We all have our patterns, our preferences, our peccadillos. Among mine is a compulsion to arrive early for any appointment, meeting or rendezvous. In my head there is a little voice that monitors the passage of time and admonishes me, “if you arrive on time, you are fifteen minutes late.” I don’t know whose voice that is. Other than curfews, I don’t recall either of my parents emphasizing punctuality.

Perhaps my four-year hitch in the Navy played a part. There’s a lot of timekeeping in navigation, so that may be part of it, but even when I am deliberate in my intention to arrive fashionably late, I still arrive early enough to be asked to help set up the chairs.

My therapist and I have discussed this often. She assures me that this tendency of mine — I like the word tendency; apparently, I have several — is not a character flaw. So it was that I arrived early for my weekly appointment only to discover her office door was a ajar and she was nowhere to be found.

I stood at the threshold peering into her empty office. Should I go inside? Should I remain in the waiting room, awaiting her return? A large ficus stood in the corner. The ficus is a lovely plant, luscious and tall. My therapist refers to it affectionately as “Darlene.”

To the ficus I said, “Darlene, what do you think I should do? Go inside or wait out here.” Like most ficus, Darlene hesitated to venture an opinion. I waited another beat for Darlene to chime in. She didn’t, so, I shrugged and stepped inside the office.

The clock on the mantle below the framed diploma on the wall told me I was eight minutes early. I looked at my wristwatch. I was, indeed, eight minutes early. I was about to take my customary seat at the end of the couch, when I stopped and resumed my standing posture. I looked around the room. I’ve been coming here twice a week for six years and this was the first time I’d seen the room alone and standing up.

Curiosity isn’t one of my stronger desires. At my age, my strongest impulses tend toward the digestive and “drifting gently down the tides of sleep,” as Tennyson put it. I scanned the room as I might look at the produce section at Natural Grocers. Meh. Until, that is, a bookshelf caught my eye. More than the contents of a medicine cabinet, the books on a shelf, I believe, provide real insight into a person.

With my hands clasped behind me I leaned forward to peruse the titles: Suduko for Dummies; How to Retire in Tahiti on Ten Dollars a Day; Cujo; I’m OK, — You’re OK; DIY Taxidermy.

I jumped when my therapist said, “Hello, Tom.” We both laughed and looked at the clock. We were on time. “Shall we begin?”

As my therapist closed the door, Darlene and I looked at each other. Maybe it’s time for a change.

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