Episode 6: Dr. Chettiar & Elliott
Raindrops settled on the paned glass, and seemed to defy gravity. They hung like they were fused there, like bubbled extensions of the window, and obscured the autumn dead trees outside. When one did succumb to the gravitational pull, it slipped quickly and left most of its body in a smeared trail behind.
The window looked out to the campus from the second floor, through the naked branches that dripped. Down below, brick paths led to various buildings of learning and college students raced through the wet to get to class and out of the elements. It was a small, liberal arts college on the outskirts of a small town.
They both sat in silence while the sound of the rain outside filled in around the edges of the softly lit room. Only one shaded lamp was on in the office, meant to create a calming environment. As was the subtle scent of lavender.
Elliott sunk in the chair, deep. It was the sort of sinking that a person does when trying to be completely hidden, the desire for total immersion. Like letting the bare ass squeak against the cheap acrylic bottom of the bathtub until the cool air disappears, body and face submerged in the warm water, breath held and eyes closed. Better yet, a deep, murky lake so when fully submerged, nothing could be seen. Perfectly hidden.
Except there was no soothing, warm bathwater, and no murky lake. There was only air. There was only vulnerable, the stupid and childish act of sinking in a chair. A deep, dark, solemn and depressed sinking.
Elliott tried to make as little eye contact as possible with the woman seated across from him. He was planted in a comfy, leather armchair. She had pulled her desk chair around to the front and sat cross-legged with a notepad on her lap, ballpoint pen in hand, plastic cap between her teeth. She was judging his sinking, he was sure. Poor depressed Elliott.
She looked up several times at him with a smile, then back to her notes. So many notes. He had said little and yet she had so many notes. The action was absurd to him and he felt as though he could sit there for hours in a ridiculous, nauseous spin. ‘A carnival ride spin,’ he thought. A ridiculous thought.
She motioned with the rise of her eyebrows, and he bit.
“I am not supposed to be here. That simple.”
“Here, in what terms?” the woman asked. She was smartly dressed, comfortable, gray cashmere sweater, dark slacks, wool clogs. Her posture was comfortable too, and open. She kept a warm expression, an empathetic one when appropriate, or a smile, but neither joy nor seriousness was too overt as to risk the comfort in the room.
“Here. Now. It’s all I can explain. I just don’t feel real.”
“I wouldn’t say that is altogether out of the normal,” she declared. “Have you ever heard of an existential crisis?”
“Yeah, and that’s not it.” Elliott sunk deeper in the chair. He hated having to be sitting across from a therapist. Once upon a time, he was strong, if only in youth, then not only had he proven to be completely the opposite in adulthood, he can’t recall how he got there. It was as if he went to bed a long-haired, artsy senior in high school and awoke a man in his forties with a failed marriage and no kids, a dull and uninspired career void of even a flicker of creativity. Memories of his youth, and his teens, were as vivid as looking at photographs. Everything after was either a blurry mess or didn’t feel like they were his memories, that it was not him.
It was strange that Elliott had ended up there. A bizarre coincidence, the sort that gives credence to the idea of synchronicity. Not that he believed in those fringy things. Still, being there at the college with that therapist.
Elliott had left town to go to college to the disappointment of his mother. After all, there was a great college in town and his grades more than guaranteed him admission. It was supposedly the plan, although he didn’t remember it that way. One day he woke and he knew he needed to leave. And other than the occasional visit that became more and more seldom over the years, he lived elsewhere. No place ever being a home for long, he jumped from job to job, permanence a fleeting concept. Then after years of being elsewhere, a recruiter called and offered him a job in the IT department at the college in town. Something he had always thought about doing when he was younger, working at a college, and he moved back to where he started.
Another therapist had recommended that he see Dr. Arya Chettiar because her expertise was in the sort of experience that Elliott was having. He had scheduled a session, then cancelled because of the job offer. That was 900 miles away, only to find out that a therapist he was supposed to see, moved her practice to his hometown, and accepted a professorship, at nearly the same time as his interview.
Arya watched Elliott’s eyes following the plummeting rain drops on the window pane. She was happy the mutual opportunities were advantageous. She was intrigued by his circumstances.
“You have a new job, colleagues. You are back in your hometown. It doesn’t feel real to you?”
“They feel real. They are not a hallucination.” Elliott returned to the conversation, leaving behind the rain drops to the inevitable fate of gravity. “I just don’t feel that I should know them.”
Arya jotted a few more notes down. “And your mother?”
“Real,” Elliott said. “I know her. She is my mother, but something is wrong with that because I only feel that we had a connection a long time ago, that nothing else after that is right.”
“And the moment when there was a change in how things felt, it was your teens?”
“Teens,” Elliott repeated. “After senior year. The last time that felt really real, the last time I really remember, and I keep remembering all the time, was a carnival in July.”
Arya put her notes aside and leaned into the conversation. Her expression still welcoming she again extended a warm, appropriate smile. “What is the last thing you remember from the carnival?”
Elliott swam up from his sinking in the chair and leaned in to his new therapist. “I remember waiting in line for a ride with my best friend Rodney from school. And I was staring at the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.”
Arya watched his eyes swell with tears and for the first time in their session, she was watching him experience something other than frustration.
“Nothing. I can tell you everything about her. Every detail of what she looked like and how she smiled, what color her eyes were. I can tell you what she liked, and how she loved, how she kissed, how many siblings she had and what her aspirations were. I know her better than I know myself but I don’t think we ever talked. I don’t remember anything after seeing her. It’s as though it was all cut away after I saw her smile.”
“Then what is your rationale for knowing so much about her?”
Elliott held back the tears and ran his thumb and index finger along the corners of his eyes at the nose to catch any that had tried to escape, like the fate of the rain drops on the window pane. The entire diatribe seemed absurd. Yet, that is what he was experiencing and it was so pronounced in his life that he barely functioned. He was good at IT, and as long as maintaining computer networks came with minimal social expectations, he could do his job. All other aspects of life were a numb and solitary existence.
“I don’t have a rationale. I just know. I have considered every off the wall theory there is. It’s like I am stuck in the Mandela Effect.”
Elliott was becoming more animated. The frustration of not knowing was the only thing that energized him.
“The phenomenon of mass false memory.” Arya concurred. “Named after the many who remember Nelson Mandela dying in prison years before he actually did.”
“That’s right. Some don’t think it is false memory. Like a time slip or something.”
Arya nodded, not in agreement, just active listening. “For you to be part of a Mandela Effect, wouldn’t there be a common observation with many people?”
“I have reached out to dozens who have been part of my life before and after that carnival night. Those from post carnival, can tell you they know me, but they can’t remember a single moment that involved me. Those from pre carnival don’t remember hearing anything about me after that night, and one even thought I was dead, swore I was dead.”
“But you are not dead. You are…” She looked at her notes. “In your forties. You have been part of the living for years. You are not a ghost.”
“You don’t think I know how crazy this all sounds? I want badly to ignore all of this. But I can’t because it haunts me. I dream about it. And I think about it when my brain slows down and things get quiet. I don’t believe crazy theories. But I also know I am not crazy. There is something very wrong.”
Arya glanced down at her notes, which included pertinent excerpts from Elliott’s medical history. The things that contributed to his skewed and passively destructive sense of self. The elements that had emotionally paralyzed him to the point that he had blocked out years.
On the way up from her notes to meet Elliott’s drained gaze, Arya couldn’t help but imagine what she looked like through his eyes. The unusual way Elliott’s brain processed the optical signals being sent to it, how it perceived the world in only one color.