As a therapist I shouldn’t pathologize my patient—I shouldn’t be so quick to brand her with a disorder, staining her permanent record and shrouding the real personality behind her disease. Once you are labelled, say, as a depressed person, or someone suffering from bipolar tendencies… or a psychopath, others find it hard to regard you as anything else. A therapist should see their patients’ minds as a sum of parts—parts that don’t always work well with one another, requiring realignment from time to time.
Nessy is a pathological hoarder, but I shouldn’t call her that. She is, after all, an individual with an array of other normal emotions, behaviours, and habits. She works like everyone else, she eats like everyone else. Actually, I’m not exactly sure what she eats. I’ve never come across a creature like Nessy before: half-woman, half-unicorn—and no, this isn’t some kind of joke. Necia Lita Floriana la Gwynth is a genuine human-beast hybrid. From horn to tail she is a living, breathing… what do you even call such a creature? A womicorn?
We exchange blank stares. Her hair is in her mouth again, and I’m pretty sure she just piaffed on the spot the way fidgety horses do.
You could understand how taken aback I was when she first entered my home in the forest nearly half a dozen sessions ago. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me when I saw a topless woman riding a white horse into my den. I distinctly recall saying, “Please dismount, Miss Gwynth,” before realizing she could not possibly dismount herself!
She forgave me quickly, for she is tolerant, slow to anger, and kind.
She is also a hoarder.
She procures things of little value to most others, and she clutters her abode and her person with them. She won’t dispose of anything despite how much her acquisitions impede her movements, take up space, or cause dust, mold, and disease-borne bacteria to grow; it’s beginning to affect all parts of her life.
There must be a rotting banana in one of her satchels. I casually place my fingers under my nose, pretending to ponder her dilemma with the full force of my seventeen seasons of psychological tutelage. Really, I am just thinking about rotting bananas.
“Yesterday I lost a belt buckle in the river,” says Nessy, shamefully at first, “but I decided not to look for it.”
“That is very good.” She is looking for affirmation.
My chair is exceptionally comfortable. Despite it being made from wood and having no cushioning or padding, I like sitting in it, behind my similarly wooden desk in this wooden dwelling of mine. The parchment in front of me is almost blank. The sketch of a crude little rowboat near a dock made its way onto the bottom left corner of the page sometime during the session, though I don’t exactly know when I drew it. Black ink spots from a dripping quill blend almost seamlessly into the water near the boat, threatening to absorb the little oar I drew over the boat’s side.
I suppose it is time I give Nessy her money’s worth. “How did you feel once you let go of the belt buckle?”
“At first I panicked. I mean—it was a very special buckle.”
“Oh? How so?”
“It was unique, you know?” Again she is pacing the room in a slow trot, upheaving dirt and tossing sticks from dead trees about. Her golden hair is damaged from all the chewing.
“Explain it to me.”
“There was a dint in the clasp, right in the centre of it. It must have been defective, right? And the paint had chipped away in a particular manner, like a starburst; it was just so beautiful.” And then she gulps. “I shouldn’t have let it go. I should have dived in for it. Now it is lost; no one will ever look at it again. Oh, what have I done?”
“Relax, Nessy.” I put down my quill and stand up from behind my protective desk before moving to the front of it. “Calm yourself and remember to breathe. The buckle is still there. You can get it at any time; just remember that you are in control.”
A neigh escapes her rose-petal lips.
“It is within your power to retrieve the buckle; you simply don’t need to at this time. Let it go.” Perhaps it is time to veer the conversation elsewhere. “Last session we uncovered a memory, do you remember?”
She nods, very slowly.
“Growing up you thought your parents left you in the forest to fend for yourself at a very young age, but through memory-recall techniques we uncovered the truth: your parents were killed by hunters. You’ve been on your own ever since, searching for them, looking for others of your kind. How is the search going?”
“It isn’t. There isn’t even evidence of other unicorns out there, let alone half-unicorns. Doctor, I’m tired. Since I can remember I’ve been searching for someone else like me without any luck. I’m sick of losing sleep over it. Do you think the buckle will rust in the water?”
“Forget about the buckle. The buckle isn’t worth your time.” I think I am buckling. I need to regain my composure and start behaving like the therapist I am.
“It’s just so unique; I don’t want anything to happen to it.”
My butt finds a place at the front of my desk, sort of sitting, sort of standing. I can’t say why I find it comforting; the sharp edge of my teak-hard desk is sure to eventually cramp my backside. “You used the word ‘unique’ to describe the buckle twice now,” I say, and I believe I have found a connection. “In previous sessions you used that word as well. I’m starting to think you are having trouble discerning what is unique, and what isn’t.”
“How so, doctor?”
“Think about it. You had a traumatic experience at an influential age, and since that time you thought you were alone in the world—unique from everyone else. You place a lot of value in your rare nature, and you strive to find uniqueness in other things.”
“Why would I do that? If I value being unique, wouldn’t it defeat the purpose to find everything unique?”
“Not necessarily,” I reply, feeling a smug grin don my face. “By seeking out and surrounding yourself with things that are unique, you are attempting to normalize yourself. Perhaps you feel if you can prove everything is distinct and unique, then you won’t feel so abnormal.”
“So you think I am abnormal?”
“Listen to what I am saying, Nessy. You had a traumatic experience. Hunters slew your parents because they wanted to kill something they hadn’t killed before. They were looking for rare prey. By hiding in all of your rarities you are trying to protect yourself from possible predators.”
Can she, or can’t she see the connection? It’s obvious to me, but experience has shown me that patients tend to only see the truths they create for themselves. They build up their defences, and they don’t tend to understand that those defences are actually hindering them.
“Doctor Harlow, thank you for your time,” says Nessy as she retrieves the satchel she left on the ground, very near to her hoof. With a swing, she wraps it over the shoulder that is already carrying two other satchels full of useless junk. “I’ll see you next week.”
“We still have a few minutes, Nessy. We are at a very critical point in the session; don’t you want to talk about this?”
“I’m done talking. I have to get that belt buckle before I lose it in the tide.” She trots off in true stallion fashion, pushing aside the thinner trees outside my den as she goes.
It is nearly twilight.
I look to the sky, thinking I have somehow failed her. I feel for Necia, I really do. How difficult it must be to grow up alone, to learn about the world all on your own, and to constantly fear all other races.
I keep some water boiling on the furnace at all times; at one point or another in the day I will need tea. I always need my tea. I find it calming to drink; I find it soothing to hold as it heats my palms.
The wood-burning furnace, the pot, and a lantern are the only metallic appliances I own. Everything else came from this forest. My cot, my bench… everything.
The candle on my desk is running low. I need to gather up some more leaves and extract their waxes—a day’s worth of work, to be sure. Perhaps I’ll do that tomorrow.
Plopping back down into my most comfortable wooden chair, I dip my quill into the inkwell and begin to jot some notes:
Today’s session did not progress as I hoped it would. Still, Miss Gwynth took a small step forward regarding her compulsion by deliberately leaving a belt buckle in the river instead of retrieving it. She showed signs of regression during the session when the buckle was brought up, and she ended the session early to go recover it.
Miss Gwynth continues to display repetitive behaviours such as hair chewing and piaffing in place, and she still claims to not be sleeping.
Perhaps I shall try to combine behavioural therapy with a deep cognitive approach to re-examining Miss Gwynth’s traumatic experience.
Doctor M. Harlow
My name grazes the sketch of the boat on the page like it is boarding it from the dock. It is a depiction of a real boat that I’ve seen—a red one, with white trimming and a single plank for sitting on, or resting one’s head on. One day it’ll take me away from this place, but not yet. There are still things I must do here.
I let time escape me. Twilight has passed, and the stars of night are now clear in the sky. I’ve never been good with the shapes in the sky. I think I see a hand, or maybe it’s a crab. Creaking my neck, I look out into the forest where Necia disappeared, and a pair of yellow-coloured eyes stares back at me, curiously, but with jittery unease.
“Hello,” I say to the intruding creature. He is a goblin, no more than eleven I’d say—in human years. I confess I have no idea how long or short goblins tend to live. His skin is of the traditional colour, green, making him hard to spot amongst the foliage. “What is your name?”
My greeting frightens him, and he quickly darts back into the forest before I can say anything more. How curious…