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Nothing Like You in the Literature
I flipped the light under the little sign that said JOHNSTON and then took my seat, pensively glancing at my watch. I was close to fifteen minutes late.
The small anteroom had a coffee table layered with magazines for every possible sort of person who might be seeking psychotherapy: fishermen, people who cared about fashionable clothing, people who wanted their houses to look like someone else’s house, women who were pregnant or wanting to be pregnant or had recently been pregnant. I picked up one whose cover had a snowmobile straddled by a woman in a bikini. The girl and the machine were both impressively muscular. Maybe where she lived, that’s how everyone dressed for snowmobiling.
I’ve never actually owned a snowmobile, but I’ve stolen a few.
The door popped open, and I blinked in surprise at the guy standing there—fit, wiry, fifties; short, sparse hair receding from a freckled forehead; green eyes. My regular psychiatrist was a trim and frankly attractive woman who I felt was really helping me because she laughed at my jokes. “Mr. McCann?” he asked.
I stood and tossed aside my magazine. “Where’s Sheryl?” I asked.
He bent and arranged the snowmobile magazine so that its edges lined up with the magazine for people who dress their dogs in sweaters. I’m not an edges-lined-up kind of guy and didn’t feel bad about my apparent negligence.
“You call your doctor by her first name?” he asked mildly. “Why are you late, Mr. McCann?”
“I had to repo a Mazda from a guy who got fired from his job for threatening his boss with a baseball bat.”
“Oh?” He raised his eyebrows in interest.
I shrugged. “The guy still had the bat.”
“Come on in. Dr. Johnston was in a skiing mishap. She’s all right, but she won’t be able to work for a few months, so I am helping out. My name is Dr. Schaumburg. Robert Schaumburg.”
I followed him into Sheryl’s office. There was a couch, of course, but I always sat in a chair across from her, and I settled into my habitual place uneasily. After eighteen months of dealing with one psychiatrist, I was feeling awkward starting up with another.
“I’ve been reviewing her notes, to which I am allowed access under the terms of your probation.” He settled into a soft chair, tapping a thick green folder. My file, I gathered.
“Okay, so should we wait for her to recover, probably?” I suggested helpfully.
Dr. Schaumburg regarded me blandly. “We have no idea how long that might be, unfortunately,” he responded finally. “Shall I call you Ruddick? Ruddy?”
“Ruddy. No one calls me Ruddick except those phone calls at election time.”
“Ruddy, then. Are you still taking your meds, Ruddy?”
My discomfort increased. “Well, yeah, of course. Why do you ask?”
“People on your mix of medications usually exhibit small changes in facial muscle tone and general body movements. I’m pretty good at spotting those, and you don’t seem to have any.”
“Guess I’m just lucky that way.”
“Under the terms of your probation, you are required to be on your medication. I’m sure Dr. Johnston advised you of this.”
I used my facial muscle tone to give myself a frown. “Did you talk to her? Because this whole probation thing is BS.”
Dr. Schaumburg settled back slightly. “Tell me about that.”
I shrugged. “Not a lot to tell. A bomb went off. A couple of people got killed. I wasn’t to blame for any of it, but I was in the middle of everything and the D.A. felt like I had to be charged with something, even though I did nothing wrong.”
“Because you’re an ex-con.”
“Because I went to prison, yeah. So we worked out this sham arrangement where I would get probation for obstruction of justice, because instead of taking matters into my own hands, I should have called the cops and let innocent people get killed while we all waited for them to respond, I guess. Sheryl agrees it’s ridiculous. I didn’t obstruct. I solved. Things could have been a lot worse, let me tell you.”
Schaumburg reflected on this. He looked at his notes. “You were in prison for…”
I blew out some air. “Murder.”
“Because you were drunk and crashed your car and a woman died.”
“I was not drunk,” I corrected. “I tested well below the limit. And many people accidentally took that turn down to the ferry before they reengineered it.”
He regarded me blandly. “But you were drinking.”
“Yes.” I bit off anything else I might add.
“You don’t seem to have any remorse.”
I wanted to stand up. That’s what guys my size do when we’re getting pissed off: We stand up. A lot of times that ends the conversation. But something told me that was not a good idea here, so I jammed my hands into my pockets. “No remorse? I think about that accident every day of my life. Didn’t I plead guilty? Didn’t I stand up in front of a judge and say I deserved to go to prison? Don’t you think I would give anything to have it all back, to have her back? That I would have traded places with her if I could?”
“Lisa Maria Walker.”
“Yes. That was her name.”
“No.” I looked away. “We had just met.”
Schaumburg nodded as if I had just confirmed something. “Before that, you were something of a local hero,” he observed. “Football star, NFL career all but assured. And now you are a repo man and a bouncer in a bar.”
“You say that like it’s a step down or something.”
“You’re getting agitated.”
“Well, who wouldn’t? It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“I would expect someone on your dosage to be more calm. A deadening of response is typical.”
Okay, now I wanted to stand up and also punch him in the face. He was needling me, picking at a deep wound to test me. “I am calm. Bob.”
A tiny smile played on his lips, but it wasn’t amusement. “All right, then. Has Dr. Johnston ever discussed with you something called dissociative personality disorder?”
“Mostly we discuss sports.”
“Let’s talk about the voices in your head.”
I sighed. We sat there, silently regarding each other for a full minute before I nodded wearily. “One voice, actually.”
“Under what sort of circumstances do you hear the voice? Is there something that triggers it?”
“I don’t hear it anymore,” I replied dully.
“The meds are working, then.” He was giving me a look full of irony, and I didn’t reply. “But you also told Dr. Johnston that there were times when the voice would take over your body.”
“No, not ‘take over.’ Look, I had a voice in my head that said his name was Alan Lottner. That’s all.”
Schaumburg pulled out a pen and clicked it, positioning it to write something. I waited patiently. “Alan Lottner,” he repeated. “Who was once a real person? Now deceased.”
“He died, yes.”
“And it turns out you are engaged to his daughter?” His green eyes flicked up to meet mine, glinting slyly.
Jesus, had Sheryl written down every single one of my personal secrets for this schmuck to read? “Yes, but that was just a coincidence.”
“Meaning, I didn’t know Katie when Alan showed up. Okay, I had met her, but I didn’t know who she was. In relation to him, I mean.”
“You met a woman you were attracted to and then started hearing her father in your head,” he summarized.
I was developing a real dislike for this guy.
“It’s not typical for someone who harbors the delusion of a voice in his head to tie it to a real person,” he informed me. “Historical figures, maybe, but I’ve never heard of it being the father of a fiancé. Does she know?”
“Who, Katie? That I had her father talking in my head for a while? No, I guess none of the bridal magazines in your lobby suggested I should bring it up. He’s gone now, anyway. Alan, I mean.”
“Which makes you sad.”
“What? No! Where do you get that? Did Sheryl say that?”
“Your reaction is interesting. Your … vehemence. Why do you deny it with such force? Would there be shame if you missed the voice?”
“Shame? No, of course not.”
“Then what is the matter with admitting you might, at times, regret you no longer hear the voice?”
“What is the matter?” I repeated incredulously. “If I went around saying I used to hear a voice and I want him back? People would think I was crazy.”
“Well…” Schaumburg gave a lazy shrug. “People. Perhaps. But in here, I think it is important to probe these areas.”
“Okay, sure. Let’s probe.”
“What do you want to tell me about how you feel about the voice? Today, I mean.”
“I want to tell you that the voice is gone,” I replied firmly.
He looked amused. “All right, then.”
I glanced longingly at the door. The clock said I had to endure just a few more minutes of this.
“Tell me about when Alan would control your body,” Schaumburg prodded after neither of us had spoken for an awkward while.
“That only happened a couple of times. I would be asleep, and he would sort of take my body out for a spin. He never did anything bad with it. Like, he would fold the laundry, stuff like that.”
Another long silence. I regretted bringing up the laundry—it made me sound pretty crazy somehow, even though doing my shirts was Alan’s idea.
“I’m not able to find anything like your case in the literature,” Schaumburg told me. “Schizoaffective disorder, which is how Dr. Johnston has classified your condition, is entirely separate from dissociative personality disorder, though people commonly make the mistake of believing schizophrenia means having a so-called split personality. In other words, patients never describe their alter ego as a voice; they just morph from one personality to another, spontaneously and, sometimes, conveniently.”
“I see we’re out of time and I’m sorry I was late,” I replied sincerely. “It took longer to get that bat out of his hands than it should have.”
“Did you hit him with it?”
“What? No. That’s not how it’s done. You think I would last long in this profession if I went around braining people with a baseball bat?”
“What if Alan were running your body: Would he hit someone with a bat?”
“Alan?” I laughed. “No. A badminton racquet, maybe. Or he’d write them an angry note.” I stopped chuckling at Schaumburg’s expression.
“You really miss him, don’t you?”
I wasn’t buying the sympathy. This guy was playing me, and I needed to pay more attention before I talked myself into trouble. “He’s gone,” I responded unequivocally.
“There have been cases where people miss the voices; they crave their delusions. You’ve perhaps seen the movie A Beautiful Mind? It’s even hypothesized that some patients could so yearn for the return of their imaginary companions that they re-create the voice. Bring them back, in other words.”
“Sounds like something we should talk about next time,” I noted amiably, standing up.
“Why don’t you sit down? I have some time before my next appointment.”
It didn’t sound like a suggestion. I sat, flexing and unflexing my fists on my knees.
“What is your pharmacist going to tell me when I call him to find out the last time you filled your prescription?” Schaumburg asked.
“Tom? That I was just in there last week,” I replied with all the truthfulness my soul could muster. I had, in fact, been in there just four days ago, getting some medication for Katie.
“All right, Ruddy. I’m your doctor and interested in what is best for you. But if I call your pharmacist and find that, as I suspect, you have not been getting your medications, I’m going to report your lack of cooperation to the court. And you do know what that means, don’t you?”
I licked my lips. “It means I would go back to jail,” I finally rasped. I believed this bastard would do it, too—put me behind bars just for not taking some stupid pills.
“I’m glad we understand each other,” Schaumburg said.
I thought about giving him the stare I had successfully used to close down bar fights and get people to hand over their unpaid-for cars, but I knew it wouldn’t work here. Schaumburg had all the power. In the end, I just stared at him helplessly.
I did not know what I was going to do.
Copyright © 2016 by W. Bruce Cameron