Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health
SIX: Turning Off the Gas
Previously: …I met ‘The Marrieds’…the wife explained how much she loved me… I was kept in that room… He growled and glowered and sat opposite me, leaning forwards with his elbows on his knees… and I saw that he had a hammer up his sleeve…
…so I quickly and casually looked away, hoping he had not seen me notice it. A million clichés to do with a split-second expanding to fill a lifetime ran through my mind. The clock got louder, each breath was as if through some sticky enveloping substance and the only thing missing was the zing of a string section quietly sawing its way through the soundtrack. In the meantime, I was casting about without moving my eyes, looking for defensive positions… Suddenly, he took a breath and said something that he had repeated several times already:
“If you think you’re going to play happy families with my wife and child, you’re very much mistaken.” Then he paused, obviously waiting for me to say something in return. I could tell what he wanted; either a defiant declaration of intent to do just that or for me to blibber and gibber, possibly falling on my knees and begging not to be injured. I did neither, but waited until he turned his head to look at me, then repeated another phrase used throughout the proceedings. “What do you think about that?” he asked. I let the question hover, taking my time to pick my words carefully.
“I think you’re being reasonable about wanting to keep your family,” I said, allowing a slight hint of nervousness to tint the edges of my words. “And playing happy families with anyone is the last thing on my mind.” There was no, ‘like I said before,’ or reference to having already been asked the question. While it was basically the same answer, it was a completely fresh combination. He broke eye contact and sat back, his hands more or less in his lap. It seemed as though he had run out of script, and did not know what to do next – after all, I had not been defiant or defensive, I had been passive and polite and non-threatening, yet… here I sat before him, somewhat composed and telling him he was being ‘reasonable’. What he did not realise was that it was as confusing for me as it was for him. I was surprising myself, although somewhat preoccupied at the time to notice. Then the door opened and the wife half entered, asked the husband something to do with the baby and he stood up, muttered something and left… just as if he had been tagged out to let the ‘good cop’ take over the interrogation. As she entered fully, I stood up and went near the window, putting furniture between us; it was a relief to stand and move about. She sat down and said something – I did not listen because I was too busy constructing my next move… I took a slightly trembly breath, ran my fingers through my hair and pointed at the door. “Be careful,” I told her, letting a little fear into my eyes and keeping my voice low. “He’s got a hammer up his right sleeve.” She nodded, seemingly oblivious to my intent in telling her. Right on cue, the husband entered, carrying the baby, giving her immediately to his wife… equally right on cue, she looked up at him and said,
“If you’re not going to use it, why don’t you put away the hammer you’ve got up your sleeve?” I could feel glee dripping off every syllable, see a strange light glittering in her eyes and an odd little smile on her lips… malice, with a hint of triumph, and it looked ugly. He sighed and put it on the nearby shelf, in a strangely non-threatening manner. I let my leg tremble a bit to show anxiety, and the breath that I drew unexpectedly turned into a yawn. They both looked at me, and I looked at both of them then shrugged apologetically.
“Oops,” I said. “Sorry.” The tension in the air seemed to have been broken by that a little, and I decided to push things along as I saw that the husband’s shoulders were less rigidly set, but the wife… one glance, and I could tell that if this continued much longer, she would be the more dangerous of the two. I remember thinking that if all else fails, I would just dive through the window. I took a deep breath and asked, “So what happens now? I mean, I’m really tired…” The husband looked at me and went towards the door, leaving the hammer.
“You come with me,” he growled, and left the nursery. I followed him along the corridor to their cramped and cluttered living room. It was a relief to have a change of scene and be away from obscene serenity that the wife was now exhibiting. “Go and get me cigarettes,” he said. “Then I’ll think about what to do with you,” and he told me which brand, not to expect payment, and be quick about it. I went to the 24 hour shop on the corner and bought the cigarettes, returning with them as I had been told. This was my final gambit. They would expect me to be broken, to be a coward, to run away home or to scuttle away as I was told and weakly return, tugging my forelock and cowed. Outside, I took a deep breath as if to go on stage, set my leg to tremble and tested the quaver in my voice. Clearing my mind, I meekly made my entrance and found the husband where I had left him, sitting in the corner of their living room and drinking cheap whisky from the bottle. There was a minor exchange where he told me that I was too pathetic to be a father to his baby, and he could no longer be bothered with me adding, “What do you think about that?” to which I replied, “As you wish.” A snort of derision, and he dismissed me with unkind words. I thanked him and left. Deliberately unhurriedly. I did not look back, I did not run, I kept my pace cool and calm. All the way to the end of the street. This was it. I had finally had enough of The Marrieds and their craziness. On the main road, I was lucky enough to spot a cab – I hailed it and got home fast. I needed to plan my exit from this mess. I did not know how I could do it, but as terrifying as it all was, I was feeling cold steel down in my soul, keeping me calm and watchful. Somehow, I had responded to this jeopardy with something similar to the way I was in Psychobod sessions – which I almost found confusing, but I knew was giving me a buffer between reality and my inner self. Although my perception of time had not speeded up, my ability to read minute movements and tiny tonal changes in voice and breathing was new… as was my intuition that the night was far from over.
At irregular intervals, the husband phoned me; long enough for me to relax a bit, not long enough to get any sleep. Aside from my patience wearing thin, I simply played the game. It was clear that I was not meant to notice the raggedy pattern, but I did, dutifully answering and staying silent for long minutes while a torrent of pitiful petulance was spouted at me. He was so self-absorbed that he had clearly forgotten some very important details in this situation; I could have turned the phone to silent, or turned it off, or even unplugged it from the socket in the wall. I could have contacted the phone company to get my line monitored, or maybe even phoned the police, but instead, I played the game. If I had done any of those things, he would – they would have known the extent of my knowledge and even detachment from it all.
Even when he rang my doorbell at first light, I played the game.
“I haven’t come for violence,” he blurted out as I opened to door; he was worn down and tired, as if his nocturnal mischief had rebounded onto him.
“I know, otherwise I wouldn’t have opened the door,” I told him lightly, and felt the balance of power tip in my favour. My patience had paid off. I invited him in to my flat for the last time. I listened to his increasingly frantic and unhinged ramblings, and when he started to raise his voice, I made him lower it by quietly telling him that I did not ask for any of this. I reminded him that I had not encouraged it and it was unwelcome. I told him he needed to rest, to go home. For his part, he displayed many things, cycling through anger at the situation, blame at me, then agreeing with me and back to despair. I was beyond caring about it, and simply wanted rid of him, his wife and their… foibles. Exactly what had been going on for nearly two years was a mystery to me, but my increasing awareness and how I had handled myself overall in the thick of things was a lot smarter than they had been – to my mind. However, there was still a small note of caution sounding in my head, and I had one last ploy to play, one final piece of information to obtain.
“I’m out of here,” I told him. “Gone. I won’t be in touch. You can sort yourselves out, I’ve had enough – there’s just one thing you do in return.” He asked me what it was, and I told him that he was to take me off the list. Before he could catch himself, he asked, “What list?” He had once told me proudly of his list of people to get even with, and my reference to it floored him completely. I reminded him of it, and he turned away, tearfully admitting, “There’s no list. It was just… you know.” I told him to go home, and locked the door after him, keeping a tight rein on my emotions – I would go to pieces later. I threw a few things in my pack and got the blazes out of town.
Hours later, I was on my parent’s doorstep and wondering why my life kept failing. I had managed to stay independent from them for most of the decade this time. Due to their insistence, The Marrieds knew my parent’s details, but we stonewalled each phone call and threw away any letters. I spotted the husband once, but ignored him and made a point of laughing with my companions as he walked by. I had – still have – no interest in what happened with them after that episode. It was from this point that I went on my little ‘holidays’ at The Unit, and through the first half of the new decade, I continued with my approach of being calm and analytical wherever possible in Psychobod sessions… which got me nowhere. Conversely, neither did showing any emotion. Breaking down weeping and saying that I could not take much more of this was humiliating and met with stonily impassive faces. After an all-too-brief sideways adventure, I vowed never to have anything to do with them again if I could avoid it.
Famous last words…
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