“Hi, I’m Liesl.”
He says grudgingly, “Lu.” Tough face, even when not grimacing. Prominent brow like a caveman, a born hunter, contrasting the full-body pajamas with bunny pattern. He looks down at the booties on his feet. “Couldn’t you find something more masculine? I’m a man, not a little kid.”
“Sorry. That’s what we had in your size.”
He rolls his eyes. “Whatever.” Maintains a macho posture.
“So what happens now? You beat a confession out of me?” He knocks his knuckle on the table.
“Beat you? What do you take me for?” She giggles. “Why would you say such a thing? I’m here to help you.”
“Then let me go.”
“We will, once you’re feeling better.”
“I feel fine now.”
“I think you need a little help.”
“I don’t need no help.”
“Apparently you do. You just used a double negative, and then there the little matter of an armed bank robbery.”
“Well I’m not saying one word.”
“That’s okay. We have it all on video in living color and stereo sound. Would you like to see?” She turns it on. There is Lu running from the bank. She plays it in slow motion and zooms the picture in so close that his face is recognizable through the mask. “Does this look like anyone you know?”
He looks around, not willing to admit anything.
“We’ve already got you on contributing to the delinquency of others and conspiracy to commit drunk driving.”
“Hey, I wasn’t driving, and I wasn’t holding no gun.”
“Yes, but your accomplice was, and as you know--” She points to the poster on the wall.
We are All Responsible for Each Other
“Can’t I just make bail and go?”
Healy has a good laugh. “Oh no, no, no. We have to make sure you are at full wellness before we can release you into the community. In your present condition you’d contaminate the whole city with negativity.”
He drops his head. “What do you want from me, community service?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. That will be a big part of your treatment plan.”
“Oh yes, Mr. Rivers. We have big plans for you. We’re going to get to the bottom of what’s bothering you. Then we’ll find you a job that maximizes your contribution to society while optimizing your personal satisfaction.”
“Okay fine, so what do you want me to do, so I can get out of here?”
“You might as well get comfortable.” She checks her phone. “The jury found you guilty, and the judge sentenced you to one year of counseling.”
“A year?! Oh great.”
“We’re going to trace back the line of causation. Every crime has a precipitating cause. So tell me, where on this green Earth did you get the idea to rob a bank?”
He scrunches his face. “Money? Stuff costs money.”
“What did you need so badly?”
He ticks his lips. “Nothing in particular. Maybe some nice wheels. Some decent threads. You know. Cost of living.”
“Okay, so why didn’t you avail yourself to one of the conveniently located cash dispensaries?”
“Didn’t feel like it.”
“So you decide to steal?”
“The bank steals 24 hours a day. Why don’t you arrest them?”
“If you have a grievance with the bank, we can file a complaint.”
“Yeah. I have a complaint. I work like a slave, six hours a day, four days a week. I come home smelling like french fries. It takes two washes to get it off my clothes. By the time I finish doing laundry and taking buses I have just enough energy to crawl into bed.”
“You have a problem with the bus?”
“Why don’t you try it and see how you like it.“
“What’s wrong with the bus?”
“It takes an hour to get from Monroe Ave to East Ave.”
“So transportation is a source of stress in your life.” She makes a note.
“By the time I get where I’m going it’s time to leave.”
“I’m requisitioning you a car. You can pick it up when you leave here today.”
“You’re giving me a car?” His face lights up.
“The cost of a vehicle is far less than the cost of police and psychotherapists. Now tell me more about your grievance with the system.”
He tilts his head. “They squeeze as much out of you as they can and pay as little as they can legally get away with.”
“Yeah, well that’s how Capitalism works.”
“Meanwhile some guy who never worked an honest day in his life gets rich foreclosing houses from little old ladies?”
“You seem to have an issue with money.” She plops a brick of hundreds on the desk for him.“That should take care of your financial pressures.”
His eyes swell. “Normally I don’t take charity.” He stuffs the brick in his robe.
“We’re going to train you and place you in a better paying job.”
“Also we’ll help you invest your money, so you’ll have more income and a comfortable security net and won’t have to stress. How does that sound?”
He puts a finger on his chin and nods. “That sounds pretty good.”
“Now let’s talk about your psychological issues.”
“Lady, you just took care of em.”
“Why are you so angry?”
He rolls his eyes.
“I know it’s uncomfortable, but you’ll feel better after.”
“I’m going to say a word. I want you to tell me the first thing that comes into your mind. Okay?”
She makes a note.
She laughs. Makes another note. “Okay. How about … Sunrise?”
“Wow. You really have a thing for my mother.” She writes a copious note. “A few months of Freudian analysis should clear that right up. Okay let’s try something else. Can you touch your finger to your nose?”
He flips her his middle finger and says coyly, “Oops. I missed.”
“Very nice. Look Mr. Rivers, if you keep that up we’re going be here an awfully long time. If you want to get out of here, I strongly suggest you take your attitude and SUCK IT UP, CUPCAKE.” She gives him the eye rivet.
“Fine. What do you want from me, lady?”
“I want you to be a happy, whole individual who experiences life at the highest level of self-actualization.”
“Forget it. I died a long time ago. This is a ghost you’re talking to.”
She writes faster. “You see. That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. Why do you say you are dead?”
“I died when the world told me to drop dead.”
“So you have a beef with the world. Tell me about it.”
His eyes shift side to side. “Don’t you get it? They own me, and they own you.”
“They. The ones who control everything. The ones getting rich. The ones who shackle your hands and feet with shekels.”
“There’s a lot to unpack here. We have our work cut out for us.”
He drops his defensiveness. “If you want to know the truth, blame it on the tequila.”
“Oh yes, the famous tequila. Remind me to stay away from the stuff.”
He lets go a chuckle. “Maybe that’s not such a bad idea.” Shakes his head thinking how stupid the whole thing was.
“Why do you feel a need to drink?”
“I don’t need to drink. I want to drink.”
“I don’t know. You have to do something.”
She shakes her head and makes a note. “I hope you like AA because you’re going to be there three times a week for the foreseeable future.”
He looks to heaven. “I don’t believe this.”
“They’ll help you establish a moderate drinking schedule.”
“If you like, you can switch to nalcohol, which will get you drunk without being habit-forming and without causing a hangover. But more importantly we need to address the emotional factors behind the impulse.”
“I guess I am pretty screwed up.”
“Don’t say that.” She pats his hand. “You are good. You just have a few lessons to learn. No one is blaming you. Society shares much of the responsibility.”
He shakes his head. “That stupid freaking tequila.” He bangs the table.
She stops him. “Don’t blame the alcohol. Take responsibility for your actions.”
He is distressed. “I don’t know why I do these things.”
“We’re going to figure it all out. It takes time. We’re going to find out what traumatized you, we’re going to fix it.”
He relaxes. “I guess you guys are okay. I was worried you were going to beat me with a rubber hose.”
“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned being beaten. Who beat you?”
“That’s none of your business.” He looks sad.
“It’s my sworn oath to eradicate all forms of violence wherever they hide.”
“Okay Sherlock Holmes, my dad beat the crap out of me every day. Are you happy now?”
“Of course I’m not happy.” She sits next to him and hugs him. “I am so sorry that happened to you.”
They take a minute. His eyes well up.
She hands him a tissue. They hug. “I’m putting in a referral for your father to be counseled.” She punches a few commands. “Tell me about him.”
He wipes his eyes. “I remember he took us to the amusement park once. That was a good day. He picked me up on his shoulders and I could see over the people. I was the tallest person there. I ate so much cotton candy that I threw up. Good times.”
“What about your mother?”
“That woman is a saint.”
“She would have to be to put up with your father. I’m putting her down for counseling too.”
He gets quiet again.
“We need to find out what happened to you so we can fix it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s normal to repress bad memories. Not to worry.” She hands him the metal helmet. “Put this on.” She works the keypad and increases magnification by a factor of 100,000, revealing neuronal bits of data. “Okay, let’s see what kind of traumatic events we have.” She scrolls over the computer screen showing the complicated diagrams. “It has to be here somewhere.” She looks intensely, going through every memory in his brain. She scrolls a little more until she comes to a spike in his fight or flight reactions. She turns on the experiential viewer and plays the video:
Age two: Lu is a toddler, running around the grass with a happy look on his face. Innocence and enthusiasm still intact. His father, the same age Lu is now, resembling him, eats at a picnic table. The youngster grabs his arm. “Don’t do that. I will slap the ugly off your face.” You can see the pained look on the baby’s face.
Healy flags the incident.
Age six: Lu shows his father a finger painting that he did in school. It is a primitive portrait of his family holding hands. His father says, “That’s supposed to be me? You’ll never be an artist. That’s for sure. What are they teaching you in that stupid school?”
Lu puts his hand over his mouth. “I forgot all about that.”
Healy’s heart breaks. What chance did he have? She remember her own father, when she was ten, cute, the same person just smaller, wearing a t-shirt with a desert rose over a sunset. The shelves of the room are stacked with books. Her father smokes a pipe and reads. Liesl sits at the kitchen table with a pile of his students’ papers. She reads one:
“Amavi should be amamo.” She crosses it out in red pen and writes in the correct answer.”
Her father says, “Very good,” and takes a puff of his pipe.
How lucky she was to have a dad who taught her how to correct Latin quizzes. Imagine if every child had such good training.
Age ten: Lu’s father sits in an old La-Z-boy, wearing a wife-beater t-shirt. There are no books, only empty beer cans and cigarette butts on the floor. “Let me teach you something about women. The woman is subservient to the man. The man is the boss. That’s in the Bible. You have to keep your woman in control. Never let her talk back to you.”
Healy shakes her head. “So your father was a religious man.”
Lu smirks. “Yeah, right. But he was correct about some things.”
Healy’s eyes widen, and she makes a note regarding attitude towards women.
Age fourteen: Father says, “Don’t be a pussy. If somebody messes with you, you hit back ten times harder.”
“I left home when I was sixteen.” Lu cries quietly and tries to hide it.
She turns off the machine. “Every child has a right to a loving environment.”
“Yeah, well life sucks.”
“We’re going to help you and your father form a good relationship.”
He sneers. “I want nothing to do with that SOB.”
She sees the little boy in him. ”That shows just how badly you need to talk to him.” She reaches her hand across the table.
Lu’s eyes go blank. He explodes, “I don’t have to do nuthin’!” He jumps over the table and tackles her onto the floor.
She cries, “Whoa!”
They wrestle. She fights to get him off. He shakes her shoulders against the floor. “Get off me!” He puts his hands around her throat and strangles her. Her face turns red and she is stunned.