So, Jeremy Stackson had died, aged 82. Well into retirement. Jessica found an envelope in her wire tray. She was invited to an event – not a memorial as such, more an after-memorial appreciation, to be held in the hospital’s postgraduate centre one evening. Food, wine. As a local practice lead and administrator, somebody thought Jessica should be on the list.
The idea chilled her. Of course, he would not be there, and to go would show respect for all the work that he had done during a long career. But to not go… well, would anybody really notice? To do so would be petty, and beneath her. How likely am I, she asked herself, to open up about the way he made me feel that day? Not very. But a part of her would want to. Or at least, make oblique comments like, ‘…but he didn’t suffer fools did he?’ or, I was his trainee once, he had a real go at me…’ She imagined the understanding looks, for his reputation as a difficult man was well established, even if his reputation as a tenacious innovator who tended to get his own way out-shone the darker side.
No. To go would be hypocritical. She didn’t like him. I’m 57, she reflected, I don’t have to do anything.
At the next practice meeting the invitation was discussed. Another partner, Christopher, felt it was important that the practice was represented. Jessica was the natural candidate. The room looked at her. She made a non-committal reply. Later, the fellow partner commented,
“Jessica, you looked pretty uncomfortable when we were talking about Jeremy Stackson’s memorial thing.”
She paused. All the rationalisation, all the ‘putting it behind me’, all the genuine happiness in her professional and personal lives fell away, as she replied,
“No. I can’t go. He single-handedly ruined my surgical ambitions. Didn’t I ever tell you…?” and she told Christopher everything.
“But you’ve made such a success of this life. Do you really regret not being a surgeon?”
“No. I make it a policy to regret nothing. But it should have been my decision.”
“It was, wasn’t it?”
“No. The realisation that I was or wasn’t suitable for a life in surgery should have come from within me.”
“Sometimes we need people to put the mirror in front of us. Like you did with what’s her name, that trainee, er… Helena Banks.”
“Not in the way he did. He destroyed me, in front of everybody. He was foul.”
“Mmm. I guess we don’t want you telling that to his friends.” Christopher laughed.
“Or his wife,” added Jessica.
“No, she passed away a long time ago. By the way, regarding Helena Banks. I hear she’s one year away from becoming a medical consultant.”
They both looked skywards, sharing the same thought. God help her patients.
“So that’s final is it? You won’t go?” asked Christopher.
“I can’t. I’ve spent so much time hating him. And it hasn’t abated.”
“You know, in his mind, that interaction with you was probably nothing. He didn’t even remember you when you met later. It was nothing. Put it aside. Life is too short.”
Jessica thought about it, hard.