You have heard the expression “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” It is the notion that by looking deep into a person's eyes, you can peer into the core of their being, exposing all of their hopes and fears. But what if there were an actual window to the soul? The eyes can only tell us so much about a person, but what if there were a real, true window that could transport the outside viewer straight into another person's being? Surely such a magical window could not exist. Unless you are a certain therapist...
Dr. Dien Kemper happened to be that certain therapist. Don't ask her where she got her priceless piece of furniture as she will change her story of its origins every time to keep the mystery established. She doesn't use it all the time in her therapy sessions, only in extreme cases. This leads to even more discrepancy about its existence. Since only a select few patients are ever exposed to it, when they try to recount their encounters to others, they are often disregarded and ignored, or labeled loony and in need of another therapist.
Today, however, was one of those special days with a special patient. Dr Kemper had been meeting with her patient, Billy Winestein, for a few months now and was getting nowhere with him. He was one who had great difficulty explaining his thoughts and feelings, constantly feeling frustrated at his loss of words which only made his anxiety that much worse. It was during his 21st session that Dr Kemper felt it was time to take drastic measures to get to the root of his issues.
“Billy, can you think of a moment when your anxiety was so bad, your body decided to shut down?” Dr Dien prompted.
Billy shifted in his seat. “There are so many of those moments. I can't think of just one.”
“Can you try and remember what would have been the first time? The first time it was so bad you shut down and were immobilized.”
“I can try,” Billy took a deep breath and clenched his eyes shut, trying to focus. “It was...It was when I was really little, I think. And I, I got lost. And I couldn't find my parents and I was s-scared.” Closed eyes tried to close even more as Billy started to twitch.
“Great, great, Billy. Wonderful start. Ok, do you remember how old you were? Or where you were when you got lost? What were you doing there?”
Billy twitched harder. “I...I think I was 7...no, 8...and in New York, I think....it was so crowded, so many people...I don't remember why we were there...I don't know where my parents are...There are so many people, shoving me...Where is my mom?!” Shaking violently now, Billy started crying.
“Ok, Billy, that's enough now. That's enough. Come on back to me. You're fine. You're right here with me,” Dr Dien tried to comfort him and calm him down.
He did calm down slowly and reopened his eyes, tears spilling out as he did. “I'm sorry, Dr Kemper. I just can't do it. I can't remember things well. When I try to, I instantly lose it. I'm hopeless,” Billy buried his head in his hands.
“You're not hopeless, Billy. I've had patients like you before and there is a way for me to be able to see what the core problem is in your past without you needing to explain it to me.”
Billy looked up with the expected skeptical face that Dr Kemper had seen several times. “How? What way?”
Dien stood up from her chair and walked over to the nearby closet in her office that Billy, like everyone else who had been in her office, had thought simply contained extra chairs or cleaning supplies, maybe more notepads to write down the numerous psychological symptoms her patients had shown. She began to explain as she opened the closet. “I have a peculiar piece of equipment that I seldom use, but I bring it out for my special patients. It may look ordinary, but believe me, it is anything but ordinary.” She rolled out her extraordinary window, with its frame fastened into a wooden box held up by planks, at the end of which were wheels for easier movement. Besides its slightly odd setup and not being attached to a wall or door, it looked like a perfectly regular window.
As Dr Kemper wheeled the window toward Billy, he stared in complete confusion. “Your equipment...is a window on wheels? How does this help figure out what's wrong with me?”
“As I said, this is no ordinary window. You know the phrase, 'The eyes are the windows to the soul'? Well, this is an actual window to your soul. You sit on one side of the window and I on the other. I look through the window into your eyes and I will be able to see into your soul. All you have to do is think of that moment, the moment when you were young and lost, that first moment of true crippling anxiety. Just think of it for a second as I look into your eyes and I will then be able to see what's in your mind, your memories, and experience them as if I were you. I will live that moment in your body, your mind, seeing and hearing and experiencing everything as you. I'll get all the answers that I need to help you understand what you're feeling, but you won't have to relive any of it yourself. I know it sounds a little crazy, but it's worked for many others before you. So, what do you say? Will you give it a shot?”
Sighing, Billy resigned to the idea. “I would say it sounds crazy, but that's what people usually say about me. It only seems fitting that I try it at least. It won't hurt, right?”
“Trust me, you won't feel a thing.” The doctor wheeled the window in front of Billy and pulled her chair up directly in front of him on the other side of the window and sat down. “Alright, Billy. Now, just for a second, fix your eyes on mine and concentrate on that moment in New York.”
He took a deep breath and, remembering the scarring moment of his childhood, Billy looked through the window and into the doctor's eyes. And then, nothing. At least on Billy's end.
On Dien's end, however, the adventure was just beginning.
Physically, Dien stayed where she was, sitting in her armchair opposite Billy in her office. Mentally, though, she was transported through space and time in Billy's memory to approximately twenty years ago in the heart of NYC, Times Square. She had entered his mind, now seeing life swarm about through the eye's of an eight-year-old boy, lost and confused as people twice his size shoved past him from all sides. No wonder twenty years later, Billy was a nervous wreck thinking about that moment. Dien, through young Billy's eyes, watched the crowd flow around him as he refused to move out of the street. His eyes darted around from person to person as he looked for his mom and dad. His mouth opened, trying to call out to them, but his voice sounded like a whisper as it was drowned out by the screams of the city. His mind was racing trying to figure out how to get out of this mess without being run over. He looked down at his small feet and picked up one foot to move forward, even just an inch. His legs weighed down like lead. But he needed to move. No good would come from standing here and getting run over. He used all his strength to move his heavy legs and squeeze through the oncoming traffic of people who clearly paid very little care for the lost child.
Dien, in the mind of young Billy, could see he was slowly moving forward through the crowd yet felt as if he were floating like a ghost. He had no mental connectivity to his actions, walking and scanning the billboards and flashing lights but not really reading them. He was surrounded by a cacophony of sounds but without really listening to any of them. It was as if his body was a robot, moving as it was programmed to do but with no thought of its actions. He was registering nothing around him, feeling no emotions. It was if his mind had shut itself off in self-preservation. His brain was over-stimulated in every way possible.
Young Billy made his way through the sea of pedestrians and into a thin alley between the skyscrapers. He had always thought going into the alleys was a terrible idea because in the movies, that always seemed to be the place that people were murdered. But right now he wasn't afraid of that. He wasn't afraid of anything. He just wanted to sit down. So he did, sliding down with his back against the wall and bum on the cold, damp concrete. He stared at his dirty blue tennis shoes, wondering how his feet had managed to take him to a place he had no knowledge of getting to. Not knowing where else he could go and what else to do, Billy just sat there, mind blanking on how he should be reacting to the situation.
After about forty minutes of waiting for the unknown, Billy's parents, accompanied by a police officer, found him sitting in the alley. They had been looking everywhere they could for him, calling out his name, absolutely frantic.
“Didn't you hear us calling for you? Where were you? Why are you just sitting here? You should have found a police officer!” his mom rambled on, switching at rapid pace between hugging him tightly and scolding him.
Billy remained emotionless. “I didn't hear you. I tried to find you but I couldn't. I couldn't see any police officers. There's too many people everywhere.”
“Why are you so calm about this? You could have been kidnapped, or killed!” His mom was gripping his shoulders and shaking him at this point. “You need to use your head, boy! You can't just wander around aimlessly or sit around like you don't care. We've talked about what you do if you ever get lost. You go find a police man. Find a familiar area where we can locate you easily. But instead you just sat down in an alley!”
Dien saw through Billy's eyes the concrete beneath his feet as he avoided eye contact with his mother. He knew he was in big trouble, but frankly he didn't quite know why. “I'm sorry. I just didn't want to worry too much....”
“You should have been worried, Billy! You should have worried a lot!”
Billy continued to stare at the ground as his eyes swelled with tears. Dien could no longer see the boy's shoes through the blurry water. “I'm sorry, mom.” He closed his eyes and suddenly Dien's mind was transported back into her own body sitting in her office.
Present-day Billy opened his eyes from the other side of the window. “Did it work? What did you see?”
Dien moved the window out of the way to meet his eyes again. “I saw everything from that day, through your eyes. I felt everything you felt, or didn't feel. I felt your mother hugging you and heard her scold you. I felt your eyes feel with tears although you weren't sure why you were in trouble.”
“How is that possible?”
“Like I said, this window is unlike any other. And now I understand why your anxiety is so bad.”
Billy gripped the arms of his chair and slid to the very front of his seat. “You do?”
Dr Kemper crossed her legs and set her legal pad on her lap. “I believe it's your mother.”
Billy shifted back in his chair with a surprised look on his face. “My mother? My mother is almost never around, certainly not when I typically have these anxiety attacks.”
“No, but she was there when you were young, when you first started having these attacks. You see, your anxiety attacks aren't an abnormal response. People respond to stress in different ways. Your body is trying to not become overwhelmed by the onslaught of external stimuli. That's why your body shuts down, to preserve itself. It's a survival mechanism, something your body has trained itself to do. The problem is that when your body reacted in a natural way of defense when you were young, your mother scolded you. She made you feel that your body's response was wrong, that you had done something wrong. Now every time your body has that reaction trying to preserve itself, your mind remembers your mother's response, that you're doing something wrong, that it's your fault your body is reacting this way, that you should be able to control it. But you can't control it sometimes, and that's ok. You shouldn't feel guilty about trying to survive. Your mother shouldn't have tried to make you feel guilty then, and she shouldn't make you feel guilty now.”
Present-day Billy's eyes swelled with tears. “Is that why I always feel bad when my mother is around?”
“If she often made you feel like what you did was wrong when you were growing up, even when you were trying to do what you thought was right, there's a pretty significant chance that would be it. But I can't tell you that for sure without knowing if that was a pattern or a one-time occurrence.”
Billy glanced at the window off to the side. “Can you use that again? Use the window to look at other instances from my childhood? See if it was a pattern?”
Dr Kemper looked down at her notes and pondered the notion. “We could try. If that's what you want.”
“I want to get well, Doctor. And if having you inside my memories can help me get well, then that's what I want to do.”
“Alright then.” The therapist wheeled the window back in between them. “Take me back to Times Square then.”