Thursday, November 27, 2008


As his soon to be former psychiatrist, I continue to stand by my original diagnosis. Charlie Spangenburg teeters on the edge of neurosis. Despite such an affliction he is one of the most intelligent patients I’ve encountered in twenty years of practice. Yet his refusal to cooperate outweighs any intrigue I once held for Charlie and how his mind works. I am heeding his request for a referral. Please see the enclosed documentation and audio tapes of our previous sessions. Charlie believes he might benefit from a ‘more competent doctor’, perhaps he will.

Best Regards,

PhD Myran Masters

Several years back when this letter was penned I truly believed I had seen the last of Charlie Spangenburg, but last week he wandered back into my life. My receptionist stood her ground for a short time, but eventually she proved no match for him. Despite his issues Charlie possesses a stubborn tenacity. Perhaps this is the one characteristic that will see him through. Just as he insisted we resumed the sessions. I found his sudden change of heart curious.

His appearance, goals, and future were narrowly defined by obsession. Each facet of his life fit neatly in a slot, contained and easily managed. Few were aware of the egg-timer that sat upon his dresser or the specific purpose it served. He never exceeded the allotted nine minutes set aside for grooming. The middle-aged New Yorker shuddered at the thought of even accidentally being labeled metro-sexual.

Breakfast consisted of two Grade ‘A’ brown eggs, never white. Three strips of bacon laid diagonally near the eggs, but not close enough to touch. A saucer placed to right of the plate, in the two o’clock position, was reserved for toast; stone-ground wheat exclusively, toasted for precisely sixty-three seconds—sixty-three of course being divisible by three.

During our first meeting Charlie clutched to a worn leather planner. My inquiry about the contents of the binder was met with resistance. I was asked by my patient if he might be allowed to rifle through my desk, simply to satisfy the curiosity of a stranger. This was not the first time Charlie turned the tables on me. Many days it seemed I rested on the preverbal couch, subjected to a battery of questions designed to determine the purity of my motives. Only now on his second round of visits was he prepared to allow me into his world.

It was a journey of despair; painful, daily musing from a broken man who longed to be a part of a normal world which presently found no use for him. The first several pages were barely legible, letters overlapping and sporadic spacing between lines. It seems Charlie began his journal under the bleakest of circumstances. He allowed his emotions to flow, isolated in total darkness behind a locked closet door. Even a mother’s love could not overcome misunderstanding. He could not recall the length of his punishment or even the crime, if indeed there had been one. I sensed the tenderness of thirty-year-old wounds and moved forward quickly.

Hidden in the back I discovered a very detailed chart for his life’s course. Charlie explained that all plans begin in pencil, only when an item was determined as likely, would it be traced over in pen. Curiously I asked about the entry under the heading ‘girlfriend’. Despite the ink, permanent and irreversible, the name had been marked through completely.

Instead of prescribing to the failed model of modification, Suzanne accepted his idiosyncrasies and loved him despite them. Her sudden departure introduced unwanted variables into an otherwise orderly life. Variables in the form of difficult emotions which Charlie had no clue how to deal with.

As I thumbed through the pages it occurred to me the mind is a powerful thing, some believe capable of influencing if not controlling our physical health. Charlie’s experience causes me to question my neutrality on the subject.

March 3: I awakened with chaos all around. Despite turning the apartment inside out I could not find Suzanne anywhere. After a thorough scouring of the kitchen produced no note I knew wherever she had gone Suzanne did not intend to be found.

With trembling fingers I withdrew a Camel Light from the pack. Smoking it with purpose—I only wished to see the thin paper meet the filter as quickly as possible. Although Suzanne was no longer here I felt a strange compulsion to respect her rules. Smoking was only allowed on the balcony.

Thirty stories of air between me and the pavement did nothing for my frazzled nerves. A painful thirty seconds was all I could endure. Retreating to the safety of the apartment, hand over hand I maintained contact with the rail. As I prepared to release my grip and lunge for the open door a faint whimper reached my ear. Looking to my left, thirty feet away huddled on the ledge, was the object of my search. Still in her nightgown Suzanne crouched there biting her lip in an effort to remain silent. This was the day I realized Suzanne was an imposter also. She too had only been a visitor to the world of acceptance.

Upon being discovered Suzanne quickly found freedom in her leap. I still cannot conceive the power of the voices in her head. I had been aware of their presence, but had underestimated the sweetness of their words.

March 21: I fiddle with my breakfast out of obligation. This morning routine has always been more about preparation rather than hunger. I move from the table to the balcony door, only to find watching the traffic below makes me dizzy. The door remains locked as it will forever. I reach for the lever, actuating it open and closed three times. As far back I can remember three had been my lucky number, but finally this fog has lifted and I can see them for what they are; detestable prompts used to feed my repetitive obsessions. Yet out of all of the numbers that churn in my head, three remains particularly loathsome. Even as I speak of it now, I know that three can no longer be part of my life.

Charlie’s knees began to buckle even as he contemplated breaking the cycle. He grimaced as he opened and closed the lock the fourth time. The clicking of mechanism instantly sent his heart into an uncontrollable frenzy. A bolt of pain stretched across his chest and exploded through his right shoulder blade. His breath came in accelerated bursts and Charlie fell to his knees. The objects in the apartment lifted from their resting places and began to dance in a circular motion. With a muted thud the back his head made contact with the carpeted floor. During what he believed were his last moments Charlie watched the ceiling fan rotate, unable to resist counting the revolutions. Within the glass orb that surrounded the bulbs he saw Suzanne’s face. As bittersweet as their encounter had been, within her soft eyes lie the beauty of acceptance.

Now that he has left my office I’m left to ponder many questions. Charlie had not suffered a heart attack as he was convinced, only a severe panic attack induced by the stressful situation his mind perceived. It’s a shame the unique workings of a genius are often his curses. I still hold a sliver of hope that a boy resilient enough to emerge from a dark closet might eventually find acceptance. My office manager tells me we are in need of an accountant. Perhaps Charlie’s mind for numbers may be just what the doctor ordered.

How do we live in a world where our capacity to expand our definition of normalcy is bound by our level of comfort, and hence it becomes far easier to continue the charade? The illusion that we are part of that narrow band of mediocrity eases our conscience as we cast those considered different aside. Charlie Spangenburg lingered at the door of acceptance for years, but never received his invitation. Perhaps someone is knocking at your door tonight—someone very much like Charlie. Will you turn out the lights and pretend the house is empty, facilitating another ascent to the ledge; or will you open your door and ask them in?


Nan J said...

Wow, Dan, this is very powerful. (Speaking as the mother of one who needs that invitation but is no longer sure he would accept it if it came...)

paisley said...

god i wish i knew...

this was heroically written... your grasp of ocd is amazing,, the subtleties that overwhelm, evident... makes me wonder......

Shirley said...

Wow, Dan! Definitely one of your best. I often wonder who defines 'normal'. It seems to me we all live in our own reality and by not opening the door to others we may as well lock ourselves in the closet. Great story. (couldn't help but picture Mr. Monk as I read.)

Jo A. T.B. said...

I think as a writer, I find myself a reclusive. Is that normal, what is the definition of normal! Who am I to judge? So many questions, some with no definitive answers! Your story was wonderful, I very much felt for Charlie, and could relate in some ways!

Dan said...

Nan, I knew you would be intimately familiar with this topic. How old is your son now?

Jodi, are you wondering about the questions raised, or if I have personal experience with ocd? While I do have vaugue memories of an obsession with the number three as a boy, as an adult, other than talking to myself on a fairly regular basis, don't believe I exhibit any other symptoms.

Shirley...Jo, I think as writers, some form of isolation is required.

Jo A. T.B. said...

Hi Dan,

I really liked your story Fruits of Our Labors. Sure can relate in many ways! You made me think I need to lighten up, and praise more. I'm sure that meant a lot to your daughter, and it was wonderful what you said! A very nice article, personal and informative! :)

cordieb said...

Brilliant! Some of your writings remind me of a favorite television show I watched as a child and which I often watch repeats today. . . the outer limits. . .

cordieb said...

The name of the show was the Twilight Zone. . . I often get it and outer limits confused. . . there was a marathon this week!