“Sometimes I think I’m a sociopath. Like, last week, alright? I'm in a meeting with Richard—my boss—, Ethan—my crush—, and Sally—my archenemy—about the budget for our newest project. I came up with the idea to create a long, adhesive light that you can attach to the ceiling of a car and remotely light up so you can see if a murderer, or whatever, is lurking in the backseat, waiting to kill you when you’re alone at night.
“Anyway, this company, SafeTech, that primarily sells devices to keep women safe loved it, because I’m a genius or whatever. They hired us to develop the idea into a finished product since I never went past the prototype when I was fooling around with the concept in my spare time.
“But there was a problem when it came to mass producing—the materials I used were too expensive. Since Sally was in charge of the budget, she called this meeting just to chew my ear off about it. That’s why we’re archenemies. Though, it’s not exclusive. Everyone else at work hates her too.
“During the meeting, she kept going on and on, and my eyes drifted across the table, looking for anything more entertaining than her nagging. It’s so annoying. She thinks she knows so much, but I’m the one who created the idea. As she talked, I zoned out and fixated on my pencils—all sharpened to the absolute tip so my words come off crisp and clean, because if people misread my handwriting, you never know what chaos could erupt, haha. And the tips, they’re just so sharp... As I look at them, an image flashes into my mind. In it, I’m stabbing Sally in the end. There’s blood everywhere and I’m probably fired from, you know, vicious assault.
“I snap back to reality, but there’s this pit in my stomach. I don’t know where that image came from. I swear, I swear, I don’t actually want to hurt Sally—or anyone for that matter. A deep pit in my stomach, I shoved all my sharp pencils into my backpack. I use pens now. Pencils only remind me. I don’t want to be reminded.” I slouched back in the puffy, red couch, glancing at from the floor, to my therapist, to the ugly portrait in the back wall, then back to the floor. I’ve counted the tiles over a dozen times. The back row already has names. “Anyway, Doc, that’s why I think I’m a sociopath.”
She clicked her pen, three times. “Have you ever had any other thoughts of harming others that would make you think you’re a…” Dr. Marenie put down her pen to do finger quotes. “‘Sociopath’?”
“Ahhh?” I set my head back and stared at the ceiling. “Once, I was talking to my dad and just randomly envisioned myself strangling him with my bare hands until his face was purple. I keep my hands in my pockets when I’m around and try to avoid him, which sucks because I love ‘em. He’s my dad and he’s been a pretty good one—especially with the divorce.”
I jetted up. My fingers got finicky as I scoured the room. A lone, unwelcoming, chill ran across my back. It moved from side to side like a breeze. A cross breeze from a window…
The three walls in front of me were all solid. Before Dr. Marenie could ask or figure out what I was doing, I flipped over on my knees, facing the back wall and it’s line of windows. More specifically, its middle window that was opened halfway allowing a cool wind to come and go as it wished.
I started flicking my left hand, trying to get the new, nervous jitters out. If I don’t flick them, my hands shake too much when I’m anxious. It gets the bad energy out.
Swinging my legs over the couch, I landed next to the window. Screenless. Anything could get in without a screen. Bugs. Bees. Serial killers. God, we’re on the first floor. Any time they felt like it, a serial killer—probably with a gun—could just waltz by and kill me. Jesus.
Opening it fully, I shoved my head outside and did a quick perimeter check. Nothing but an empty street with my car parked on the other side. Good. I pulled my head back in and slammed the window shut, locking it. Then, I moved along to all the other windows, checking to make sure they’re locked as well
“Michael? What re you doing?”
“Just double checking that the windows are locked,” I said as I did. Then triple checked. Quadruple checked.
I swooshed the curtains closed. I didn’t want a serial killer to locate me in case I was his next target. Are there any local serial killers in Albany?
After the curtains were closed, I let out a long breath and hopped back over the couch. There, I’m safe. Time to check for local serial killers.
“Why did you do that? Quadruple check the windows?” She clicked her pen three times, which meant she was ready to write on her fancy pink clipboard again. About what, I don’t know. I was just doing what I always do.
“Because, I have to be sure that windows are locked so no serial killers can come and kill me.”
“Do you believe that a serial killer is going to kill you?”
I shifted in my seat. “It can definitely happen. I need to be prepared. I need to be ready.”
“Michael, how often do you quadruple check the windows.”
“Every time I get home. Plus, I turn on every light in my house to make sure no one snuck it while I was gone.”
“I bet your electricity bill must be pretty expensive,” the therapist said, trying to add a little humor to their session.
“I guess. It’s a good thing I’m an engineer then. I’m paid pretty well.”
“I suppose so. How often do you have thoughts of harming others?”
“Ahhhh… I’d say at least a couple times a week.”
“Okay. Have you ever acted upon these thoughts?”
“Have you ever wanted to act upon these thoughts?”
“Again, that’s a god no.”
She wrote something down. I lifted up my chin to try and get a glance. No such luck. Dr. Marenie flipped over her clipboard and leaned her elbows on the back side as she looked directly in my eyes. “Michael, do you know what intrusive thoughts are?”
I shook my head.
“Well, they’re normal. They are unwanted thoughts that randomly appear in our heads. They can be about harming others, unwanted sexual thoughts, worrying about harm coming to us… generally things that are socially unaccepted. Everyone gets these thoughts. However, people with anxiety—”
“I don’t have anxiety,” I said, as I bounced my leg up and down a thousand times a second. My mind thought back to every time I’ve ever double checked something and the dozens of extra reminders on my ‘just in case’. Okay, maybe I do have anxiety.
“Okay. As I was saying… People with anxiety tend to focus more on these thoughts and fixate on them. When they do, the thoughts stay longer and become stronger, often worsening.
My cheeks flared red as I remembered Sally’s bloody eye. Dr. Marenie clapped my hands to gather my attention once again. “What’s important to remember, Michael, is that these are just thoughts. Nothing more. The fact that you are vehemently against acting on them shows you who are. You are not a ‘sociopath’ for having these thoughts. These thoughts do not define you and they do not mean anything about your character, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, sheepishly
“I want you to repeat the last sentence I said.”
“These thoughts do not define me and they do not mean anything about my character.”
“Great job.” She glanced at her watch. “Unfortunately, we’re out of time. Let’s pick this up next session, alright?”
I stood. “Alright.”
Just before I left, Dr. Meranie said, “And Michael, next time you replay the memories of the intrusive thoughts or have more, please remember, that thoughts are all they are. They are not bad in and of themselves. In fact, these thoughts worrying you is what brought you to me, right?”
“And now that you’re here, I can help you work through this and become a better, more mentally healthy version of you. So in a way, the intrusive thought of you harming Sally is a good thing—so long as you never act on it, of course.” She gave me another smile and another humor attempt.
Flatly, I returned the smile. “I guess.”
“I’ll see you in a week, Michael. Best wishes.”
“Best wishes,” I echoed, staring up at the sky outside her office. The sun beamed down on me, warming my skin with a friendly glow. A good thing, huh?
The sun and those words brought a new life to my smile. It stretched from ear to ear, filling with a new sincerity.
That’s one way to think of that memory.