Desmond

IT HAD BEEN SIX MONTHS since Desmond Gilchrist jumped off the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Six months since the depression and anxiety -which he’d battled for as long as he could remember- had finally won-out and sent him to meet his fate in the frigid water. It wasn’t a cry for help like when you take a handful of Lunesta, dial 9-1-1, and then lie down and wait for the EMT’s to come to your rescue, using the time you’re suspended in that sweet twilight between semiconsciousness and total respiratory collapse, to daydream about all the visits and greeting cards you’ll get from concerned friends, relatives and other sympathetic parties while you convalesce at the hospital. No, this was Desmond’s true and sincere resignation from *everything*, awful and awesome in its totality, fully actualized as he crashed through the ice that floated on the water’s surface, late that January night.

It was a miracle he’d survived.

Desmond had been in therapy, on and off, since college. He occasionally wondered to himself if he should have started earlier, in elementary school perhaps, when he would pause and remember how he would sit shaking in his chair as feelings of terror washed over him, his heart thumping in a frenetic rhythm that felt like the clomping of racehorses in the final stretch of the Kentucky Derby. He’d ask himself “What are you worried for?” and when he could offer no answer, it would stop and he would feel better. That coping mechanism had lost its efficacy somewhere in the fog of awkwardness, confusion, and angst that rolled in around the time he’d turned thirteen, as he was negotiating the obstacle course of adolescent social acceptance, and learning what girls were all about.

Therapy for an elementary school student? No, his father would have never gone for it, and neither would his mother, for that matter. Parents didn’t take their kids to see a shrink back then. They didn’t medicate them, either. You didn’t get a trophy because you showed up, and you weren’t told that you were “Special.” You were not allowed to complain. You towed the line, and you were grateful for your clothes, the love of your parents, and the roof over your head. They tried hard, and you were happy with it. Anything having to do with an unhappiness at the present set of circumstances, was seen as the dissent of an unreasonable child and was squashed. That’s how it was for Desmond, as it was, probably, for a lot of other kids when they were growing up.

And Desmond didn’t necessarily disagree with any of that. His folks had done the best they could with what love, time, and money they had at their disposal. They had divorced when he was two years old and though they shared a bitter enmity, they tried working together to give their son some semblance of a Normal Upbringing, however suboptimal the circumstances may have been at the time.

A happy coincidence put Desmond at his mother and step-father’s apartment one weekend, on his birthday. He was in the first grade, and had been visiting his mother every-other weekend. She’d thrown him a birthday party, inviting all his friends from school. Many years later he looked at the photographs she’d taken, and noted that it wasn’t that bad of a turn-out, at all. He had friends, when he was a kid, and they attended his one, and only birthday party.

His father, who had primary custody of him, did his best as well when Desmond was young. He’d build elaborate castles and machines with Desmond, out of Lego blocks, and the Erector Set. He would occasionally take Desmond to an outing with his friends from school, but he wasn’t interested in throwing him birthday parties, nor was he interested in spending money, and time in the evenings, on things like little league baseball or soccer practice. Desmond didn’t complain, though, because aside from that, and the fact that his mother was living across town, there was “nothing to complain about,” and that wasn’t so bad, was it?

When Desmond turned five, his mother and step-father moved out of state. “It isn’t so bad, Desmond,” his mother said, “you’ll be able to come visit me in the Summer, when school is out.”

Desmond towed the line. He and his father lived like bachelors ten months out of the year, eating chicken wings and drinking Pepsi for dinner, and attending church, on Sundays. Then he’d spend his Summer vacation at his mother and step-father’s house, trying to integrate himself into their family as best he could-

Because that’s what you do, you tow the line.

and it went on like that, for the rest of Desmond’s young adult life, and into his adulthood- he towed whatever line needed towing, be it school, or work, as best he could, albeit haphazardly and reaping no joy or fulfillment from it. And the fact that for the most part, “things were never that bad” for Desmond, is what always made everything worse.

“Things aren’t that bad,” he’d say to himself, “…so what are you upset about?” But no comfort came with the inquiry as it would when he was a child. There were only feelings of intense despair, hopelessness, and an aching longing for something he couldn’t identify. It was an emptiness that felt, to him, like blood still moved throughout the network of arteries and capillaries in his body, but no heart was there to beat, for him. And he despaired, because a concept of a “heart, necessary and indeed vital, for the pumping of life-giving blood” was something wholly outside of his ability to conceptualize. All he knew was that something integral to his existence was missing, he felt empty, and he grew to feel cheated, and angry, for having been denied it whilst being kept alive somehow and for so long, by some unseen, malevolent force.

In other words, and in a very real “Bridge-Jumper” type of way, Desmond’s heart wasn’t in *anything*. For him, it couldn’t be, and it hadn’t been for a long time.

He felt selfish. “I’d get it if I were born in Haiti, grew up in a shanty, and watched my folks get killed by a warlord in front of me when I was a kid, I’d understand *that*, but that’s not me, and I honestly feel horrible that I feel this way” he’d told his first therapist- a kind, fat, black man named Dr. Willoughby.

And he’d said the same thing a few years later, to Dr. Isidro, a Psychiatrist, during his first appointment with her. After the pleasantries were exchanged, Desmond talked, filling her in, and she listened to him for a few minutes. Then she gave him a prescription for powerful psychoactive drugs. “’Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors,’ Desmond. ’SSRI’s.’ They’ll help with the chemical imbalance I’m diagnosing you with.” she’d told him.

The drugs made his hair tingle, prevented him from ejaculating, and simultaneously made it easier for him to reconcile having unattached sex with women he didn’t care about, and most importantly, they took away his ability to worry about anything-

They made it easier to tow the fucking line.

yes, as a matter of fact they did! And Desmond *loved* it.

He’d been seeing a Therapist at the time, as well. She was a tall, willowy woman who’s name he no longer remembered. He did remember that he had been making an honest effort to open up to her and speak truthfully about what he was thinking and feeling, and that she always gave him the impression that, deep down, she suspected he was lying to her -just making it all up for some reason outside the realm of her comprehension, and he was totally getting off on it.

“And how could she not, Desmond?” the intrusive thoughts would inquire. “You *weren’t* born in a shanty at the ass-end of a war-torn, Third World shit hole, where your parents were butchered right in front of you, so how could your Therapist, or, quite frankly, *anybody*, believe that an average, unremarkable, white male such as yourself could carry around such anxiety and soul-crushing despair?”

It’s worth mentioning that as Desmond reached young adulthood, the intrusive thoughts began to insinuate themselves into his daily and nightly mentations. They didn’t help matters at all, and they only worsened as he got older.

He’d stopped seeing Dr. Isidro, and the therapist Miss Always-Thinks-I’m-Lying-To-Her, in his early twenties. He’d grown frustrated with them, and after a terrible experience-

A fucking mental breakdown.

occurred when he stopped taking Paxil cold-turkey, when a prescription ran out and his lack of health insurance, and money in-general, prevented him from being able to score more-

Because that’s really what it *is*, at the end of the day, isn’t it?

he decided that throwing money away on Mental Health just wasn’t a luxury he could afford. He was between jobs at the time, and thank God for *that*, because he didn’t have the perspicacity to run a lemonade stand, back then.

Dr. Ariel Citrenbaum had been practicing Psychotherapy out of a small office in Lawrenceville, an up-and-coming, trendy, “Neighborhood On The Rise,” in Pittsburgh, for ten years. Before that, Akron, Ohio. He’d become something of a local celebrity in recent months, due to a scandal involving a patient of his, Mrs. Miriam Wasserman, and a cutting-edge “exploratory treatment” he’d developed for her which involved several hash brownies and a trip to Kennywood to ride roller-coasters.

It was a miracle that his license to practice hadn’t been revoked (that anybody *knew of*).

Desmond had started seeing Dr. Citrenbaum the Friday following his swan dive into the Allegheny River.

It had been over ten years since Desmond had seen a Therapist. He’d given up, and had tried his best to be what his father would refer to as “A Happy, Well-Adjusted, Productive, Hard-Working, God-Fearing Adult” on his own. For a while, it worked. He had a good job. He had made a friend, or two. And the intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and catatonic despair had left him alone, for the most part, during the hours he spent at work -which were long, or when he played trivia at the bar or attended Penguins games, with his friends.

Returning to his house at the end of the day, or night, was another matter entirely…

Desmond’s “house”, with appropriately-placed quotation marks, was *not* Desmond’s “castle,” in the classical, masculine sense of the word. It was not a place where he could laze on the couch in his bathrobe, drinking beer, while watching the Seminoles serve-up the Rose Bowl to the Fighting Ducks like an omelet, if he wanted to. It wasn’t a place where he could “Take Refuge,” as our friends the Buddhists would say.

No, Desmond likened his house to what Sylvia Plath’s head would be like if you moved-in there, filled it with ratty, second-hand furniture, and played Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” on repeat, over and over again, while doberman pinschers barked incessantly, speaking in human words, asking The Tough Questions in .50 BMG, rapid-fire succession.

It was like *that*. And Desmond knew not to tarry on the couch for too long, lest those dogs start barking, inquiring how the fuck a thirty-five year-old man didn’t have a family of his own, or how on Earth he hasn’t fucked-up at work and lost his job, yet. It was either that, or a wave of despair that would wash over him, hold him down, and force him to sob uncontrollably for hours.

So he washed dishes. He vacuumed his carpet. He dusted his furniture. He learned how to cook. He washed his car. He did *anything* to take his mind away from how desolate he felt, in that space.

He’d ventured out for his appointment after a particularly heinous episode. It was the kind that made him feel sad at first, the kind of sadness that leaves you in a ball on the floor of the shower while the steaming hot water burns you and you don’t notice, followed by the panic that makes you feel like you’re having a heart attack.

Desmond had felt “a little off” all morning. He woke up searching desperately for someone to hold; a soft, sweet woman sleeping peacefully with gently closed eyes, smiling with supple, closed lips, whom he could draw himself close to and embrace, a woman who would open her eyes and regard him in a state of blissful tranquility when he did it, who didn’t exist. He had woken up alone, again. And it felt awful.

He ambled his way along the sidewalk which ran perpendicular to Butler Street, toward the building where Dr. Citrenbaum’s office was located. The feelings of loneliness and utter hopelessness coated every cell in his body like a malignant pine tar.

He wanted to get better. He wouldn’t have called Dr. Citrenbaum, after locating his number on the back pages of the Pittsburgh City Paper, if he hadn’t. Surviving his suicide had jarred something loose inside his head and when he saw Dr. Citrenbaum’s number, he felt compelled to call and arrange an appointment. He’d been seeing him once a week, every week, ever since-

And his progress wasn’t that bad, either!

He passed the hip espresso bar, and not long after, the guitar shop, catching the reflection of his profile in the windows with his peripheral vision as he went. This made Desmond recall what Dr. Citrenbaum had told him regarding how important it is to “Cultivate the ability to passively observe yourself from the perspective of a non-partisan, third-party observer.”

“It’s a great Tool to have in your ‘Mental Toolbox,’ Dez.” Dr. Citrenbaum had said.

And Desmond had been working on it.

“I feel feelings of intense hopelessness, and longing.” Desmond said softly to himself.

Also, Desmond’s “dogs were barking,” as Dr. Citrenbaum called the intrusive thoughts, and he observed several, such as-

“Is this really all there is for you in life, Desmond? Because I have to tell ya’, if it is, then it really *is* ’That Bad.’ The best you could hope for at this point is a nice eulogy, and the kind of peace that only a casket buried six feet under the ground can afford you.”

and this gem:

“Why do you even *bother* with therapy? You’re too damaged for it to do any good, anyway.”

as they arose in his mind.

“Why do you even bother…” With that thought, came the mental fog and the apathy. Desmond was familiar with those, too. To Desmond, it was like starving to death on Thanksgiving, in the sense that he felt empty, exhausted, and aching for nourishment, all while sitting at a dinner table surrounded by food, vexed with the inability to so much as lift a fork. But he kept walking down Butler Street, on his way to the safety of Dr. Citrenbaum’s office.

“It’s like with me and exercise, Dez. I don’t feel like running all the time, but I do it anyway and you know what? I always feel better after I run. So I do it. That’s what keeps me coming back…” Desmond remembered Dr. Citrenbaum saying. Dr. Citrenbaum was full of little nuggets like that one.

He kept on, and as he walked, he observed that the sidewalk toward Dr. Citrenbaum’s building seemed to suddenly go on for miles-

Fucking lightyears…

and that it appeared to wobble, in his field of vision.

“Great. The God damn ‘Fishbowl Effect,’ again, with an ‘Unsteady Ground’ chaser, for good measure.” Desmond remarked, to himself.

This perceptual distortion was something Desmond was familiar with, too. It happened all the time. “Everybody’s body tells a story,” Dr. Citrenbaum had told him, and he was no exception. His Peter Murphy-esque, rail-thin silhouette spoke to how little Desmond ate. And the swollen, dark circles under his eyes, which bulged from the sunken cheeks of what otherwise would have been a handsome face, told the world that Desmond hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in a very long time. Thus, he would experience moments of temporary weightlessness, during which his whole body would tingle and feel empty, and his field of vision would become narrow and unsteady. His fragile mental state would worsen this effect, making him feel as if the journey to *wherever* was too arduous, too fraught with uncertainty, and too *pointless* to continue on.

“When was the last time I ate anything? Must’ve been yesterday morning.”

A Port Authority bus appeared on what looked like a distant horizon. It looked miniscule. Desmond observed himself pause momentarily, and then turn right, taking two steps off of the sidewalk.

He observed an intrusive thought, “There we go, no we’re talking!”

He was on Butler Street and he observed himself taking two more steps. He also observed the bus getting larger as it approached him.

Another intrusive thought spoke up, “Don’t worry. There will be a momentary calamity but I assure you, Business As Usual will continue once they clean up the mess, and the World At-Large, save for a few Yinzers who hear about in on KDKA tonight during the evening news, won’t take any notice at all. Just close your eyes, stand perfectly still, and wait.”

The bus hadn’t slowed.

Desmond let the words “Stand perfectly still, and wait” sink in. He heard voices, and horns honking, but paid them no mind at all. He heard the bus getting closer. It sounded like *relief*. He closed his eyes, and let out a sigh that made all of the hopelessness he felt vanish. The feeling of weightlessness remained. He opened his eyes and beheld the bus bearing down on him, seeming not to have slowed down but, on the contrary- to have sped up.

Another intrusive thought told him, “There are worse ways to die, Desmond, trust me. And you know damn well you can’t continue on like this anyway…”

And then, contact. He was hit hard, with a force strong enough to jar him back to cognizance. It wasn’t the bus that was screaming its way by, but rather, a large black man, wearing work pants and a tank top. He had pushed Desmond out of the way of the bus, tackling him onto the sidewalk. Desmond stared up at him, seeing him clearly- an honest, kind face which showed concern without a hint of self-interest, and he was smiling.

“Hey, buddy? Are you okay?”

Desmond nodded, and whispered “Yes.”

The man helped him to his feet.

“I saw you walk out into the middle of the road, man, why the Hell’d you do that?”

“I, I, uh-” Desmond tried to stammer-out an answer.

The man was brushing the dirt off of Desmond’s back, and shoulders.

“I just didn’t want to *do it*, anymore.” Desmond said.

The man stopped, and put his large, bunch-of-bananas-hands on Desmond’s upper-arms, and squeezed them. “How about now?”

“I should probably be on my way to see my Therapist, now.”

“Good.”

Desmond looked around. The large, black man had disappeared, back to the anonymity of the crowd on Butler Street. He looked ahead, and noted, with a sigh of relief, that the sidewalk had returned to its normal form and distance, and that it was no longer wobbling.

Then he shuddered, and all the hair on his arms, and on the back of his neck, stood up. His body was no longer tingling, it had become a living, breathing, man-shaped beehive and the buzzing sound grew to a volume loud enough to perforate the human ear drum, and then … Silence. Silence, at the exact moment at which every synapse in Desmond’s brain fired in the precise sequence necessary to cause this one, singular thought to spring into existence-

WHAT IF I CAN’T KILL MYSELF, NO MATTER HOW HARD I TRY?

…those aren’t comforting words, not for a man who finds himself on the shit-end of an emotional and existential crisis. But the thought was seductive. And he began to *actively* think about it, and he knew what *that* meant, Dr. Citrenbaum had told him a thing or two about the thoughts that just “Spring into existence, in your head,” and “The thoughts that you ‘create’, by thinking about thoughts, or other things,” during his therapy sessions.

Considering Desmond’s lackluster track record in the “Successfully Executed (Ha-Ha!) Suicide Attempts” department, it didn’t seem all that far-fetched. And when he considered his childhood, it actually made sense-

When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed complain; it’s not that bad, just tow the line.

Now that I’m an adult, I want out but I’m not allowed; and it’s not that bad after all, so just tow the fucking line!

“Oh my God!” he screamed, pressing the heels of his hands against his temples. He threw his torso forward at his waist, and his head and hands came to an abrupt rest between his knees; he buckled, and screamed again, in agony- “Oh my FUCKING GOD!”

Whoops. Now he’d really gone and done it. He’d fucked up- he’d *acknowledged it*. First came the thought, from right out of fucking nowhere, and everything would have been just fine if he’d merely observed that it had happened (like a non-partisan, third-party observer, perhaps…) and moved on. But no, Desmond had screwed the proverbial “pooch” and had made a situation that “wasn’t that bad,” catastrophically fucking worse by acknowledging it, and then giving the thought life by actively thinking about it, analyzing it, rationalizing it, and, finally- making it make sense-

Desmond, you colossal, fucking idiot!

Now it was Real. It was Out There, in The Wild, and that terrified Desmond, because that meant that it had become something that needed to be Dealt With.

Five more minutes of walking later, followed by the climbing of a tall, narrow staircase, and a brief trip to the bathroom to splash cold water on his face, Desmond sat fidgeting, in a comfy armchair across the elegant and nicely polished hardwood coffee table, from Dr. Citrenbaum who sat “at Royal Ease” again, as our friends the Buddhists would say, in an even nicer and no-doubt even comfier armchair.

“You look a little shaken-up, today, Dez. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“A little shaken up? Look at me, I’m a fucking *mess*!”

And Desmond was a fucking *mess*, indeed. His visage was haggard, he looked like he’d been sleeping under a bridge. He’d mismatched the buttons to the buttonholes on his wrinkled, blue Oxford shirt when he’d dressed himself this morning, and one of his shirt tails was hanging free, pulled loose no doubt, during his episode on Butler Street. Exhausted though he may have looked, he was a ball of nervous, jittery energy, chewing his fingernails down to the nail bed, while his legs shook uncontrollably.

Dr. Citrenbaum shifted in his chair, folded his hands, and spoke in a calm, well-modulated tone, “Dez, you’re in a safe space, so tell me all about what’s bothering you, today. What’s going on, buddy?”

“I had a bad morning. A real bad morning. I woke up alone, just like I always do, and this time I realized that I will be spending the rest of what I’m *certain* will be a very long, and miserable life, all alone. And I had a panic attack-“

Dr. Citrenbaum interrupted with “Okay, you had a panic attack, and it sounds like those dogs were barking again, Desmond. What did we learn, about when the dogs start barking? Remember the dogs, Dez?”

“…yes I remember the fucking dogs, you just observe that the fucking intrusive thoughts happen and then you let them go, and I’ve been doing that, I swear to fucking Christ I have, but today it’s so much worse.“

“Right, because didn’t we talk about how important it is to be objective about our thoughts?”

Desmond began to weep.

“Remember how we spoke about how sometimes people will say mean, nasty things to you and you’ll hear them, but you can choose not to acknowledge them and not to dwell on them? And how your intrusive thoughts were like that, too- you can hear them but you can choose not to dwell on them, and choose not to let them disrupt your emotional equilibrium?”

“Yes, but God, it was so much worse this time, and I couldn’t just observe them and let them go. And I think I may have made a terrible, God-fucking-awful mistake, too.”

“C’mon, Desmond… What have we learned about life, and about therapy? You never make mistakes! At best, you’re simply ‘Conducting Research’ and at worst, you’re ‘Giving Yourself Opportunities For Growth And Self-Discovery,’ isn’t that right?”

Desmond was sobbing, now, and regarding the erstwhile Dr. Citrenbaum with bloodshot, glassy eyes. He choked-out “I tried to kill myself by getting hit by a bus, today. And I was saved at the last second by a large, sweaty black guy…”

Dr. Citrenbaum clapped his hands, exclaiming “Okay, good, we have a dialogue going, here! You tried to kill yourself again.”

“…right, and after the guy saved me, I had a thought.”

“And then you had a thought. Okay, and what was the thought?”

Desmond stammered, searching for the wherewithal necessary to tell Dr. Citrenbaum the thought that was unraveling him.

“Dez?”

Desmond shouted “It was ‘What if I can’t kill myself, no matter how hard I try?’”

Dr. Citrenbaum paused, adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses, and began writing down the thought in the leather-bound notebook he kept specifically for his sessions with Desmond. He made it to “WHAT IF I-“ before he stopped, and put down his pen. A shiver began at the base of his spine and wriggled its way quickly up his back, to the top of his head. An observer would not have registered this disturbance. Dr. Citrenbaum’s cool, nonchalant exterior was left unchanged. He took a long, deep breath in through his nose and let it descend all the way to the bottom of his belly, and held it there as the echoes of Desmond’s thought reverberated against the inside of his skull. The vibration made his molars hurt, but he gave no sign of discomfort. His heart was empathetic, but his mind, and his spirit, were immovable.

“Dez, did you think actively about that thought after it popped up?”

Desmond doubled-over in his chair, and with “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” the very same way the despaired did it in Matthew Chapter 13, Verse 42 of The Holy Bible, he grabbed two thick clumps of hair in his clenched fingers, and while wrenching them out, he hissed “Yes. Yes I did it, I fucking DID IT. ”

“Yes you did, Dez, didn’t you? Even though the very foundation of your therapy depends on your not actively thinking about such thoughts, you went and did it anyway! Desmond, do you realize what you’ve done?”

“Yes,” he hissed again, and then shouted “I made it fucking real by thinking actively about it!” He continued- “It’s just like it was when I was dating Anastasia. Everything was fine, but the God damn dogs in my head or whatever you want to call them would start barking at me, telling me all about how she was was fucking her friend Gary, late at night after I’d drop her off after the Pens game or whatever, and it made me act like a clingy, obsessive, jealous, neurotic idiot and I ended up pushing her away!”

Dr. Citrenbaum thumbed-back several pages in his notebook, reviewed what notes he’d taken when Desmond had spilled his guts all over the coffee table in a fit of tears about the Anastasia Debacle, and nodded in agreement, saying “Right, right Dez, and who did she end up with after she broke up with you?”

“Fucking Gary…” Desmond whispered, in a sick, guttural tone.

“Right…“

“They’re getting fucking married this Fall! He’s probably sodomizing her right now!”

“I know, Dez. And we both know that this is your pathology, this ‘Obsessing Over Intrusive Thoughts, And Making Them Real,’ don’t we?”

“Yeah, well this time it’s so much fucking worse, Doctor Citrenbaum. This time I’ve really fucked myself. I’ve never been able to really live, happily or otherwise, and now I can’t fucking *die*, either!”

Desmond had fucked himself, alright. He’d fucked himself right in the ass with a pinecone, right there on Butler Street, that gray and dreary morning. He had taken The First Step: Admitting He Had A Problem, only this wasn’t A.A., where The First Step planted your feet firmly on Salvation’s welcome mat, no. In the infernal world Desmond occupied, it served as an unholy incantation, and once he’d spoken it to himself, once he’d made it make sense, covenants were sealed and set, and he was damned.

A very small, nearly imperceptible tick bubbled to the surface on the skin just under the corner of Dr. Citrenbaum’s left eye.

“Dez, I think it’s time we pursued the treatment of your intrusive thoughts, and your uncanny ability to make them become real, on a much more aggressive level.”

Desmond sat up, slowly, and then shrank down, against the back of his chair. He then took a deep breath, and let out an exasperated sigh. His eyes burned from the tears, his head throbbed, and his jaw ached. His voice cracked as he asked, plainly, “What do we do?”

Dr. Citrenbaum stood up, and walked across the hardwood floor of his office to his gargantuan mahogany desk. “Dez, I want to see the reality of this particular thought with my own, two eyes. You’ve been speaking to me about this uncanny ability of yours for weeks, now, *months* even, but I haven’t observed it first-hand, in the confines of a controlled environment, yet. So we’re going to play a game.”

“A game! What the fuck, like Snakes and Ladders? Scrabble? Fucking Battleship?”

Cool, nonchalant Dr. Citrenbaum opened his desk drawer, reached in, and produced a bottle of Irish whiskey. He sat the bottle down on his desk. He reached into the same drawer once more, and removed from it a .38 caliber, Smith and Wesson revolver. “Tell me, Desmond, do you remember the movie ‘Deer Hunter?’”

This caused Desmond’s eyes to roll back in his head, and made his stomach perform a beautifully-executed reverse one and a half somersaults with three and a half twists, in the free position dive, straight into the pool of Personal Unconsciousness. The judges were holding up cards with “10’s” printed on them as his head hit the coffee table.

He came-to moments later. Dr. Citrenbaum had sat him upright in his chair, and was waving a teacup containing what looked like four jiggers of whiskey under his nose. “Dez. Dez? Desmond, are you with me, Dez?”

“Oh my Christ I am, but I wish I wasn’t.” he replied.

Dr. Citrenbaum handed him the cup, and then, while walking back to his chair, took his suit jacket off, untied his tie, and removed his suspenders from over his shoulders. He hunkered down in his armchair, and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt. Next, he poured himself some of the whiskey, and whacked it down without so much as a cough. “Drink up, Dez. I need you pliable for this treatment.”

Desmond did as he was asked, and the whiskey scorched every square centimeter of his esophagus as it made its way down to his stomach. He coughed, and his stomach and anal sphincter spasmed violently.

Dr. Citrenbaum poured himself, and Desmond, another round. He raised his teacup, and furrowed his brow as he looked at Desmond, and they both took their belts in unison. Then, he lifted the revolver and freed the cylinder, emptying all six bullets onto the cover of an issue of “Omni” magazine that was lying on the coffee table. He picked up a single bullet, and squinting as he peered into the cylinder, carefully loaded it into the chamber one down, on the left-hand side. He then gave the cylinder a gentle slap, and it made a soft, metallic whirring noise, just before he flicked his hand to the right, causing the cylinder to come to rest back inside.

“Live-fire exercise, ladies and gentlemen! Gun’s hot! Please don your earphones and protective eyewear!” He put the muzzle of the revolver against his temple, and pulled the trigger-

CLICK!

“Whoo-wee!”

Desmond shouted, “Are you out of your fucking mind!”

Dr. Citrenbaum reached across the coffee table and placed the revolver in front of Desmond. He clapped his hands, “WOW!”

“Are you fucking insane!” Desmond shouted, again.

“Invigorated, Dez!” he replied. It was the most excited, and animated, that Desmond had ever seen Dr. Citrenbaum. “And I could use another drink! I bet you could, too, right about now, eh’, Dez?”

He poured them each another.

“Okay Dez, I just beat the odds at one-in-six! Now here we go, Desmond’s coming through with the big one-in-five, ladies and gentlemen!” He gulped-down his whiskey, and clapped his hands again. “Go for it, buddy, c’mon!”

“This is fucking ludicrous!” Desmond shouted.

“It’s *FUCKING FANTASTIC*!” one of the dogs barked back, at him.

Dr. Citrenbaum replied, “I don’t see how that’s true, Dez. It’s a perfectly scientific experiment. And if what you say is true, and we both know that it probably is, the only one of us who’s in any real danger right now is me. And it’s not as if you, yourself, shot me, now is it? No! If I fuck up and blow my brains out all over my office, you can walk away! The County Medical Examiner will think it’s a suicide, case-closed! Of course, you’ll have to do the leg-work finding yourself a new therapist, but other than that, I really don’t see any cause for concern here, Desmond. Now stop being a pussy, and pick up the gun and pull the fucking trigger!”

“Yeah, Dez, tow the fucking line for fuck’s sake and do it!”

God damn dogs barking again…

Desmond drank his whiskey, and fought-back the cough. When he was certain that he wasn’t going to empty what little was in his stomach all over the coffee table, he reached for the revolver. It was cold, and it felt like it weighed as much as a bowling ball. He lifted it begrudgingly and placed the muzzle against his temple. Dr. Citrenbaum was staring at him calmly. He pulled the trigger-

CLICK!

Desmond’s eyes widened and he took in what seemed like all the air in the office in one, Herculean gasp, before slamming the weapon back down on the coffee table with a trembling hand.

“Nice work Desmond! WHOO!”

Despite the fact that he’d been clenching down, hard, since the moment he pulled the trigger, Desmond felt the warm, wet, telltale signs of shit leaking out of his rectum. He had soiled himself-

Shit, man, who wouldn’t have?

“Way to go, Dez! I guess that means it’s my turn again” Dr. Citrenbaum said as he retrieved the gun from the coffee table. “Here we go, folks, I have a one-in-four chance, aaaaand-“ with the muzzle pressed against his temple, he squeezed the trigger-

CLICK!

“Ha-Haaaa HAAAAA!” Dr. Citrenbaum danced a jig and laughed like a starving hyena circling the first rotting wildebeest carcass he’d seen in weeks. “Holy shit Dez! What a rush! Do you hear me talkin’ to ya’! Are you getting this?”

“I really just, oh fuck-“ Desmond shifted in his soiled seat, and while fighting-back the new tears that were emerging from his eyes, implored “…I really just want to go back to my house.” His voice had failed at the word “house”, he’d merely mouthed the word, with “se” as the only syllable, and it was barely audible. And though this would have tugged at the heart strings of other so-called “Therapists,” Dr. Citrenbaum remained unmoved and wholly unsympathetic.

“Here we go, big guy, it’s all you with the formidable one-in-three! Let’s see if you can make it happen!” He stood up, and in a swarthy manner tossed the gun from his right hand to his left, and flipped the butt around, toward Desmond, and passed it confidently, across the table, in his direction.

Desmond was quickly approaching his boiling-point. He wasn’t there yet, but God damn it, he was close. He jolted himself up onto his feet, snatched the revolver from Dr. Citrenbaum’s hand, brushed his hair away from his temple, pressed the muzzle against it, and then he leaned forward, toward Dr. Citrenbaum. He widened his dead eyes, and opened his mouth, unleashing what sounded like the battle cry of some kind of aboriginal warrior, and squeezed the trigger with an insane fury-

CLICK!

Dr. Citrenbaum flung his upper body backwards, threw his arms in the air, and shouted “FUCKIN’ A! Oh my God, Desmond! Jesus Fucking Christ that was incredible!”

Desmond had begun to shake, again, and as what breath remained in his lungs seeped out through his mouth, he shuffled his tired, strained body backwards to his chair.

“Well Dez, it doesn’t take a genius to understand what’s going to happen next. In just a moment I’ll either be dead, and you’ll be shopping for another Therapist, or you’ll be proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to both of us, that not only can you *not*, under any circumstances, kill yourself, but also, and probably more importantly, that you can make whatever you want to happen, *happen*, just by thinking about it.”

And with that, Dr. Citrenbaum put the gun to his head, again, for what would be the last time. He was perfectly calm.

“…wait.”

Dr. Citrenbaum raised his eyebrows, and peered down at Desmond.

“Wait…”

“Yes?”

“Dr. Citrenbaum, where do my thoughts come from?”

“Oh Dear Lord you have *got* to be kidding me, Desmond.”

Desmond slinked his shaking body out of his chair to his knees, nearly collapsing over the coffee table. He pushed it out of his way and lurched forward, holding an out-stretched hand at his Therapist, a man whom he had, in a very real and sincere way, come to like, during the course of his Treatment. “Please listen to me, Dr. Citrenbaum. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to play, anymore, and I don’t want to live my life this way, anymore. Please, just stop, just fucking stop and tell me where my thoughts come from… Please tell me, if the intrusive thoughts, the barking dogs, come from the same place where MY OWN thoughts come from…”

“For fuck’s sake, Desmond, it’s all just images in a fucking window! The intrusive thoughts, the thoughts you think-up yourself, the people you see on the God damn street, all of it! It’s ALL happening and you’re just a byproduct of it that just sort of *magically happens*, too, now calm down, you’re compromising the experiment!”

“No Dr. Citrenbaum, wait-“

BOOM!!!

It was ear-shattering, but to Desmond, the smell of gunpowder mingled with scorched flesh was worse. He didn’t hear the thud that Dr. Citrenbaum’s body made as it hit the hardwood floor of his office, but he felt the vibration. It was only shock that prevented him from throwing up. He wanted to, he wanted to throw up badly, to purge himself of the noxious stew of emotions that was boiling deep in his belly. He smelled that, too, within himself. It was acrid and metallic, like the petrochemical plants near San Jancito, in Texas-

“Chemical Alley,” they called it.

He felt something, too. A feeling that he hadn’t felt in so long he’d forgotten about it. It was his heart, and it was racing. He felt his pulse, like a jackhammer, throughout his entire body, all the way up to his forehead. He began to breathe, and to steady himself. He began not to feel his heart beating but rather, he began to simply observe it happening. And as he did so, he observed himself, Desmond, happening, too. He observed himself nodding his head in calm agreement, with eyes wide and full of wonder.

He observed himself exiting Dr. Citrenbaum’s office.

It was 9 AM the following morning. The clock-radio on Desmond’s nightstand had sprung to life, and Pittsburgh’s favorite morning radio personality, the one and only Johnny Palladini, was belting out “When there’s lightning, you know it always brings me dooooooown” right along with his producer, and the members of Scattergun, a punk rock band who’d been tear-assing their way through clubs and dive bars in Western Pennsylvania, recently, along with a few other folks who’d joined them in the studio. They were singing along with Ronnie James Dio. It was Johnny Palladini’s schtick. It’s a curious fact, about Pittsburgh, that on any given morning, you can tune in to any of the local rock radio stations, and within an hour, you’ll hear a Dio song. Desmond had woken up to Rainbow The Dark.

He did not look for a woman who didn’t exist, because there was no reason to. He *knew* that he would be meeting a real woman, soon enough- a kind, smart, beautiful-in-a-girl-next-door-type-of-way woman, and that they would cherish one another for many years to come. He turned off his clock radio, and headed to the bathroom to perform his ablutions. After he washed, and brushed his teeth, he got dressed, and combed his hair.

Desmond’s breakfast was a toasted english muffin, with butter and marmalade. He took it along with him as he left.

The sun greeted his face in a warm and welcoming way. It was not gray outside, as Pittsburgh usually is, and it wasn’t not that bad, either. It was, in point of fact, positively radiant, and so was Desmond as he embarked on his walk toward Lawrenceville, where his Therapist’s office was located, feeling better, probably, than any unremarkable, white male should legally be allowed to feel. And he had complete faith and trust in everything that he had made make sense, down to the finest detail-

And it should be noted that of all the sounds that greeted him as he walked along the sidewalk that ran perpendicular to Butler Street, the sound of barking dogs was not among them.

He paused by the window of the hip espresso bar, and gazed at his own reflection. The dark circles under his eyes had already begun to fade, no doubt the result of last night’s slumber. He moved on, and noted that the length of the sidewalk was normal, and that it wasn’t wobbling at all.

Desmond didn’t need to splash cold water on his face before he entered the sanctum of Dr. Citrenbaum’s office, this day. No, it wasn’t necessary. He simply opened the door and stepped inside, with all the confidence and self-assuredness of a man who *knows* that he doesn’t need to tow the fucking line.

Dr. Citrenbaum, sitting “at Royal Ease” in his comfy armchair, looked up from his morning newspaper and regarded Desmond with an adoring jubilance, “Desmond my boy, nice to see you! I thought we might play chess, today!”

Desmond smiled. “That’d be just fine, Dr. Citrenbaum, and it’s fantastic to see you, too.”

Copyright © 2015 Kenneth Atkins
Desmond

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