WIP revised 10222017
I open the reception room door from my inner sanctum, half-step into the closet-sized space—larger than my closet, smaller than my wife’s closet, much smaller—and notice the garbage pail overflowing.
Mental note: The housecleaning service needs further investigation. The trash here is beyond the pail.
Bob, my Wednesday nine o’clock, sees my face. I’m smirking at my bad pun. He doesn’t know that and, of course, takes it personally. He hunches down trying to disappear into his faded denim jacket but it clashes with the rosso corsa guest chair, as do his greasy jeans and mud-caked high-top tennis shoes, all of it creating an anxiety-ridden tableau of rejection.
Bi-polar-induced self-esteem issues are a terrible thing to witness. The pain of insecurity. The never-ending need for ego-resuscitation, the constant plea for reassurance like a crack whore trying to feed an addiction. This, along with an alternating ego-maniacal savagery, is a whole new animal called Bob.
He’s a Ph.D. thesis in process. He takes passive aggressive behavior beyond the pale.
The irony is that he’s a gifted writer because of it. His inner torment fuels his creative dark side. When he’s in the zone, he writes with demonic fury from a hellish place that haunts us all in our dreams.
“Hello again,” I say hoping the smirk I’m now wearing looks like a let’s-start-up-our-session smile. Because, what the heck, it’s my job. “I was laughing at the garbage pail, you know, the trash, it’s beyond the pail.”
Bob mumbles something incoherent. He studies his worn sneakers. The sneakers, along with the rest of his outfit, are a dead giveaway he’s bottoming-out in a mood swing. When he’s peaking and creating, he dresses to kill, though he rarely deigns to show up for appointments during those episodes.
“Well, shall we get it on then, Robert?”
He follows, shuffling into the inner sanctum oblivious to the furnishings and tasteful decor. I bow momentarily with hands together in a namaste to my bronze Shiva on the curly maple Shaker table while Bob slides his butt into the gluteus grooves of the well-worn leather couch.
I sit. He sits. We sit. In a conjugating silence.
Bob twitches in the uncomfortable silence. Well, uncomfortable for him. I often sit here quietly for hours. He scratches himself, clears his throat, coughs. I push the tissue box closer in the event he expectorates.
He tips onto the overstuffed sofa pillows like a tree falling in the forest. The noise he makes is a pfffffft which may have been air escaping from the landing pillow. Maybe not. Bob brings out the bathroom humor in me. Some kind of gestalt, no doubt.
He lays on his side, right-angled, feet on the floor. the shifting rays of sunshine form a bright trapezoid on the floor. It moves too slowly for detection, but the shape it will be when our session is done is familiar. On cloudy days, I rely on the clock.
“You know, the way I behave.” Bob’s beady dark eyes grasp for eye contact. “With people, at restaurants.” He breathes loud through his mouth. I lock eyes and feel a smile, it’s reflexive, tickle my face. He looks down, says, “In social situations, parties...you know, people avoid me. I see them literally turn away to avoid me. The don’t like me. Why the hell not? It’s been like that since I was a kid jerking off in the playground.”
This is familiar Bob territory. Personally, I say: Duh! Professionally, an innocent and direct question might lead to unexpected opportunity for self-analysis, the most interesting aspect of counseling. As the conductor, it’s the ticket I hawk on the slow train of introspection: the journey into the dark night of the soul. If I may be so bold.
“We’ve discussed this, Robert, your bluntness, your lack of judgment, your boorish behavior. Displaying your naughty bits in public, so to speak. Borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder was my diagnosis, and a tendency toward bi-polar disorder. Ultra passive-aggressive. Manic-depressive. I’m sticking with it.”
Possibly Tourette’s Syndrome and, of course, his shattered self-esteem. But we’re not going there yet because we have miles of rotten to go before we eat lunch this day.
“I have to add the caveat that I’m not a diagnostician. Technically, I am not an MD, nor a practitioner. So my diagnosis is meaningless. And anyway, I’m more of a gestalt...” Everybody calls me a shrink, a pejorative I’ve always attributed to psychiatrists. But I’m not licensed to practice psychiatry in this state.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Doc. Fuck! I feel like a piece of shit.”
He rights himself, suddenly anxious and feverish. Mood swings, they’re like tornadoes appearing suddenly and ripping helter-skelter through a trailer park.
“Damn it! I been trying with your suggestions. Try to catch myself before I, like, you know, shout all the rudeness out.” He contemplates a moment. “Sometimes it works. I shut up. Don’t say a word. Just swallow ‘em all up.”
“How do they taste?”
He twists up his face like he might throw up.
“Awful. Bitter. Though, sometimes I regurgitate them later for useful material...” He drifts off, his mood dissipating like a spent twister.
I wait for him to return but Mr. Morning Sun seems anxious to get on with his day. Time flies when you’re having good therapy. “Well, now do you understand how it might feel to be the object of that vitriol? Why others might take offense?”
He turns to me, gives me a look that makes the back of my neck prickly. “Yeah, but at least I don’t have to swallow them nasty words. I get them out of me.”
“Your choice, of course, and anyway, Bob, it’s about taking responsibility, don’t you think? Let them loose, suffer the consequences. Swallow them yourself, suffer the consequences. Either way, you have to own your words.”
“That’s a choice? No, that’s dog shit.”
“How does it feel when you have these outbursts?”
“It feels okay. You know, it feels good. Powerful even. But later I feel, smaller. Ashamed.”
“Interesting. Well, that too is a choice, right? And either way it’s all material. Right?”