Friday, 1 August 2014

My Dear Psychiatrist

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2014 

(This story, in a vastly different form, first appeared in my anthology, Bearing all Gods and Goddesses, published by Independence Jones, and was entitled My Psychiatrist.)

I think my psychiatrist is crazy. Nothing serious, mind you, just a general lack of ability to deal with socially unpleasant or awkward subjects. His reticence with delicate subjects I gather from his body language, which seemed to shrink away from me when I revealed the first of my several skeletons, at the start of Sydney’s warm winter of 2013. It was by no means a hoary, befouled skeleton, at least not much so, but his reaction would have indicated otherwise. I could literally see his shoulders shrinking in, embedding himself deeper into his armchair and becoming a noticeable shade paler under the natural sun from the skylight in his office.
     ‘Is it really wrong to actively covet one’s neighbour’s wife?’  The doctor looked respectfully serious, and then asked,
     ‘Do you covet your neighbour’s wife?’
     ‘Yes, very much so. Ever since her husband invited me in for a drink when I first moved in to the flats where I am now. That was about two years ago.’
     ‘How long has she been married?’
     ‘Thirty-five years. She was married at the age of twenty-five.’  It was here that the good doctor paled so, probably because I am only twenty-seven. ‘She still looks in her thirties though; looks after her skin really well.’
     ‘Does she know you covet her?’  He sounded to be vaguely choking when he asked this.
     ‘She’s not stupid doctor. In fact she called over to my place a couple of weeks ago to invite me over for a ‘tipple of something,’ as she put it. I would have certainly gone over but I was on the way out to a friend’s.’
     Discussing the hoarier of my skeletal freak shows has proved to be similarly ineffectual, as he simply confirmed my own observations of the fractures in their dancing, dangling limbs without really showing me how to still their jangling, accusing and pointing bones. I’ll give you another example, a rare insight into my inelastic mind.
     It was four weeks since the revelation about my neighbour, Gloria, and I was again ten minutes late; I have to see him every four weeks, which the Medicare of fabulous, sophisticated Aus pays for.
     ‘The first thing I’d like to talk about is my desperate thieving career.’  The doctor pursed his lips and let his glasses slide down his nose in the warm room. Was he trying not to see me or trying to see me better?
     ‘What was desperate about it?’ he asked, looking at me with apparently sightless eyes.
     ‘I used to rob from the poorest of the poor, old homeless men, in order to feed my marijuana habit.’  The doctor then actually squirmed in his chair, and proceeded to adjust his glasses. He looked back at me, over my head.
     ‘Tell me about it.’  He sounded to be vaguely chocking again.
     ‘Well, again when I was homeless for that five year stint, of my own philosophic volition, I would check into Ulysses’ House every Centrelink pension day. It was eight dollars for the night. Ulysses’ House is the homeless shelter in Kings Cross. I checked in with the specific intent of marking old men who had just been paid from Centrelink. I was receiving the disability support pension but chose to thieve so that I could indulge in plenty of smoko.’  Here the doctor decided to take off his coat. The room wasn’t that warm though. He placed the coat on the floor beside him and once again looked back at me, over my head.
     ‘These people that you ‘marked’ were they the ones that you robbed?’
     ‘Yes. I was averaging a hundred and fifty dollars every pickings, in the wee hours of Friday morning. After noting where all these winos had crashed out I went around to their beds to see what I could easily pick in their drunken state.’
     ‘What did you steal?’
     ‘A lot of it was cash, all from winos that had gone to bed stupefied and with their wallets on them as a result. None of them ever woke up to find me lifting the leather.’ Again the doctor squirmed in his chair. We talked about the thieving for the rest of the half hour, or rather I talked, but the good doctor really was reticent to venture any opinion decidedly either way as to its morality. Was I just caught up in the Darwinian struggle, purely fighting for my survival?  Was I simply causing unwarranted deprivation to the frailest of our society?  The doctor neither admonished me nor justified me, but wanted to be elsewhere throughout the discussion.
    Of course we schizophrenics are renowned for reading too much into incidental signs and incidental quirks of body language. But, nevertheless, there are a lot of things about Dr Bea which fail to inspire confidence, all centering about his body language, which does its best not to be noticed, and thereby read. Is he scared of being analysed? 
     More to the point, should I tell him that he’s as limp as a dying lily?  Should I tell him that he is completely incapable of effectively handling the demons of others?  In short he has no cause to be a psychiatrist.
     If I were to tell him all this though he’d just think I’m getting crazier, when in fact I can clearly see that Dr Bea, while occasionally having some useful information, is as disillusioned as I am.
     I no longer see him, as of four weeks ago today (January 24, 2014), and when I told him my reasons, he simply gave me a stupid, blank stare – I hate when people do that.
     ‘Doctor, you do get it, don’t you:  you’re not perfect, and not close to being perfect, or even self-aware.’
     ‘Of course.’
     ‘Will I still be able to call in if I need some medical reports?’
     ‘Certainly, and you’re always welcome back.’
     Today also I can’t seem to presently prevent myself from imagining being in his office: talking, investigating and maybe discovering something new to be published in some psychiatry journal. Of course, I know full well that our sessions aren’t at all like this, but that doesn’t mean future ones won’t be like my past Uni. English Lit. tutorials: lively, engaging, and replete with revelations.
     My imagination does do me such wonder though that, not inconceivably, I could presently use it to salvage the sundered relationship between Dr Reyenn Bea and myself. He really is a good sort, but perhaps a bit too blood-shy. He really does need to harden up more if he wants to be a psychiatrist. Accordingly, if we both put some effort in, we could maybe finally rid these monkeys from our disparate backs.
     I’ll be back, after I’m at his receptionist’s again.

*

I showed Dr Bea this story and he said it was very funny, and portrayed him quite well. He said of it that: ‘…those who knew him well would agree with your rendering.’  To be honest, I was expecting him to be mortally offended; calling a psychiatrist crazy could be somewhat litigious.
     ‘That story was the very first time that someone has painted my portrait, and it was so much the better in words.’
     ‘Why was it better?’
     ‘You’re right when you say that I detest any sign of conflict. It really is true that it’s a fault which I need to find correction for.’
     ‘By the same token squeamishness does help one to avoid bloody situations.’
     ‘But life, Denis, is bloody. I really do have to learn that living ought to be both good and evil.’
     ‘Balance, doctor.’
     ‘Balance, for sure.’
     We parted the session with a handshake and the mutual feeling of pleasant bygones. I naturally gave the good doctor the last word,
     ‘Your insights are truly welcome, Denis, but we’ll be sure to get back to you in the next consultation.’  I smiled, nodded and headed off to present my Medicare card at the receptionist’s.

*

Doctor Bea gave up private practice one month later. He informed me at our last session, last week, but I chose not to ask him at the time why he was quitting. Instead I asked,
     ‘What made you choose psychiatry, Doctor?’  To which he replied,
     ‘I think psychiatry chose me.’  I told you that that man was unstable!  Here he is after spending a bland fifteen years in a very difficult field of medicine yet he is fundamentally unhappy with himself; he is simply too timid to ask for what he really wants. So what does he want?  He wants universal harmony, everybody comfortable and without any taxing horrors. He has though unmistakably averred his need to accept nature’s filthier side, from my portrait of him, and as to his future I most sincerely hope that he finds the right field of medicine. He seemed to be somehow considering following that path when last we spoke.
     Anyway, good luck, Doctor!

~~~

If you've been enjoying Denis' stories here you may also enjoy his debut novel, This Mirror in Me. It tells the story of Tonia Esqurit Ailbe, a mathematics professor, and her unusual manner of making her home a social hub, her life's fundamental aim: sitting at her dressing table mirror and imagining socialising with friends and family. It seems the only way, for one reason or another, that she can achieve her deepest aim. It is available on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1gXGF9h for US $4.14, and via Smashwords, whom cover most of the other ereaders, at http://bit.ly/1k7DEIV for US $3.99. If you don't have a Kindle or other ereader you can download one for free onto your smartphone or tablet.

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