"What's that?" I said to Sven, walking in the kitchen door.
There was an opened card on the island next to his dusty lunch box.
"It's an invitation for an open house."
"An open house?"
"Yeah, it's from the Smith's. It's for all the contractors and their wives."
"Oh. Are we going?" I said, reading the invite that said something about 4:00 and wine and cheese.
"If you want to," he says.
"They're real nice. They're both psychiatrists you know."
"Yes. I know," I answered.
Sven had told me that they were both psychiatrists about a thousand times.
I was excited, she was writing a book about her life, and she had an editor and everything.
And their house that had been a remodel project wasn't far from where I'd grown up. It was right near the bottom of Big Kids' Hill, which was a strip of urban green that ran down between two rows of backyards in our quaint little neighborhood. If you took the woods way home from school, one of the paths came out at the top of it.
And the reason I knew where their house was located is because Sven and I had stopped there after Sven had gotten cataract surgery.
Here is an interesting fact.
Of all the things in life that will make you feel old, driving your husband to cataract surgery wins.
Fine lines, dull skin, a fading memory, empty boxes of hair color and arms that jiggle are all annoying.
But the morning you wake up to drive your husband to cataract surgery, you are instantaneously ancient.
And all of those gradual changes that I mentioned will stare you in the face as you brush, your not so bright white teeth.
Because cataract surgery is for people in their one hundreds.
Sven was fifty-six.
I was forty-eight.
"I just have to check on something really quick," he says on our way back from his surgery. "It will only take a minute."
I pulled into a driveway on Honey Suckle Road, and we got out of the car.
A man with silver hair and bright blue eyes poked his head through a slot of plastic wrap that was covering the garage door.
"Hey," he says. "How'd it go?"
"Good," says Sven. "But, I guess I'll know more once the patch comes off. I'm just making sure the drywall guys came by."
"Oh yeah. They were here yesterday and then again this morning."
"This is my wife, Millie," Sven says.
"The writer," says the silver haired man in a soft voice. "Nice to meet you." And he shakes my hand.
Then the two men chatted for five long and boring minutes about long and boring stuff. And then we got back into the car, and I drove us to Imperial Gardens where Sven and his patched eye, and I, sat down in a geriatric crowd, for a fine lunch.
Life went on for a few more months.
And then one day an invitation came in the mail for an open house party, the invitation at the beginning of this story.
A few days later I got home from work, tossed the mail on the counter and hit the blinking light on the answering machine.
That is when it hit me.
It was a message from Bill Smith, the psychiatrist.
There had been many a message from Bill Smith for many a month.
Sven always had lots of messages from lots of clients.
But this message was all of a sudden very different.
I could see Bill Smith's lips move, his eyes sparkle and I could see his face sitting across from me.
"What the hell? Oh, my God!"
"What's the matter?" says Sven.
"That is Bill Smith!"
"Yeah, I know," he says.
That is when I went whirling back in time.
Here is where this story really begins.
I was twenty-six years old, sitting on the couch in my tiny living room and my mother was sitting next to me, slowly running her index finger down a page in my phone book.
She was looking for a psychiatrist.
Because I was a little depressed on account of falling in love with Sven.
That doesn't seem so bad.
Falling in love.
You shouldn't need to see a shrink just because you fall in love.
But my timing was absolutely horrifying.
The phenomenon had occurred at a most inconvenient time.
You see, I was already married.
And my two little boys were in the other room, napping.
Shoot me dead.
That is what I wanted to be.
I was toying with becoming catatonic or at least just vanishing.
"Yes, I'll go," I told her. "I promise."
My mom's finger stopped.
"William Smith," she says.
"Are you serious?".
"What's wrong with that?"
"There must be millions of William Smiths in the world."
"Well, this one is a psychiatrist, and his office is on the west side of Madison," she said.
"Next Tuesday at 4:00," she says hanging up the phone.
I was pretty nervous sitting in that waiting room with that receptionist.
I was the only patient.
It was different than a doctor's office. It's anybody's guess as to why you are sitting at a doctor's office.
You might have a fever, you might have a cold, or you might have a fungus on your phlox.
But that receptionist there knew I was sitting in that chair flipping through a People magazine, because I was crazy.
The door opened.
And then William Smith saved my life.
I sat on a couch across from him.
He tossed me a life preserver.
I took a hold of it with one hand and I treaded water with the other and both of my feet.
Did you know that you and only you are in charge of your happiness?
I had no idea.
And did you know that you cannot control anybody's else's happiness?
And that it is actually healthier to be angry than to feel guilty?
And that my mom wore the pants in our house?
Get out of town!
Six sessions later, that man knew more about Millie Noe than I ever did.
"Are you sure about this Sven guy?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Just be careful going forward," he said.
My insurance ran out.
I was on my own.
"Millie," have you heard anything I have been saying?" says Sven.
"What is the matter with you?" he says.
"Bill Smith, your client, was my shrink," I said.
"Do you mean way back when?"
"Well, this is awkward," he said.
"He won't remember me, right? It was more than twenty years ago."
"No. He won't remember you."
"Are you sure?"
"It's more than twenty years. You didn't remember him. And you've changed a little."
"Millie, think about it. He has seen lots and lots of patients. Over many, many years."
"And even if he does remember you, he's not going to say anything."
"I feel like I'm in a Seinfeld episode."
"It'll be fine," he says.
"Just don't lay down on his couch and start spilling your guts when we go there."
The open house was fun.
The wine and cheese were good.
Bill's wife was interesting, and I adored her.
She is mentioned in the acknowledgements of, Millie Noe for President.
And now the question you all want me to answer.
Am I the master of my domain?
No, not that one from Seinfeld.
Did Bill Smith remember that I was his patient?
But then, he wouldn't have said anything if he did.