An Appointment with Pain and Suffering
“Doc, I feel like I’ve known you forever.”
Of course he does. They always say that.
“Richard, I’ve told you many times, I’m not a doctor. I’m a psychologist.”
“I know, I know,” he sighed. “But you’re good. Real good. I feel like you know me inside and out.”
I smiled. Richard was my client of thirteen years. Every week he shuffled into my office and poured his heart out. I knew his life story. All his foibles, his darkest secrets, his faint hopes and endless guilt. To have this much knowledge was powerful – dare I say, even delicious.
“What do you want to talk about today, Richard?”
“Well doc, I mean, Mr. Noddaba, it’s about my nightmares. They’re getting worse.”
“Really? Please explain – in detail, if you’re comfortable with that.”
Richard sucked in a deep breath, as a man would before opening the door to a crypt. He regarded the floor for a moment then fixed his gaze on my tie. I resisted the urge to giggle. He never could look me in the eye.
“It’s the ex,” he finally said in complete exasperation. “That flaming witch!”
I almost burst out laughing. The reference was so exquisite. “Go on.”
The words rushed out of him like a serial killer confessing his crimes. “She was mocking me again. ‘You’re not a man,’ she says. ‘You’re nothing but a weak coward who can’t even please a woman,’ she says. ‘You’ll never amount to anything,’ she says.”
“Did you use the feedback technique we discussed? Did you stand up to her?”
Richard was silent. I could see a vein bulging under his eye. Another was threatening to erupt from his temple. He was actually breathing hard, the poor bastard.
“I see.” I stroked in chin, as if in deep thought. “How does this dream – I mean, nightmare, make you feel?”
“Powerless,” Richard replied sullenly. “I just can’t get past the idea that maybe she’s right. Maybe I am a weak coward.”
“Richard, you divorced her five years ago and you still are in her clutches...or so you believe.”
“What do you mean, ‘so I believe?’ Are you saying this isn’t really about her?”
I leaned forward and clasped my hands together, as if I were about to impart some great wisdom to a hopeless fool. He averted my gaze and sat further back. Richard was easily intimidated.
“I’m saying it’s time to take responsibility for your own thoughts and actions.”
His wounded look told me the time was right to take things down to the next level.
“Let’s be frank. When you first came to see me, you had just lost your job and found your wife with another man. When you confronted her about the spending, what did she do? She laughed in your face and told you to pack sand. After that, she didn’t even try to hide her affair. She was humping your best friend in your bed and what did you say? Nothing. You turned to drugs and alcohol.”
He was tearing up now. “Hey, I thought you weren’t supposed to judge me,” he whined.
I countered swiftly. “I’m not the one judging you, Richard. You’re doing plenty of that already. But that’s the one thing, maybe the only thing, you’ve proven that you’re good at.”
Now the waterworks were running and his cheeks reddened. The therapy was working.
“You, you can’t just say that,” he sputtered. “I came here for help with my problems and now you’re treating me like some kind of, I don’t know, some kind of loser.”
“Oh, but you are a loser.” I gave him a malicious grin and twisted the knife. “That’s the whole point. You can’t get out of your own way. Honestly, I’m tired of your routine.”
“DON’T CALL ME A LOSER!”
“Really? Let me sum it all up for you. You’re too incompetent to keep a job, too lame to keep a wife satisfied, too weak to resist drowning your sorrows in the bottle. Hell, you can’t even get through the night without caving into your fears. You don’t even deserve to be called a man.”
Richard bolted out of his chair and flung himself at me. His hands closed around my throat as he screamed, “DON’T CALL ME A LOSER! DON’T CALL ME A LOSER!”
I calmly smiled and, for the first time, he saw my terrible countenance. His rage drained away and mortal fear invaded his soul. His grip loosened and he slumped back down into his seat.
I savored the moment.
“As I said, I’m not a doctor. My name is Abbadon,” I hissed. “Welcome to another day in Hell, Richard. See you next week.”