(Names are changed to protect identities. 2001 or so. My first therapist.)
I was sitting in a cramped waiting room at the counseling clinic, very aware of how cramped it was. Trying to appear comfortable, I thumbed through a 2-year-old Car and Driver magazine.
Comfortable was not the only appearance I was worried about. I carefully chose this magazine. Cosmo…no, they’ll think I’m a sex addict. Probably am. Parenting…I know Ash would approve, but come on! Sports illustrated…any swimsuits? No. Seventeen…no, they’ll think I’m a sex addict and a pedophile. Car and Driver…hmm. Looking at cars is acceptable for men. I like cars. People will think I’m pretty normal looking at this. Of course, I would never have used the word “shit” to describe any fecal substance on the bottom of my shoe.
I didn’t use curse words. My parents never approved of foul language. What I didn’t know was that my parents used just as many curse words as anybody else. I was very surprised to discover that my mother could probably out-curse a short order cook at a truck stop. They just never cursed in front of me.
There was, however, one man that my mother could not out-curse: Dr. Roger Collins, PHD. Dr. Collins was my therapist and had been for the previous four weeks. I had endured four one-hour sessions of some of the filthiest language I had ever personally witnessed, and I was preparing to endure my fifth. Is this part of the treatment? I had thought Or does he talk like this to everyone? I had never been to a therapist before seeing Dr. Collins. I had nothing to compare him to except what I had seen on TV and in the movies.
The outside door to the waiting room swung open and I observed a large woman and a small child entering. I was amazed at how casually this woman entered the room. She just walks right in here as if this is all totally normal! You can’t just open a door like that in a place like this. It’s gotta be nice and easy. The woman, some 250 pounds dressed in faded stirrup pants and a t-shirt that said “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”, hummed as she waited for the receptionist to return to the counter with the sliding glass window.
The little boy was looking right at me as if entranced, carefully inserting his middle finger into his snotty nose and then smearing it across his upper lip. There were other people waiting with me, Too many people, I though. Although I would never put it this way, I felt as if the closer these people were sitting to me, the more likely they were to glean my thoughts and problems. I was very aware of how cramped it was in this dimly lit waiting room with the narrow windows at the top of the north wall. What’s with these windows? Do they put them up high so that people can’t escape or cut themselves with the glass? This is just one step away from the loony bin! Jesus Chr–I mean– Geez! Geez isn’t the same as Jesus Christ is it? More of a civil man’s adaptation…
The other door opened partially and a short, stocky middle-aged man peaked out. I had been casually eyeing this door ever since I sat down.
“Ready?” intoned the man, eyebrows raised.
Dr. Collins ushered me through the door and into the hall. Collins was a good eight inches shorter than me. He wordlessly gestured toward the coffee pot. Then wordlessly gestured toward his office still with his eyebrows raised Like a mime I thought. Like a foul-mouthed little mime.
Then Collins walked on down the hall turning back saying “Go on in, Daniel. I’ll just be a minute.”
I poured myself a cup of coffee thinking I’d have to be some kind of cool player to turn down a cup of coffee. Men who are in control don’t take coffee if they don’t really want it. Men of power. For a moment, I hesitated. Then I took my coffee back to the now familiar office of Dr. Roger Collins, PHD.
The lights were low. Leather chair with an end table. Leather couch. Desk with a computer. Shelves full of books. A big poster of a soaring eagle with a caption that said “Until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea how far you can fly”.
I always sat in the chair. I had come to Dr. Collins because I was having trouble with obsessive tendencies which were interfering with my work. Lots of checking and a compulsive habit with porn. I was worried I would be fired. I suffered a tremendous amount of guilt over sex in general. My love life with my wife was miserable. My guilt was tainting into her otherwise healthy sexuality. His diagnose was OCD with narcissistic tendencies. This was before my bipolar became pronounced enough to be diagnosed.
“Hey there, compadre! How the hell are you?” Dr. Collin’s voice was like a chainsaw tearing through my acoustically sensitive mind.
“Great,” I offered with a smile. This was the point in my session when I always thought the same thing. Is this when I answer for real or is this where I just answer like a normal person? Because if I was “great” I wouldn’t be here would I?
“No shit!?” returned Dr. Collins as he sat down at the desk. He raised his eyebrows, nodding and frowning that kind of No shit kind of frown and nod. “How is the obsessiveness going?”
“Ok,” said Daniel glancing at his right shoe. “It’s getting under control. I’ve been able to focus more at work.” I returned the variation on the No shit nod-frown-eyebrows that said No, really.
“And the sexual thoughts? Have you been looking at porn at work?” queried Collins.
I grimaced and cocked my head a little from side to side and said, “Yes, but maybe a little less, but I’m worried I’m going to get caught. I really want to get this under control.”
And with that, Collins was off!
“You know, when I was about your age, I was a real goddam ratfucker! I would dip my fat little wick in anything that moved. You’ve never really screwed until you’ve done it with a goddam stranger!” Collins’ eyes went far away for a moment, as if he were relishing some past alley-way love affair. “I bet when you’re at work and you see some cute little bitch walking down the hall you think ‘Christ! I’d like to bend her over and fuck the shit outta that bitch!’
Collins was grinning and nodding as if to say Am I right? You know what I mean you bastard!
I gave Dr. Collins a nervous laugh and said, “Yeah,” and then looked at my shoes. “You see… the thing is…I don’t think that that’s a good thing. One of the reasons I came here is to try to get this kind of thinking under control, and…”
“For Christ’s sake…” Collins slowly shook his head and looked down for a moment. “Are your parents religious? What are they? A couple of goddam Puritans? You know, I see a lot fucked up people in this office, but–why just the other day I saw a guy who can’t go twenty fucking minutes without shoving his hand down his pants and squeezing off a goddam fireworks show!–but I’ve never seen people as jimmy-fucked as religious people. These people, with their….
Jimmy-fucked? What does that even mean? What went wrong? Why am I here? I used to be happy all the time. I used to lay under the tree in my parents front yard and be happy. I used to just decide to be happy and I was happy…wasn’t I?
“Do you know what you are, Danny? Do you?”
“Uh, no. What do mean? I mean I’m…”
“Your a GOD DAMN MOTHER FUCKING PUSSY LOVING RATFUCKER!” With that, Dr. Collins settled back into his desk chair and stared at me with a knowing grin, gold nugget necklace resting peacefully on an ample bed of exposed chest hair.
Then his face softened and his eyes shifted from their hard glint to an almost tender gaze. He leaned forward. “You know that don’t you, Daniel?” suggested Collins softly. “You’re just like the rest of us poor slobs who get whiplash every time a nice piece of tail walks by.” He leaned in close and held my gaze. “You are no better than the rest of us, Daniel. You are filthy.”
I took in a deep breath and held it for a moment, letting it out slowly.
“Dr. Collins, how did I get this way?” I felt a knot swelling in my chest and up into my throat. “I didn’t used to…” I broke off, holding back … something.
“Daniel, ” Dr. Collins rocked back in his chair and looked at his books. “There’s never just one reason.” He stopped, considering for a moment. He began fine-tuning, in a way. His eyes narrowed. His focus seemed to briefly gather on a single spot in the air. “It may have happened something like this. You were a little baby. You didn’t do anything but cry, sleep, eat, and shit your diapers. Then one day you smile. Big fucking deal. But everyone in your little world starts doing cartwheels. They can’t fucking believe that their little Dannykins smiled. They get big ol’ mommy and daddy hardons just thinking about it. This is your first encounter with approval. Then, one day, you’re sitting in your high chair and you accidentally knock your cup onto the floor. Your mommy picks it up and sets it back in front of you. You do it again, except this time you do it on purpose. Mommy figures out your game and gives you a hard look and says ‘No.’ This is your first encounter with disapproval. At some point you decide you like the approval better than the disapproval. You become an expert–just a little fucking shit factory, he said chuckling to himself. “but an expert at getting your parent’s approval. Eventually, as you become a teenager, you can’t do it anymore without fucking splitting yourself in two. The ‘Good’ Danny,” he made little quoting hand gestures, “and the ‘Naughty’ Danny. Do you see, Daniel?”
I pooched out my lips as I always did when I had almost gotten my mind wrapped around something.
“Your life is all about shoulds and shouldn’ts.”
Well duh! You can’t just go around doing everything you want to do. “I guess,” I replied unsure.
“You lose a few things when you split in two like that,” Collins continued. “First, you lose your ability to decide things for yourself. You base every decision on what you think the people around you expect. Second, you lose your ability to experience emotion in a normal way. You become like a machine. When a ‘bad’ emotion comes up, you find a way to hide it. Some choose booze, some drugs, some sex. You’re the poor bastard checking your email and looking at porn all day… clicking and browsing your feelings away like a machine. Well, you say, what’s wrong with that? What do have when you take away all the ‘bad’ emotions? The ‘good’ ones, right? Wrong. Eventually the good ones go away, too. You can’t experience the one without the other. You’re clicking out the good stuff along with the bad stuff, buddy!” Dr. Collins chuckled a bit. Then his face became serious. “You’re not ever really happy at this point in your life, Daniel. You’re just pretending. You’re like an actor on a stage. But you know? I don’t think you’re even that good an actor. You’re not fooling anyone anymore.”
I wanted to feel something. Anything. Just to prove this guy wrong.
“Listen, Daniel. I know things are shit right now, but you’re doing something about it, right? You’re young and you haven’t broken anything that can’t be fixed.”
“Well that’s just it, ” I began, frustration rising in my voice, “how do I fix this? Where do I start.”
“It’s simple. Look, just do one thing for me this week.” We both stood up and moved toward the door. “You love your wife don’t you?”
“Find a way to show her you love her. She needs your passion, man. Sweep her off her feet any way you can.”
I nodded again. But I don’t know what she wants. I don’t know how, I thought.
“Don’t think about it, Daniel. Just do it. You’re a lucky guy, Daniel. You’ve just forgotten.” Collins chuckled as he opened the door, his hand on my shoulder. “Now go home and fuck the shit outta that girl or I’ll just have to come down and do it myself!”
Dr. Collins PhD silently gestured me out of the door, eyebrows raised, the eyes beneath them sparkling with light.