The Psychiatrist observed this from her chair without a word.
Finally he arrived at the couch. He regarded it for a moment, like was now trying to figure out how it worked.
“Is it okay if I just sit?” he asked her.
“Whatever makes you comfortable,” she answered with a smile.
He sat at the end of the couch furthest from her chair.
“I read someplace that the shrink judges you based on where you sit, and whether you decide to lie on the couch,” he told her.
She jotted down something on her pad, and then smiled at him. It was a polite smile, with a hint of disappointment. The kind of smile you’d get from your stepmother after you used one of her special occasion glasses for your very mundane after school chocolate milk.
“We don’t like the term ‘shrink’. Doctor or Psychiatrist is fine,” she scolded him.
He nodded liked this wasn’t the first time he’d been corrected on that exact issue.
“Sorry,” he was quick to seek her forgiveness. “I’ve been told that before, but I still do it when I’m nervous.”
“So you’re nervous?” she asked and wrote something else on her pad.
“Well, yeah,” he admitted. “You’re a total stranger, and I’m about to spill my guts to you. Wouldn’t that make you nervous?”
He was more nervous than he’d let on because it took him a moment to understand that he was being prompted to open up the discussion about why he was there.
“Right. I should tell you why I’m here.”
“Your referral was very vague, but that’s perfectly fine,” she assured him. “This is a safe space, and I am here to listen. Why don’t we start with your name, as if we were just two regular people meeting for the first time at a social function?”
His initial reaction was to ask her if she was implying that they, or more specifically he, was not a “regular person”, but years of therapy had taught him to not say the first thing that came to mind. He mentally counted to five and then answered.
“My name is Roger,” he said in almost a whisper as he picked at an imaginary piece of lint on his jeans.
He swallowed hard and continued in a louder, more confident manner, “I have never been a fan of the Dodgers, be it the Brooklyn or the Los Angeles franchise. I hate dodge ball, and used to feign injuries in gym class to get out of playing. It’s a barbaric game that preys on the weak and non-athletic. Finally, I’ve never owned any car from the wide range of Dodge vehicles.”
She waited for him to continue once he was settled in his new position, but apparently that was all he had to say.
“Nice to meet you Roger. I’m Dr. Hecht. What brings you here today?”
Roger lifted his head to ensure she could see the confused, yet annoyed look on his face.
“I just told you, Doc,” he said with the sass of a teenager asked to talk about his day at school. “Dodgers, dodge ball, Dodge.”
He let out a sound that might have been a clearing of the throat, or more likely, was a growl at having to repeat himself to the shrink…no, to the Psychiatrist.
Now it was her turn to be confused. She’d seen and heard it all in her many years in this profession, but this had the potential to be something new. Even though it was probably just an inability on the patient’s part to correctly express himself.
“You want me to help you root for the Dodgers, enjoy dodge ball, and finally buy a Dodge?” she asked and hoped she properly masked the condescension in her voice.
“Please, Roger, explain this to me,” she pleaded. “I truly do want to help, but I have to admit I’m not at all sure with what it is I need to help.”
Roger looked at her, and something in her face convinced him that she was sincere. He let out a heavy sigh, and sat back down on the couch. This time, one cushion closer to her.
“Why do you think I was so nervous?” he asked with a chuckle. “This isn’t exactly your run of the mill psychiatric problem. Essentially, for the past month, every time I’ve introduced myself to someone, I’ve launched into that whole spiel about the Dodgers, dodge ball, and Dodge. I don’t know why the hell I started doing it, what it means, or why I can’t stop.”
She blinked for just a moment. She hoped he didn’t notice, but she knew she’d done it. This was out there. She loved a good challenge, but this was something more than that.
“This just started out of the blue?” she asked more to buy time to form a plan of action than anything else. “And it’s the same wording every time?”
He nodded. “Totally out of the blue. Pretty much the exact thing every time, but sometimes I’ll say Los Angeles before Brooklyn, or maybe throw in a specific model of Dodge vehicle.”
She wrote something on her pad. “How do people react?”
“That’s the thing, Doc. They look at me like I’m crazy,” he said in frustration. “I’m socially awkward as it is and have a hard enough time making friends, so this little tic, or brain fart, or whatever the hell it is isn’t helping me with that issue.”
“Why does the opinion of others matter to you so much?” she steered the conversation in a direction she knew how to handle.
“Gee, Doc, I don’t know,” he threw up his arms in anger. “Maybe because I’m a warmblooded human being, and I crave love and acceptance from others. Wouldn’t I be a nutso psychopath if I didn’t want that?”
His outbursts both worried her, and gave her better insight into what she was working with here. She decided not to write that down because she could sense that every time her pen hit the page, something inside him cried out that she was not accepting him.
“It looks like we’ve touched on a sensitive subject,” she offered a push to move him off the anger path and to get him to open up again.
“Maybe. Who knows?” He shook his head like he was baffled and didn’t expect anyone else to be able to figure it out. “But I don’t want to gloss over the whole what I say whenever I tell people my name is Roger. Can we get back to that because that’s why I made this appointment and jumped through hoops with my insurance to get them to pay for this appointment?”
“By all means,” she agreed because she just wanted him to talk and give her as much information as possible so that she could help.
“This really has me freaked out,” he confessed as he rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “I mean, where did it come from? Why now? Why those exact words? And more importantly, why am I telling people for the past month that my name is Roger when it’s really Dale?”
She dropped her pen, but fought the urge to slam closed the portfolio that held her pad.
“Your name is Dale?” she demanded even though there was a question mark at the end. “And for a month, you’ve not only been telling people your name was Roger, but also adding a little coda related to your alias?”
“That’s right, Doc,” he confirmed.
“Why didn’t you lead with that?” she asked already exhausted from the session.
“But I did!” he insisted. “I got right into the whole Dodger, dodge ball…”
She held up her hand to signal that he should stop speaking. Silencing a patient was not a move usually in the Psychiatrist Playbook, but this was not your typical patient.
“We’re not going to make any progress if you lie to me, Dale,” she warned sternly.
He nodded sheepishly. “Then let me be straight with you, Doc. My name is actually Stephen. And that’s with a “ph” not a “v”. Full disclosure and total truth now.”
Now she slammed closed the portfolio. She really had no other choice unless she wanted to scream at the top of her lungs to let out the frustration that had built up inside her since this man, whatever his name was, had entered her office.
“Please tell me that when you were jumping through hoops with your insurance, you got them to authorize more than one visit.”
He nodded again. This time with a little confidence.
She thought to herself that at least he’d managed to do something right…