The Not Entirely Complete Works of Peter Schulman

©2011 Peter Schulman
 

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He Said, She Said

Chapter

Annie

“During the week I fantasized and anticipated. It was an exhilarating combination.

“He called Wednesday night, purportedly to ask for directions but we had a delightful and extended conversation. I hadn’t been that excited about a date since - I had never been that excited about a date.

“My parents noticed. They asked what made him so special. My response was not atypical for a teenager. I didn’t want to talk about it. They smiled enigmatically.

“When he arrived Friday night I attacked the door. I didn’t want to give my parents a crack at him. They could do that after we had better established the relationship. It was possible that no harm would come from their meeting him at this point, but I was certain that no good could come of it.

“He gave me a wow and told me I looked great.

“I don’t remember what we talked about on the way to the theater. I only remember how much I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed every conversation with him.

“On the walk from the car I thought about where the relationship could go. I’m the girl after all. It’s never too early for us to think about those things. I foresaw a bright future. If it worked out as I hoped, I wanted to remember this first date forever.”

Patients want to tell their story. Even if they’re not consciously aware of it, it is important to them and usually fundamentally related to the problems they’re trying to solve. I almost always need to ask questions to get them over the hesitations, the uncertainty of how they want to frame the situation.

* * *

Bart

“Last session, I suggested some relatively benign scenarios that could explain Annie’s behavior. Why don’t we assume, for the sake of argument, that she had some malevolent design? If that’s true, what does it mean for you; what does it say about you?

“Would she have done it because there was something fundamentally bad or wrong about you?”

“Of course not,” Bart answered.

“So, if it’s not personal, why does it have such importance for you?”

He was quiet for a long time under these circumstances. The clock behind him on the wall showed me it took him almost five minutes to answer. He started with a gulp.

“Fourteen years and I still get a sharp stab of pain when I even think about it.”

He took a deep breath.

“I was in a youth group associated with my camp. I got to know girls there.”

Each sentence seemed to take considerable effort.

“I sort of went steady with a number of girls from the group, mostly when we were at camp. But the context was that we sat together at meals. We would sit next to each other at activities we both went to. I really liked the girls at the time. But we were friends before and after.

“For a while, it would be a bit more intense than just being friends. Ultimately, we knew each other for many years; went to many activities together; took trips together as a group. It was important, but it was innocent.

“I started Central when I was fourteen. With all the travel and the full school days, I didn’t even meet any girls outside the group until Annie. She was the first girl and that was the first real date I ever had. She was the first one I ever talked with.

“In any of my math classes, I could get a problem that was completely new to me and I’d figure out how to approach it faster than my teacher. In trig, I didn’t memorize any of the equations. I would derive them during the tests in order to do the problems. It kept me from getting bored out of my mind. Math was intuitive. I looked at it and I understood.

“With girls, I was as clueless as it was possible to be. Then I go out on my first date. It felt not only like it was the most important thing I had ever done, it felt like the most important thing I would ever do. My hopes were so intense; a complete fantasy.

“Then I crash and burn. It felt …”

He stopped. He closed his eyes. He gulped several times. When he continued, it seemed like a strain for him to get out the words.

“It felt like something from which I could never recover.

“I’m mindful of the fact that there are many people in unspeakable poverty. I know that some people are taken untimely by diseases the rest of us are fortunate enough to avoid. I’m aware that in many places, people worry about whether they’re going to be able to feed their families. All these things foretell a terrible, difficult life.

“All I have to worry about is whether I’m going to spend my life alone. To me, that’s an empty, terrifying prospect. It’s starving for meaning; a long, slow death of the soul. I’m pretty sure it’s connected with that date, but I don’t have any idea what to do; how to fix it.”

He finished his litany of desperation with a desperate sigh.

Bart raised his hands, palms facing up, in an I-don’t-know gesture, shaking his head slowly.

I get all the easy cases.