back together is even harder.
Well, of course, in her junior year of college, Jane met Tarzan, a microbiology major. His name was Jim, not Tarzan, and I don’t think he could properly kill a fly, not to mention those man-eating crocodiles that Tarzan could dispose of. After Tarzan saved the world, Jane was always waiting for him.
Jim came out for Thanksgiving, in Jane’s junior year, and Dale and I hosted a nice dinner, and we were civil to each other. The kid was a bit of a wimp and both Dale and I figured he’d be a good fir for Jane who was used to giving orders.
“Of course, he’ll leave her stranded, high and dry,” Dale said. ”She’ll ditch him,” I said. We both agreed on something: that no microbiology major could possibly make it with our daughter. But we were approaching doubt from two different directions, which seemed a bit odd.
That’s when we realized that we needed counseling, at least I did. They have departments devoted to doubt at Yale and Jane got me into a program directed by one of the most respected doubt specialists in the country. He only lived two miles from my house, Yale alumnus, spoke three languages fluently but English less so.
Still, I progressed. I tried to get Dale to come, but she didn’t think it would do her any good. I didn’t know then, but I know now that she’s only at step one on the eleven step recovery process. She’s got no support group. I’d like to be her support group like I was in ’89, when we conceived Jane, but Dale wouldn’t hear of it–doubted that anyone, from anywhere, could do her any good. It’s called self-denial. Oh, I didn’t believe it myself, at first, that this treatment program could possibly work. I’m beyond that stage now.
I turn on the water for my shower and I don’t worry that it’s going to come out probably at 125 degrees. I can get undressed now and then turn on the shower–something I could never do before. I never had any confidence that the water would come out. Therapy is wonderful. Dale flushes a toilet before she uses it just to make sure it works.
Doubt is a terrible thing. You hear or read something and then you doubt what you heard or read. A few minutes later, you begin to doubt that you actually heard or read anything. Take three deep breaths. That is what my doubt therapist says. Not two. Three. You take slow, deep breaths. In, out, in, out. Oxygen is a natural defense mechanism against doubt.
I tried to tell Dale about the importance of oxygen but she just said, “You’re full of shit, Sammy.” Or did she say that? We discuss self-denial at our Doubter’s Anonymous meetings. The meetings are held in the basement of a Lutheran church, though some of our members are not religious. Many don’t believe in the Blessed Trinity. ”I don’t think they needed a third member. Two aren’t enough?” You hear comments like that.
Well, Jane calls and says, “I’ve dumped Tarzan, or what’s his name, Jim. I’m calling and leaving this on your answering machine as a matter of record or you’ll begin to wonder if you really heard what I really said, I’m leaving the same message on mom’s machine, but I’m repeating it twice or she won’t take Jim’s name off her Christmas card list.”
Likely, Jim really screwed up. There could be a lot of worse things than being attached to my daughter. Like being a microbiology major. I was up to step six. Jane started going out with an English major. The kid can recite poetry but can’t change a tire. Then again, Jane can change a tire.
The two came to dinner for Easter, at my place. I decided to skip all the insecurities about hosting a dinner and deciding which dishes to cook and how long to cook them and when to buy the groceries and did I want paper or plastic? I had the meal catered. They recommended doing these things at some of the therapy sessions. Simply toss a coin, I was told. If it comes up heads, you take the first caterer in the yellow pages. Tails, take the last.
Acme Catering did a nice job with the sliced ham, egg bake, and shrimp dish. Dale was impressed. ”You’ve changed, Sammy.”
“Next month, with any luck, I move up to step number seven.” Well, this new Tarzan wasn’t Jim. He was James. We had a beer out back after the meal. James and I. Or is it James and me? He was an English major. I should have asked. ”She’s a strong woman, your daughter,” he said. ”She’s helped me immensely. I have some problems making decisions. Jane doesn’t.” Oh, tell me something I don’t know, I thought.
“Jane doesn’t think I should go to graduate school in the English Department. She thinks I should go to law school. She says that I would get some respect as a lawyer, but if I get a doctorate in English I’ll just end up another pretty face at some third-rate university.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“You think I should go to graduate school and stay in the field of English Literature?” No, I thought. I just meant that I didn’t think you’d be another pretty face anywhere. Maybe Jane hadn’t gotten her new prescription contact lenses.
“No, I think you’d do well in whatever field you went into. But, there’s money in law, and not much in the field of English Literature.” I had to remember what I had said. I could use this talk at my next support meeting. Being assertive and thinking on your feet!
Jane and Tarzan number two got married and they now have Boy, and a dog, not a chimp. Dale thinks that I’m the new Roy Rogers, and she wants to get back together again. She emails me twice a day, then calls to make sure I got the emails. I think I’ll make it to level eight by year’s end. Maybe I am the new Roy Rogers.
Still, it’s hard to say.
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