I didn’t believe Maury when he told me what was ailing him. It wasn’t something I was prepared to hear. But there he was, crisp suit and trademark pink tie, synonymous with power and success, with all the self-confidence he was known for, but not the least jovial, nor preening, as he often appeared in the media. When I opened the door he just stood there.
“I’m Stephen Maury,” he stated, as if it needed saying.
I put out my hand. He took no notice and strode in.
“Sorry about the mess.” I offered.
Cardboard boxes peppered the office. The business tycoon stood very still and stared through the windows at the grey city.
“That’s not important,” he answered. “Where’s Dr. Morrison?”
“You’re looking at him,” I indicated.
“You don’t sound old enough to be him?”
Maury was unaware that my uncle, the other Dr. Morrison, had passed away three weeks prior. Being in the same line of work and having inherited his practice, I was packing up his files. I explained and Maury still wished to pursue his business with me, without ever asking if it was convenient at all. Perhaps he was accustomed to doors opening wherever he went, whenever he wanted. “Your secretary let me in,” he affirmed, which I found more than odd, being that Maggie, who would normally have been in the outer office, welcoming clients, was now retired due to my uncle’s passing. Maury brushed off my offer to book another date for a consultation.
So I went along out of curiosity. He began asking questions on my background and experience, never once looking me in the eyes.
“Can you keep a secret?” he asked.
I described my oath, my credentials, professionalism and the fact that Dr. Morrison, with all his years of experience had preferred me, out of all those capable, to take on his roster of patients.
He looked at the walls a long, silent moment. I thought he might just turn around and leave, but finally spoke again.
“My problem,” he said, “is that I can’t see anyone.”
I pressed for clarification. Maury told me how, over the past year, he had gone from having normal eyesight to a state where everyone had faded from his vision. He claimed to see the rest of the world perfectly fine, just devoid of people. I asked if he could see their clothes, and he told me he couldn’t.
It occurred to me to test Maury’s claim by placing the day’s paper behind my back. Maury was able to read its headlines right through me. In case he was working by memory, which would have been difficult, I held a more personal document behind me. Maury read that out too, in detail.
“Can you see through animals? I asked him.
“No, just people!” he barked back, unamused.
I assured him I was merely trying to understand the depths of his problem. Many questions came to mind. Who knew about this? What impact did this have on his life, especially due to his notoriety? Was anything else afflicting him? I posed each question as it came to me. Maury obliged, answering each one carefully.
With soft tone, as though recalling a troubling dream, Maury began recounting his year. At first, he thought his eyesight was declining due to his age, a natural loss of sharpness. But his vision was soon “patchy,” he described, and a certain amount of “translucency” manifested itself.
He had me fascinated, I’ll admit.
Maury gave an account of a traumatic night, returning from a cocktail reception with a girlfriend. He added parenthetically, and with clear pride, that he had at least two girlfriends he saw frequently, unbeknownst to his wife. Maury described that while driving himself home, which he occasionally did, though he could well afford a driver, he had struck a cyclist with his Bentley. He admitted that his worsening condition may have impeded his ability to stop the car in time. While assessing the damages, immediately after impact, he realized he couldn’t see the downed cyclist, only the massive amount of blood flowing away on the pavement. Maury was emotional in recounting the story, especially when describing the cyclist’s moans, which I took as a sign that this was the truth, as he saw it.
It was interesting to me that he could see the blood of a person, but not the person, and we discussed this. He showed most emotion when describing his behavior in the days that followed the accident. He described how he had worked to protect his reputation, deploying his lawyers and all necessary resources to erase the entire occurrence, including extravagant payment to the family of the deceased. I observed some level of discomfort, perhaps guilt, as he reflected on this.
“Can you see yourself, Mr. Maury, your own body, either directly or in the mirror?” I dared ask.
“Comes and goes,” replied Maury.
I then decided to clarify to him that I had no desire to take him on as a patient and that we had gone as far as we could in our impromptu session. I told him that the whole issue of his uniquely impaired sight was out of the scope of my competency and may, I guessed, be a form of psychosomatic illness, however unheard of. This shocked Maury, who felt he had taken a great deal of trouble to tell his story and trusted me in doing so. I assured him again our conversation was confidential, but this seemed to infuriate him more. His language grew offensive. I suggested we end the meeting immediately. He left quite upset, giving me clear indication I would hear from him again, or perhaps his lawyers. No surprise there. It was as awkward an ending as it had been a beginning.
Maury did, in my opinion, need professional help, but not from me. Had he done his homework, he would have known better than to knock at my uncle’s door. I presume that important men, such as Stephen Maury, when seeking the best for themselves, must forget that the people who serve them also have worthy histories and complexity in their lives. Maury had obviously put this out of his mind, or had never noticed to begin with, the many people he had trampled over during the years as he amassed his millions.
My father was a long-time employee of a small, proud company, eventually bought by Maury. Maury and his top brass gathered most of its employees in a hotel suite and brought them soft drinks and pink slips. Maury became notorious for this, and other, hard-nosed, tactless methods, becoming quickly profitable across his many acquisitions. This one in particular drove our family into dire straits. We soon lost our home. Through hard work and scholarships, and my uncle’s help I was able to make my way through college in the field of my choice. My father died, his heart clogged by shame and self-pity. Had he lived longer I might have been able to show him different. I would have been able to tell him how my career path, in the first weeks of professional practice, had crossed with the illustrious Stephen Maury.