“What are you afraid of?” she asks, pen poised over the page of her notebook that is otherwise blank apart from my name and date of birth written at the top.
“Nothing,” I say, “I am fearless.”
“Come on now, everyone’s scared of something…”
I roll my eyes.
“Well, the thing that I was most scared of has happened. And it can’t happen again. So it’s all good,” I say, sticking both thumbs up.
“And that was…?”
“My dad dying.”
She says nothing, just stares at me. She wants me to elaborate but I don’t think she deserves to hear about my father. She has done nothing to earn it. She writes DAD DEAD in capital letters under my name and draws a circle around it twice.
“How has your mood been lately?”
“As it’s always been: oscillating wildly between extremes with no warning or explanation, no pattern or logic, no control or constraint,”
“So would you say that you ‘blow hot and cold’?”
“Yes. Hot and cold. The people around me would definitely agree with that. Cot and hold,”
As soon as it’s left my mouth, her lips curve upwards and £ signs appear in her eyes. Having been perched nervously on the edge of her chair, she now settles back into the cushion behind her, making herself comfortable.
“I meant ‘hot and cold’,” I say quickly, panicked, “not ‘cot and hold.'”
“Why do you think you said ‘cot and hold’ instead of ‘hot and cold’?” she asks wryly.
“Because I’m tired? Because I’m still drunk from last night? Because it’s an easy mistake to make?”
“I think there’s more to it than that, don’t you?”
“What, you think that my unconscious mind has sneakily revealed, without my permission, my innate longing for a better childhood, has hinted at problems since birth, has invited you to ask me about my mother and whether I was loved as a child?”
“Were you loved as a child?”
“I made a mistake,” I say, firmly.
“Do you think that you were a mistake?”
“Jesus Christ, it was a simple slip of the tongue!”
“A Freudian slip,”
“Yes. No! No. I don’t know,”
“‘Cot’ and ‘hold’ evoke, in me anyway, images of babies, or those first few years of life,” she says, “do you agree with my interpretation?”
“I guess so, yeah, to some extent…”
I am annoyed that she would waste a perfectly good page of a notebook by writing only 4 words and 6 numbers on it. There is more to me than my birthday and my dead dad.
“I didn’t have a cot when I was a baby. I slept in a fruit bowl,” I tell her, now annoyed at myself for entertaining her psychoanalyst nonsense.
“And do you remember your parents holding you? As a little girl?”
I am suddenly struck by the realisation that I have not one single memory of my mother holding me, or hugging me, or kissing me, or playing with me, or letting me sit on her lap. None at all.
“My dad held me,” I said, “there are photos. In all of the photos of me as a baby, it’s dad holding me, looking down at my squidgy face, beaming with pride and love and joy.”
“And your mother?”
I don’t say anything.
“Did your mother hold you when you were a baby?”
I look out of the window at the dying daffodils.
“Are there any photos of her holding you?”
With tears in my eyes, I shake my head.
Through gritted teeth I tell her, “I meant to say ‘hot and cold’ not ‘cot and hold.'”
She nods, places the pen on the arm of her chair, and twitsts the ring on her middle finger while staring at me with a searching look on her face.
We see out the final 17 minutes of the court-ordered appointment in silence.
On my way out of her office, I hover at the door. With my back turned to her, I tell her that I am scared of things. That I’m not fearless. That I’m scared, I’m frightened all of the time. That fear is eating me alive. The being alive terrifies me. She asks me again what it is that I’m afraid of. I tell her:
The Blue Meanies / policemen
voices crackling through walkie-talkies
the inevitable death of Sir David Attenborough
Then I close the door and walk over to the bored receptionist, a shabbily dressed guy who informs me, in perfect monotone as if reading from a script, that I’ve now completed my mandatory 5 hours of therapy and that I am free to go.
A silver thought flits through the dark behind my eyes: could it be that I don’t just need help but I actually want help, too? I think about making another appointment with the same lady, a voluntary appointment, one that I would actually engage in, one that might help me, might save me…
The guy stamps a sheet of paper, an official document declaring me to be sufficiently therapied and henceforth released from the care of the clinic, hands it to me and says, “Go on then. Bugger off!”
I take the paper from him and walk across the waiting room, thinking about his words. “You’re free to go.” I’m free to go. Free. To go. “Free.” After hearing the buzz of the security lock being opened, I push through the heavy double-doors. I’m not free. Not at all. Not in the slightest. “Fuck fear,” I say to myself, “I may not be free, but I am fucking fearless.” I drop my bag to the ground and run straight into the path of a speeding car. My final thought? “Free at last.”