I remember Red.
He was a tough kid back then. Before he was expelled, he started three fires, stole the vice principal’s car keys, fought, swore, mouthed off, and he always had his shirt hanging out, just to prove that he was above even the minor rules. His was a war of attrition, wearing down the imposing authority figures in his life until they figured it wasn’t worth the effort to correct him.
It seemed something of an irony that he was now here in front of me, sitting on the sofa in my cozy little Psych office. And he was beginning to wear me down.
“I don’t count days we just sit here and stare at each other, Red.” I said this confidently, as if I wasn’t going mad from all of the inactivity. They warn you about this sort of thing in school, but they don’t prepare you for the mindless tedium of sitting through two-hour counseling sessions in which no one speaks. You have to have an active imagination to be a therapist.
Red continued to stare impassively.
“If I tell the judge we’ve made no progress, we’ll keep meeting every week ad infinitum.”
“You knew me when we were kids,” he finally said, lifting his chin. “Doesn’t that mean you can’t treat me?”
I adjusted my glasses, subconsciously trying to convince myself of the rationale behind seeing him. I wasn’t certain it was a good idea.
“Our previous relationship from those two years in grade school has been disclosed as minor, which it was, and since I am a specialist in treating your… sort of challenges, the judge appointed me.” In a softer tone, I added, “If thinking of me as the adult version of ‘Timmy’ makes you uncomfortable, just think of me as Dr. Calloway.”
He laughed then. It was a calloused, superior sound.
“Alright, you want to know why I don’t want to talk to you, Dr. Calloway?” he said with mockery in his tone. “Because I’m not crazy. You’re a kook doctor and there’s no kook here.”
A ridiculous notion, of course. As a seasoned professional, I did not allow such a vapid protest to hold ground.
“Your behavior is maladaptive, Red. Authority issues- a lengthy arrest record supports that diagnosis, anger issues, violent responses to normal levels of pressure… You’re not crazy, Red, but you certainly aren’t well.”
The big man sat up in his chair, defiance in his eyes. His was a very intelligent stare, despite having failed most of his classes.
“Alright, we’ll play your game. I know about the school books you read. I know about the fancy reports that come out. I know that your little notepad there probably says something about probable causes of what you call my ‘issues’- abuse, alcohol, trauma, blah, blah, blah. Well let me ask you something, Doc. If it was you who was beaten bloody by his mom, don’t you think you might be the one on this couch? If your big sister made you score her drugs from the time you were four years old, don’t you think you might need to let off some steam now and again? And if your father…” he stopped then and shook his head. I listened intently. He picked up his pointer finger and frowned, aiming the gesture at me. “If you think you’re better than me because you feel like you’re watching from above and putting me into one of your little boxes… then you’ve got another thing coming.”
I immediately assured him that I thought no such thing. It was fairly common for a patient to worry that they were, in some way, inferior to their therapist. In my experience, anyway. Yet the way this one had put it struck a chord with me.
We continued talking and made some progress that day, but driving home in my BMW, I pondered his question. Did I really believe that I was different than he? That I couldn’t have turned out the same way?
I shook my head as I drove, reassurance filling my mind.
Of course not. I’m not like him. Not like any of them.
A chill went up my spine paired with a thought. I thought of my own well-adjusted family if it were to have been broken, harsh, and terrifying. Through the eyes of a child- through anyone, even, it was a most unpleasant thought.
I shook my head again.
I’m not like him. I’m not like any of them.