I saw my psychotherapist again today.
I waved at him from the car, but he ignored me. I could see he recognised me, but he wouldn’t stop. So I chased him, backwards — as if we were in a Bond movie, I threw the car into reverse in the narrow one-way street with the tyres squealing as I caught up and travelled parallel with him, but he looked straight ahead and hurried on, waving me imperiously away. I shouted at him through the passenger window, but then another car appeared in my rear-view mirror to block my path. I screeched to a halt and he escaped.
I call the bastard ‘my’ psychotherapist because he’s only one I’ve got. In fact, the only one I’ve ever had. Or, indeed, ever been had by.
I call him a psychotherapist because that’s how he introduced himself to me, when we first met, last week, at the same hour, in the same street. I had just got out of the car beside the entrance to my son’s school, and he was suddenly beside me. ‘I’m a psychotherapist,’ he said. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘trying to lift my son down onto the pavement. He certainly looked like a psychotherapist – fatherly, early fifties, black-rimmed glasses, hunched like a small wise bird. And he spoke fluent West Hampstead, which created an immediate impression of empathetic intelligence. In sum, he had a perfect couchside manner. And a perfect roadside manner, too.
‘Unfortunately, I’ve just been robbed,’ he said. ‘Oh,’ I said, trying to shut the door with my shoulder. ‘By a client.’ ‘Really?’ I said, thinking rather unkindly that I hadn’t heard of it that way round before. ‘Stole my jacket. Would you be so good as to lend me my fare home? I’ll get it back to you, of course.’ My son was struggling in my arms and usually needs coaxing into school. ‘How much do you need?’ ‘Fourteen pounds fifty.’ I got my wallet out one-handed and could only see twenty, so I handed it over. Then, as I watched the other young mums herding their off-spring through the gate, I had the presence of mind to turn and ask ‘How will you get it back to me?’ He dutifully tapped my address into his mobile before bidding me farewell.
Nothing came through the post this week. Nothing from him, that is. (Nothing from Sebastian Coe either. Still.) When I told my wife what I’d done, her response was pretty predictable. ‘Oh, he hadn’t lost his mobile then? Oh, psychotherapists visit their clients, do they? Only you …’ And then ‘And doesn’t £14.50 suggests quite a long journey, so how likely is it that he had had the time to get to his client, do a bit of therapy and then get robbed, all before nine in the morning? Don’t you know by now not to give money to strangers?’
I wanted to say, Jesus would have. I wanted to say, actually it was a loan, not a gift. I wanted to say he wasn’t a common or garden stranger, he was a psychotherapist. Instead I said nothing, but felt wretched and a fool and old.
I feel all of that quite often these days. I keep banging my head on things. I’m no taller than I used to be, but I seem to have lost all sense of where my body begins and ends. And I’ve also lost my ability to distinguish between the generations. It’s not just that I muddle up or can’t remember names. (That’s been going on for years and years. I always pause on my host’s doorstep for a minute before ringing the bell, so that I can summon up and memorise his or her name and those of the family and friends who might be lurking behind the door.) No, in the last few weeks, on three separate occasions, I’ve thought I’ve been talking to someone about one of my relatives, and actually been talking about their parent. For example, to my niece’s bafflement, I found myself telling her adamantly that her father (my brother) was a smoker when a young man, when in fact, as I remembered later, it was my father (her grandfather).
I wondered at first whether it had anything to do with the fact that I keep banging my head. You see, I try to comfort myself that it’s nothing to do with getting old. After all, Oedipus also got his relatives muddled up, and he was quite a young man when he began doing it.
Yes, perhaps, my problem is oedipal. Perhaps, I need to visit a, um, you know. A what’s his name.
Actually, I think I know where to find one.
Photo credit: Oedipus et Sphinx, 1808 by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres [Wikimedia Commons]