A man who has a mastery of the workings of the human mind finds himself endowed with a power he can't quite explain or control.
I had never considered the possibility that people’s dreams were anything more than a sophisticated method of filing for the day’s events until the story I am about to tell you came about. As a psychiatrist of many years standing, I understand that the brain’s processes are well-organised at night to file raw data and organise it into a set structure with a random image or thought superimposed over it as a kind of distraction - what I like to call a screensaver for the sleeping brain.
Formerly, I had very strong opinions about ESP. I was always of the opinion that the brain picks up more than the theoretical 5 senses - and what goes on in the corner of your eye or the edge of your hearing is stored in the murky rooms at the back of the mind. What people believe to be a vision of the future, I would state smugly, is merely the brain sending you accurate predictions from what it has observed over the last day.
“It happens to me a great deal,” I once told a friend. “I once dreamt I would crash my car and I did because of a bad tyre. I believe I must have noticed the balding wheel when it was parked and the subconscious was desperately trying to send me a message.” That unenlightened version of me smiled knowingly and the friend in question agreed with me, although at the time it may have been just to stop me talking.
Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall, as the old saying goes - unfortunately, I had an unhealthy amount of both before my life changed. I hope people can forgive me the smarmy, self-confident way I went about things, but now everything I thought I knew is called into question. Some might call that Karma.
It began on a hot Summer night last year - the light wind that barely shook the trees made the day seem cooler but as a side-effect I had seen a great many sunburns and had even helped a woman in the street who had collapsed from sunstroke. Given that situation, it would have been no surprise that I had odd dreams, but I had been extremely careful to stay in the shade and kept well-hydrated.
The first odd thing about the dream was the simple fact that I recalled it at all. Most dreams barely make a dent in my memory the next morning; some are mere flashes of recollection, but not enough to give any real impression of the whole. A great many people are like this - having only the barest recollection of what your unconscious mind tells you gives people in my profession less to work with, but it also can mean that you have a decent memory overall and get a proper night’s sleep.
The dream began with me merely walking to the local supermarket - nothing unusual there; it’s an activity for me three or four times a week, not entirely because one of the girls who works there is polite, sweet and has a nice voice. Admittedly, that’s why I go at particular parts of the day, but I’m sure she knows that.
I was on my usual route to the store when I heard a scream and an ominous thump - It was a child’s voice I had heard so, in a surprising show of agility, I leapt over the 3ft fence, landed on all fours and ran over to the girl. My memory of her face and physicality is near-photographic - she was wearing a red coat with a designer label on it that I didn’t recognise, with the hood up and almost covering ringlets of ginger hair. She had freckles, green eyes and, at that moment, extremely pale skin.
Because of the red coat, it took me a few seconds to realise that she was haemorrhaging. While being extremely careful not to move her too much (I had medical training after all) I checked where this was coming from and ripped my shirt-sleeve off to try and stem the bleeding. She was fading fast and her breathing was becoming shallow so I checked my mobile for a signal and called 999 immediately.
While I don’t entirely remember what I had said to the cool, calm emergency services operator - Future Me was probably in shock at the time - I do recall what I saw on my mobile phone; 01/07/2010 was the date and 17:49 was the time. It stuck in my mind more distinctly than anything else so I can only assume that my mind knew what it was doing.
As i tried to keep the girl conscious and breathing, firstly by using a gentle form of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (she was around 10 years old so I couldn’t use the full 15-push type that everyone knows) and then trying to keep her warm by wrapping my jacket around her as her temperature was dropping dramatically, the ambulance siren whooped into the middle-distance.
The people from the St. Johns Ambulance were very efficient. I feel sure that at the time I was planning on telling this to some people I knew from the snobbier section of the community - those who look down on the NHS and their work. One of the men in charge told me You’ve done a good job here - do you know who her parents are?and I shook my head mutely. I had no idea.
When I awoke from the dream, I was visibly shaking, my breathing was weak and shallow. Looking in the mirror, I was none too fresh-faced even considering the time - it was fast approaching 5am - and my pupils were dilated. The dream had put me into a shock-state and it took a long time to calm down. I sat down in the shower and tried to get my breath back.
I realised that the date I saw on my mobile phone at the time was Thursday, and today was the Wednesday. I tried to compose myself and believe it was just a dream, but it felt like more than that... much more.
I was well-versed in the treatment of shock but it is another thing to go through it yourself. After getting out of the shower when the hot water ran out, I tried a half-arsed version of meditation and some breathing exercises. I was still shaking when I left the house, but to a manageable extent. I walked to work as my shuddering would not make me a useful driver.
When I arrived at the office, my receptionist Mrs. Warrington was there early, as ever, with the summary of my schedule printed out and placed facing me inside a plastic wallet. She is the organised one in the office; I am the useless one who keeps his shoes tied tightly in case he forgets them. The smell of her cherry lip-gloss and the chicory coffee mix well in the air-conditioned office.
“Good morning, Doctor Parsons,” she said in her normal, slightly stiff but professional way. She is quite a tall woman with pale blue eyes and a strong jawline that could be used to crack walnuts - an intimidating, handsome woman - but she keeps the office going; no small miracle given my flair for accounting.
I looked over the day’s patient list. Apart from the usual pleasant Wednesday meeting of couples who struggle to communicate with each-other in the morning, and serial philanderers in the afternoon (not that there aren’t people who turn up for both on occasion) I had a couple of new patients. Looking over the notes for them, I saw that the morning one had bouts of aggression and histrionics. The man I would be dealing with at the end of the day was begging to see me because he compulsively started fires. He had been set loose by the courts due to improper filing of evidence on his most-recent arson attack and the obsession plagued him.
“Well, I’d better get ready for the first patient, Mrs. Warrington,” I said with a laboured smile. Nothing tends to unnerve me more than a private session with a new patient - it can end in tears, screaming or even violence if I misjudge the situation; some people are wired a little differently to the rest of us, and stepping into a psychiatric clinic is often a daunting experience.
The first patient, a Mr. Kermody, was a short, stocky man with a bald head and a near-orange complexion. He looked to me like the kind of person who would happily shoulder-barge you out of the way rather than allow you to step aside. He was unable to shake this opinion at all during our session as he talked about his daily life.
“So I told him - you want that money, try and take it off me!” he stated proudly at one point. “I wasn’t going to take any shit from the likes of him - who’s he think he is, asking me for my hard-earned money?!” he continued, standing there and smiling smugly.”
“And how did the... charity collector react, Mr. Kermody?”
“He just walked off! Pathetic - just pathetic. Wanting money and not willing to stand up for himself,” he replied loudly. “The lads down at the pub said he was just trying to help people, but I told ‘em what I thought about that.” I looked at my notes and saw that the pub in question was where the police had been called; he had been good enough to provide me with his criminal record as an apparent credential.
“Was this when the fight broke out? The one that resulted in you being kept in a police-cell for the night?” I asked with what I hoped was a non-confrontational expression.
“Hah! They didn’t keep me there ‘cause no-one wanted to press charges. I’ve been arrested plenty of times but they always let me out again.”
I looked him squarely in his bloodshot eyes and hoped I could survive the hour. “Sir, if you have no regrets about the fights you keep getting into, and you don’t seem to care about the consequences, I’m curious as to why you want my help.”
He sat back in the chair, arms folded and biceps flexed to breaking-point. “I have a son. I don’t care what happens to me, but if he gets taken away from me, I don’t know what I’ll do.” At this point, he lowered his voice to a bare whisper: “I love him, and I don’t know what I’ll do if he gets taken into care. His mother isn’t... isn’t here anymore and if I keep getting into trouble, someone will take him.” I could see he meant what he said, and if he had no need to be perceived as an Alpha Male, tears would have been welling up at that point.
Again I consulted my notes. “What was your father like? You obviously care about your own son, but how did he treat you?” Kermody visibly stiffened. I moved my head to one side to prevent him hitting me in the good eye.
“You bloody shrinks are all the same, aincha?” he spat. “Everything comes down to mummy-daddy problems, doesn’t it? You leave Dad out of this - he loved me, and not in any filthy, creepy way, alright? We got on!” At this point he was standing again and bearing down on me, fangs bared or so it seemed.
“The reason I’m asking is so that I know where this anger comes from. If you want to change your behaviour, we need to find out what caused it. Although he may not have meant it, your father could be the source of your attitude towards violence. I’m asking you as someone who can help you keep your son, to tell me about your father.” I was looking the unstable ball of steroids in the face and not wavering, although to tell the truth, scared to death and whimpering on the inside.
“He was a good man,” he said backing off a little.
“I never said he wasn’t, but I need to know about your experiences. What did you do together - father-son activities that were just the two of you?” I asked as he backed away. What I did at this point was critical; I had no intention of ending the session with concussion. One good sign was that he was back in his chair, leaning backwards now and his body-language was much more passive.
“Not a lot really - we went fishing when I was young, but I wasn’t much good at it. He lost patience with me after a while and we didn’t go again. He was okay about it though - he just said dangling a line in the water wasn’t my thing.”
“Sounds like a fair answer - at least he didn’t keep you going there after you lost interest and had clearly no chance of turning professional; some fathers do - my own included. What about when you were older? Any other sports he tried to teach you?”
Kermody paused for a moment. “Look, I know what you’re going to say about this, but when I was 13 he started to teach me to box. I was small and scrawny for my age, and he taught me how to defend myself. Come on, I know exactly what you’re going to say - let me have it.”
“What I was going to ask, if you don’t mind,” I replied, “was whether this meant you got into any fights? And whether he found out.”
The orange man sighed enigmatically for a moment, turning away from me so that the sunlight from the window put his face into shadows, making it look craggy and older than his years. “The next time someone picked on me, I fought back. I won, and he found out - he said he was proud of me. I don’t think I’d ever heard that before from him - I was never exactly an A-student, not exactly a wow on the football pitch, and I guess this was the first time he’d had an excuse to say it.”
“So you wanted to make sure he stayed proud of you? That you kept his attention?” I asked, making a note on the fresh legal pad that was going to contain all of his details for the sessions that I had with him. In the delicate copperplate that I use for anything I wish to read or have transcribed, I put the words Lack of validation exc. through violence.
“Did anything change at school after you won the fight? Did you get into any trouble, or have your classmates treating you differently?” I asked, trying to find something else for him to focus on rather than me “blaming” his father for recent events.
“I had a little hassle from the teachers - they tried to put me in detention but left me alone after that, The other kid didn’t want to talk about it because I was smaller than him,” he told me with a smile. Once again, getting negative attention was something he seemed rather proud of, not to mention getting away with it.
“What about the other pupils? How did they react?” While asking, I put down on the pad: Hist. of escaping from prosecution rooted in childhood.
“They gave me a bit more respect, I guess. Up until then, I was the kid everyone ignored, never exactly standing out from the crowd, never really fit into anyone’s little clique,” he told me. A picture of what had made him the mess he was today was beginning to come clear to me.
“So you suddenly had respect from your peers, knew you could get your father’s approval and would probably manage to avoid any real consequences from the fights. Anything else you want to tell me about the scrap in question?” I asked, not expecting much.
“You’re only going to read stuff into this again,” he muttered. “I know what you’re going to say,” he said as though he had already predicted the outcome of our session and was impatient to get to the conclusion. “After she saw me knock the guy down, my now ex-wife asked me out on a date. We were in the same year but different classes - in every sense of the word,” he said ruefully.
“Do you think that you keep finding excuses to fight to keep her interested in you?” I asked, and he grinned so widely his head looked like it was cleaved in two.
“Like I said, she’s my ex-wife - whatever I do now, she’s not coming back; I might be a lot of things, but I’m not stupid enough to think she’d want me now the thrill’s worn off.”
“What about other women? Do you think you might be trying to replace her with someone else using the same technique? Is there someone in your life at the moment that could be the cause of your fights at the pub?”
He suddenly got hostile. “You’re too predictable, you know that? I don’t want anyone else and I can’t get Janine back. It’s not about women - I could get someone to go out with me tomorrow, but she’s the love of my life and I know I’d be wasting my time trying to get her back... she’s got a new man anyway.”
Bingo, said a little voice in my head. Out loud, I came out with: “Mr. Kermody, you seem to know a lot about psychology - are you familiar with the idea of projection?”
He mulled it over for a moment. “Are you trying to convince me that I’m punching people and getting into trouble because I’m angry about Janine’s new boyfriend?”
“Look, I’m not saying it’s the reason, but you came to that conclusion pretty quickly. Is there any small possibility that you want to hit him, but know it would cause more problems than taking out your aggression somewhere else?” I asked, writing in the now near-full page in front of me the words Janine - new relationship.
“You think it’s that cut and dry, don’t you?” he snarled, the aggression coming back like an old friend no-one invited to the party. “She’s with someone else so I must be hitting out because of that? I could have come to that paltry conclusion on my own, but it’s the wrong conclusion. If it was just about her, I would have just hit Mark. It’s that simple.”
“I honestly don’t believe that you are trying to get her back - what I am trying to tell you is that now that Janine has left you, and now that you have accepted that, you’re going back into the pattern that worked. You’re a smart man, no doubt before you started getting into fights you were a good student - a child prodigy maybe. Don’t you think there is a part of your mind that is reverting back to form to get a new woman in your life?”
He sat back in his chair and slumped. “So because getting into a fight got me the girl of my dreams years ago, you think that’s why I’m doing it now?” This time he sneered instead of getting aggressive, and I am unsure whether this was an improvement.
“Hear me out. There’s more to it than just that, but you have to admit, being violent has, in the past, got you what being the smart, introverted student never did,” I replied, turning over a page in my legal notebook.
He looked down at his shoes for a while, absently picking at a loose piece of rubber that had come away from the sole. “Are you going to want to talk over this stuff with me in other sessions?” he asked after the silence had become so cloying and awkward that it filled the room.
“It’s not my ch0ice. I can help you, and I am more than willing to do so, but you’re in control here. You want to change, it can be on your terms and your timescale. The only rule is that if you stop, you can’t start again. I have plenty of other patients who need my time, and I don’t want to waste it on anyone who doesn’t take the therapy seriously.” This was a standard speech for patients by now, but it did not have the desired effect. Normally, I used it to make sure people were genuinely serious about my treating them; on this occasion I was saying it in the hope he would leave and never return.
“I don’t want to be one of those people who comes to you every week for the next 10 years - the last thing I need is a dependency on a support-structure.” He said this as though he wanted me to beg to keep him.
“Believe me, your problem is complex, but it should just take a little hard work and maybe in a few weeks we can find a different way for you to deal with your life.” He looked at the floor and grunted, which I took to mean he agreed.
“In any case, this seems to be about the end of our session. Do you want to have another appointment next week?” I asked, shutting the notepad with a fwip.
His face clouded a little, never being too far from stormy weather in any case. “We’ll see. I need to consider whether it’s going to be worth it,” was the response. This time I became the angry one.
“Mr. Kermody, I know that you don’t think much of me, and you obviously don’t believe I can help a complex, intricate man like yourself, but I might be your last hope. You said you knew your visitation rights to your son were at risk, but there’s more to it than that. At some point, you either need to get your anger under control, or I’d suggest taping your backside shut because in prison there are far nastier men than you ready and waiting. Either book another appointment or stop wasting my time!”
He smiled at me. That unprofessional outburst was going to cost me my jawbone, I knew it, but he actually smiled.
“I’ll make an appointment. Believe me, we’ll see each other again, Doc.” That was all that he said, and he walked to the door, still with that smile on his face. It was a look I will never forget - few humans will ever give such a facial expression with just their teeth.