As his soon to be former psychiatrist, I continue to stand by my original diagnosis. Charlie Spangenburg teeters on the edge of neurosis. Despite the affliction he is one of the more intelligent patients I’ve encountered. Yet his refusal to cooperate outweighs any intrigue I once held for how uniquely his mind works. At his request I am providing a referral. Please see the enclosed documentation and audio tapes of our previous sessions. Charlie believes he might benefit from a ‘more competent doctor’, and perhaps he will.
Psy.D. Myron Masters
At the time this letter was penned I truly believed I had seen the last of Charlie Spangenburg, but last week he came crashing back into my life. The patrolman on duty offered security video showing Charlie repeatedly hurling himself against the reinforced glass of my office front. Upon arrival they found a bloody and belligerent man who had taken up residence on my couch and demanded to be seen. I knew something drastic had occurred in his life, such aggressive behavior is virtually non-existent in this type of disorder. I refused to have him arrested, so at 3:53am I agreed to resume our sessions.
His appearance, goals, and future are narrowly defined by obsession. Each facet of his life fits neatly into a slot. Breakfast consists 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, in the three o’clock position, is reserved for toast; stone-ground wheat exclusively, toasted for precisely sixty-three seconds—sixty-three of course being divisible by three. Three is the number that rules Charlie’s life.
The streets of Manhattan are overrun with platoons of business men. They jockey for position at crosswalks, curse into their cell-phones, and traverse the sidewalks with a determined gait. Had our first meeting occurred there, I would have had no reason to assume Charlie was anything more than one of the clones. He arrived in my office stern and white-knuckled, clutching a worn leather planner.
It was my inquiry in regards to the contents of the binder that immediately set us at odds. He likened my request to that of allowing him to rifle through my desk simply to satisfy his own curiosity. Charlie gave me a deeper appreciation for how more patients should view their doctors. Although I must admit, our sessions often left me frustrated and exhausted, feeling as if I had been subjected to a battery of questions designed to determine the purity of my motives.
The responsibility for our first round of sessions ending badly rests squarely upon my shoulders. I had pressed Charlie too hard, too soon, and had no intention of making the same mistake a second time. Something monumental had taken place. Even before I could extend a greeting, he placed his planner in my hand.
It was a journey of despair; painful, daily musing from a boy who longed to be a part of a world which presently found no use for him. The writing was barely legible, letters overlapping and sporadic spacing between lines. Quite understandably so, when I discovered where Charlie began his journaling. His mother asked him to retrieve something from the back of the woodshed. Afterwards she claimed the wind had blown the door closed. Subsequently, she dropped the pretense of asking him to retrieve things. Charlie maintains that is he unable to recall the frequency or length of such punishments, but I am convinced he is still a young boy attempting to defend his mother’s own dysfunction.
Hidden in the back was a very detailed chart for his life’s course. Charlie explained that all plans begin in pencil, and only when an item is determined as likely can it be traced over in pen. I noticed the entry under the heading ‘girlfriend’. Despite the ink, permanent and irreversible, the name had been marked through completely.
“So Charlie, do you want to tell me about Suzanne?”
“Suzanne and me were both messed up; ‘mind-cripples’ she called us. She heard voices and I counted shit, that’s just how life is.
For a head-case like me, March 3rd was like Christmas. I had reservations at her favorite restaurant and tickets to the opera. She didn’t know it, but I had already traced her name in pen. During intermission I was going to ask her to marry me.”
“She didn’t accept your proposal?”
“I didn’t get the opportunity to ask. When I awoke that morning her side of the bed was cold and empty. She was beautiful, particularly the first thing in the morning. Part of me knew she was too good for me all along, but we’d lived together for almost two years. Her clothes were still in the dresser and her purse was on the table, but I knew she was gone. I went outside for a smoke. She only allowed smoking on the balcony, because she knew heights and the business of the street made me dizzy and nervous. I think she really did love me, Doc.”
“Does that surprise you, Charlie—that someone in this world could find you loveable?”
Charlie stared at the back of his hand that rested on the desk. We both watched the tapping sequence, thumb through pinky, pinky through thumb. He never looked up as he responded.
“Doc, after your own mother locks you out, numbers ain’t a bad place to be.”
“Charlie, neither of us could control what your mother did. I’m sorry for interrupting. Please continue—you were on the balcony.”
“Yeah I was. My head started spinning and I tried to focus on the open sliding glass door. Just as I prepared to lunge for it I heard a faint whimper. She was still in her nightgown, huddled on the ledge. Too far for me to reach, and I don’t think she wanted to be saved. Before I could do anything she looked me straight in the eye, counted to three, and jumped. All I could do is watch her fall. God, I didn’t want to, but I counted the seconds from the ledge to the street. What kind of sorry bastard does something like that?”
Charlie didn’t allow me to respond.
“Anyhow, that fucking number three ain’t so good anymore.”
That was the last thing I ever heard Charlie Spangenburg say. He didn’t show for his next appointment, and wouldn’t answer my calls. His landlord says he still sees him from time to time, but he’s become more of a recluse.
I gave up my practice, not exclusively because of Charlie. Over the years there were others I couldn’t help. I guess Charlie was right, some people hear voices, and others count shit, but that’s just the way life is.