I was turning fifty. For weeks I had been dreading this milestone. As a psychoanalyst, my first reaction was to look deep within myself, to develop insight into the sturm and drang of aging.
To dig into my unconscious, to uncover why my approaching birthday created a state of anhedonia, why it crushed my libido and ignited my terror of the death instinct. My next reaction was to say, “Screw it. I need some fun.”
Stepping outside the confines of my consulting room, I joined my husband and a group of friends on my birthday to see the comedian Mark Curry. Sitting at the DC Improv, wine glass in hand, suddenly turning fifty suddenly didn’t seem all that bad.
As Curry neared the end of his performance, and I neared the end of my second pinot noir, he called for the house lights to come up.
“Okay, so, is it anyone having a birthday out there tonight?” He asked the crowd.
My hand shot up, as did the hands of several others in the audience. And just as quickly, I brought mine down. But my friends would not allow me to retreat. They shooed me up to the stage.
One by one, Curry called each guest up to to the microphone.
“Where are you from?” “What line of work are you in?” Question after question, he was trying his best to find his way to a laugh, but all roads were closed.
Last in a line of six, I was up next. My palms began to sweat as the pressure mounted – I had to be funny. It was my birthday!
Looking a bit tired and deflated, Mark waved me over.
Standing on his left I looked out over the audience, seeking my husband’s and friends’ faces for reassurance, but the stage lights were so bright I couldn’t make out a single face in the crowd.
After finding out my name and where I was from, Mark gently placed an arm around my shoulder and asked, “So, Kerry, what’s good going down?”
The words left my lips before I could think. “I’m always good when I go down,” I retorted vampishly.
The crowd went wild. That free association never fails—I was on fire!
“All right!” He cried out as he turned and looked at me with a mischievous grin and a new found appreciation. Glowing, I lightly tossed my hair.
Recalling that I had a husband in the audience, a likely embarrassed one, I exclaimed, “Oh, my God, my husband is going to wish he had hand cuffed me to my chair.”
“Well, if he won’t. I sure will.”.
The years dropped away as our banter continued.
When we finished Mark Curry gave me a bear hug and said goodnight to the crowd as I sashayed off the stage, eyes bright and cheeks flushed with satisfaction.
As I returned to my seat, appreciative smiles and praise flew at me from everyone I passed. “You should do stand-up,” came the voices from several blurred faces.
Heading for the exit, my husband got high fives from all of the men he passed.
That ended my five minutes of comedy fame.
Or so I thought.
I gasped, as the blush rose up my neck and face—definitely not my usual composed therapist self. Trying to regain my control, I said, “Well, that must have been surprising.”
“Yeah it was,” she said, as she anxiously chuckled. “I was in the front row. I thought you might have seen me.”
“You think I would have said that if I knew you were there,” I said with a wry smile.
This time she gave a hearty laugh, “Yeah, I guess not. You know, for your birthday, I would have pictured you as someone having a quiet dinner at a restaurant with your husband. Not at the comedy club…performing.”
Me too, I thought, now wishing that that was exactly what I had done.
She continued on telling me how she and her boyfriend, John, had decided at the last minute to attend the show. How surprised he had been when she told him that the woman standing before them on stage was her therapist. At that moment I recalled how just a week earlier my patient had told me how she had finally convinced John to see a therapist.
My therapist’s neutral stance long gone, I smiled and said, “Well, I guess now he’s even more reluctant to see a therapist.”
“Oh, no!” she hastened to tell me, “now he’s really interested.”