Couch

Roger Hannigan Gilson was born in Baltimore, but grew up in Connecticut. He is a humor columnist for Brokeassstuart.com,           and the majority of his writings can be found at Threadbaretravels.com.

 

Couch
For Dr. Karashik
~
Patient Rob stared out from underneath the gelled spikes of his short haircut with dark-rabbit eyes as the first thirty seconds ticked off the clock.
“…so I get to the club, y’know, and there’s this new bouncer there, some skinny prick…don’t even know why they hired him, couldn’t bounce shit.”
Therapist Chodoff slowly uncrossed and recrossed his legs while snuggling back deeper into his plush, leather chair. “This is the club you usually go dancing at? The Waterfall?”
“I mean, I go to a lot of clubs, like, all up and down the strip, but, yeah, me and my boys were goin there first…so the skinny bouncer doesn’t recognize me, so he ID’s me. He gets my ID, puts it under his faggy little blue flashlight to see if it’s legit. Then the fuckin guy looks at my birthday, and y’know, I just turned…turned 35 last week.”
“Happy Birthday.”
Patient Rob shot him an irritated look from under his waxed eyebrows. “Yeah, thanks bro…and this fuckin faggot just goes, ‘Oh, you just turned 35? I don’t even know why I checked it, you LOOK older.'” Patient Rob threw his hands outwards with palms up—‘what the fuck’—while staring at Therapist Chodoff with an incredulous look in his eyes, waiting for a response.
Therapist Chodoff recrossed his legs and settled farther back into his chair. “You know, there’s nothing wrong with growing older. It’s just a natural, necessary process. I’m turning 55 in a month, which is a lot older than you. I just choose to embrace it as the next stage of life.'”
“You ain’t at the clubs though, bro. I’m tryin to get with those UMASS girls, and they don’t wanna get with no dude my age. I mean, I just feel, like, old”
Patient Rob let his gaze fall downward with a rare look of naked distress on his face.
“Maybe the club’s not the best place for you to go anyway. You almost got arrested there a month ago, didn’t you?”
“I mean, not almost…I just told the bouncer that it was some X, like, just for…for personal use…and he was chill about it.”
“But that could have gone very wrong, couldn’t it have?”
Patient Rob shrugged—whatever.
“Did you have any Roofies on you last night?”
Patient Rob smirked, the middle schooler that had been found making out with an older girl behind the bleachers by the puritanical principal. “Yeah, y’know, just a half pill like I usually slip em…nuttin crazy, just a little sumpthin’ to loosen em up.”
Therapist Chodoff limited himself to a sigh. “We talked about this, Rob. If you keep doing this, you’re gonna go to jail.”
“It ain’t like they PASSED OUT or anything.” Rob threw his hands outwards and looked to the heavens as if he was asking God to spare him from these retards. “I ain’t no rapist, don’t need to be. They want me anyway, I mean, obviously, the roofie’s just there to hurry shit up a little…y’know I’m on a schedule. They wake up in my bed after a night of good, hard fucking an’ just think they drank a little too much.”
“Rob, you can only do this for so long without being caught…or worse. Didn’t you roofie a married women once?”
“That slut wanted it. She was eye-fucking me the whole night, so I just bought her a drink when hubby left…I mean, she wanted it bad man—she accepted the drink.”
“Don’t you think if the husband found out about everything that happened, the least of your problems would be him going to the police? He would want to hurt you.”
“That skinny faggot? I’d like to see him try. Maybe if his wife wasn’t such a skank this wouldn’t’ve happened.” Patient Rob shot Therapist Chodoff a tense look from under his brow and leaned uncomfortably close to the doctor’s center, until his opaque, dark-rabbit eyes were even with the older mans’. “You ain’t gonna say anything to the cops, are you? It would be fuckin stupid. I ain’ doin anything wrong, anyways.”
Therapist Chodoff leaned farther back, drawing his center away. “You know I can’t ethically reveal anything that goes on in our sessions to anyone, including the police, unless I have foreknowledge of a crime that is going to be committed.”
Patient Rob gave Therapist Chodoff a broad smirk. “Yeah, I gotcha…I mean, ain’ no crime… but I see what you tellin me. Ain’t nothin gonna happen unless I tell you beforehand…I got it.”
~
Therapist Chodoff shut the door behind Patient Rob with a world-weary sigh. He didn’t know why he gave Patient Rob that loophole; the man was a serial date-rapist…a rapist (remember your victimization training), one of the many patients he inwardly despised. Even the more innocent ones (as if anyone was innocent after they spilled to you) were starting to make his stomach roil sour; it was hard to take anymore. A couple months ago, a woman had come in for an initial consultation, obviously distressed. She told him how she had woken up in a stranger’s bed the morning before, unable to remember how she got there. She started weeping, telling him that she must’ve drank too much again, that was a bad person, a slut, a cheater…it tore her to ribbons that she had cuckolded her husband, who she loved. The married women had just been mentioned. The stranger next to her had been Patient Rob.
Therapist Chodoff had been at it for 30 years, slowly sinking into his chair as he absorbed all the shit that humanity could throw at him. He was a magnet for anti-matter, sucking up the darkness and evil that his patients vomited into his beige-walled office for $150 an hour. He felt he was underpaid. No matter how far he pushed himself into the comfort of his chair, the frightened dark places, the thin-whispered secrets of humanity being raped and abused, the almost visible vapor of distress and madness, managed to find him. He just couldn’t let it all the way in. That was the contradiction of his profession, the real crux: people told them their lowest secrets, things they wouldn’t tell their wives, their priests, the police…but he heard it all. He heard it all, but could not bend to their pleas, could not get involved. He was closer to the patient then anyone ever would be. Until the clock ran out.
It was 2:45. A therapist’s hour was never more than 45 minutes. It was ostensibly to prepare paperwork for the next patient, but many psychologists, Therapist Chodoff included, used it to decompress and detach, to purge the last patient’s distress from his system so he could soak up the next one’s. He slowly rose from his leather chair, his back, destroyed from years of stressed sitting, cracking audibly. He let his eyes fall on his degrees—Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate—and remembered being in a classroom, excited about learning the theories, scribbling notes with bright eyes, thinking about all the people he could help. It was a bright point in a rather dark life, the pinnacle, he had come to realize, a clear acme between the confused guilt of his abused childhood and the flat depression of his later life.
Most therapists get into their field because they know on a personal level how much people need help.
His mentor at grad school had been the great Thomas Sza, the libertarian, anti-psychiatry head of SUNY Albany’s Psychology program. He was the statue of a scholar that Therapist Chodoff looked up to most when he still looked up to people.
Dr. Sza had warned him. Dr. Sza had warned him, but he hadn’t listened. He remembered, as he was about to graduate with his Masters, being called into Dr. Sza’s Spartan, dimly-lit office, feeling honored and curious as to the purpose of the request. Once they had warmly shaken hands, Sza had sat down, and started toying with a Rubik’s cube, as he did when he was thinking about something important. He began:
“You are one of the most promising students I’ve had in years; you have a gift for analytical though, which is good, and empathy, which is not so good.”
Chodoff was confused. “What’s wrong with empathy? Shouldn’t you be able to empathize with your patients, to know what’s going in their heads on a personal level?”
“So it’s true…” Dr. Sza raised his bushy eyebrows. “You want to become a psychotherapist?”
“That’s the plan.”
Dr. Sza stopped tinkering with the Rubik’s cube for a moment and shot his intense eyes as Chodoff. “Why don’t you teach, or get involved in research? You certainly have the mental capacities and the credentials. Work at a university, hm? I could help you get something here if you wanted?”
The younger Chodoff took this as a challenge. “I’ve always wanted to be a psychotherapist. Y’know, to help people.”
Dr. Sza smiled slightly and went back to playing with the cube. “People know what they want…they can help themselves if they have the information to do so. Therapists are simply guides, Sherpas that take people through the hidden jungles of the mind.”
“I’m aware that I’m going to hear a lot of personal things that…”
Dr. Sza cut him off. “Society…society is based on social repercussions. People don’t reveal their true self because they are afraid of the repercussions of revealing what is anti-social within them. But once they get on that couch, society stops, and there are no repercussions. What they say on that couch will never be revealed, will never get back to anyone that matters. And that’s the point. But that’s what you have to deal with, day in and day out, for the rest of your life: the howling, bloody core of damaged humanity, revealed for only you to see.”
Chodoff actually considered for a moment—he never questioned Sza’s opinions. “But this is what I want to do, what I wanted to do since high school. To help people. And don’t you believe in people making their own decisions?”
“Ah…it is only a piece of friendly advice. I also think that the first thing one must do is help themselves, and I don’t believe being an emotional dumpster will do that for you. It is a hard life.”
The Chodoff of 30 years ago smiled at Dr. Sza with bravado. “I think I’m up for a challenge.”
~
Therapist Chodoff reflected on this as he reached into his mahogany desk for his third Xanax of the day. It was easy enough to get them in quantity when you were the one with the prescription pad. He poured himself a tall, cool glass of lime-water, then popped the pill to the back of his mouth, washing it down with the tart liquid. It was 2:55 at this point, and he was sure that his next patient was sitting in the waiting room, trying not to meet eyes with other patients…the last threshold of society before the couch. Ciaran was usually apologetically tardy for his appointments, but he had called this morning, obviously distressed, and asked for an emergency session. Therapist Chodoff tried not to wonder about his patient’s needs before they entered; it fell outside the therapist’s hour. Anyway, it was hard to predict, and it was bad to have preconceptions in these situations. Ciaran had never asked for an emergency session before, though. Perhaps a problem with his girlfriend? They had been having troubles after their year and a half together.
2:58. He hoped the Xanax would kick in soon. Ciaran was one of the few patients Therapist Chodoff liked (don’t play favorites, they are all in need of help) and Ciaran’s young-minded, ebullient, neurotically intellectual rants, accented by a slight Celtic lilt from his origins in County Cork, were always a joy to listen to (No. Not a joy. Don’t get involved).
He could instantly see that this would not be a fun session when he opened the door to the waiting room. Ciaran’s eyes were red, and the Jameson wafted off his mouth like an introduction. Had he driven here?
“Hullo, Ciaran. Come on down.”
Ciaran sniffed without raising his eyes, then ripped himself out of the chair and strode quickly into the office.
Then Ciaran was on the couch. He was silent, and still hadn’t met Therapist Chodoff’s eyes.
“What’s going on, Ciaran? You seem distressed.” Sometimes you had to dig a little.
Ciaran looked up then, his eyes shining with the pain of love.
“It’s Natalie. She….” He trailed off, his eyes again dropping. “I…” He rubbed his eyes fiercely and pushed back his long, dark hair. “I didn’t see Natalie three nights ago…she was going to this party at her friend Damian’s house, and I couldn’t go, cause I had my internship early the next day. So I didn’t see her until late the next day. An’, y’know, I had been really busy and hadn’t slept with her for like a week, so when I went over to her apartment the next day, yesterday, we started fooling around in her bed. Her roommates were gone, so, y’know, we could be loud…” Ciaran inhaled with a shudder. “So…I start to go down on her, and I notice…notice these bruises between her legs. And it wasn’t from me. We hadn’t had sex in a week…week and a half, and I’m never that rough anyway. She’s delicate, you know?”
Therapist Chodoff felt he stomach flip. C’mon, Xanax.
He already knew too much.
“An’…fuck, I’m such a fukin asshole…I get angry and demand to know WHY there’s bruises down there. And she gives me this look…this, jus’ this ‘why’ look…Jesus…and she starts crying, and tells me that some guy…some black guy with dreads at the party who she’d never seen before…pushed her into a bedroom when she was drunk…he fukin raped her.”
Ciaran was nearly hysterical, his voice straining like it was about to rip. He rubbed his forehead like his wanted to press his fingers through his skull. “I can’t believe I thought she would’ve done that to me…No, no…” Ciaran reared back and violently smacked himself across the face, jerking his head around. “I…I can’t…that’s not the point…it’s not about me or fukin feeling guilty. It’s about her. My poor fukin boo…Natalie…and that guy. He’s fukin dead.”
Therapist Chodoff could feel the Xanax kicking in, thank god. His mind floated back to a session earlier today. It was relevant. The session was with Natalie.
~
Neither Natalie nor Ciaran knew that they saw the same therapist. That’s how it was supposed to be, nothing revealed. Ciaran was just neurotic and emotional; Natalie had deeper problems. Therapist Chodoff had diagnosed her as manic-depressive with a touch of Histrionic Personality Disorder, one of the more annoying personality-based maladies. It had taken him a full year to get past the bullshit that she threw at him to her real problems. There were always real problems.
Two days ago, she had walked into the office with a strange, demure smile on her face, eyes cast down like a nun’s. Even as a psychologist, Therapist Chodoff had a hard time interpreting Natalie’s affect—she was manipulative and intelligent, and the defensive layers she threw up were hard to sort through. He knew something was up, though.
“What’s going on, Natalie?” It was his standard ice-breaker to the depths.
She straightened her posture, automatically pressing her young breasts out while tucking her dark hair behind her small, elfin ears. “So…” she exhaled through her nose with a short huff, her eyes still cast downwards, the strange, slight smile still on her lips.”I went to this party last night…it was at my ex-boyfriend Damian’s house. Ciaran was supposed to go, but, you know, the internship…he barely sees me anymore. So I go to the party, and there’s Jello shots, which I love…so I’m facing them all night.”
Therapist Chodoff still didn’t know where this was going. Natalie’s face floated with masks that withheld whatever she was hiding underneath.
“And I’m chatting with this guy Jean-Claude…this big, black guy with dreads that was randomly at the party, and everything’s cool. But I keep taking the Jello shots, and soon I’m really drunk. And, y’know…you know how I am when I’m drunk…and I see Damian chatting up this little biddy, and I get weirdly jealous, even though we broke up almost two years ago. And Damian looks so fuckin HOT…” She sighed sentimentally at the memory. “…he’s wearing this tight t-shirt and you can practically see his giant cock straining through his jeans. And I’m drunk, and I guess I don’t really give a shit about Ciaran when I’m drunk…I kind of intercept Damian from the biddy, and we start flirting, y’know, touching each other and laughing, and I can’t stop thinking about what a fun lay he was…next thing I know, we’re fucking in his bedroom. He did me brutal.”
Natalie looked directly at Therapist Chodoff as she murmured the last line, her gold-flecked eyes deep pools with sparkling surfaces and murky depths. She broke his gaze after a moment and pretended to study the wall to her left as if she was afraid Therapist Chodoff was going to yell at her. “I’m not proud of what I did.” Therapist Chodoff wondered if she was telling the truth. He wondered if she even knew.
“This isn’t the first time you slept with someone else while with Ciaran, is it?” (Don’t say cheated. Too judgmental.)
“No, it’s the second time I did with Damian. The fourth…or fifth…fifth time overall. You know how I get when I’m drunk.”
“Are you going to tell Ciaran?”
She laughed then, smiling, showing her teeth.” No…no, definitely not. I mean, he’s not going to find out, just like he didn’t find out the other five times…no, six. It was definitely six. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him, right? It would just be hurting him to purge my own guilt, right?”
Therapist Chodoff shrugged.
“I’m still fond of Ciaran, you know. He’s a good guy, I like him. I’m not in love with him anymore…that ended a while ago.” She almost looked sad for a moment. “Maybe he doesn’t love me anymore either?”
~
As Therapist Chodoff sat like a painting in front of the weeping Ciaran, he knew the answer to that question.
“Where’s Natalie now?”
“She’s at her friend’s apartment…she was crying the whole fukin night, she’s so broke up. I should probably be with her right now…I don’t know what I’m doing…I just needed to talk to someone that was outside the situation.”
The truth couldn’t be farther away. Therapist Chodoff could feel himself sliding inexorably in. He had to stay out of it, had to stay detached, even though the truth burned into him like a flaming spear. He felt the old guilt tighten in his lungs until his breath was soft and shallow.
“Have you thought about going to the police?”
“Yeah, but Natalie doesn’t want to. She says it would be too much for her to handle, having to go to the hospital to get a rape test… a fukin rape test…!” He threw his hands up in disbelief. “…not that she really needed it. I mean, I saw those fukin, those fukin bruises that pervert left all over my boo. The guy had been brutal.”
The flaming spear burned a little hotter, the mass of the wound spreading, his lungs taught as weather balloons. He hoped he wasn’t revealing anything, even as the pain of guilt tried to enter his numbed brain. He wished he had taken a fourth Xanax.
“I dunno. I wanna find that guy.” Ciaran turned his head to the sky with a sick-puppy smile. “I wanna fukin hold a butcher knife to his fukin throat and make him kneel in front of Natalie and kiss the ground in front of her before I slit his jugular.”
The burn started to melt the numbness of Therapist Chodoff’s brain and it took every last bit of the old man’s threadbare strength to push it back. Remember the code of ethics. Remember the nature of your profession.
“Do you know who the guy was?”
“No…Natalie never caught his name, and he had just randomly come to the party. I think he was from out of town. I already asked a couple people, and no one knew who he was.”
Therapist Chodoff inwardly sighed with relief. At least there would be no repercussions, no murders. But this thought sent a reverberating pang of guilt through his brain, shattering the numbness—the guilt he had dealt with his whole life, which he himself had gone through years of therapy and mountains of Xanax to blot out. But maybe guilt was good sometimes. Maybe sometimes you had to throw out the tomes of your profession. He looked up at his three degrees with regret, the papers that trapped him, sealing him away from the people that poured their hearts to him. He glanced at the drawer that held the numbing pills, then back at the degrees, then back to Ciaran. He made a decision.
“Ciaran, I’m about to do something that I’ve never done before, that the ethics of my profession forbid. The very profession forbids it, but I feel you need to know it.”
~
John Chodoff locked the exterior door to his office as the light faded around him, the end of the 45-minute hours of the day. He held in his satchel the bottle of Xanax and the three degrees. There was a dumpster on the way to his Lexus, and he gathered the items as he approached it. With the smirk of the damned, the 54-year old man tossed them into the dumpster with a crash, then continued on into the night.

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