The doctor’s pretentious accent and ‘open’ body language piss me off. His constant stream of questions has felt demeaning. Ironically, now he is saying nothing, and the silence stretches out between us. He is sitting there, smug, waiting for me to answer.
“Fine.” I say through clenched teeth. My well-whittled thumbnail, shabbily painted dark blue, claws at the palm of my opposite hand.
The emotions are flooding back. Rage and righteous anger bubble to the surface. I can picture the shiny red paintwork of the moron’s car, feel the weight of the tire iron. Cold steel in my hand. The whistle it made as it cut through the air above my head. An electric current sheers beneath my skin as I recall every sensation of that moment.
But, that version of the story is not for the doctor. My ferocity needs to remain hidden from him. I have to stifle the urge to pick up his precious gold nameplate, the one with ‘Doctor Abrams – Clinical Psychologist’ beautifully scripted across the surface and pitch it through a window like a dirty old rock. Instead, I suck those feelings back, pushing them down somewhere dark in the deep recesses of my gut where they are free to churn and sour.
I take a steadying breath. “The guy was boasting about how much he’d had to drink the night before. How much he had downed before he jumped behind the wheel and drove home. You could see the dent in his bumper where he’d hit a trash can—or that’s what he said it was. So, in the interest of public safety, I walked to my car, retrieved my tire iron, mounted his bonnet and took a couple of swings at his windshield.” I finish by raising my eyebrows in a challenge.
The doctor turns to the next page of the Court report. “And then what happened?”
Why the hell does he need to ask if he has it written in front of him! My reply is weary. “He tried to grab at me, but his friends held him back. He said I was a crazy bitch and that he had been perfectly capable of driving. So, I swung again and again until there wasn’t a straight piece of body work anywhere on his car.”
“Did he know what happened to your mother?”
“How could he? I’d never met him before.”
“But someone communicated this to him while you were brutalizing his car?”
“And then what happened?”
“It must be in that report.” I point to the papers in his hand. Somehow, I’m managing to refrain from swearing. That is a miracle in of itself.
“I want it in your own words.”
I’m screaming in my head —I don’t want to talk about it anymore. That little voice is so freaking loud, I can’t understand why the smug doctor can’t hear it.
“He said…” I pull back the tears, “…he said he didn’t give a rat’s arse if my mother was six feet under.”
The doctor’s body language doesn’t falter, his voice keeps the same cool tone. “This young man was very provocative. I imagine many people would have had a similar emotional reaction under those same circumstances, a want for destruction shall we say. Whether or not a person decides to action those thoughts is something I would like to discuss with you further. But first, let us look at the final charge the Courts have laid against you. Can you explain what happened?”
Damn it, I’ve started crying. “He said,” I snivel, “… Mom was better off dead with a psycho daughter like me.”
The doctor is shaking his head in sympathy. I hate that empty look of pity. I’m an expert in it now and it makes my blood boil. My nostrils flare as the anger stews. “So, I went after him.” I swat away a stray tear on my cheek.
“With the tire iron?”
“Yep.” My eyes fix on the brown loop pile carpet under my ratty old shoes. “I only winged him once. He was too fast.”
“And if he hadn’t been?”
I shrug. Hand on heart, I can honestly say I have no idea what I would have done if I had caught him. Not a clue. It really doesn’t bear thinking about. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the doctor wants to explore.
I check my watch. It’s been less than 30 minutes. How the hell will I survive two more sessions of this. But the Court mandated it, so my choices are limited.
“It’s been nearly two months since you first sat in that chair, Cara.” Dr Abrams speaks softly but clearly. “And three months to the day since your mother died.” His pale blue eyes are intensely aware as they peer through his thick-framed glasses. Although his comment isn’t a question, he now sits in silence, his eyes trained on me waiting for a response and from my past experiences in this office, I know it is my turn to talk. Threads are coming away from the forest green chair I sit on. I fondle them as I find my voice.
“I went to see her this morning. Took a handful of the jasmine growing in the garden. She loved the smell.”
I had risen early to be alone at her grave, just me and the chilly air. I cried my eyes dry, until the hollow feeling returned in my gut. It’s the only way I can talk about her today. Empty.
I’d like to say she died doing something great—something she loved. But that would be a lie. She chose the wrong moment in time to be driving past the intersection when someone ignored their own stupid stop sign.
Dad still wishes it was him driving the car. For the first month, he said those exact words out loud, until his friends told him to stop. I love my Dad, and I’m sure he loves me. He tells me too often, as if overcompensating. But he loved Mom more and now he doesn’t know how to live without her. I hate not being able to share with him what I am going through. Instead, I have the man in front of me, originally court appointed and now I pay him by the hour.
I am only here on Jack and Eli’s behest. They are adamant therapy is helping. I disagree, but Jack and Eli assure me they have witnessed improvements. If sitting and talking to a stranger for an hour a week can calm their worries, I’ll suck it up and do it.
For them I would do anything.
“How are you sleeping?” The doctor can see my eyes sunken in my head, I’m sure that’s why he’s asking.
“Fine,” I lie.
“And your dreams?”
“They’re still there.”
“Why don’t you tell me more about these dreams,” Doctor Abrams asks.
It’s not the first time we’ve discussed them. It seems, with the loss of my mother, my brain has tried to rewire itself. I remember parts of the dreams, and the more frequent they become, the more I’m starting to recall, although that might be my imagination filling in the blanks when I wake. I try so hard to remember specifics, the place and the people, but the dreams dissipate as soon as my eyes open. I cling to the details that remain. And, even with only a patchwork of memory, I know I prefer them to my reality.
Now and again I dream a different dream—one of Mom. Those I always remember. The hot tears on my cheeks make them hard to forget. And those dreams I conceal from everyone.
If Doctor Abrams wants to hear about my dreams—I’ll focus on the good ones. He is the only person I can talk freely to about them. No judgment. Well, none I can see in his eyes. Sometimes there is pity, but not judgment. I’d prefer judgment.
The morning light is streaming through the window behind me. The doctor shifts in his seat. A shaft of light catches the surface of the book he is holding, momentarily dazzling me. It is the excuse I need to look away. I prefer retelling my fantasy to a faceless man.
No pity, no judgment.
Averting my gaze to the brown carpet below, the only gauge I have of the doctor’s opinion is the jiggle of one of his legs, crossed over the other.
“It’s like being in another world.” My eyes lose focus and I imagine being back there. The tension in my muscles releases. “I feel like I’ve some control over them now.”
“Do you play many video games, Cara?” the doctor asks.
“I do. Well, my boyfriend does. I never use to, not before Mom…” I leave the sentence hanging. “Now me and Jack play together. You know—idle hands and all that.”
Doctor Abrams shuffles in his seat. “I did a little digging into causes behind reoccurring dreams that you might find interesting. There is a growing field of research and preliminary findings suggest that continual involvement in role playing games, using the latest virtual reality gear, leads to the ability to have some control in dreams.” The jiggling of his leg has stopped. His voice is louder now, and more animated. “It’s as if your subconscious learns those skills and applies them while your conscious mind is resting. The data is in its infancy. But I’m sure you’ll agree it’s fascinating nonetheless.”
I nod along. I couldn’t give a damn what’s happening inside my mind while I sleep.
“In fact, I have another patient who is dealing with similar problems. He described the same type of thing occurring, well similar. His dreams are more diverse but the increase of control and self-awareness while sleeping is along the same lines. I must remember to ask him about it again,” his voice trails off, “and see if he is a gamer.” There is a notebook that sits on the small table next to his chair and he writes in it when he wants to remember something for later, like a conversation we need to get back to. He scribbles in it now. He leaves an uncomfortable silence.
“Sorry Cara. That’s not why you are here. Though, perhaps one day we can discuss it, maybe even contribute to the research. We could be on the leading edge of science.” He smiles awkwardly. Maybe he’s waiting for me to show some enthusiasm. When I say nothing, he clears his throat and continues. “Anyway. These dreams, how are they progressing?”
“It’s still the same man. The man without a face. I ask him who he is, but he ignores the question.”
“But you’re comfortable with him. He doesn’t scare you?” Doctor Abrams asks.
“I was a bit freaked at first. I’d wake up and recall the flesh colored blur where his face should have been. I thought I was having a nightmare, like someone had stolen his face. I never felt scared or anything, not of him.” I shrug. “The more I remember about my dreams, the more certain I am it is the same place each time. The surroundings don’t change.”
“What do you see?”
“Grass, surrounded by loads of buildings, some small, some big—all the same color. It’s odd, I remember the man saying something like it was his job to show me round, show me the routine.”
“This man, he is a guide?” The doctor prompts.
“Maybe, in an empty prison. There’s hardly anyone there, the grounds are almost deserted. Even so, the man’s behavior isn’t comfortable it’s—strict. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion. Well, not show—verbalize.” I try to picture the place. Strangely, I can recall what I wore. Very ordinary, loose fitting top and track pants, like I’m having a day on the couch. The top was dark blue with long sleeves, sort of silky. My hands feel strange too. They feel like they’re covered, but I can see them clearly. They’re all flesh and nails. For some reason, my nerve endings in my fingers are muted. In turn, I tickle my thumbs with my fingertips comparing the sensation to what I dreamed.
The doctor interrupts my process.
“Your subconscious is trying to help you process your mother’s death; find clarity amid the chaos.” He offers a palm to me, his non-verbal cue for me to answer.
“Maybe,” is all I give him. My eyes drift to the wall behind Doctor Abrams. Three framed certificates adorn the otherwise blank, beige painted surface. “You could do with a bit of color in here.” He follows my outstretched finger. If I look behind me, out the only window in his office, I know the Golden Gate Bridge will be there, hovering over San Francisco Bay.
He has the better view.
The doctor smiles and ignores my attempted distraction.
“These dreams started occurring as a result of your mother’s passing. To me, there appears to be a large causal event in play here. Don’t you think?”
He’s trying hard to get me to say ‘yes’. I raise my eyebrows, not sure how to reply. If my subconscious is trying to help me with my grief like he is suggesting, I wish it would stop with the smoke and mirrors and get on with it.
“Seems likely, I guess.” And it does. The dreams started a few days after Mom’s accident.
“Who was the man, do you remember?” Doctor Abrams asks.
“He’s not someone I recognize.” I know what the doctor is getting at, he wants to know if I’m projecting anyone into the dream. Trying to deal with my problems there, instead of in real life. It doesn’t feel like that. More like I’ve given myself a safe place to hide each night. The compound is not what I would have picked first, it’s more like a military installation, but since I work for the military that isn’t such a big surprise. I have neglected to tell the doctor about the compounds fortified perimeter, I know he’ll read too much into it. He gets a self-satisfied look on his face when I mention things like that. I prefer not to give him that sort of pleasure.
“So, what changed?” he asks.
“You said you weren’t comfortable with the man at first, talking in the past tense. Something must have changed.”
“How I felt about the man got worse before it got better. Most of that dream is still hazy. I think the only reason I can recall any of it is because it freaked me out, so I wrote it down when I woke.”
“That’s good. A dream journal is an excellent idea, Cara.”
I don’t mention I wrote it on a piece of scrap paper that happened to be next to my bed. Could be in the trash by now. I needed to write down what had happened in my dream because it was disappearing on me and I wanted to hold on to it. “I dreamt of me and the blurry faced man were walking across a large grassy field and this kid, a girl, she was lying on the ground, clasping her arm.
“Did you know the girl?”
“No.” My mind is working overtime, trying to remember details. I think it’s coming, but it’s like holding on to smoke, opening my hand to look only to find there’s nothing there.
“She had a face, though. That must count for something.” I laugh uncomfortably before the scene starts to replay in my head and I try to retell it in as few words as possible.
“The girl—there was blood pissing out of her. You should have heard her scream. I’ve never heard a kid scream in pain like that. She must have only been like eight or nine years old, in her pajamas and she had this huge gash on her arm. She was groping at it with her other hand, but the blood just flowed through her tiny little fingers.”
I sit quietly for a while trying to recreate what happened. My eyes close and I look around the image in my head, but other than the howling girl, I see nothing. With my silence, I’m not trying to build tension, but this must be the effect it has, because when my eyes reopen the doctor has both feet flat on the floor and is leaning in as far as he can.
“And then what happened, Cara?”
“The man…,” Zander—I’ve called him that in my dream, but his name hides behind my tongue now. I don’t want to tell the doctor his name. I can’t tell him everything, it would be like letting him into my dreams and I want them for myself. “… he’s dead calm and points to a little object on the ground not far from where we are. I can see something metallic hiding in the grass, a small waft of smoke peeling off it. I remember asking him what it was. I don’t recall much of what he said, something about the security systems decommissioning it. I didn’t understand.” Then Zander had turned to me. I let out a groan as I remember.
“What is it, Cara?” I look up to see Doctor Abrams’ eyes wide with anticipation.
“That’s when my dream twisted into a nightmare. The faceless man turned to me and told me to help her. To fix her.” I shake my head at the memory. “What was I supposed to do? This kid was bleeding everywhere and I hadn’t a clue how to stop it. I can see the girl’s big brown eyes looking at me, expectantly. I told him I didn’t know what to do. And then I just stood there, looking at her.”
There was a metallic scent of blood mixed with the smell of grass and it makes me nauseous, even now. It’s funny how nightmares feel more real than pleasant dreams do. I could try all day to remember a good dream so vividly and never have success. But a nightmare, it happily sits in the forefront of my mind waiting to strike, like a crocodile lying in the shallows stalking its prey.
The doctor is waiting for more. I oblige. “The faceless man, he started moving quickly, pushing me out of the way so he could get to the girl. He told me that we needed to get her to the infirmary. Fast. I felt like I’d let the girl down. Like I’d let them both down.”
I was glad I hadn’t seen Zander’s face. No doubt a sharp look of disappointment would have been plastered there.
“This is good,” The doctor interrupts. “I am not surprised that you have manifested someone with an injury. Your struggle to assist may also be significant. As is your inability to do so.” The doctor is taking notes. I don’t want to tell him, but I don’t think I’m manifesting anything. He nods along to himself while he writes as if whatever is on the paper is gold.
“Go on,” he prompts.
“I brushed the hair from the poor kid’s forehead and told her it was going to be alright. She kept on crying. The man moved, scooped the girl in his arms and took off. I could hear her squealing in pain all the way.” My voice is high pitched and I tell the doctor what I had told the man, “I’m not a nurse—what the hell was I supposed to do?”
The doctor is scribbling furiously. Obviously, I have landed myself in some Freudian dilemma that I wasn’t aware of.
“I can’t remember what happened after that, it all becomes a blur. I have no inkling if the kid was okay, whether she lived or not.” Even I can hear the pain in my voice.
Doctor Abrams’ pen stops its frenetic scrawling and he rests it on his notebook.
“You must remember, it is only a dream. No child was ever in any danger. No child was ever hurt.”
“I know.” I still feel like I let her down, whether she was real or not.
“How did it make things better with your interactions with the man?”
The doctor really is picking at it today. His intense interest in my dreams is a little creepy. What’s worse, I know he is going to read into what I’m about to say. I take a deep breath. “It must have been later in the dream. The man came back from the infirmary. As soon as I saw him I—I started crying. I felt useless and I started crying, okay? In my dream, I had a good bawl. The faceless man tried to comfort me.”
I can recall that clearly, his arm had come around my shoulders and he held me to him. God, he smelt good. But I was sure if I could have seen his eyes there would have been pity there. I am tired of pity. Tired of my weakness.
“Then I got angry.” The doctor’s eyes are trained on me now. If there was a wrong thing to say, I guess that was it.
“What happened, Cara?”
“I screamed at him to let me go. He gripped tighter. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he wouldn’t let me go. I smashed my foot down on his, hard, and I ran. I was about to enter a building when he screamed my name.”
I can still recall Zander’s voice. It was panicky, practically begging for me not to go in.
“I don’t remember a lot after that. We sat, sprawled in the middle of the grassy field and talked about everything and nothing. I dream of him like that now. Not the regimented soldier I started with. Some parts are so vivid. I’ve never dreamt so much in my life.” I say it to make it clear to Doctor Abrams that this part of the conversation is at a close.
“The anti-depressants can do that to you. It’s a common side effect.”
I recall reading that on the packet along with a plethora of other nasty possibilities.
“Interesting that you think he was a soldier.” Doctor Abrams points out. “Not unexpected, though.”
I didn’t mean to let it slip, but I can’t take it back. I make some ‘mmmm’ noise to let him know I heard.
The rest of the session is spent going over the usual stuff, talking through real life problems.
“Do you still have a suitable supply of sleeping pills left?” The doctor is wrapping up the session, finally. I was already an emotional wreck when I walked in. It’s been a bit like kicking a dead horse.
“Yeah, I do. I still have a good stash. I haven’t needed them. They make me feel drowsy the next day and they leave a horrible taste in my mouth, like I’ve been sucking on cotton wool dipped in old sock water.” I don’t mention they stop me dreaming. He has already given me a speech about needing to live in reality and not in my dreams.
Doctor Abrams is still worried about my anger. My behavior in my dreams, unfortunately, reflects my reality. I scared most of my friends off a month back with a stupid, self-satisfying outburst. The doctor reckons their retreat is only a short-term reaction. I just need to make my peace with them and offer an apology. He believes they’ll forgive me.
My friends hate that side of me and I don’t blame them. It’s a switch that flicked when Mom was taken away. Controlling it is getting easier and I am trying. I keep telling myself that I will get back in touch with them when I’m in control. I’d hate to do it to them again.
My boyfriend, Jack, isn’t quite so easy to scare off, he’s stuck around for it all. When I get like that, like I might lose it again, he holds me and tells me the world will get better. My brother, Eli, reckons Jack’s a sucker for punishment. I have to agree, but I love him anyway. We’ve been together for nearly two years so at least he knows this isn’t my default setting.