I am sitting on a low wall by a bus stop in the town. I have been sitting here for over an hour now, and I am cold. Even though it isn’t raining, there is enough moisture in the air to have softened me and my clothes, softened me up for the wind to reach right through and touch me, make me shiver.
By the side of my right foot lies a circular nest of flattened cigarette butts. I’ve got to get some more. I haven’t eaten anything and I am feeling nauseous, raw. I think of therapist Sandy and wonder if she can cure me of everything. That thought gives me a small smile.
Poor Sandy. Do you get this a lot, people like me walking in off the cold streets, wanting you to magically make it all better, make it all disappear, in essence, transform me into another altogether?
And how do you deal with the disappointment of your people when they get it after a while that you can’t do it for them, that they have to do it themselves? Do they get angry with you? Resent the money spent, the time spent, resent you and themselves for their childlike expectations of a magic that just doesn’t exist in this world?
Yet the fact remains that Julia did transform me in an instant. When she left me, she transformed me again, into the shivering wreck we can observe today.
The magic of transformation exists.
It lies in the hands of people.
Perhaps Sandy has some of it.
I hope she does.
Therapist Sandy is a small woman, neat to the point of anally retentive.
She seems scrubbed and brushed to the degree that I get a sense of being bruised and raw from her; she wears a severe blue suit that makes her look like an airline stewardess. She probably tried to go for a professional look, just got the wrong profession when she chose the crisp white starched shirt and blue red striped scarf combination.
Her eyes are blue and she is about 45, 50. Which makes it somewhat strange that she wears her hair long, held back with an Alice band. A little girl, dressed as a stewardess, who tries to be a psychologist.
It makes me smile. We all have our own problems I guess.
Her office is likewise attempting to give a professional air but only succeeds in looking spartan and clinical, a hint of hospital in the air.
White walls, beige sofa, off white carpet, chrome lights. What is most disconcerting is that on the wall opposite to the window which is completely covered with vertical blinds she has chosen to hang a print of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
On that white wall, in this white office, it becomes a portal to a demon dimension. You get the feeling that if you started to scrape the wallpaper, you’d find it extending everywhere beneath it, scream all the way, ceiling, walls and floor.
She is talking at me but the state I’m in, all I hear is bird sounds, high pitched vibrations that float around the room. I’m so disembodied that I knock my leg against a nearly invisible glass coffee table which I didn’t notice even being there, and that serves to land me back into this unreality, at least to a degree.
I sit down on the hard, pale leather sofa and she sits down behind her desk, a chrome and glass affair somewhere between shop display and Ikea. I have to turn sideways and look across and slightly up to see her; there is a great and uncomfortable distance between us and I’m wishing for some of the plants from the hypnotherapist’s office, a cheery fish with many colours and even the enveloping monster chair.
She is looking through a drawer on her side of the desk and I try to be more comfortable in my wet clothes, in my cold skin.
I rub my hands together then stop because this may be interpreted as me being nervous, rather than just cold. I try to breathe steadily and drop my shoulders. This causes the sharp angles in the room to change slightly and I’m having another alternate reality experience that restricts my breathing.
She has finally found what she was looking for; it is a piece of paper, maybe two. She puts it on a blue clipboard, produces a pen and says, “First, we’ll have to take some details.”
I drop my head in my hands. I don’t want to give you any details. I want you to ask what’s wrong with me, how you can help me. I want you to come out from behind your fucking desk and sit next to me, tell me to take my coat off, take my hand.
I shake my head and try and fight through that, that disappointment. Wasn’t that just what I’d already recognised, there at the bus stop? What did I think she was going to do for me?
So, she asks me questions, and I lie to all of them.
I give the same false name, Nick Santiago. Nick is right, Santiago is a character in a play I once saw, a private detective who was the serial killer he was looking for, only he didn’t know it. I give a random address in a good part of town, the name of Julia’s GP, my ex-friend James’ birthday.
My voice sounds rough but throughout this ritual of her asking me these questions and me making up lies to be the perfect answers, I work with it and by the time the second form has been filled out, it is nicely modulated and resonates well in this cold and clinical room that smells of starch and pain, remembered.
Finally, she gets round to the part of her questionnaire where it comes to why I’m here.
“What brings you here today, Nick … may I call you Nick?” she inquires in exactly the same tone of voice as she had used for asking about my home and work phone numbers. She is looking down and across to me, the pen poised over the document.
I lean back in the hard sofa and cross my legs. I’m wondering if I should hate her and then decide to make that decision later. For now, just play the game.
“By all means,” I answer her with what I hope is coming across as direct and honest.
She smiles briefly, on and off switch, twiddles the pen.
I resist the temptation to clear my throat or to take a deeper breath than is necessary to verbalise the statement I have decided on.
“My girlfriend left me, and I am finding it very difficult to deal with that,” I say.
She scribbles as soon as the first words have travelled across to her and continues to scribble for quite some time after I have finished and the resonance of my words have long faded in the room.
I make a decision.
“Sandy,” I say carefully, “I would prefer it if you would not take notes while we are here.”
She looks up at me, surprised, wide eyed. I have the feeling that she has just only seen me for the first time in this very moment.
Flustered, she looks down at her notes, back to me, then she shuffles the papers together, places the pen across the top and pushes herself back a little from the desk.
“Of course,” she says, “Absolutely. No problem. Ahm … so … your girlfriend left you. When was that?”
I have to stop myself from smiling as I say, “Three months ago, give or take.”
I can tell that she is dying to get her pen and write it down, “Girlfriend left 3 months ago.” She glances at her notes but forces herself to look at me instead and says, “And what has been happening since then?”
I turn my head away from her and look straight ahead, at the blind window instead. If you drew the blinds, perhaps it would reveal a screen. A screen on which I could view the past, my memories.
“I can’t stop thinking about her.”
“Tell me more,” says a voice that could be any voice, far away, and I answer as shadows begin to move on the screen, flashes, outlines, vague colours.
“I can’t concentrate on anything. I sleep badly. I can’t … do … anything …”
There is a silence and I appreciate that because I can nearly make out something on the screen, I screw up my eyes and try and reach through the mist and the fog, but it’s just out of reach.
“Why did she leave you?”
The pictures before me whirl and I feel nauseous. I close my eyes but the whirling is there as well. I feel a pressure rising in my stomach, closing off my throat.
“She said I raped her.”
The words fly around the room, and the pressure in my stomach has become sharp, stabbing pains. Sharp, flashing shards before my eyes. I curl up and try and hold myself together, try to breathe, try to hold my head …
“Nick. Nick, look at me.”
It takes me an eternity to orient to the voice and open my eyes, and I can’t make sense for a moment of the situation, the desk, that woman …
“Nick,” she says again, more urgently, “Take a deep breath. It’s alright. You’re safe here.”
I try to breathe, shuddering, ragged. I’m safe here. Am I?
The girl-woman-therapist creature is leaning forward, her elbows on the desk. I’m here, drowning and she’s on the beach, behind a fence. She can’t reach me from there, and I can’t reach her. But she is all there is right now apart from the white all around and the flashing pains, the flashing pictures, she is all there is.
I try to focus on her. “I’m sorry …” I say.
“It’s alright,” she says, “Just remember to breathe. Just tell me what happened. That’s why we’re here. That’s how we start and then it gets better.”
Against my will, I whisper, “Do you promise?”
There is an uncomfortable silence, then she says carefully, “Tell me what happened. In your own words.”
This is the problem. I really don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I don’t understand it. Not any of it. I can’t tell you …
“I don’t know …” I say and have to swallow rapidly, hard, repeatedly. “I don’t understand …”
“Don’t worry about understanding right now. That comes later. What happened with … what is her name?”
“Julia,” I say like a sigh. It makes me feel better, it does. I say it again, “Julia.”
“Julia,” the woman echoes me and that makes me shiver. I’m not sure I like her knowing Julia’s name, or speaking it. It belongs to me. Julia – belongs to me.
“Nick,” the woman says slowly and carefully, “If this is too difficult, we can talk about something else. You don’t have to tell me about that now, we can talk about something else.”
I shake my head. “No. I want to talk about it. That’s why I’m here, right. That’s why we are here. So I can talk about it and understand it and get better, get over it. Right?”
“Would you like a glass of water?”
I throw my head back hard and collide with wall behind me. Goddamn that hurts. But the shock of it makes me calmer, clearer.
“No, I don’t want a glass of water, Sandy. I want to tell you about it. I want to tell you about that day, that time, what happened, that which I don’t understand at all. She said I raped her but I didn’t. It wasn’t like that. I just couldn’t stop …”
And there it was – there it was.
Clear as glass.
I am there and it is all as real as anything, I am there and I know it’s in the past but it is also right here, I am - right here.
I am standing in the hallway of my flat, and Julia is coming out of the bathroom. She is wrapped in a towel, my towel, my beach towel, the biggest towel we have, blue and green swirls, dark, it makes her skin so pale and luxurious, glowing in comparison.
Her skin, her shoulders, her neck.
Her hair is wet and she has another towel wrapped around her head, she is rubbing it with one arm, elegantly outstretched, like a goddess carrying a vase, the goddess of the stars.
The hallway expands, recedes, stretches away from me.
The walls fall away either side and there is nothing left, just her, only her in all the universe, she is all I can see, all I can feel.
I can hear nothing but my own heartbeat.
I move up towards her, seem to glide towards her and I take her in my arms.
She is fantastic, radiant, hot, alive, electric – she is moving, weaving. I am so excited by her that I nearly lose consciousness, I take her in my arms, draw her to me, want to take all of her inside of me, somehow make her mine, absolutely and completely.
She is moving, all of her is moving and it is so fantastic, so powerful; the tighter I hold her, the harder she moves in return and the more excited I become; I am so totally in love with her, so totally possessed by her. So I sweep her up and carry her to the bedroom, and she is writhing, fighting so hard, her mouth is wide open, her eyes are wide open and I can see stars flying from her mouth, from her throat, and I must worship her, make love to her like I’ve never made love before, such incredible power, such incredible excitement as she pitches everything she is against me and in so doing, becomes more exciting to me than she has ever been and I take her, overwhelm her, give her everything I am and more and there is a starburst of glory to unconsciousness.
When it is over, we are both crying. Crying with joy at this extraordinary experience, the ultimate experience of love, at least for me it was, but she, she scrambles away, runs away, runs from the flat naked, and later, two policemen arrive and I don’t understand any of it, none of it, I don’t understand anything any more.
I only saw her one more time after that.
I saw her from afar through a glass partition window in the police station.
I saw her and I started screaming for her – Julia, Julia.
She looked up and then she jumped up and a policewoman took her away by the elbow. I saw her looking back at me once before the policemen wrestled me to the ground.
After that, I didn’t see her again.
She was gone from her flat, from her work. She was just gone.
But she dropped the charges. Was she playing a game?
I don’t know.
I don’t understand.
I don’t understand any of this, and all I can remember is how much I love her, and how perfect it was, that last time, how it blew me apart.
So, Sandy, can you help me?
The white therapy room lies silent.
The walls have absorbed my words, my emotions.
They are eaten up, gone, not here now.
I am tired.
I try to find Sandy’s eyes but she won’t look at me. She is looking at The Scream above my head instead. Then she starts pulling out drawers in her desk, digs around, finally retrieves a business card.
She places it cautiously at the far end of her desk, then pushes herself way back towards the wall.
She tells me that she isn’t qualified to deal with me; that I should go and see a specialist. There is no charge for the session. I can leave now. And I should call the number on the card as soon as possible.
I get up. I feel drained, light headed. I pick up the card and it takes some time before I can focus enough to read it. Dr R. W. Wilson, Ph. D.
I look up from the card and for a fleeting moment, I catch her eye.
She is afraid of me.
A curious sensation sweeps through me, from the back of my neck right down my shoulders, into my legs.
I become aware that we are alone in this room, and that all that stands between me and her is a couple of feet of desk, chrome and glass, nothing, really.
For a fleeting moment, I wonder if I could …
Her blues eyes are wide, innocent.
She is a child in a woman’s body, and whatever is wrong with me, she has not the crucifix, nor the trust in God to conduct the exorcism necessary.
I feel moved to reach across the desk, lean across, all the way, and touch her cheek, lightly, with the back of my hand.
It is an electric sensation and one that stops her breath short, fascinating.
And that’s when I understood that Sandy had done something for me, even if she didn’t know it herself.
That was the first time I had found that level of fascination I had with Julia - with another.
As I realise that, and as I realise that if I was to touch Sandy’s hair, it would be an extraordinary sensation, riveting in every way, it is as though something is breaking wide open inside of me and a flood of possibilities, of incredible expansion pours into me in an instance.
Julia was not the only one.
She was – the first one.
Excerpt from "99 Ways To Fall Out Of Love" by Silvia Hartmann
Excerpts from In Serein