Archive for January, 2010

12. The Doctor Is In

Brian called Dr. Claire Breedlove while he was at work, and set up an intake meeting on Friday afternoon, the day before Halloween. When he came home later, he gave me the address: Dr. Claire’s psychiatric practice was in Willowdale, and only a few blocks from Earl Haig, my old secondary school.

The next couple of days were pleasant enough. In the morning, Brian would head off to work, and I would have some breakfast and watch reruns of Toopy and Binoo or The View (I like Whoopi and Joy, but Elisabeth is a major bitch) before heading out to live as normal a life as possible. On Wednesday, I went to Manpower, my temp agency, and updated my application with them. They didn’t have anything available yet, but they were glad to know that I hadn’t disappeared off the face of the earth. I worked out at the gym and strolled around Church & Wellesley. Ever since Evan’s murder, however, I have never stepped foot in front of Buddies at Bad Times Theatre. I don’t even walk on the same sidewalk. The closest that I get to it is the sidewalk across the street. I have this fear that if I step one toe on that block, not only will the memories of that night renew their place in my memory with more vividness, I could end up dead too.

At night, Brian and I would have take-out for dinner. Brian rarely cooked at home, but he knew a good restaurant when he saw it. The first night that we had dinner together, he had brought some food from Blue Bay Cafe. It’s this place in the Roncesvalles neighborhood that serves food from Mauritius, an island country in the Indian Ocean. If you don’t know where it is, Google Earth it or open an atlas. Most of the food was too spicy for my taste, but I did enjoy the samosas.  The following night: burritos and sopas from Tequila Sunrise.

And then, the day came. Friday at 2PM. Rendezvous with Dr. Claire Breedlove. I arrived at Willowdale Counseling Services, which looked less like a clinic and more like someone’s home. The waiting room was devoid of anything clinical, and instead designed to put the patients at ease: plush furniture, soothing New Age music, those fake waterfalls that you can buy at Shoppers Drug Mart or Loblaw’s or fucking WalMart the same way one would buy a goddamn Chia Pet or Clapper.

By the time 2PM had arrived, I had leafed through the latest issue of Chatelaine and was bored shitless. I didn’t hear anyone come down the stairs to collect me. And fifteen minutes and an archival copy of Deneuve Magazine (before Catherine Deneuve got pissed and they had to rename it Curve), I was pissed. And then I heard:

“Is anyone down there?”

It was a mature, elegant voice, though weathered by time.

“Dr. Breedlove?’ I responded.

I heard footsteps down the stairs, and there stood Dr. Claire Breedlove. Tall, graceful, a head full of bouncy red hair, and wearing a poncho not even Johnny Weir would be caught dead in.

“You’ll have to pardon the poncho; my mother knitted this,” she said. “You must be Graziano. Did I get that right?”

I nodded. She had pronounced it exactly like the Italians do. I would have been insulted had she called me “Grassiano”. The way I see it, it behooves people to get names right, even if you have to feign an accent.

“I’m sorry for the delay, but my staff meeting ran long. Follow me.”

I followed her up the narrow staircase to the second floor. She pointed to her office, which was cluttered. “I should get it organized,” she said, opening the door to a rather threadbare room. It only had a coffee table, a couch, and an armchair. Dr. Claire Breedlove took the armchair, leaving the couch to myself.

“It’s intake time!” she cheered. “Yay!”

You don’t hear “intake time” and “Yay!” in the same breath often. Dr. Breedlove took out a clipboard with an intake form on it. “I took the liberty of filling in your name. Did I get it right?”

She showed me the form. It read “BUONFIGLIO, GRAZIANO G.M.” I nodded in agreement.

“What is your date of birth?”

“6th October, 1981.”



“Marital status?”

“I was engaged once, but then he died before we could get married. So, single.”

She nodded. “Children?”


“What is your address? Oh, wait. You live with Brian Gutensohn, so I already know. I also have your home phone number and your cell phone number. I don’t have your e-mail.”

I dread moments when people ask me my e-mail address. It’s a rather delicate concern for me. Dr. Breedlove was waiting.

“Do you have e-mail?”

“Yeah. It’s just that my e-mail address is a little… embarrassing to mention in public.”

“Really? Well, you do have the right to privacy.”

I thought about it for a moment and motioned for her to hand me the clipboard. I wrote down my e-mail address in the provided form and handed it back to her. She took one look at it, and her eyes lit up.

“How… provocative,” she said. “Anyway… first big question: Have you previously received any type of mental health services?”

“Yeah. I had a counselor at Seaton House, and before that, I had gone to counselors at the 519 Centre and Toronto General Hospital. I even went to Catholic Charities for services.”

Are you on any prescription medicine?

I shook my head.

Have you ever been prescribed psychiatric medication?


“And now, the biggies: How would you rate your current physical health: poor, unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good, or very good?

I replied, “Satisfactory.”

Health problems?

“I tried committing suicide a few weeks ago. It’s an almost regular occurrence with me. Other than that, I’m in good shape.”

“Okay. How would you rate your current sleeping habits? Same choices.”

“Good. Sometimes, I have nightmares and can’t sleep a wink all night.”

How many times a week do you generally exercise?

“Five times a week.”


“Bodybuilding, cardio, swimming, and in the winter, I like to go curling.”

She put the clipboard down. “Curling? I don’t associate a guy with your build, with curling.”

“It’s less about athletics and more about concentration and relaxing. In relative terms, of course. Curling is a very demanding sport.”

“Got it. Next question: Please list any difficulties you experience with your appetite or eating problems.

“I don’t have a problem. I love to eat. I’m Italian. There are days, however, when I’m so consumed with grief and sadness that I’ll just go to Metro and buy food that I already have and go to town on that shit. And then, the next day, I’m off to the gym to burn off the excess calories, only to go have a combo at Harvey’s afterwards and repeat the sick cycle over and over.”

Dr. Breedlove nodded. “Are you currently experiencing overwhelming sadness, grief, or depression?

“All three in equal amounts. It’s been a lifelong experience.”

Are you currently experiencing any anxiety, panic attacks, or have any phobias?

“I can’t walk on the same block as the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre because my fiance was killed near the place. I fear dying. I fear that eventually someone is going to kill me.” My voice began to break.

Dr. Breedlove handed me a Kleenex. I just crumbled it in my hand and squeezed on it. “Are you currently experiencing any chronic pain?” she asked.

I shook my head.

Do you drink alcohol more than once a week?

“I don’t drink at all.”

How often do you engage in recreational drug use?

Again, I shook my head. “I’ve abused over-the-counter drugs, but cannabis, ecstasy, wet… I never touch the stuff.”

“Wet?” Dr. Breedlove’s eyes opened in surprise. “What’s that?”

“Marijuana with PCP and formaldehyde. I took a drug prevention course when I was at university. Ironic, isn’t it?”

“We’ll get to the over-the-counter drugs at a later date,” she said. “Are you in a current romantic relationship?

“Not since my fiance died. Evan is his name.”

What significant life changes or stressful events have you experienced in the past year?

I let out a loud groan.

“Graziano, what does that mean?” Dr. Breedlove asked, concerned.

“I don’t know where to begin,” I said.

“Well, for now, you don’t have to go into detail. What initially brought you to stay with Brian?”

I looked out the window. It was overcast. What a metaphor for my life. “My parents kicked me out of the house. And I had a terrible time at Seaton House, so I took Brian up on his offer.”

Dr. Breedlove stopped. “I need to change my pen,” she said, replacing her blue PermaMate with a silver Hilton Hotel pen. I wondered what she had been thinking all this time. Did she think that I was beyond help? Did she think that she could be spending her time in Turks & Caicos, lounging on a beach with a cocktail in one hand and a trashy Danielle Steel novel in the other?

And then she said, “Don’t worry. This isn’t boring me. I’m not dreaming of the Caribbean and booze.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. How did she even know what I was thinking? No one knows what anyone is thinking. Even when people say “I know what you’re thinking”, they really don’t.

“Okay, I’m going to list a few things and you tell me if any of your family members have whatever I list. Alcohol/substance abuse?

“My mother and my sister.”


“No one.”



Domestic violence?

“Not at all. Other than them being violent to me. But that doesn’t count, does it? Domestic violence is spouse vs. spouse, isn’t it?”

“It is generally that, but it takes other forms. Who abused you?”

“My mother, my father, my sister, and various relatives.” I clutched the Kleenex in my hand harder.

“You know, Graziano, they make stress balls, so you don’t need to crush the tissue any more,” Dr. Breedlove said, noticing my Kleenex had turned into a crumpled mess. I looked at it, and began to cry. I wiped my eyes with the substantially reduced sheet of delicate tissue paper. Afterwards, I threw it away and nodded at Dr. Breedlove to continue.

Eating disorders?



“My father is fat, but he’s not obese.”

Obsessive compulsive disorder?

“Yes. My parents are obsessively and compulsively obsessed with power and getting rid of me.”

“I was talking about things like excessive cleaning and hoarding, but in a way, that somewhat fits the bill. Schizophrenia?


“Finally… suicide attempts?

Again, I shook my head. No one in my family, not even before my grandparents moved to Canada, had any of those problems.

“The rest of the form is pretty straight-forward, so you can fill it out and sign it.” She handed me the form and I finished it for her. After I handed it back, she studied it and said, “I think that does it. I’m going to review this further and I’ll call you over the weekend. Provisionally, I think we can work something out.”

“Sure thing,” I said, getting up and shaking her hand. She had a firm grasp, but it was also gentle.

“Can you promise me that you won’t try to off yourself beforehand?” she asked.

“I’ll try to stay alive.”

Dr. Breedlove escorted me out of the building. Overall, the intake went pretty well. As I walked to the nearest subway station, I felt relaxed. It was the first time in my life that I had survived a session with a psychiatrist without feeling insulted beyond belief. Granted, it was only an intake, but still…

I won’t give out my e-mail address in its entirety, but the part before the @ is “packing14inches”.


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11. A New Home

Later that night, after going to the nearest Harvey’s and getting a combo to go, I drove back towards downtown Toronto. I couldn’t help but be excited. After only a few weeks, I was finally going to sleep in a decent, clean, and hopefully comfortable room.

Questions ran through my mind, however. Would Brian and the condo management allow Britney to stay with me? I would never let her go. Would Brian be a good roommate or a bad one? Would I screw this up? This was it. If I didn’t make this a success, I might as well just drive off Scarborough Cliffs and die.

600 Queens Quay West greeted me with twinkling lights. Okay, they were simply lit-up windows, but still. I immediately remembered being in the area once. After Evan had been cremated, I spread his ashes at the waterfront. This was one of his favorite places in Toronto, with a great view, easily accessible via public transportation, and clean.

I parked my car and took my cat and her carrier out, as well as an overnight bag that I had stuffed with clothes and things. I would bring the rest up the next day. I walked in the lobby and the desk clerk greeted me with a “Welcome home, Graziano” in a thick, Tamil accent.

“How do you know my name?” I asked.

“Brian told me,” he replied. He had a twinkle in his eye, if you’ll pardon the cliché. “He’s on the sixth floor.”

“Thanks.” I walked toward the elevator and pressed the button. 30 seconds later, the doors opened and up I went, Britney and some belongings in tow.

At the sixth floor, I walked around and around. I couldn’t find Brian’s condo. Britney became restless in her carrier. I calmed her down and walked around some more until a door opened.

“I’m in here, Graziano,” I heard Brian’s voice. And there he was, standing in the doorway. He looked cute in his black terry-cloth bathrobe. “Do you need any help?”

“I got it.” I walked into Brian’s apartment. It was spacious and tastefully decorated; not what I expected from a university professor. I expected books stacked like skyscrapers, sheets of paper haphazardly thrown about, and the musk of an elite educator.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I brought my cat,” I said, scanning the place. “I can’t bear to live without her. She’s friendly, house-broken, and declawed.”

“Not at all. Just keep her in your room when you’re out,” Brian said. He led me to the guest room, which had a queen-size mattress and a beautiful view of Lake Ontario. I noticed a flat-screen TV, a DVD player, a clock radio, a writing desk, a lamp, and a nightstand. Other than that, it was sparse, and I could barely make out the wall color. Still, it had potential.

“Can I get you anything?”

“No, I’ve eaten already. Can I get some shut-eye?”

“Okay. I’ll be down the hall if you need anything. And… welcome home,” he said with a smile and walked away.

“Thanks,” I replied. I put my overnight bag and backpack near the door and let Britney out of her carrier. The carpet was plush, and Britney rolled around in it like she was Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal. I fell back-first onto the bed. It reminded me of my bed back in Brampton: cozy, warm, and with a Tempur-Pedic mattress. Britney jumped on the bed and settled on my stomach. I drifted to sleep, her purring the only soundtrack to my first night in my new home.

The next morning, I awoke to Britney licking my face. It was then that I realized the room, white with a few tasteful gold accents, looked better in the daylight than at night. I let Britney play on the carpet and headed for the kitchenette. Brian, dressed up for another day of work, was at the counter with a cup of coffee and a piece of paper.

“Did you have a good night’s sleep?” he asked.


“I have a few ground rules.” He handed me the paper. This is what was on it:

  1. No drinking. I’m a recovering alcoholic.
  2. No drugs. General rule of courtesy.
  3. Keep Britney in your room for at least the first week. It is your responsibility to feed and care for her.
  4. No loud music. My next-door neighbor, Bonnie, hates it.
  5. No smoking. Another general rule of courtesy.
  6. See a psychiatrist.
  7. Get at least some part-time work.
  8. Other than that, you have free reign over the apartment.
I could do Nos. 1-5 and 7, but No. 6? After my history with psychiatrists, I was apprehensive.

Brian looked at me. “Is there something wrong?”

“Not really, but…”

“But what?”

“No. 6.”

“Do you have an issue with that?”

“On principle, no… but I haven’t had the best luck with psychiatrists.” I sat down at the counter, feeling dread. I was expecting Brian to kick me out then and there.

But he put his hand on my shoulder. “Why?”

“I’ve been saddled with quacks who either blame me for everything or are too incompetent to give an opinion one way or the other. When I was at Seaton House, the counselor didn’t give me any hope at all. He just nodded his head and said shit like ‘How does that make you feel?’ What the fuck am I supposed to say to that?”

On the verge of tears, I sniffled. “I can’t even pay for the cheapest high-class psychotherapy!” I cried.

Brian took my hand. His touch was smooth and gentle, and covered with a film of Gold-Bond lotion. “One of my friends is a fantastic psychiatrist. Her name is Claire Breedlove. She’s one of the best in the city. I’m sure she can help you. If you go, I’ll cover the bill. Okay?”

I had no idea who this Claire Breedlove was. The name alone hinted at a stuck-up bitch with her hair in a tight bun, granny glasses, and a serious need for therapy herself. But as I could never afford anything on that level, and I would be essentially getting free services, I nodded my head in agreement.

Brian smiled. “Good boy,” he said. “I’m off to work now, so you have the whole apartment to yourself. Get settled in, and I’ll be back in the evening.”

He picked up his briefcase and patted me on the back, and then he exited the apartment. I walked around the apartment, looking around. An atrium had been converted into a dining room. I peeked into Brian’s room: it was both a bedroom and a study, with books and papers neatly arranged but not cluttering the place. It was well-kept, but not of the anal-retentive variety. Most of my professors at the University of Toronto had offices and apartments that were full of clutter, almost drowning in back-logged academia.

I spent the rest of the morning transporting my things from the car into the apartment. I finished just before 11 o’clock, and my room began to look like home. On the night stand, I put several photos of my grandparents, Ryan, and Evan. Seeing their pictures, knowing that I would in all truth never see them in the flesh again, was a melancholy experience.

Still, I felt good about my new situation. I wasn’t, however, feeling good about seeing Dr. Claire Breedlove.

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This is an update.

I honestly apologize for the lack of posts in the past month. I haven’t had a lot of time to work on my novel. I’ve had the holidays to cope with, and family problems as well. By next week, however, I should have the next chapter up and running. Please be patient. Thanks.

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