It was time. The street door opened and from the snug, safety of my chair, I predicted the usual dance of feet upon the floor; enter and two steps forward, and turn, and stop. The closing of the door. And on; the deliberate march to my room, or, the reluctant shuffle, or perhaps the mustn’t be late hurried scuttle. I would assess my patient's short walk and check if it matched with how they presented in the session. Did the marcher present his issues in a regimented fashion? Had the shuffler dragged out his concerns? Would the scuttler rush through his problems and leave quickly?
Today however, well that day, the day that often feels like now, time did that shimmery thing that you see in films, or when you see a migraine aura. The street door opened and a dull silence fell flat in my ears. I swallowed hard to clear it. Something heavy had landed on the floor of my consciousness. Instead of being intrigued with my new patient in the passageway, I felt guarded. For this would be our regular ritual, here in this place of containment. The relationship was new, but it did not feel as fresh as the creamy, new page in my notebook headed “Calli Initial Assessment”. I found myself stroking the page, well the colour actually, to relax. I feel colours. I don't need a cat.
My hand began to tremble on the page and a strong déjà vu came upon me. It was here and now and yet a knowing from the past; as the infant knows the shadow of its parent in the room but is unable to word it or think it. With excited and curious eyes, I stared deep into this peculiar feeling searching for a memory. But of course, none came. Except, an old familiar scent was at the back of my nostrils, and they quivered with a life of their own.
I listened. She sounded tall on the floorboards. Sitting, waiting, I checked out the clock, it didn’t move. Dyslexics (on the crazy spectrum) like me, have problems with time, well the linear concept of it but this was different. I felt wombed up. A clamminess was swaddling me in a blanket placenta and that acrid smell of old blood was about me. That wasn’t so great! The clock said 3.20. I was born at 3.20. What an odd thing to remember. I breathed in deeply and closed my eyes wondering where that smell would take me.
My olfactory journey was side-tracked by my mind’s eye; I saw her, a swan, a black swan, proud and prime gliding down the passageway towards my room. On the way to my door, her long, elegant neck turned to examine the artwork on the walls. She stopped at the Goya, Dona Teresa Sureda. And off again, led by her sharp, red beak. Nearly here. I was staring at the door. A rapid pulse was jumping in my eyes. I went to move forward but felt held by the arms of the chair, just like my recurring nightmare of being paralysed in my bed with a monster at the door. Once released, I dropped back, rejected, spat out. I had succumbed to something; I was possessed.
The knock came just as an insect settled in my ear. Brushing it off with some sideways irritation, I said “Come in,” but the power of my voice was lost to a shiver. Some sort of noise came out of my mouth and I waited with wide eyes fixed on the door with the passing moments stretched out hard. The tension snapped as the door opened. But where was she? Out in the hall, she was merged in shadow. Slowly she drifted in, filling the room with a presence and my terrified expectations.
My throat felt dusty as I tried to swallow. Something unwelcome and indigestible was lodged there. I instinctively rubbed it to move it onwards, or at least to comfort myself but she spoke, and I stopped. “Do I come in?” she asked with authority. “Please,” I said weakly, like a prisoner asked to choose between a lethal injection and a glass of poison. Enter and I will exit this world, I thought. “Please have a seat,” I indicated the chair with a shaky hand. Stepping out of the shadow she entered and sat before me.
I observed my new client but making clinical notes was as impossible as writing legibly on the back of a moving elephant. But I would remember her presentation, phenomenologically speaking. For this is a precious skill of mine. Her top layer was wide and web-like, a dusky shawl with a scattering of small, shiny beads, overlaying a lining of black satin. Wow! She sat, owning the chair. Settling in, she lifted her arms gracefully and rearranged the shawl as a peacock might arrange its feathers. Her hair was a wavy shaft of darkness, lying over one shoulder. I studied her through my fear and thirsty curiosity. She made a sudden movement and I twitched like a rag doll suddenly pulled up by the plaits. Did I want to run? I couldn’t tell. Was she pulling my strings, manipulating me this early in the game? She settled again for a moment and looked up straight through me. Was I invisible? Without looking down, her long, painted fingernails, elegantly and wickedly undid her bag to find a hairclip which she placed on her silky lap. It stayed where it was put. Poised, she bowed her head in a movement of dance, collected her hair with both hands and secured it with the right. It was perfect. She knew it to be. Showing her long neck and pale olive skin, she posed like Goya’s woman hanging in the hall.
Time passed, and I was lost to this terrible beauty. The room abandoned its walls, my safe boundaries gone. Perhaps I romanticized that we were in an Old Master where everything appears darkly atmospheric and eerie, and yet, I wanted to hold this dream, my dream. Unable to think, I just knew. I stayed silent. Not because it is a tool of my trade but because I felt that words, common words, might burst the bubble, break the glass of this witch’s snow globe in which I was encapsulated and no doubt, soon to be shaken, violently.
She was in control and I liked it. Speaking first, she left me feeling small and deskilled, did I like that too? Her voice echoed around my head in a spin of regret, and I returned to my responsibility, my duty. Damn duty. And I remembered why I hated dogma.
Her voice had triggered something in me, something unpleasant but warmly familiar. It was that old trick of transference. It didn’t belong here. Perhaps I expected a Spanish accent to compliment her Goyan charm. My eyes held a heavy sigh which fell to the ground. I saw my thoughts like marbles, loose and helplessly rolling about. She moved a foot and my gaze was on it. Was she getting impatient? Did she want to kick out at me with that foot? Or was I amateurishly, interpreting her body language? Looking again, I saw that her feet were composed in fourth position and were housed in beautiful, black patent shoes with diamante buckles. They held me for a while until the marbles were back in the bag. I started to trace up the black satin until my eyes reached hers. It was a cold, dark meeting. I quickly looked elsewhere, for in those icy panes, I saw myself, frozen in some other’s space and time.
As a practising therapist of some years, I had experienced the phenomenon of transference. But this encounter, was an odd mix of that magic. Fear stepped smartly in, as the person before me, was now within me. The one foot I usually kept firmly wedged outside the abyss, had slipped inside. And a stranger now co-inhabited my usual place in time. Without my attempt directly to make sense of my fear, which I could not describe at this point, I would have moved into madness. And the madness would be mine.
Curiosity sat on my shoulder, grinning, for in the fear, I felt love.
“Dr Goodfellow, shall we begin? I can tell you what the matter is.” But right then, I didn’t want to know about the matter. I was caught coming down from some mind-bending drug, some hallucination, and I want to stay tucked up in my trance, please! Never having taken any recreational drugs in my constrained and cowardly life, this seemed like a moment to record, and I wanted to remember every dodgy tick of the clock. A fight ensued. And the Self that belonged to mum and dad, was conflicting with my desires. Stay, go, I was indeed splitting but in what sense? It was a mystery that tasted like dark chocolate fondant, rich, satisfying and oh so moreish. It slowly oozed, flowing its decadent dream deep down inside me.
Back in the room, I was lost to this odd process. The words, that is, the stock phrase, yes please go on, came to me as a prompt. “Yes, please go on,” I recited, feeling pleased with my contribution, when my left leg, which had become squashed underneath my right, kicked out in a spasm, and pulled me to an embarrassing edge of my seat. With a quick orientation, a cough and change of position, I regained some control of my therapeutic role and mustered up my most professional voice. “Yes, do continue.”
“It’s my mother,” she mouthed. I caught it and sat back and wrote ‘M’ and underlined it, which was my shorthand for mother. When is it not the mother? I muttered to myself, mocking and wildly projecting my own stuff. Jealousy, anger, rejection, it will all be here. The energy of the moment quickly passed, and I felt strangely bored. Even stranger was the fact that I didn’t believe that the state of being bored existed. It's a subconscious disengagement of some sort; brain trickery. Would I rather be somewhere else, doing something else? My ruminations were cut short as a sharp scream ripped through the universe of the session. “SHE KILLED MY CAT!”
Wide-eyed, my wooden puppet self, was pulled up sharply to attend her raised and angry head. I watched, rigidly, as she slowly lowered her head until her chin was covering her neck. I sank down too, a rag doll discarded on the nursery chair. In my raggedness, looking at the floor, a million miles from the killing, I wondered who she was submitting to with her bowed head. Yes, ok, another interpretation, as routine as a shopping list on a post-it note. I waited in silence, in true therapeutic style, feeling like a fraud, or maybe that was a Freud? My sense of humour was often autistically, oddly placed and oddly timed. (But I enjoyed it) And my curiosity curled itself around my leg and purred.
Back with the client, pinprick shivers pierced my skin, as I wondered just how that woman, that Mother, had killed the cat. Did the daughter emit a bloodcurdling scream at the scene with her hands pressed upon on her white, blood drained cheeks? Did the mother's loud, evil laugh match her maniacal frenzy of eyes and teeth wide apart, ready to bite into the poor creature as she performed the heinous deed?
But the scream was silenced by an inner voice that took me off on another tangent where I recalled the phrase, there's more than one way to skin a cat. My head was a hopeless mind map and I was helpless to stop myself slipping down all those beautifully coloured, diagonal slopes to all those enticing, associated ideas. Phrases plagued me and they were welcome if they were humorous which they usually were, and the blacker the better. An ex-patient’s witticism sprang to mind; there is an American English term, to skin a cat, which is to perform a gymnastic exercise that involves passing the feet and legs between the arms while hanging by the hands from a horizontal bar. Well, that did it for me. I exhaled blowing out my lips at this visual, conundrum and my eyes looped the loop.
From a self-induced squint, I could see that the client was scratching at her arm, probably irritated by my behaviour which had gotten under her skin. She had rolled up her sleeve and revealed her arm. Exposed, was not the pale, finely textured tissue that I imagined to be sleeved in her web of secrets. It was a red and angry map, of a journey of self-harm.
Swiftly, with my lily-liver, I swerved to avoid confronting this disorder and took myself back to the mother-murderer in her killing-kitchen. I saw hatchets and hammers and long bladed knives. And of course, there would be blood splatters. Droplets of ice ran up and down the skin on my legs, the weirdness of which caught my full attention. I crossed my legs twice to get rid of the sensation but forgot about the screwed discomfort on my face. But she had seen it. I had disclosed. Another cardinal sin for me to confess to my nun of a supervisor. Would the client feel that she had hurt me, that it was her fault? Could I not hold her powerful story? Was I too weak? Or was it a case like the Scottish play, the never mentioned unfit-to-practice bogeyman?
My look of horror soon reverted to a staring wooden puppet, with its mouth agog, as a net of small, green, luminescent circles spread out between us. I dismissed a migraine, as this vampire energy seemed to be coming from her. Once in love with the paranormal, before You vanished and took my mojo, I would have immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was a spooky signal. Was she trying to catch me to keep me close, or scare me off? You would have found some wonderfully satisfying explanation for it; that it came from our ancestors of the deep with the power of bioluminescence. And as usual, You would have made it all better. But alone, I was out of my depth. I needed supervision, no a priest, no a straitjacket!
She raised her arms, rounded her shoulders and relaxed them down gracefully. This movement released a swirl of exotic, alluring perfume, and I sneezed. When I opened my eyes, the green glow was gone. As I searched for it our eyes met. She had paused, as if waiting for me to catch up. In the heaviness of the session, I could only vaguely recall her outburst. I saw the clock behind her head and felt saved, yay! Ignoring my brain, my mouth went into action, “Our time’s up …” My words tailed off, dissolved by my guilty lack of presence in the session. I rose awkwardly and reached for the envelope containing our contract from the table behind me. “Please take this and read it through for next time and …” I turned but like a secret whisper, she was gone.