A Disappointing Encounter
Doctor Linderhoff was quite tall, taller even than the impression I had of him from his pictures. And rather than fat, again my impression from his pictures, he was quite muscular. But the face was the same as the one I remembered from the pictures: glowing with health, heavily bearded in black, ecstatic.
"Mr. Arnall, I presume," he boomed out at me. "Pleased to meet you."
"It's an honor to meet you, Doctor," I replied.
"Please sit down," he said as he pointed to a comfortable-looking chair.
I did so.
"I knew Doctor Mendoza in Germany," he continued. "We were students there at the same university. How long were you in therapy with him?"
"About six months. Then the religious order of which I had been a member decided they had spent enough on me." I said this with a very grim smile on my face.
"How was it for you, working with Doctor Mendoza?"
"It helped. He encouraged me to get out and work in order to deal with the depression. And he was a listener. He also prescribed Mellaril, which I quit taking as soon as the sessions ended."
"Oh? he queried.
"I don't like psych meds. I don't take any now, even though I still of course have to deal with the mania."
"Hmm. Is it for this that you wish to see me?"
"No, not at all," I replied. "I've come for something quite different, and something which I think you will find interesting."
"Oh? Tell me," he asked.
"It begins with the fact that I hear voices. But it's not with the voices that I need help, not exactly. To cut to the chase, I've come in hopes that you can help one of the voices. I think it suffers from PTSD."
The doctor's eyebrows shot up as he blurted out, "You're joking of course."
"Not at all," I replied. "I'd as soon be rid of the jerk entirely, but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. But I hope that you might be able to help me by helping it."
Linderhoff began scratching in his beard. Then he turned his gaze upon me -- by now very serious -- and said, "Are you friendly with this voice?"
"Well, we are on a first name basis, if that's what you mean," I replied.
"I mean, are you in any sense friends?" he pressed.
"Hmm. Well, the voice says that it is my mortal enemy, which puts something of a damper on friendship. I have however tried to become friendly with it."
"You mention that the two of you are on a first name basis. The voice has a name then?"
"Yes, it's 'GefurienNethNeth.' At least that is the name it first gave me. Although now and then it demands that I change its name. Lately it has demanded 'GefurienNethNethNethNeth.' But I refuse to use that name, knowing that if I do, it will then demand that I use 'GefurienNethNethNethNethNethNeth.' One of its ways of needling me is to make demands which are ridiculous.
"By the way," I continued, "I have my own names for it. Usually the name is 'Shorty.' Sometimes I call it 'Mister G.'"
Linderhoff looked at me with arched eyebrows and said, "Shorty? That to me seems rather demeaning. Why do you call the voice that?"
I began to blush as I replied, "Well, to be honest, my purpose is to annoy it."
"Ah! Now you state that you are seeking help for him, yet you seem to me to be running a pattern on him. I will be specific. First of all, there is the demeaning nickname and your referring to him as a jerk. Furthermore you call his requests of you ridiculous demands, and you refer to the voice as 'it,' and you admit that the point of the name 'Shorty' is to annoy the voice. Do you think your behavior is rational?"
Linderhoff delivered the word "rational" in a shout, as if taking Shorty's side.
I reddened more deeply.
"You see, Mr. Arnall, don't you, that you've been behaving quite destructively, both towards yourself and Mister GefurienNethNethNethNeth?"
Linderhoff repeated the "Mister GefurienNethNethNethNeth" twice more, giving me the feeling that he was rubbing it in my face. Clearly, he was taking Shorty's side. Against me, dammit!
"But Doctor Linderhoff," I began in rebuttal, "there is my side of the picture. First of all, the thing is in my head without invitation. It is constantly threatening that it will kill me. It often shouts at me to the point of distracting me, especially when I am attending Mass. Several times it has distracted me to the point that I have seriously inconvenienced myself, for example, by locking my keys in my car. When I am peeing, it makes fun of the size of my weewee. When I try to sleep, it keeps shouting to prevent me from doing so. To bring it closer to home, it attempted to prevent me from coming here by distracting me to the point that I almost ran a red light with a police car sitting right behind me. Also it is yelling this very moment that if I continue to talk with you, it is going to have one of its 'contacts' torch this building. Now do you really think I am being irrational in my behavior towards it?"
"Hmm -- at the moment I'm not sure of anything about this situation," he replied as he did some more scratching in his beard.
"By the way," he continued, "does the name 'Jerome Witzelsucht' mean anything to you?"
"Yes. I worked with him for a couple of years in the 70s."
He then got up from his seat, rather pompously, and went to a filing cabinet behind his desk. Out of it he drew a folder and returned to his seat.
After examining the contents of the folder for several minutes, he cried, "Ah hah! He indeed mentioned you. In fact, we spent several weeks discussing mostly the damage you did to him, both physical and mental."
"What!" I yelled. "We were good friends, though now and then of course, as is normal in close working relationships, we would have our differences."
"Differences!" Linderhoff yelled back at me. "Do you call a fist fight a difference? In fact, I see looking more closely at this page that the situation was not at all a fist fight: without provocation you sucker punched the man and then punched him again and again as he screamed for mercy. Finally he collapsed in a pool of his own blood. Observers say that you then ran out of the room in a frenzy of fiendish laughter."
"That's impossible," I cried. "Jerry would never say a thing like that about me."
"Well, that's what he said," said Linderhoff, "and he was under my care for over two years. I can assure you that he's a very honest man. But what do you think of his honesty? You worked with him for about three years. Is that not true?"
"Yes, to the latter question," I answered. "As to the former, I would not say he is an honest person. He did a few things which made me feel that he was a good deal less than honest."
"Such as?" Linderhoff asked.
"Well, he was constantly hitting on one of our colleagues, a very beautiful twenty-three year old," I answered. "It was quite..."
"Really?" Linderhoff broke in. "And what exactly was wrong with his behavior towards the woman?"
"Surely, Doctor, you remember that he was married during that period," I answered.
"Ah, yes. And you think that his behavior towards the woman indicates that he is dishonest?" Linderhoff asked.
"Surely you're joking. A man cheats on his wife, and you object to my calling him dishonest?" I responded.
"Well, did he actually commit adultery?" Linderhoff asked.
"How can you be sure?" Linderhoff asked.
"The woman and I were close friends," I responded.
"Intimate friends?" Linderhoff asked.
"Why do you ask?" I answered.
"Don't tell me he showed you pictures of us!" I shouted.
"Yes, naked pictures," Linderhoff answered.
"What! That son of a bitch! And that little two timing bitch!" I cried out.
Linderhoff began laughing, then said, "Well, no really. His only mention of the woman was that your success with her made him jealous. You were the only one who did not hit on her, and yet you were the one she took up with."
"Yeah. That's because I treated her like a human being, not an it. But my relationship with the woman is irrelevant here, don't you think?" I said.
"Well perhaps. But I don't think it irrelevant that you judge Witzelsucht's honesty by the fact that he flirted with a female colleague," Linderhoff said.
"Hmm. Well, 'flirt': perhaps that's a reasonable alternative to my way of looking at his behavior," I responded.
I thought a moment: amazing what a well placed word can do. Yes, I could recall engaging in behavior which might be called flirting, even in the same room where my wife was. And I could recall as well my wife doing a bit of the same. But it's hard to draw a line between flirting and being friendly.
"OK, I must admit that I think it may be unfair to judge his honesty by his behavior towards the woman," I said.
"So then do you feel that he was being dishonest in his description of the fistfight event?" Linderhoff asked.
"I think he exaggerated," I responded. "For one thing, I am sure I never would have hit him in the jaw. If I hit him at all, it would have been in the nose or cheek. It's very dangerous to hit a man in the jaw. Do that, and you might kill him. The only time I ever hit a man in the jaw was in self-defense, and it was actually an accident. I never would have hit Jerry in the jaw."
And then it all came back to me. It had been almost forty years since it happened, and I had changed a lot since then, was really a completely different person. But then the spirit of the old me came upon the now me, and I relived suddenly the event. I had in fact struck Witzelsucht in the jaw as he screamed for help.
Then I began to cry and in a few seconds was sobbing uncontrollably. It went on for at least five minutes. Then I slumped into my chair, barely conscious from fatigue.
After several more minutes, Linderhoff spoke. "You know, I think I can help you with those voices."
I sat back in my chair and looked at the ceiling. I stayed that way for awhile, realizing that in fact I had not come looking for help for Shorty, that in fact what really had driven me here was the hope -- forlorn as it was -- that Linderhoff would help me rid myself of the infestation.
"Well," I asked, "when should I come for the first appointment?"
"Why don't we start now?" Linderhoff responded.
I sat for perhaps five minutes before I said, "Let me start by talking about the behaviors of the voices."
I then sat in a nervous silence for another five minutes or so. The cause of my nervousness will, I think, soon become apparent. "One afternoon about five years ago," I finally continued, "I noticed what seemed to be a liver spot on my wrist. But in an hour or so the thing began to change. Where the spot had been, two letters were beginning to form. They were touching each other. The letters were 'Dk'. I suppose that normally I would have been frightened by this, but I was, though unaware of the fact, drifting into a state which was anything but normal.
"About midnight, I went to bed. I had just laid down when my heart began beating rapidly and patterns were appearing on the walls and ceilings, patterns which quickly morphed into pictures of places where I had spent much time during my life, most of it periods of my early youth. After a few minutes, a voice began to tell a version of my life's story. It was quite accurate. It stressed that I had always sought a great purpose in my life. I was, as the voice put it, 'a man on a mission'. The voice then began to order me to do things. One was to dress in a certain way. At that point, I got up from my bed, dressed the way I normally dress, and left my apartment to take a walk. One thing I am sure of about voices, and that is that one should never follow their instructions."
"Why so?" asked Linderhoff.
"When I was in my early 20s, I had an experience with a voice. That voice also gave me orders, which I followed, and in so doing I got myself into a lot of trouble."
"With the law?" asked Linderhoff.
"No. I ended up in a psychiatric ward. But for now I'd rather not go into that but stick with the current narrative."
"Alright, then. Go ahead," responded Linderhoff.
"Well, I walked for about half an hour around my neighborhood, which was near the ocean. That night there were huge swells crashing into the sea wall. Their boisterous gloom amplified the terrifying mayhem which had gotten hold of my spirit. As I walked, I looked now and then at my wrist. Upon it were now forming new images. One of the images which I remember was that of a battery hooked to a flashlight bulb.
"'You must go back to your room and get your flashlight! That is what the image is telling you,' screamed one of the voices, which had identified itself as Leach. It kept screaming the same thing, over and over again.
"'One of the voices'? You mean there were others?" asked Linderhoff.
"Yes, there were two others," I replied. "One was GefurienNethNeth. The other was a voice which called itself Ruth. They were screaming, 'Follow the plan!'."
"'The plan'? What was the plan?" asked Linderhoff.
"I really didn't know. But clearly they had something in mind. But I was not interested in hearing about it. I began to think of a story I had been working on, in order to shut out the screaming."
"What was it about, the story?" asked Linderhoff.
"About something which had happened to me when I was in my late 20s. I had been jailed for a crime which I had not committed."
"Would you like to talk about that?" asked Linderhoff.
"No. Not at all," I replied.
"Finally I gave up thinking about the story as a means of distracting myself and returned to my apartment. I went to my desk and started working on the story. It was now about two in the morning. After an hour or so, the voices stopped their screaming, and I became sleepy and finally went back to bed. After a few minutes I fell asleep.
"At about ten o'clock I was awakened by more screaming. I went to my kitchen and fixed some breakfast. After eating, I called an acquaintance and arranged to meet him in town at a coffee house in order to discuss my situation."
"And?" asked Linderhoff.
"The conversation helped. After about a half hour of it, my acquaintance urged me to put on paper a complete history of my experience with the voices. I took this as a hint that he did not wish to continue discussing the matter at that time, so I changed the topic, and we discussed a fishing trip we had planned for the following month.
"After we had parted, I returned home and began working on the history which my acquaintance had suggested."
"Did you complete it?" asked Linderhoff.
"Yes," I replied.
"Could I look at it?"
"No. I deleted the file from my computer," I replied.
"What!" cried Linderhoff. "Why?"
"I'm not sure," I answered. "All I can tell you is that after working on it for a couple of days and completing it, I went to my desk a few days later, fired up my computer, found the file, and deleted it."
Linderhoff began scratching his beard as he stared at the ceiling. Then he pronounced, pausing for a second or so after each phrase,
"'Went to my desk a few days later,
'fired up my computer,
'found the file,
'and deleted it.'
"How curious. Did the voices demand that you do that?"
"No, not at all. In fact, they were almost completely silent the whole time I was working on the history," I replied.
"Hmmm. I see. And your acquaintance, did he ask about the history?"
"Yes," I replied.
"And you said?" asked Linderhoff.
"That I had decided not to write it and that I felt it unfair to burden him with any further discussion of the matter."
"And how did your acquaintance react to that?" asked Linderhoff.
"He said that it was my decision to make and that he would be happy to discuss the matter further if I wished it. He is like that: a very loving person, very generous."
Linderhoff fell silent again. After his routine of staring at the ceiling and scratching in his beard for several minutes, he broke out with, "You don't really want to be rid of them, do you?"
The question embarrassed me. Finally I replied, "No, but do not think that your time with me has been useless. It has helped me realize that I do not wish to be rid of them, at least at this time," I replied.
"And would you like to discuss your decision?" Linderhoff asked.
"If you will be tolerant."
"Of course," replied Linderhoff.
"I think part of it is simply laziness," I began. "I feel that the effort to get rid of the voices is not worth the reward. Really, the only way to get rid of them, I think, is to deal with my problems finding relationships with real people, instead of with the voices. But I am 80 now and doubt I can do it. At any rate, I'm not willing to expend the energy."
Linderhoff's reaction to this statement was to stare at me. He did it for at least ten minutes. It made me feel creepy. Finally I said, "You think me a fool, don't you?"
"No, but I think you are being foolish. Think of it this way. Perhaps you will never learn to bond well with others, but what of the effort, the adventure, of trying to do it?"
"Adventure? As if it would be enjoyable, the effort?" I asked.
"Yes, as if it would be enjoyable," replied Linderhoff.
"It's difficult for me to believe that it would be," I said. "All of my efforts in the past to get close to others have ended in pain. From the drowning of my best friend when I was three to ..."
"What!" cried Linderhoff. "That happened, and you have not told me about it?"
"Yes. I guess I should have."
"I know you should have. I can't believe that you held that back," Linderhoff almost shouted.
Linderhoff then fell into another long silence. He broke it with, "Tell you what, I want you to take a year off from this process. For one thing, it has already begun to exhaust me. For another thing, I don't think I can help you right now. But you need to realize that I will never be able to help you unless you tell me about the traumatic events in your life."
We talked a bit more after this last statement. Then I left the place and went home and got drunk. I don't often get drunk, but that night I did.
It has been almost two years since I last talked with Linderhoff. I am still with the voices. They sometimes become quite cross with me, but usually they are civil and remain my most intimate companions.