Harp & Altar
POETRY
Oisín Curran

Farrah Field

Gregory Howard

Jenny Nichols
Everything I Know About Psychiatrists

Everything I Know About Psychiatrists
Jenny Nichols

I have been to see a psychiatrist twice in my life. The first time was at my own request when I was twelve and the appointment was made, by my mother, one week after my father killed my brother. She was against me going. “You’re just tired,” she said from her pile of embroidered pillows, “why don’t you go lie down. Even if you can’t sleep you can still rest your eyes.” When I arrived in his office, the psychiatrist, who was well known for his success with difficult children, gestured me towards the wooden chair in front of his desk and asked me in quick succession, “Have you ever been raped? Have you ever witnessed your parents engaged in the primal act? Would you say that you were tall, short, or of average height in comparison to the other girls in your class? Would you say that your breasts were large, small, or of average size in comparison to the other girls in your class?”

When I got home that night my father was hiding out in the top bunk of my bed, convincingly disguised as a pile of blankets and sleeping bags. I told him that I thought the psychiatrist was a pervert and an idiot. He waited until I had brushed my teeth and gotten into bed beside him to answer. The walls of our apartment were thin and he didn’t trust our neighbors not to turn him in. “Maybe he’s just gotten old,” he said quietly near my ear, “he was wonderful with your brother. I don’t know if I ever told you this but when your brother was little there was a time when he started hitting himself. It was very scary, in the head and everything, and a friend gave me Dr. Cahill’s number. I called and left a message with his service, I think it was a weekend and he called back that evening from his house and told me not to worry. He said that it was perfectly normal and he talked to me for quite a while and calmed me down, and I remember while we were talking he said, hold on, I just need to take off my jacket, I’ve just come in and I’m dripping on the carpet. He had called before he even took his wet jacket off. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.” In his sleep, my father reached out in a dream and tightened his hand around my throat but he released it without a struggle as soon as I pressed my thumbnail into his wrist.

The next day Dr. Cahill’s office called to schedule my second appointment. I told my mother that I didn’t want any more appointments but she said it would be extremely rude not to continue and that it would embarrass her especially as she knew Dr. Cahill’s wife slightly. The appointment was made and my mother was billed for it as she was for an appointment a week for the next two years until my father killed her, but I never showed up for one again.

The next time I went to see a psychiatrist I was fifteen. It was at the insistence of the guidance councilor at the private school I was attending who thought I was performing well beneath my ability. As soon as I arrived at my appointment I noticed that I was clutching in my left hand a twelve pack of Duracell AA batteries and pinching between the thumb and forefinger of my right hand the tail of an origami peacock, which, as far as I knew, I had never before seen in my life. It was difficult to follow what the psychiatrist was saying from her couch across the coffee table because I was increasingly distracted and upset by the degree of tautness to which the leather chair I was sitting on had been stuffed and there was a shiny, rotating object which, for the life of me, I could not identify nor deduce a use for, taking up the entirety of her extremely large desk. Just when I thought I could ignore the things in her office long enough to ascertain whether she was making a statement or asking a question that required an answer, I became entangled in a closed loop of revelation and despair which consisted of a slowly building feeling of incompleteness and loneliness that grew into a diamond sharp desire to hold in my left hand a twelve pack of Duracell AA batteries and pinch between the thumb and forefinger of my right hand the tail of an origami peacock. These two objects, held in these two ways, seemed to me, to lie at the outermost points of the spectrum, along which all things possible and impossible existed, at which moment I realized, once more, that I already held precisely these objects in precisely this way and I became transported by the perfection of the placement and movement of every atom in the universe and by the absolute and intricate illustration of that perfection apparent in every event. My newfound understanding of the essential way of things lead me fresh into the situation in which I found myself, ready to find in it, as in all things, an instance of the infinite pattern, only to become aware that the psychiatrist was saying something about coming to terms with my anger and I would slowly begin to suspect that both the chair which, by now, seemed to me to be obscenely overstuffed and what I can only refer to as the rotating object, were in fact, a kind of test and what’s more, a test that I could only fail no matter how I reacted. All of which bespoke, not unity but the inherent distrust and conniving at the heart of all human affairs. My growing despair would then settle into a sense of loneliness and incompleteness, all the more distressing in its familiarity, building to a diamond sharp desire to hold, in my left hand, a twelve pack of Duracell AA batteries and, pinched between thumb and forefinger, the tail of an origami peacock, in my right.

That night, at my legal guardian’s house, my father came in through my bedroom window, off the fire escape, and we closed ourselves into the hall closet with the coats to catch up. He asked me what I had thought of the psychiatrist and whether I thought seeing her would help me. I told him that I didn’t trust her and he said to me, “When you were small, your mother and I had a friend that was really smart and charming and everyone liked her and liked having her around, except you. You weren’t ever rude, you were always perfectly sweet to her but I could tell you didn’t like her and I asked you why and you said, ‘she’s only nice to people she can get things out of,’ and you were exactly right. You were five at the time,” and as he was speaking he slid a hunting knife out of a sheath attached to his belt but he let me take it away from him without a fight and wrap the blade in a pair of mittens so it wouldn’t cut anyone by accident.