It’s getting dark. I can see the street from the small window to my right. The street lamp is slowly lighting up. It’s raining heavily, creating a soothing sound within the room. There’s no one in the street.
We’re having one of those uncomfortable silences, he’s asked a question I don’t want to answer and won’t talk until he gets something.
This is our tenth session. The last one, if all stays the same. He has proven to be more involved than most, although still trying to impose his interpretations and hypothesis onto me. I find it rude.
I’ve tried to be as honest as possible with him, with the rare exceptions of these uncomfortable questions, and of course, the real intention of my visit. He knows all the banal details of my life and has tried to get into those dark corners. It won’t make a difference, and that’s not why I’m here.
“What are you thinking about?” He asks, breaking my concentration.
“Nothing. Is your street always this empty? I’ve never noticed.”
“It is. There are no main roads nearby, but you already know this, and it has nothing to do with what I asked.”
“Why would you want to know something like that anyways?”
“You brought it up, and I wanted to clarify. We’ll get back to it later if you don’t want to answer right now.” He says with what he thinks is a soothing voice.
His smile is there, as always. It’s as if when he was studying to become a therapist someone told him to put a face of confidence when dealing with his patients. The result is a smile that lets everyone know how smart he thinks he is and how dumb he thinks you are. It’s patronizing.
He also dresses accordingly. In all of our sessions so far, he’s worn casual clothing. Including the sneakers you’d expect of a silicon valley up and comer with an ego as big as his bank account. The ego is there all right. As for the bank account I wouldn’t think so. His rates are not that high and his office, although extremely well designed in beige and chocolate combination for the chairs, desk and coffee tables, it has nothing luxurious, it’s all very professional and neutral. Trying to get something out of his decoration decisions almost makes me forget his questions sometimes.
“Maybe later.” I say, without much enthusiasm.
“I have to say, though, it’s interesting that whenever we talk about anything other than your usual schedule, daily activities or things you like in general; you respond in the exact same way. Shutting off.”
“I guess I’m just trying to make sense of why I’m here.”
“When we started this, you said it was because ‘you wanted to understand yourself better’, to which I replied ‘that was the most generic answer you could give me’.”
“You did.” My face reflects exactly what I think about his attempts to be friendly.
He seems to enjoy his wittiness. The way in which he treats his patients, or maybe just me, like an idiot, to whom you can explain everything in a sarcastic manner.
“Why are you here then?”
“I wanted to see if it was possible for a person to actually get to know someone.”
“You wanted to be seen.” He says with confidence in his face, as if he’s found a hidden treasure in my speech. He’s wrong.
“Not just seen. I wanted to be understood, and as you just proved, that can’t happen. It’s a shame really.”
“Why is it important to you?”
There’s something perverse about redirections like that. The idea that the troubled relationship between a psychologist and his patient must be maintained at all costs. As if there was something in their lives so disturbing or different than our own that it could change our worldview just by it being revealed.
Or maybe it has to do with transference, the idea that we’ll project onto them what we’re lacking and therefore fall in love with that projection, but then again, if we project onto them, what’s the point of hiding their true selves. Wouldn’t we, knowing them for what they really are counter the projections we create?
“Why can’t you answer my questions or give me your opinions? I find it really uncomfortable?” I say, with utmost sincerity.
“Who says I can’t? You just didn’t ask a question last time.” Again, his cocky smile escaping his professional façade.
“You know what I mean.” I say, a little annoyed with the dancing.
“I think you want to make these sessions about me. I believe you want to avoid the spotlight that you created when deciding to come here. Maybe it’s too uncomfortable to be at the centre of your own attention or maybe you’re genuinely interested in me, and what I do outside this office. Either way, I have my own psychologist that forces me to be the centre of attention in our sessions; I have no need to be that in yours. That’s an opinion.”
This grandiloquent speech was given with an unrelenting smile. Like if joking about everything I’ve done here so far. Like if grabbing my words, slapping me with them. Enjoying every second of it.
“Sometimes I wonder if you’re really trying to help me. It always seems you’re working hard trying to corroborate your preconceived theories about me. It seems as if you enjoy pointing out my mistakes to me.”
“What mistakes have you made?”
“Coming here is a good example.”
“Didn’t you say you wanted to be understood?” He said, finally without smiling. Without moving. I never noticed how perfectly still he lies in that chair of his. Never moving, never letting me out of his focus. Now, however, there’s an anxiety about him. He seems aware of his own movement, and by that awareness he has made me conscious of the effort he puts in seeming natural. I’ve shaken his concentration without meaning to.
“I want to know if it’s possible. You keep showing me it’s not. Just like everyone else outside of this office you’re more worried about showing yourself off than of understanding who I am. Even when you say you want to stay away from the spotlight… I mean, you’re trying to…”
We’re back to the silence, and I’m back inside my head. I have nothing to say anymore. It seems as if I didn’t ruin his concentration after all. He looks happy now, not cocky, not proud just happy. He’s good, and I sound like an idiot.
I wonder if he’s thinking about the fool I’ve made of myself by contradicting my own arguments. But maybe it is possible that he can show off while not revealing anything about himself.
“Is that what this is all about?” I say, with a tone of indignation.
No response, he’s just looking at me with a puzzled look on his face that I can only assume is fake.
“Well… congratulations, I can only assume that’s what you wanted, again, to show me my mistakes.”
“So let me get this straight. You’re saying that all along I wanted you to see how your assumption of me wanting to be in the spotlight of the session by correcting your mistakes was wrong, therefore proving that your assumption was right to start with? While at the same time maintaining that I don’t give away anything about myself?”
“No… I just… can I have some water?” I mutter, not really knowing what else to say.
“No.” He said while staring at me with his hand over his mouth as if in the thinker’s position. The answer totally shook me up. It’s not only that I didn’t expect it, but it’s also that his face changed. Like he was disappointed with the answer, I can feel it in the way he’s looking at me. I could ask why I can’t get a glass of water, but I know that would disappoint him even further. It’s not that I care about his opinion, but at this moment, I feel like he thinks more of me than most people I’ve ever come into contact with. He somehow understands.
“I’ve never experienced this, you know? You seem to know what I’m trying to say, even if, for the moment, it makes no sense.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“People are dumb. They walk around thinking that success is something you can see in the house of a millionaire on a YouTube video. They have no idea what class is. What taking your time to understand how the world works feels like”
I’m angry, and somehow, happy too. His face changed completely, there’s warmth in his eyes and although he’s clearly still enjoying himself, now it seems it’s because he agrees. He’s nodding, almost imperceptibly, but I can see his acceptance. It’s the first time I feel that someone understands it… maybe the second time.
“Can you explain what you mean?”
“You’ve seen it… people that are more worried about what someone is doing to get disgustingly rich in a quick probably unethical manner while completely ignoring everyone around them. People that think they’re spending every second of their lives in a ‘productive’ way while not knowing, or caring, for what the person right next to them is thinking. People are just disgusting.”
“This is the first time you talk about this, and we’ve talked about your friends and family before.” He says with warmness to his voice. He’s happy.
“Friends? What friends? You mean the people that share a classroom with me? Or the ones that sit next to me in the office all day? They’re not my friends. They have nothing to say other than about the things they’ve bought, the latest update on their new phone or the hookup from last weekend. They have no idea I’m here, who I am, what I like, what I’ve done or what I would like to do. They’re empty shells whose sole priority is themselves and their banal little needs.” I said this with quiet anger.
“Maybe you’re not giving them a chance?”
“What do you mean by that? I know every single detail about their boring empty lives. Unlike them I pay attention. I know who’s afraid, who’s sad and who’s stupid enough not to know what he’s feeling.
“Fair enough. What about your family?”
“My mom. She loves me. She has to, and she carries that weight as if it were nothing, gracefully accepting all the shame and disappointment it entails to have raised a child that cares not for the vanity of others and the materialistic pursuits. I’ve never noticed anything that indicates she dislikes it. All I ever see or receive from her is unconditional love and support. I don’t think that would change, no matter what I do or what I’ve done.”
“Is there something worth mentioning?”
“About what?” Sometimes I think not even he knows where his open-ended questions are going to take him.
“Something you’ve done that has put that love to the test.”
“My very existence is like that; I’m filled with doubt and regrets.”
“What do you regret?”
“Were you ever bullied?”
“Back in my days, it didn’t have a name, we solved our problems in recess, and we all had some bruises to show. Things have been getting better now.” There’s a little excitement in his gaze, I’m pretty sure he was never in the bullied side of the situation.
“That’s not true… that’s not true at all! Kids these days run to their mothers or their teacher to cry about things the other kids told them, then the teachers talk to the parents, the parents say nothing, and everything stays the same. Fewer bruises, more violence. I regret doing that. I regret telling my mother of everything that ever happened to me in school. Of the time they made me grab shit from the girl’s room and rub it on my face. They said it made my face look better… I wish I hadn’t said anything.”
The clock on the wall is marking 7:45 P.m. we have ten more minutes, and for the first time I don’t want this to end. The room has warmed up to me. The stylistic futons feel better aligned, and as if they were specially designed for this room. The office also feels much smaller than before; I could probably name every single object in it. Everything feels familiar, like if I’d been here forever. The sky is completely dark now; the street lamps light the road as a landing runway.
“What would’ve changed if you hadn’t told her?”
“Everything. Have I told you about the time I pushed a kid of a tree?”
“Never. What happened?”
“I was in middle school, and there was this play going on in the courtyard of my school. I climbed a tree to have a better view but this kid Andres had the same idea, and he had it before me. He was right in front of me on a nearby branch so I couldn’t see. He was the one that started with name calling, from there it all escalated.”
I hadn’t thought about this in years. In my head, the tree looks huge, with a lot of thick branches on which children could easily climb. A tree that is many times bigger than me and that sounds like a challenge to be conquered because of its height. It’s funny how our memories are distorted like that, probably because of the size of a middle school kid, but that happens even with emotions and experiences. The tree wasn’t that big. The fall just broke his arm.
“Then what happened?” He says a little bothered by me spacing out.
“I pushed him. Him falling wasn’t my intention, though, I wanted him to move, and he lost his balance.”
“Was he all right?”
“Yeah, I got called to the principal’s office, though. People really freaked out because they thought I’d done it on purpose. My mom got called in, a lot of people asked me why I’d done it and instead of telling them the truth I just remained quiet. Even after they send me to the psychologist.”
“Hurting him felt right, I think it’s the kind of thing I would’ve done if not for my mother’s intervention. The other kids started being a little afraid of me, their idiot parents told them that there must be something wrong with me if I wanted to hurt someone to the point of not caring about the consequences. The parents were the primary source of fear. I just had to keep my mouth shut, and everyone around me would start assuming the worst.”
“How was your life like during that time?”
“To be honest, nothing changed. My mom was worried until she noticed that my behavior in the house didn’t change, teachers didn’t do much about the incident, and all that was left was the rumors and gossip surrounding me. The bullying continued, though, now with the excuse that I was a violent weirdo, and believe it or not they didn’t see the irony in that.”
“Were you disappointed?” He says, with only half a plan I’m guessing.
“It seems that you enjoyed the initial response to the incident, as well as the atmosphere you created for yourself by not letting anyone in. So my question is, were you disappointed with the fact that most things stayed the same?”
“My life remained the same, but at least I knew that I had a way of changing what they thought of me. The kid that I pushed off the tree never bothered me again; he became kind of shy. That was good.”
“You like to see your influence on other people?”
“I find the impact violence has on people’s lives intriguing.”
As I said this, I noticed that I’ve never really thought about it before, but it is indeed one of the driving uncertainties of my life. It’s probably what brought me here in the first place.
“Why violence specifically?”
“I think it’s because violence is the most primitive form of communication. We rely on it to convey disapproval or frustration, and it is understood everywhere in the world for what it is. Every other emotion can be misunderstood; even signs of love tend to be misinterpreted as aggression.”
“Are you talking about sexual assault and innuendos?” He says with a smirk on his face. I was wondering when it was coming back.
“No even that, although you’ve got to understand the point of view of the attacker, in his mind that’s a good way of showing interest. What I’m talking about are simple acts of kindness, like opening a door or trying to pick something that has fallen from another person’s pocket for them. Self-centered idiots tend to see these things as a personal attack on their fragile sense of self-capacity.”
“You say violence is a form of communication. What is it that you’ve said with it?”
“Until recently not much. For instance, I’ve had some interesting dreams lately, murderous dreams. It seems I have a lot of things to say. It’s a bit frightening, but I think I could change this world.”
His face has changed. Even mine has. There is no sign of self-control now, for the first time ever I’m actually saying thins as they come to my mind. It’s freeing, but a bit frightening, as he has just experienced. The issue remains, though. If he can see me, can other people do it too? Should I reshape this world just because I can do it?
“Do I have the right to change everything without people’s consent?” I say out loud, half realizing it.
“Can you be less cryptic?” He says, squinting his eyes a little. As if trying to speak a foreign language for the first time but being afraid of getting it wrong.
“Just imagine you had the opportunity to change things, to obliterate the status quo and bring about an entirely different reality for everyone. Would you do it?”
“I don’t think I can answer a question like that without having information as to what exactly it is I’m changing things for.”
A quiet world. I just want it to be quiet. Without all the noise people bring with them and their shallow pursuits.
“Free yourself for a minute, stop thinking like a psychologist and think of all the things you dislike about this place.”
“What do you dislike so much that you want to change it for everyone?”
“You know that we’ve been over that. Please answer the question. Would you do it? I say with a little anger slipping through.”
“I thought that was an answer. No, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t think anyone has the right to make a choice in everyone else’s name. Especially not knowing the outcome of the change.” He says, his eyes trying to catch a discrete glimpse of the clock on the wall.
He’s unnerved now.
“I think you’re comfortable where you are right now. You have grown dull to all the shit that’s going on in the world, the vermin like quality of the people that inhabit this world. You might not be one of them, but you sure don’t mind them. Do you have a family?”
My anger keeps growing as he returns to his non-understand self. He might be able to see me, probably better than most people. But his mind is still in need of a little widening.
“Would it make a difference if I had a family?”
“Have you ever dreamt you kill them? You get rid of their suffering all at once while ridding yourself of the nuisance of having to watch them like that. I had a dream like that a while ago. I’ve never felt better.”
“We’ll have to continue next week, however, if you don’t mind, I would like to corroborate the contact information of your mother.” He pulls out a notebook and says a number out loud.
“Yeah, that’s her number”
“I ask because, as I explained when we started the therapeutic process there would be some steps I would take in case I considered you were a danger to yourself or others.”
His face gives out nothing, he’s completely serious looking directly into my eyes. He’s trying to hide his fear. He’s failing.
“So which is it? Myself or others?”
“I don’t know, it’s just a precaution”
His fear is starting to affect him now. This reaction feels professional, highly trained even, but not natural. He’s never done this before and his fear is beyond his personal safety. He’s afraid of looking like an idiot. Of loosing that cockiness that defies him. Maybe he’s not always right after all.
“This will be our last session Marco. You’ve been of great help clarifying everything. Here’s everything I owed you and something else I want you to have.” I say, handing him a small wad of bills and the rosary.
“I can’t take gifts, and I don’t think we’re done here. I really hope I can see you next week.”
I leave the room without saying anything, there’s nothing else to say.
The building is really dorm like, just a bunch of beige doors in a slightly clearer beige corridor. It’s completely silent here. As if every one of these offices were empty and we were the only two people in the whole building.
I take a left instead of the usual right. I’m not heading for the stairs today, there’s a balcony at the end of the corridor.
The rain hits my face as I open the door. The sound is still soothing although it way stronger than before. The streetlights are fully on now while the moon is lighting the street as well. No one walks outside. The trees that surround the road are moving and responding to the rain. There’s not much wind, which is a bit strange given the strength of the downpour. Everything starts here. Four stories are not that much so I decide to take my dive head first, just to make sure. It’s just a second, but seeing the concrete approaching is an unnerving sensation. I land headfirst.
Edith gave me the necklace she always wears and a little note, along with enough money to pay for all 10 sessions we’ve had so far. There’s a loud noise outside, she has opened the balcony door.
I put everything in my pocket automatically and run to the door, heading left to the balcony. There’s a loud thud. I stop for a second. I know what just happened.
I resume my running while dialing 911 on my phone but come to a full stop at the balcony’s portal. The rain has stopped; there is no moon outside. In fact, there is no form of light. It’s total darkness to the point that only the light coming from the inside illuminates the floor of the balcony.
Then the lights in the building go out as well.