Apryl, a new patient, was the young wife of Carl's attorney friend, Michael: a professional courtesy, money never changed hands at this level. They had the same dentist, as well, and formed a sort of Super Friends group of white collar grads.
Carl thought it a bit unfair, as he rarely needed the lawyer nor the dentist, but they always seemed to need the psychology services he offered. For someone who had graduated at the top of his class, he was definitely getting the short end of the stick, but was it particularly enlightened of him to resent it? He’d have to discuss that with his own shrink, who certainly did NOT work for free.
Carl appraised Apryl as she walked in: seemingly the typical trophy wife, younger than Michael by probably a quarter century, svelte but with nice curves – a redhead, this time – lovely face… like a China doll, Michael had gushed at their last session, and he was right.
After introductions, she launched right into it. Ah, a take-charge girl; he had known Michael for three decades, and he knew that the egomaniacal façade Michael put up belied an extreme lack of self confidence. A headstrong woman who picked up on that and looked like Apryl could rule his world entirely.
As she talked, he could tell it was going to be “one of those,” for the most part: nothing wrong, just someone slightly neurotic enough to think that they should see a psychologist. Part of it could be Michael’s influence, as he was big on therapy and thought that everyone should be in it.
However, there was something vaguely off that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Her responses and inquiries were, to a one, unexpected in a way that he hadn’t previously encountered in decades of practice.
For example, by the time they were finally chatting along well into their third session, it was time for him as always to announce the close at the 50-minute mark. They had been discussing her father, whom she was hesitant to share information and feelings regarding. She knocked over her bag and was hurriedly cramming an odd assortment if items back into it while proclaiming that Yes, yes, not an issue, time is a scalar quantity, after all. (She was an engineering student, so he had to revise his initial “trophy wife” assumption early-on.) A well-read man, Carl still had to look up what that meant, after she left. Who talks like that?
At another session, she went on at great length about her distaff's gift of prophecy. She related several stories about her mother’s mother, and her own mother, and their intuitions which were firmly rooted in reality. Musings which became true, dreams which were borne out. “But it was so watered down by the time it got to me, that the only thing I can do is predict what is coming next on HBO if we’ve lost the TV Guide,” she laughed, completely disinterested in pursuing nor honing those valuable skills freely available to her.
Warped. Funny, but a little warped. Genuine, but in a cracked sort of way that probably made people stand off a bit for most of her life.
Carl was beginning to suspect that there was something undiagnosed, here, after all. For hours in the evenings, he poured over the DSM, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. He went through the entire Informant Form, nothing; it was practically impossible to fill out, because he couldn’t tell how she felt and reacted to many things. You felt like you knew her, until you really tried to pin down anything you knew about her, and then it was impossible.
He suspected she would make a very, very good confidence trickster.
The more time went on, the more they opened up to one another – or, at least so it seemed to Carl, though what he began to realize over time was that she was actually learning more about him, somehow. He had a whirligig which he toyed with at sessions, a smoking cessation device which he was implementing in an effort to get rid of the nasty habit. They spent nearly an entire session discussing how he had started smoking, the friends he had at that time, what had kept him doing it so long, what factors in his life were urging him to quit (he had to admit, it was his wife who wanted it; Carl, himself, was perfectly happy continuing to smoke)… when the time was up, Carl couldn’t believe how quickly it had flown, and without a word about her. Tricky.
The next time, he was determined not to get derailed. On the one hand, they were supposed to be diagnosing (fixing? maybe) whatever was wrong with her. On the other hand, he couldn’t stop giving free hours away until that was accomplished, so they needed to make headway in that regard or they would be at this forever.
"Why do you think are you here? What would you like me to help you with?"
I don’t know. I grind my teeth, and I get migraines all the time. A lot of things don't seem to make sense, but I can't explain it. It's frustrating.
"So do you think you are depressed? Stressed out?"
No, not really. I feel great emotionally, but something must be wrong, and -- medically -- the doctor says I’m fine.
"Can you think of anything – at all – from your past which might be relevant? Head injury? Trauma? Something which could have led to some issues which you might be repressing?"
No, nothing at all.
"Well, why don’t you just start anywhere in your life, right now, and tell me the first thing that comes to mind."
Carl wanted to throw his hands up. She really did seem fine, from his numerous appointments with her, just … off. He suppressed a chuckle: not “off” like a diagnosis, but rather “off” like she was not entirely synched up with the rest of the world.
Apryl started in, telling him about her first best friend, Heather, and how she was nearly drowned in a pool by Heather’s brother, little John, and how they picked thistles in a field for 5c apiece for Heather’s dad one summer so that the cows wouldn’t eat them and spoil the milk, and how they were in Girl Scouts together with a girl who wore socks with different colored toes and got mad when they called her Toesies, and how they came across Polaroids of Heather’s mom naked that her dad had apparently taken, and how Heather’s mom would feed the baby right there in front of everyone with her boob hanging right out (and how they had kids seemingly every single year), and how …
Carl noticed it was past the 50-minute-mark, and interrupted to say it was time they wrapped up.
… she hadn’t seen Heather in probably 20 years, since she (Apryl) had moved to Memphis and Heather’s then-husband had conspired with her to bring Heather up on a surprise visit, but she really didn’t know why they had lost touch, because they had always been so close, except that was before the days of email, so part of it may have been that, and …
"If you could spend 5 minutes with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?"
And there it was. Carl laughed out loud, to a very confused-looking Apryl’s surprise. He had finally discovered an actual Definition C, which he had theorized existed for his entire professional life.
There are generally sets of responses to questions, which are fewer in number than people surmise. There’s the way that probably two-thirds of people would respond… those people are Definition A, in Carl’s book. For example, with this particular question, they might say "Jesus" or "Winston Churchill." Simple, forthright, fairly common and understanding of social norms.
Definition B, making up probably another 25 percent of the population, might be called the “qualifiers,” who would answer by telling you who, then why, then how it applies to them. Also perhaps what they'd ask and what would be an acceptable answer. Their response to the question is more thorough, but not outside of the norm regarding the subject. Just more personalized information than social norms require. Unsurprisingly, a lot of narcissists come from this segment.
The very small remaining percentage, the Definition C people, go beyond the obvious: their brains interpret the query in an unusual way (though it happens instantaneously, not intentionally), and then you get responses such as Apryl's. For other inquiries, you might get unintended utilization of a passive task, or unusual and unexpected interaction with a static object or subject.
While his initial question was intended as a psychologist's tool to break the momentum when a patient can’t seem to stop spiraling down into a narrative, her response had actually told him everything he needed to know for that which he had been searching.
A real Definition C. Incredible. He was going to write a book, some day.