In My Professional Opinion

“There are some holes you can’t patch up, no matter how many stories you try to stitch them together with.” – Dr. Brown

In My Professional Opinion

A short story by Emma Lee Downs.

Summary: Dr. Brown psychologically analyzes one of her patients only to find that she is the one who needs to be analyzed.

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In My Professional Opinion

By: Emma Lee Downs

“If there is nothing else productive you have to tell me, Mr. Williams, you are free to leave. You don’t have anything to worry about. You’re evaluation went well. I am going to give you a complete bill of mental health. I wish you a good rest of the afternoon.”

The woman in her early thirties tapped a clipboard with a stack of medical records clipped to it with a small, ballpoint pen. She sat on a leather chair with four round wheels at the bottom. Her patient lay across from her on a dark green couch. He had his arms pulled behind his head. His legs were crossed at the other end. He looked very comfortable on the green furniture piece, given the circumstances. At the end of every year, the patient in question, one Rowan Williams, had to visit a psychologist to make sure he was still mentally fit enough to keep his job. Some state governor long ago had decided that social workers needed to have a mental bill of health to provide the optimum services for their clients.

No one really took the state bill seriously. Most psychologists just hurried through the psyche evaluation and gave the workers a passing score whether they were actually mentally fit to keep their government positions or not. The social workers hated the mandatory meetings just as much as the physiologists who were paid by the city to evaluate them. Rowan Williams was different than the usual stock of men and woman that came in for the yearly evaluation. He lay on the green couch with a big smirk on his face. He had decided a while back that was going to make the most of his visit to the drab psychologist office on Winchester street whether his designated psychologist liked it or not. He looked up into the green eyes of the woman who had the aura of someone who had never smiled once in her entire life.

He said without blinking once, “Well Dr. Brown, I don’t think it is time for me to leave yet. I know that you have other patients to see and all, but I need someone to talk to, and seeing as I have to be here anyway, I might as well make the most of the situation.”

Dr. Brown sighed and proceeded to take a deep sip from a blue coffee cup. It was sitting on a silver tray that rested atop a brown end table. The end table was positioned next to her leather chair and was made of cherry wood. When she had taken a sufficient amount of the brown liquid into her mouth, she swallowed the thick syrupy liquid. She placed the coffee cup beside a pitcher of creamer and a dish filled with sugar that sat beside each other on the silver tray. She sat the clipboard in her lap and glared down at Mr. Williams with a look of annoyance.

“Mr. Williams, I have interviewed you for the last hour and I have found nothing out of place. You have many friends at your job that you talk to at a regular basis. You have a good relationship with your family and you visit them often. You are unmarried, but are satisfied living a bachelor life with your pet dog, Rex. You enjoy your job and have a good relationship with all of your supervisors. It seems like everything is going fine for you. In my professional opinion, you are the very vision of mental health.”

Rowan continued to look at the doctor with a large smirk on his face.

“Sure, things are going well for me, but what about you, Doc? It can’t be easy talking to people like me all day.”

Dr. Brown took another sip of her coffee. It was too late in the afternoon to be dealing with a difficult man like him, in her opinion.

She sat the blue coffee mug back on the tray and said, “I don’t know what you are driving at, but I am a very busy woman. I have other appointments to keep. I am only giving you half-hour to spit out whatever it is you feel you need to tell me. When the clock up there reaches 1:30 PM, you need to leave.”

Rowan began moving his feet together in a circular pattern. The coolness in her voice did little to shake him. He was resolved to say what he was going to say.

“I’m not driving at anything. I just want to know about your life, that’s all. You have to listen to people like me tell me about their lives all day. I just want to know about your life. It’s as simple as that.”

The doctor finished the last sip of her coffee and pushed the tray aside. Her annoyance with the man in front of her was growing.

“I would like to remind you that the city didn’t pay me to give you my life story. If you continue to bother me at my job after your thirty minutes are up, I will question that bill of heath I gave you and have you admitted into a group to work out your obvious need for attention. Now, I will ask you again, Mr. Williams, what exactly are you trying to get at?”

The doctor looked down at her patient through her black rimmed glasses and brought the clipboard up in anticipation. It almost looked like she was waiting for Rowan to divulge some dark secret he had been carrying around inside him for years. Of course, Rowan knew this wasn’t the case. It seemed to him that she was the type of woman that was too self absorbed to be all that interested in what he had to say. She was probably holding onto the clipboard to restrain herself from smacking him over the head with it. The type of look he was giving him led him to believe that, anyway. Rowan pulled his hands out from behind his head and used them to push himself up on the coach. He uncrossed his legs in the process as he found himself at eye level with the doctor.

“My god doc, have you been doing this so long that you forgot how to be human? You’ve got to have some story about your life that’s worth telling. My life isn’t all that exciting. You said it yourself, in so many words. I like hearing what other people have to say about their own lives. What’s wrong with asking a few questions, huh? That’s what social workers are supposed to do.”

Dr. Brown tapped her blue ballpoint pen against her clipboard again. She was becoming impatient.

“If I tell you something about my life, do you promise to leave me alone? I’m a very busy woman. I have things to do.”

Rowan’s smirk was replaced with a grin.

“Of course, I wouldn’t dream of keeping you all day Doc. Now, let’s set the mood, shall we? Why don’t you and I trade places? You can take the couch, and I’ll take the chair. It will be fun. It will be like…what’s what term you psychologists use? Oh yeah, it will be like we’re role-playing.”

Dr. Brown stopped tapping her pen against the clipboard placed two of her fingers on her forehead, while still holding onto the writing utensil. She started to rub her forehead with her thumb and forefinger as her other fingers continued to grip the pen.

“I’m not switching places with you, Mr. Williams. I’m, still the professional here.”

Rowan shrugged.

“Alright, whatever you say, Doc. Do what suits you. I just think you’d be more relaxed if you talked to me on the coach. That’s my ‘professional’ opinion.”

Dr. Brown stopped rubbing her forehead and looked at the annoying man sitting on the couch in front of her. The city didn’t pay her enough money to deal with this. She figured that the only way to get rid of him was to play along so she handed the clipboard and pen to him and stood up from her chair. She gestured for Rowan to sit in her place and he did quite hastily. She took his position on the green coach and frowned up at him.

“There, are you satisfied? I’m the patient and you are the doctor. Go ahead and ask your questions.”

Rowan held the clipboard over his head for a moment, like he had won the greatest trophy of the year. He brought it down and put the most serious expression he could manage on his face.

“Very well doctor, I will begin my evaluation. Let’s start with, um, all of the questions at once I guess. Just give me a short summary of your life from when you were a kid to now. Yes, a life story is a good place to start.”

Dr. Brown pursed her lips. Who did this upstart of a man think he was? She let her eyes fall on the green clock hanging on the wall. It was 1:10. She couldn’t believe that only ten minutes had passed. Was this the way all of her patients felt when she asked questions of them? She thought of revaluating the way she gave council to her patients if she managed to get the unfortunately meeting with the man sitting in her chair over with without completely losing her sanity.

She looked up at the brown haired man who was also in his early thirties. He was staring down at her with a serious expression, the same one she gave to most of her patients. It was a little intimidating. Did her stern expression make all of her patients feel the same way she was feeling now? She almost made her not want to tell Mr. Williams any of the important details of her life. Mr. Williams cleared his throat after she had been quit for some time and pointed at the clock on the far wall. Dr. Brown decided that she ought to say something to break the awkward silence between them.

She managed to spit out, “Well, if you really must know, Mr. Williams, I was orphaned as a young girl. My mother, father, and sister died in a fire. I was the only survivor. I was sent to live with my father’s brother, Charles. He made sure I was well taken care of. I went to school, made friends, dated some people when I got to high school, and had a pretty average life after that. I became a psychologist because my father was a psychologist. I always wanted to help people, just like he did. That’s what I do now. I’m carrying on the family legacy.”

Roman nodded a few times.

“Interesting, that’s very interesting. But do you like your job? I mean, do you really like it, or are you just helping people because it’s something your father would have wanted you to do? Why didn’t you go into your mother’s profession? Did you and your mother not get along?”

Dr. Brown stiffened her back. She wasn’t used to being asked these types of questions and it made her feel a bit uneasy.

She replied, “I wanted to become a psychologist to have a better understanding of what my father did. Now I realize what he had to sacrifice every day. It’s not easy listening to people that you can’t always help. It takes an emotional toll on you sometimes. Whether I like it or not is irrelevant. It is something my father would have liked me to do, so I decided to do it. My mom was a stay at home mother. She never wanted any other job than to take care of her children. I didn’t want that role. I wanted to be like my father. I wanted to be an important person.”

Rowan pretended to scribble some notes on some blank pages at the back of the clipboard.

“Hmmm, that is very interesting, doctor. So what you are telling me is that your mother was hindered by society’s stereotypes of what a woman should be and the only role model you had was a father that hated his own gender stereotype and was forced into a career he didn’t like to provide for his family. How did your sister feel about all this?”

Dr. Brown started twisting her hands together. Why was this man asking her so many personal questions? Why did it feel like they were all hitting so close to home? She decided to indulge him. She hoped he would leave if she provided him with enough information about her life.

She was curt and to the point when she said, “I really don’t know what you are talking about. This has nothing to do with perceived roles in society. I also don’t know why you’ve brought my sister into this. She was too young to make any rational decisions about what she wanted to be when she was older. I was thirteen years old and she was only four years old when she died in the fire. It’s hard to know what she would have thought about something like that at such a young age.”

Rowan kept scribbling pretend notes on the blank pages.

“Well doc, from what you have told me, I think that you are the one that needs the group therapy. You work at a job you do not enjoy because you think it somehow pleases your dead father and fills some gap in your tragic life. However, you can’t efficiently provide help to your patients because you still haven’t figured yourself out enough to help them with their own problems. Is this a correct analysis of your inner psychological battle?”

Dr. Brown started to sweat. This man was asking questions she really didn’t want to answer. This distressed her greatly. She looked over at the clock. It was 1:15. Only five minutes had passed! Why couldn’t it be 1:30? She knew she had to tell something to the man or he would never leave.

“Maybe that’s true, but that is life. We can’t all have your perfect situation, Mr. Williams. I am living my life the best way I know how. My Uncle was a school teacher and he always told me to study hard in school. He didn’t want me to end up like so many of the students he saw that dropped out, and ended up poor and destitute. He wanted me to have a future. So in part, I also went to school for him. He was the only other dad I knew. He was unmarried, and never took a wife. He didn’t have to be attached to things. I never married either. I never felt I had to be attached to things.”

Rowan stopped scribbling nonsense words in the back of the clipboard.

“In other words, you became the person your father and uncle wanted you to be as some kind of moralistic justification for what happened in the fire. You offer council to patients without really knowing how to fix your own problems. You don’t like your job, but you carry out your work anyway because that is what is expected of you. That’s what society wants you to be, so you comply with it, maybe because you are afraid more people will burn up in a fire if you try to deviate from the pattern and be yourself. Is this what you are telling me?”

Dr. Brown looked at the clock frantically. There was only ten minutes of the session left. She was turning very white. She had never been backed in a corner like this in a conversation by someone’s words before. She finally grabbed the clipboard and pen from Rowan’s hands and stood up from the couch. She pointed toward the oak door that led out of her office with a shaky finger.

“There are only ten minutes left, Mr. Williams. I’ve played along with your game and I have had enough of it. You need to leave now. I don’t have to answer any more of your questions. I am the doctor and you are the patient. I think anyone that takes the time to analyze a person as thoroughly as you have, obviously is trying to fill a void in his own life. Please take your leave right now! I won’t ask you again.”

Dr. Brown was surprised that she was physically shaking at her anger. Rowan calmly stood up from the chair and walked over to a coat rack that sat next to the door. He grabbed his hat and trench coat and opened the door. Before he left the office, he turned back to look at the doctor with one of his eyebrows raised.

“I’m guessing I’m the only person you’ve ever told all of this to. It’s too bad. I bet your patients wouldn’t have so many holes if you patched up some of them with your own stories. We’re all looking for ways to reach out to others and fill the void. I guess some people are too filled with holes to patch up the holes of others.”

The doctor didn’t know what to say as Rowan tipped his hat and softly closed the door behind him. She was left to stare at that door for a while, deeply engrossed in her thoughts. She was so engrossed that she almost missed her next appointment. The old man came in and sat in his usual place on the green coach. Dr. Brown wouldn’t have it. She decided to switch places with him. She had the old man asked some questions of her. She didn’t know why, but she felt that she had to reach out to the old man. She had to connect with him, the way Mr. Williams had tried to connect with her. She had to make up for the way she treated him, somehow.

The rest of the day, Dr. Brown interviewed her patients from the couch. It gave her a completely new perspective that she had never thought of before meeting Mr. Williams. She exchanged stories with many of her patients. She admitted privately that it was uncomfortable to have her patients ask her so many questions. She didn’t like being a psychologist when the patients were doing the psychoanalyzing.

What Mr. Williams said at their appointment stuck with her for an entire month. She couldn’t interview patients without thinking about the advice he had given her. Finally, at the beginning of the next month, she headed to the administrative building of the complex. She placed her resignation letter in the box outside her bosses’ office and walked to her apartment located a few blocks down the street.

A few weeks later, she got a letter in response. Her boss begged her to come back to the office but she had already made up her mind. It was time for a career change; she was ready for the next step forward in her life. She burned her boss’s letter in with an emergency candle she had found in one her kitchen drawers over an ashtray that sat on her kitchen counter. She watched each of the words melt under the pressure of the flame. Watching the letter burn gave her an odd sense of satisfaction. Finally after years of running from her past, she was able face up to the reality of the present. She was no longer afraid of the unexpected fires of her life.

Her boss, Dr. Ferhhenz, read her resignation letter over and over and still could not understand why one of his best psychologists had quit. The last line stuck out the most to him. For some reason, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. It read, “There are some holes you can’t patch up, no matter how many stories you try to stitch them together with.” He read this line for weeks on end. They made less sense each time he went over them with the paper in front of his face. The parting words of Dr. Brown hung suspended in his subconscious for many years, knotting in and out of his thoughts like misplaced thread.


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