I sent a message today, alerting my financial handlers as to my new occupation (this book!). I have not heard back, but I am confident that these few chapters will provide a bit more gold for the pile. In as much as I manage a carefree attitude about money, something attainable only by those of us with large quantities of the stuff, I hope to generate a little excitement with my endeavor. For these handlers, the joy will come from the twenty percents of this and the fifteen percents of that. But for me, I am simply setting the table for my intended guests, and I want to ensure that invitations are sent well in advance. This journey, while providing some sense of catharsis for the author, will arrive with a conspicuous agenda; I mean to sway, to enamor, to sell.
The distribution of my memoir, one asked for by many a media house long ago, lures me onward, keeps me from my final task a bit longer. Indeed, my final task will be completed, and you will read about it here and elsewhere. Will it confirm your preconceptions of my demeanor? Perhaps. However, if a few of you understand and accept my intention—that would be all the gold that this unforgiven old man could desire.
A week after my first conversation with Jeff, I found my own way to see Dr. Patterson without my mother, a passage made easy by my constant attention to her. How could she not trust my motives when I was all hers at home? If anything, my mother probably felt I could do with some time away from her. She even asked me to find myself some other company, affecting a contrived look of self-pity in her request. I understood this tactic, a subconscious need to not ‘offend,' to manipulate through the careful arrangement of suggestions, each fashioned with a self-deprecating flair intended to distract the clay into seeing itself as an elegant vase instead of a lumpy ashtray.
During my session, I barely spoke to the doctor, my mind eager with the chance to meet Jeff again in the waiting room. Although I felt its constant vibration, I could not quell the bounce of my foot on the ground.
"Need to be somewhere?" He asked, looking at my foot and then looking at the clock.
"Yes, you've been staring at the clock. Do you need to be somewhere?"
"No. No, I don't. I mean, I think I just don't feel like talking today, you know?"
"I'm not sure I do. Care to elaborate?"
"I see. Well, how about you go ahead and tell me anyway." He shifted his weight, something he rarely did, and the change in posture added a gravitas to his pitch yanking me from my dream-state.
"I just think I'm okay, you know. I think I'm not—not normal." I dropped right into a tactical approach. "I feel good about life. And honestly, coming here makes me feel different. I don't like it, anymore. I think it is doing more harm than good." I postured myself to reflect his own, trying to look as serious and intent as he.
"Does a normal person kill and dismember animals, Charlie?"
"Butchers do," my answer came, pulled directly from the heavens. At first, the response startled me, too, and I prepared for his mighty reprimand. But the hammer did not fall, and I grew more confident in my quick analogy with each passing second.
"They do. They do," he said, his voice trailing off as he wrote some items on his notepad. He paused, scratched his chin with the button of the pen, stopping to click it on and off a few times. He scrawled a few more notes and looked up at me, making eye contact. He smiled, chuckled a little, and wrote more.
"What are you writing?" I finally asked.
"A grocery list."
"Milk, eggs, potatoes… You know, a list of things I'm going to get at the store. Just a few items. Staples."
I was flummoxed! My confidence flushed away, my eyes climbed all over his office, looking for purchase. My forward strike had been parried, and Dr. Patterson's new attack left me no room for further maneuvers. He had not just redirected or queried, he had dropped the entire conversation! My next move was critical, and I took no chances in rushing out another weak hijacking.
"Don't forget the cheese." I grumbled.
The cheese! Whatever bit of magic provided the delicious butcher comment was clearly not available for me to willfully summon!
"What kind of cheese should I get," he inquired, casually bumping the pen on his lower lip.
I could feel sweat rising up in my chest, scrambling for the exit pores of my skin. "I like blue," came the answer. He wrote it down, and I felt as if I were choking, like the doctor's simple list was a ball of dough being shoved down my throat. I could not speak, move or take my eyes off of him. I was trapped in a mundane spell, cast by a wizard of conformity.
I watched him assemble the rest of his list in silence. The clock on the wall showed 35 minutes of remaining time. Dr. Patterson folded up his notebook and began straightening up his desk. He wrote a few notes down on a legal pad, and then tossed the pad into a drawer and locked the desk. He stood, grabbed his coat from the rack behind him and slipped into it. After patting his pockets, he found his wallet and keys and turned off his desk lamp.
33 minutes remained.
The doctor walked over to the door, opened it and flipped off the fluorescent lights. I thought he was just going to leave me right there, sitting in the patient's chair, in the dark, wondering what to do.
"Would you mind?" He asked, motioning with his bowed head towards the open door.
"Yes, would you please leave?"
"But, are we done?"
"You said so."
"It's too early."
"Too early to quit?"
"Yes. We should quit in 18 minutes." I was revealing my plan to him. What was I left to do?
I didn't have a good answer, so I went with something different.
"I want to speak with Jeff."
The doctor turned the lights back on and shut the door.
"I believe you."
"So, can we stay 18 more minutes?"
He seemed distressed for the first time, as if he could not easily decide how to proceed.
"I'll make a deal with you, Charlie," he began, moving slowly back to his desk but not sitting in his chair. "I'll stay here for 18 more minutes if you and I talk about why you want to speak with Jeff. Otherwise, I'm going to walk down the corner store and pick up my groceries."
His proposition, a tricky ultimatum, left me no choice but to agree. If Jeff arrived and I was sitting in front of a dark door, I would look more a freak than I already did.
"What do you want to know?"
The doctor removed his coat, hung it up, and returned to his seat. I wondered later if he really needed groceries. Whether or not he was in need of a dozen eggs, the play worked. Certainly, this was not the first battle I lost to him, but in each defeat I had gained a new bit of strategy, a new piece of armor.
When considering therapy, I find it amusing that the greatest gift I received from the countless hours I endured was an education in structured analysis and concise communication, and how these skills can be combined into the advanced, logical manipulation of others. If you observe a good therapist, you can walk away with a verbal arsenal to use on unsuspecting colleagues and friends. You will be prepared to ask pointed questions or craft a succinct argument. You will also learn how to create an attack that comes on subtly and from the side, so that your victim never sees the trap until it snaps closed, at which time any analysis of the trap could be construed as an attempt to distract from the main point.
What many therapists realize, but do not share, is the sad, simple truth that there is little to be found in life except distraction. Even writing this book, a major endeavor, cannot escape the tag. Nor can your reading of it, or the response others will give you as you describe some passage you loved or despised. We are all here, and there, and everywhere, looking forward to the next entertaining moment, and we will pitch ourselves into the fray of many a deplorable act just to feel our inner truths depart, shaking their heads and pointing at their watches. For me, this truth of which I speak is perhaps different than for others. It is not death or loneliness that sits awake for me, waiting for a minute of my time so that it might show me some inescapable realities. I suffer a stranger darkness—my inability to avoid the disasters caused by my actions. This insight I never gained from a therapist. It came to me as most of my greatest epiphanies have: in a vision.
From my mother, I gained the feminine ability to manipulate with tone and gesture, and from therapy, I gained knowledge of the masculine, logical side of mental coercion. If only I had discovered a third school (one taught perhaps by mellowed divorcees and jailed priests), I might have learned how to relent, could have gained some insight into the tantric art of apology. If so, my years would have been much happier spent.
"How about we start with your idea of Jeff."
"My idea of Jeff?" I answered, genuinely confused by his request.
"I've never heard you mention a single person outside of your family—no friends, no teachers, nobody. I want to know why you want to speak to Jeff. Why him?"
"He's different. Like me, sort of."
"He's like you? Is that what you believe?"
"In a way."
"How do you think he is like you?"
"He tells the truth." This statement removed the lid of my head, pulled out my brain, turned it upside down, and replaced it in my skull. I possessed no comprehension of Jeff's reputation, nor could I be considered honest, yet it felt authentic.
"Really? You find yourself to be a truthful person?"
Must not backpedal. Must carry on.
"Sometimes." I cringed at my own response.
"Do others find you truthful?"
"Sometimes." The walls caved in again on me. Instead of managing a solid stance in either truth or fabrication, I surrendered my voice to the indifferent center, where weak people and agnostics bump around in a lifeless, limp purgatory.
Dr. Patterson grabbed hold of my wreck of a persona and shook it back and forth, as if he were trying to perceive some tiny view of my core.
"Charlie," he began, easing back in his chair, "have you ever considered how truthful other people really are?"
He continued, "while you should absolutely focus on the kind of person you want to become, we—meaning you—can also use others as a sounding board for our own growth and ability. This lesson is not something I would normally bring into this office, but perspective doesn't come easily to everyone. Some people want to be what you would call "normal," and go through life relatively content and free of depression or emotional trauma. Others do not really know what they want, and it is more challenging for these people to find a goal to aim for. I believe that you are one of these people, Charlie. I believe you want answers to questions you haven't even asked yourself yet, that you instinctively know you are capable of adaptation, but you don't have a clue in which direction you should go.
"This is not an official analysis, and it is certainly not a condemnation. If anything, I envy your mind, as I'm one of the other people, and I move forward in life towards goals that are common and safe. Right at this moment, Charlie, right now; we are standing on an open road. Look down this road with me, and tell me what you see? Tell me the next stop, or a landmark far, far down the way. I'm not going to approve or disapprove of anything you envision."
I imagined myself there with him for a moment, on the open road, and looked around. A thin layer of clouds brightened the scene to a blinding state, so I dropped my eyes to the ground, perceived beneath me the ruddy texture of the pavement. Stones, crushed by massive machines, mixed by other massive machines, blended with oil from ancient creatures, rolled and smoothed by men, spreading out like veins in every direction.
I realized my place on the road, my situation, just as you might wake from a dream of being chased and discover you are safe in your soft, comforting bed. I was in a vision. The doctor's office was there, but I had painted over it with my mind.
A sense of authority crept into my heart, as if I had proclaimed my love and had the sentiment reciprocated. I would be one with this other side of myself from now on. I would be stronger for it, invincible perhaps. At least, this is what I felt at the time.
I tried to imagine anything, a direction, a desire, even a new view within my vision. I could not. How could I create what I did not know? All around me were abstractions, fading and pulsing shades of grey. The raging, white sun and the road were the only remarkable features. I knelt down and ran my fingers along a crack, feeling the asphalt and gravel of each edge, looking for any sign of escape.
The heat from the sun began to burn my skin. Perspiration coated my blotchy back and gushed off the tip of my nose. A shadow appeared over me. I raised my eyes from the road and looked towards the source of the shade. Jeff stood over me holding a hatchet in one hand and a mallet in the other.
A shadow appeared to my side. I raised my eyes from the road and looked towards the source of the shade. Jeff emerged from an old, wrecked car holding a hatchet in one hand and a mallet in the other.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
"To take it all apart. To put it back together." He said these words as if he were coming to the only available conclusion to a list of possibilities.
"Yes," I replied, standing up and taking the hatchet from him.
I snapped back into Dr. Patterson's office. He was hanging forward over his desk, waiting for me to say anything. I glanced at the clock. 18 minutes left.
"Gotta go, Doc." I said, and got up to leave. He remained in the same posture and did not raise his eyes. I left him that way and never returned to his office again. I saw more therapists after, but each new counselor was a weaker form of Patterson, and I manipulated them with ease. I've often wondered about Dr. Patterson since then. In my musings I assume he never let go of me and tracked my name and Jeff's through news and magazine articles, watched me rise in fame and fortune, make astonishing scientific discoveries and change the very fabric of society. I imagine that with each stop along this road I traveled, he made another note on his legal pad, still trying to help me, still attempting to serve as a guide for me. I also picture him twenty-five years after our last session laying on his deathbed surrounded by his children, attended to by his frail but devoted wife. Every goal reached in his common life, he exchanged teary long looks with each of his loved ones, wordlessly conveying to them his pride, his love, his gratitude. If I truly allow myself the emotional freedom to experience this scene, I can almost weep. My vision of Dr. Patterson could very well be a lie, a distraction. This I freely accept. It is likely he is still alive and even reading these words. If so, I want him to know that this fantasy life and death I have for him is one I that I hold close to me, that it turns out I envy him.