“Well, I subscribe to the Freudian school of thought.”
His thick, veiny hand creaked slowly open and I pulled back the solderin’ iron. He judged my work with eyes that I reckon were prob’ly normal-sized, but were so deep-set that they looked positively tiny, peerin’ out from that overhang forehead of his. That forehead absolutely burstin’ with knowledge.
“What this means,” he began, and I moved to the next connection, takin’ his silence as an affirmatory. “Is that our problems, in the end, stem from the impossible expectations thrust upon us by the society into which we are born.” I nodded, a little uncomfortable like, sneakin’ a glance at the clock. “You cannot help anyone... you will not help anyone… without addressing this fundamental concern.”
The way he talked was real slow and deliberate, like he was tryna keep the knowledge from breakin’ through the dam, if you see what I mean. Like he was tryin’ his darndest to keep the flow of wise words at a speed I could handle, without going completely loony from the truth he was revealin’ – not that it bothered me, mind you.
His far-away eyes squinted ever so slightly and I undid the new connection, starting it from scratch.
“When a client confesses to me that he is in love with his mother,” he continued, “what that client, what that man is truly saying… is that he fears society will believe that he is in love with his mother. Understand, it is only a matter of perception.” I nodded again without looking up and moved, a little bashful, to the next connection. “How, then, to treat such a man, to help such a man? Whose fundamental problem – whose only problem – is how he perceives the perception of himself in the eyes of the society in which he lives?” He paused for what dang well felt like an age and I just sat there, stared at a nice round glob of liquid metal dryin’, tryna get my head to think on his question but it do be like the old saying goes. He picked up after a bit:
“We cannot.” He sounded real full of regret now and my heart did break for the man, whatever he was going through. “As psychotherapists, we cannot change – we cannot even interrupt – that all-seeing, all-consuming, scornful, judgemental, destructive gaze which society places unerringly upon each of us the day we are brought into this cruel world. The simple fact is that there is nothing we can do to solve the fundamental problem of psychology.” He stared at the connection with me, watched the silver dry with calm, steady eyes. Silently approving, he took the finished device and held it in the palm of his hand.
He stared at the thing with the love I’ve only seen a father give his son, not a word of a lie – with a twinkle of somethin’ that just might have been hope gleaming from those hidden eyes of his.
“With this device, the problems that have dogged the minds of humanity since the dawn of civilization might finally be resolved.
“With this…” his eyes were full of tears. “With this… there is hope.”
For three solid minutes he said nothing more but stared at the thing. Stared from deep inside that head of his and I reckon forgot I was there. It seemed to impress him quite a lot, needless to say, so I stared at it too and looked a few times at the clock and went on my phone and saw that my mom had texted me asking when I’d be home and I’d told her that I’d be home soon. But other than that I stared with him. After three minutes he spoke again, at me but still looking at the device, and he asked:
“Do you have any more questions for me, my son?”
The way his voice sounded it really did seem like he was talking to his son and I guess that’s cause he was still looking at the device. I started to answer him but my voice was all scratchy from havin’ been silent so long so I cleared my throat and tried again:
“So you do offer college credit, sir?”
He turned to me and still had the look in his eye that was a little bit crazy, but happy, like he knew he was on the brink of something huge. He turned to me and stared for a while so I could really get a good look at that wild expression and in that same proud voice he declared:
Our first patient was a doozie. Right away he starts in about his wife, before the doctor can even explain what I’m doing there – suppose he didn’t notice me on my little stool in the corner, tryin’ my best to look “unassuming” like the doctor said.
Anyway I guess the poor guy’s wife was really on his case about his gettin’ a raise at work – never did catch what his job was – and it was really causin’ him some grief. It wasn’t like he didn’t want a raise, he said, and he really did sound beat up about it. It wasn’t that, it’s just that his boss was a real jerk and no matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t seem to get his attention. Well I felt sorry for the poor guy he was in such a state, and I know how tough it can be to raise yourself in this world when people get to lookin’ down on you. It made me appreciate the doctor all the more, giving me a chance like this, and I tried my best to focus on what the fella was on about so that I could come up with a diagnosis of my own. Well I found it pretty tough keeping track of it all, truth be told. The man really was flustered and jumped from this to that to that, and by the time he finally stopped for a breath the best I could come up with was that he was in love with his boss and afraid of turning into his wife. The doctor, though, he’s been listenin’ steady this whole time, focusin’ in that way he does like when he was watching me solder. He starts talkin’ all unassumin’ but you just know he’s gonna set things straight:
“Take your time, take a breath” he says and starts pouring the man a glass of water. I couldn’t shake the feeling he was talking to me too and took a beat to get my theory straight.
“Your problem, Steve, is not your wife.” He talked slowly and you really felt the power of it after listening to Steve for so long.
“Your problem is not your boss, and it is not your job.” Steve looked like he wanted to interrupt but checked the impulse and I knew he had some sense left after all.
“Your problem… is society. You are horribly, deathly afraid that if your marriage is not a success, if you don’t thrive in your job, stand up to your boss ‘like a man’, then society will reject you. It will deem you unworthy, it will reject you, and you will be left on your own in the cold, lonely darkness.” Well I decided then that I’d just keep my theory to myself after all, and Steve he started lookin’ pretty dejected but the doctor just kept right on talkin’ and I reckon it was for Steve’s own good too.
“You are afraid, Steve, that you are not good enough. And that the world around you is but a hair’s breadth from discovering that fact, and casting you into the abyss. This is the only thing preventing you from being satisfied with what you have, from being a deeply happy individual.” He paused and Steve was sorta sinking into the couch, staring into space all thoughtful and not a little scared.
“And the good news?” Steve looked up all hopeful like a puppy, and myself I was hanging on every word. “You’re not alone.” Well it was a queer sorta good news and it left you feeling kinda happy-sad, but the both of us kept to listenin’, seein’ the doctor weren’t finished.
“You’re not alone, Steve. This is a problem that has plagued humanity for millenia, and each one of us – your boss, your wife, even myself – we all experience it in varying degrees of severity. It is the simple, fundamental price of existing as a group, as a body politic: those of weak stock must be thinned from the herd if the herd is to survive, to thrive. What you are experiencing is a method of psychological torture honed and perfected over generations; a tool to make you writhe, to scream, to break... without ever touching you. It does not relent until you fall in line, until you feed the beast, furthering society’s expectations by conforming to them; until you ‘succeed’ and become a device for someone else’s torture. If you want to know how to solve your problem Steve, the answer has always been this: survive. Push through. Muddle your way through this miserable existence because eventually it might get better; and in the end, your suffering is the price that must be paid for a stronger mankind.”
Well the doctor took a long pause and I suppose I was lookin’ a lot like Steve in that moment, it all seemed so bleak. I wasn’t thinking about the doctor’s hopeful words just the day before; I’m not ashamed to admit that his speech got me good and I couldn’t see any hope for ol’ Steve.
“Of course…” and me and Steve alike our gazes snapped back up to the doctor. “In the modern day, there are… alternatives.”
He stood up then and started walkin’ all slow toward his desk, with his hands clasped behind his back and ponderin’.
“If you are willing, Steve, there is a cutting-edge form of treatment meant to deal with the exact maladies that ail you. It is somewhat… experimental, shall I say… but, based on our sessions together, I sincerely believe it would be an effective course for you.” He stopped in front of his desk with his back to Steve and myself, and the silence was thick after hearin’ all he’d said. I reckon Steve was as reticent as myself to speak again, to follow after the doctor, but to let his talk go unanswered seemed just as untenable.
Well Steve he finally broke through after what felt like an age and I was mighty glad for it. He sounded a bit befuddled to be sure, like he hadn’t expected to be offered an actual solution to his problems. He was talkin’ all careful, like he didn’t wanna offend the doctor, and of course he would trust the doctor’s judgment, but wanted to know exactly what this new treatment would entail. I understood why he’d ask as I was awful curious myself, and yet I couldn’t help being mad at him for it, like of course you should trust the doctor’s judgment and don’t you insult him. Damn fine thing the mind, can’t seem to hold up to its own sorta standards, find fault in just about anything.
Anyway the doctor explains how the whole thing is completely non-invasive and don’t involve any kinda surgery or the like. Then he picks up the device and gets that kinda proud look in his eye again like he knows he’s gonna make a difference, and I see he’s got it stuck up in a sort of a bicycle helmet and I think well that’s pretty clever, keep it protected and all. And he explains that all Steve has to do is to put on this here helmet for a time, and the device stuck up here in the top will send some sorta signals to his brain and that’ll fix his troubled mind. Well Steve couldn’t help but agree that it was simple, though you could tell he was a bit remiss about wearing a helmet around with no bike. Well the doctor explained that this was the beauty of the helmet. That it was only societal norms that made him sweat such a small thing, and that once he found he was no longer worried about wearin’ the helmet, then he’d know the treatment was havin’ its effect. Well, we shoulda known the doctor had a reasonin’ behind every inch of this plan, and Steve and me we were both right as rain with the idea. So the doctor tells Steve that his intern here will walk him through the paperwork, what where its a new type of treatment and all, and Steve looks all remiss for not having noticed me before in my corner but I smile to let him know it’s okay. And he says:
“Intern, huh? So you’re a psychiatrist too?”
And the doctor he shoots me a wink and says:
“Not yet, but soon.”
And Steve he smiles and I smile and I don’t bother tellin’ ‘im that I’m just tryna get my electrical engineering cert ‘cause it’d ruin the moment. He signs all the papers and walks out wearing the helmet and I can’t say he didn’t look a little silly but more power to him. The doctor and I we stare out the window and he’s just glowin’ with pride. We see Steve in the parking lot steppin’ real proud toward his little car and the doctor tells me that this is a new phase for humanity. I can’t help wonder, starin’ out there, if it’ll work out for ol’ Steve, with his boss and his wife and all. The doctor he has this real serene smile on his face and reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a little remote control which piques my interest. He points it down toward the parking lot and pushes a little button on there and there’s this loud explosion bang! and as sure as I’m here today the helmet explodes in a fireball and Steve’s head with it, what’s left of ‘im fallin’ to the ground in a heap. Well the doctor he don’t look the least bit shocked and turns back to his desk, sits in his big chair all content. I can’t quite wrap my head around the situation but he pulls out a cigar and says:
“The first of many success stories.”
Well, a few months come to pass and prove the doctor right, no surprise. Must be nigh on a hundred treatments we’ve doled out at this point, and not one dissatisfied customer. That’s not to say the device didn’t bring its fair share of public controversy, of course. A little over my head, truth be told, but I suppose the guv’ment generally don’t take too kind to people havin’ their heads blown off – “damage to federal property,” as the doctor puts it when he’s had a few brandies. Way I see it, what a man does with his own life is, in the end, up to him, and there ain’t much more to the issue. With medical killin’ legal here in Montana there weren’t much trouble with the authorities, and the doctor reckons it’ll soon be so throughout this fine country of ours. A number o’ local practices have already adopted the technique – by popular demand, I have to assume – and the doctor don’t mind ‘cause he’s well enough off and it ain’t really ‘bout the money. Lotta business in it if he woulda patented, I say, but more power to him.
The internship is wrappin’ up this week and I really do think I did some learnin’. The doctor he never missed a single connection but would sit perfectly still and stare and talk to me about the different schools of thought and all what-not. Well I’m sure it ain’t for me but good to know anyhow I suppose. Not too often you get to learn from an expert like that. He never did offer me a treatment, and I never did ask. I suppose we both knew it weren’t for me, but nice to know it’s always an option I suppose. I reckon I’ll come back to work for ‘im when I finish up my degree. Nothin’ finer than feelin’ your work is makin’ a difference in this world.