Unable and powerless to circumvent my miseries, daunted, discouraged and unable to face reality, I thought it prudent to seek the help of a professional. I went to the Crossroads Therapy Center at the appointed hour. I felt nervous and guilty about going to such lengths and was much relieved when he raised his quaint little cap to me, in a gentlemanly old world gesture, yet declined to rise up off the couch: his casual manner put me at ease as he leisurely finished his cigarette as a cat finishes purring.
Having been in such situations before, I began with a few prepared remarks: my reasons for coming, my symptoms, my history of treatment, my life history, my hopes and plans for the future. I tried to present myself as knowledgeable about my illness, yet humble, pragmatic and eager to make the necessary changes. I somewhat blurted these things out, as I had been quite unhappy for some time and was eager for relief. Also, almost immediately as I began my presentation, his face took on a pained, weary expression as though I was asking him for spare change.
At the end of our session, he made some very general remarks and gave me some free samples. Glad to be resuming the therapeutic process, I thanked him profusely and paid on my way out. When I got home I noticed that the samples were of all kinds, but mainly medicated shampoo for crabs and lice.
I had lived with my troubles long enough to expect no easy or simple resolution. I knew this only too well. It was therefore without hesitation or reservation that I took up the task of explaining my misery at length, in every detail, at the beginning of our second session. I needed no prompting: I was eager to begin, to become healthy. I had not suffered for so long without evolving a few of my own favorite theories: where things had gone wrong; things I failed to confront; formative experiences gone awry; maladaptations and self-medications; co-dependent relationships (I had so many of those); ill-defined boundaries, poisonous self-talk, fears of success, fears of failure, phobias, anxieties, disturbances in my sleep schedule, regretting certain purchases, not calling people back, sexual confusion, binges, purges, a tendency to collect more plastic bags than I knew I needed, and throughout it all, such low self-esteem.
Yet during this lengthy and painful investigation I began to feel, more than usually, that no one was listening. The air conditioning made its presence known. I tried not to let this idea distract me, knowing that we often hide from ourselves by shifting the focus of out thoughts during therapy to external and trivial things, but I began to feel that perhaps somehow my therapist was having trouble hearing or listening to me, or was otherwise distracted. His lack of reaction to some of my worst revelations seemed to suggest this, though understandably at least once this was because at the time of my statement, judging by the sounds of his computer, he had simultaneously achieved solitaire, a feat he was able to repeat not a few times over the course of my session. Though I was confident in his capacity as a professional and gave full faith and confidence in his aims as a therapist, as the hour drew to a close I decided that I needed his reassurance that he was able to hear me and would ask him so directly as soon as he got off the phone.
For the first time this session, he looked at me directly:
-I’ve been trying not to listen. Listen: I’m a blank slate. I’m someone new. Someone who doesn’t know all your shit, doesn’t know a thing about you: what kind of kid you were, what sort of grades you got, whether you were skinny or fat or stupid and smelly. Now all this shit, this shit you think is so important that you cart it all the way over here to start unloading it on a total stranger -and it is shit, isn’t it? All this shit -you think it’s you, and you think it’s precious and yet you obviously don’t like your shit, you hate it. What the hell I am supposed to do about it? Isn’t the greatest possible favor to you, in this moment to just tell you that I don’t know a thing about all your shit and could not possibly care? Then you’d be free. You could do whatever you wanted. You could tell me that I’m full of shit. But you won’t do that and that’s why you’re here. That’s why you’re sick.
I did not know how to respond. The air conditioning came on.
He gave me the gentlest of smiles that said: see you next week. We both breathed a little easier. I would say I thought a lot about what he had said, but what had he said? It was a quiet night. Strictly speaking, I really didn’t think.
-Hello, welcome to Publix, how are you?
Did that sound normal?
For our next session, I had a revelation, for I had looked in the mirror during the previous week and realized what it was. It was simply the worst thing I could say about myself. I was ashamed of myself, my race, my identity. I began to tell the story how, as a little kid I encountered racial taunts on the playground and how confusing this was. To this day I still passed groups of kids -little kids, with a shudder of dread, for fear they should suddenly start calling me names.
At this, he perked up a little.
-Have you considered beating them up?
-No, I don’t really fear any physical violence from them.
-No, have you considered beating them up?
-Well, it’s an irrational fear. They never say anything.
-Have you considered beating the holy crap out of them anyway?
-No, of course not.
-Why not? You’re not in ideal shape, but you are a fully grown adult male. You’d cream them, if they were small enough.
-Is this a test?
-You could wipe them out. Make them cry for their Mommas. Little kids are often afraid of adults, especially adults who beat them. Then take their little girlfriend.
-I can’t believe you’re suggesting that.
-Oh I’m not saying that you should do anything, because this would be contrary to the law and custom -also there are all sorts of obstacles to intergenerational relationships. You could just take her to some Pokémon movie or something, no big deal. Share a soda. Or you could date someone really, really old, like a grandmother and then dump them.
-I can’t do that!
-Why does it matter? Death can’t be far off anyway.
-No, I can’t do anything you’re suggesting.
-Sure you can. You can do anything you want. People might punish you, but you can do it. Do you want to do it? Take those kids for example. You be like a god to them. An angry god.
-What about their parents?
-What about them? What if you kick the shit out them, too? Then those kids would be terrified. You kicked their ass and then you kicked their Dad’s ass in front of them. Just throw that fucker into the TV. They’ll never feel the same about the tube again. In the same living room where they celebrate Christmas or whatever.
-I can’t believe you are advocating violence.
-I’m not advocating anything. Violence needs no advocates. Yet consider that most people aren’t expecting violence this side of the TV screen. Not the level of violence you’re going to bring, anyway. Most people live in what Colonel Jeff Cooper calls “Condition White.”
-The guy from “Circle of Iron”?
-This is a different Jeff Cooper.
-I can’t believe you’re saying any of this. You cannot be serious. The whole point of mentioning this fear is that it’s based in the past, something that happened long ago. It may have repercussion today, but you cannot deal with them by acting out fantasies of revenge like your irrational fears were literally true.
-Calvin believed the soul was predestined before birth. Americans believe one’s own true soul is formed in high school and whatever else one might be or accomplish is somehow a reaction, a shadow.
At this, he seemed a little satisfied. It was something in the way he killed the last of his beer.
-You would like to be strong. You can be. Start with just doing pull-ups and push-ups on alternate days. Try riding a bike to get places. That’s important. Your initial gains will be the most rapid, the most startling and the most rewarding. We will focus on this in your next session.
You’ve got to be strong, he smiled, for the children. He gave me his empties to recycle on the way out.
-Why are we having steak?
-Steak is good for you. You need blood, champ. Besides, I like steak, I never fall asleep eating steak, but I sometimes do fall asleep listening to people bitch and moan. Besides you’re paying.
-Can I take off the sunglasses? I can’t see my steak.
-Don’t worry. If you stab your hand you will feel it. Get used to wearing sunglasses at night.
-Because it looks really cool.
-It’s kind of hard to do some things with them on.
-Everything cool and worth doing can be done with sunglasses on: driving, listening to music, or pretending to listen to music, making love, looking cool. If you cannot do it with sunglasses on, chances are, it’s not really cool. Contrariwise, wearing sunglasses can make uncool activities look cool. Even washing your Grandpa or painting a fence can look cool provided you keep the sunglasses on.
The knife and fork somehow looked frighteningly sharp in his hands. He sliced with delicacy, but with an audible squeal from the plate, never switching hands.
-Now when the waitress brought you your drink on ice and you didn’t order it on the rocks you took it anyway. Why?
-It’s not that important.
-You took it because she made it seem like you would be doing her a favor and you would be an asshole if you didn’t. That’s not her job. Her job is to bring you your order as you ordered it. She just made the other thing her job and you just accepted it.
-I thought she was nice.
-You think everybody is nice. You think people are, for the most part, decent. You think, given the chance, most people would like you, if they got to know you and vice versa. This is why you are suffering. People you encounter are either moving with you, or against you, or are indifferent or unaware of you. If someone moves against you, you have to move against them, you have to counter, no matter what it is.
-I don’t think of things that way. I’m a nice guy.
-What does that mean?
-I try to get along. I try to be considerate. I put great value in not causing harm.
-Harm. What do you care about harming people? Think of all the people who have harmed you -there are a lot of them, there are in any life. Do you think any of these people lose any sleep over the harm they caused you? Do you think they ever think about it? Ask the lilies of the valley or the cows that take a dump on them? Do you ever apologize to your steak? Then why the fuck are you eating steak?
Once in a great while someone may express genuine remorse and that’s great, too. Generally, it’s because they are about to go to jail or they want their AA chip. But that’s really about it.
Besides people either get over harm or they don’t and if they don’t sometimes they go to therapy.
-I don’t think anyone has really harmed me. Not deliberately, anyway
-What are you talking about? You’re in therapy. With me. A lot of people have harmed you, but you learned from them. You learned that you sucked and found ways of continuing what they started. Your parents fucked you up. Other than that: those around you. This was Freud’s great insight. It almost doesn’t matter whether you’re the kindest, most intelligent, most loving parent or a total asswipe. I say almost, because I don’t want being a total asswipe to sound too good. Mental illness is mainly like illness in this respect: the same exposure to the same pathogen will strengthen one and kill another. Likewise, it is also about the manner and intensity of the exposure. If you think about it and you are honest with yourself, there really isn’t anything to be ashamed of or proud of. You’re sick. You’re sick with other people’s lies and shit they told you because it seemed right or made them feel better. Sometimes these people even told you that they loved you. Sometimes they even believed it. That’s okay. This happens to everyone. But it has made you sick and if you want to feel better you are going to have to look at the mouth that lies and say: you are lying. You are going to have to start living based on your own values and not someone else’s.
We paused to look over dessert wines. Or rather, I did. He knew what he wanted.
-So someone felt love for you, but you couldn’t feel it. Whose fault is that? Did they not love you enough or were you not paying attention?
He cut my cigar for me.
-The only difference with me and most therapists is that I don’t cover the profound contempt I have for you and call it compassion. How could I have any other feelings? We hardly meet as equals. Look at you! Living at home, doing diddly-squat, no girlfriend.
I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I was in there for awhile. I couldn’t stop. I worried that the attendant heard me. I cleaned up at the sink. I nodded affably but tipped poorly. I saw no one’s eyes as I went back to my table.
When I got there I saw that he had left me a copies of Jenseits von Gut und Bose, Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift, the sunglasses and the check.
I took to exercising every day. I felt better. I slept better. I had never been very strong, but I was strong now and that gave me confidence. Exercise was fair that way. It was the fairest thing in my life. Exertion got me used to the idea of physical discomfort and pain, things I had formerly avoided. I still didn’t talk to many people, but I felt less afraid of them generally. I went back to reading.
I felt that some of this recovery, however, must be because of therapy. There were a lot of things I had been unable to confront before and confronting them this way, however unconventionally, must be part of my recovery, I thought. I told him this.
-No, it’s just the fresh air on your balls. Wait till you get laid and you’ll feel even better.
-You don’t think therapy has made me feel any better?
-If it does, it’s incidental I’m not in the business of making people feel better. That’s a hoax. It’s foolish to think that talking to someone is going to alleviate suffering anymore than talking to someone while you have a toothache does: at best you’re distracted for the duration and relieved by “naming your pain.” Otherwise, it’s quite useless. My goal is to help you to suffer better. That’s what a real human being does. Right now you are suffering, you’re hurting, but it accomplishes nothing. If you are healthy, you will suffer even more, but a differently.
-There’s a kind of suffering that changes people. And the kind of suffering that can change the world.
I stood up to go.
-Well, at least I got this farmer’s tan.
-You’re wearing a shirt on your bike? You're in fuckin' Florida. You might as well enjoy it. Let me see you. Take your shirt off. Yeah. You're lookin' fine. Even out that tan.
He gave me a copy of De Profundis.
Even though I feel I look good, I am still uncomfortable cycling without my shirt on. But it is really hot, so I do. I come to a stoplight on my daily run. A truck stops beside me. I suddenly become quite self-conscious. I am nearly naked and covered in a sheen of sweat and wearing a stupid helmet. I cannot look at them. I do not know if they are men or women. I feel they are talking about me. I feel taut and flexed. I scream incoherently, not in rage, not in anger, not any human emotion at all. It is a jungle scream. It does not even say: I am here. It is: what was here before. The light has changed. The truck is long gone.
...You’re a good person ...you’re a great person ...you’re a special person.
...I am a good person ... I’m a great person ...I’m a special person
-Why are we watching this?
-To show you the kind of bullshit I’ve spared you. And for lulz. Check out the tits on this retard.
-I can’t believe you’re a doctor.
-I am a doctor. I’m a doctor of a lot of things, actually. So when I say “retard” I mean retard. And when I say "tits" I mean tits.
-How can you talk about someone differently abled like that?
-What, you don’t think the retarded enjoy sexuality? Have you ever had sex with a retarded person? Hot as fuck. And afterwards you can have Ho-Ho’s and watch SpongeBob.
This seemed to remind himself to treat himself to the aforesaid Ho-Ho.
-Well, if there’s one thing that can be said about my form of therapy: I will never insult your intelligence.
Though I should say, he ended, that everything else is fair game.
He gives me a porno tape: Eight is E’Snuff. The package had the kind of truly poor graphic design that made it ultimately terrifying: terrifying just in the choice of fonts and poor printing. The cover looked like a family of clowns or a Kiss cover band in a nudist colony either lighting their farts or farting blood. I couldn’t watch it. By itself, the description on the back in broken English made my eyes tear and the things described kept me up at night.
I decide I want to change things about myself. I keep lists, a diary. My room begins to fill up with slogans like a one man cultural revolution: Try to be more of a jerk about sex.
I am back on my bike. I’m a little oily with suntan lotion. The seat is slippery. I’ve gotten new bike shorts but ditched the helmet. At the stoplight I keep my beat steady by doing a few one handed french presses of my bike and gear, of which I can only do a few because the twenty pound weights I’ve strapped to the bike rattle slightly.
When the arrow goes green a sports car full of girls swings by. The car is expensive: it looks like it’s from the future. The girls are wearing mainly sunglasses. “Lookin’ Good!” they cry “Keep it up, baby!”
I had been using the word denial.
-Do you know what denial is? Let me tell you a story about a friend of mine and denial. People felt so sorry for themselves after he died publicly beaten and humiliated that they decided to make up a story about how he vanished from his tomb and flew up in the air, all the way to some place in the sky. Pathetic. What’s more pathetic than that? This is guy you’ve been waiting for; it turns out that though he says all kind of cool things, does all kinds of neat tricks, he can’t do shit when it comes to soldiers. Then he gets his ass publicly beat and finally dies in agony, for everyone to see, hung out in public along side a bunch of criminals. So what do people say? “Oh he let them do all that stuff to him. We should be grateful. Because he was really a magic person. No wait -he was all powerful. His father was the Lord of the Clouds. He sacrificed himself. And he didn’t really die. No, he flew up and went to a magic place in the sky.” What kind of pathetic shit does that sound like? “You didn’t beat my ass and rob me, I lent you the money and my face as a punching bag” “You didn’t dump me because I was a total loser. I let you go because you were ready. I only begged you to take me back to test you.”
And this is the most wonderful beautiful aspect of the this story: when you are utterly and totally and publicly beaten, just lie, just make a lie so big that it takes your breath away, a lie so unlikely and obviously false that no one could possibly be stupid enough to believe it. And people will flock to this lie until they cover the earth. They will rape and torture and blow themselves up for this lie, or any similar lie. Because it’s better than the truth, which every idiot knows at some level: everyone dies, most are unhappy and most of it is dumb luck. Most people are cowards and a little stupid. It’s better than therapy: it can reach more people. It lets people lie there, dying in their own excrement, say to themselves that they’ll soon be in a better place, instead of just dead, lying in their own excrement.
For the first time, he seemed visibly angry, upset. There was white at the corner of his mouth. His eyes were, I saw for the first time, a little red. It was time to go, but as I went out he gave me one last look and I saw that he was sad. Really, really sad.
I arrived late but unconcerned for our last session. No one was at the desk, so I went straight in. I could tell without looking that his head had been smashed in. Things had been done to the body at length.
In the selfishness of my mental illness I had never thought about his other patients, but he must of had them.
I returned his tape and I left.
I stopped at a restaurant I had always meant to try. The food was fantastic. I left a generous tip. I watched the sunset.
I knew what to do. I had known it for a very long time, I thought about it and researched it good deal. I had just always lacked the will. But I knew, I knew it very well.
Look at this ash. Look at this fire. Can you say that something isn’t being born?
errare humanum est perseverare diabolicum
FROM THIS 61st TURN: RUN QUICKLY OR BE CONSUMED
WEEK: 48; WORDS: 55,396
NEXT BY 24 MAY 2006