After weeks of gibberish, he had finally given me something juicy for my conference paper. And, let’s face it, I was intrigued. It is not every day that Chicken Man walks into your office. Sigmund Freud had his Rat Man, an old Russian guy who fantasized about a rodent crawling up his anus, and that case made his career. I was thinking book contract, movie rights, lecture tours, the works. This was heavy stuff. It was much better than the stuff I was used to hearing: “I feel guilty for what I did to my father” or “my parents didn’t love me enough.” I could spin this into an endowed chair.
In the next session, I asked him, “Have you ever thought of asking the young women who cooks for your father if she would like to go out and have coffee? Maybe go to dinner and a movie? You could start small and work your way up. Hey, if handholding didn’t kill you, then you even might try a kiss. Provided, of course, that she is willing. Is she?”
“Oh, yes. She is in love with me. She says that she won’t be with anyone else but me. She’s all mine.” What do you think I should do?”
I immediately sensed a trap. This is exactly what these obsessive-compulsive bastards like to do: they present you with a little dilemma, ask for help, and wait for you to take the bait. Had I said, “Ask her out,” he would have responded, “but won’t that make me unfaithful to my mother.” That’s how it works: they wait for you to offer a suggestion and then they argue with you about why your solution won’t work. In the end, the patient concludes that you can’t help him. I am sure this is where the last six shrinks hit the wall and told him to get lost. His problem is that he can’t commit to anything. It wasn’t just an issue of the cook or the chicken, but rather it extended into every other aspect of his life. Grocery shopping could be a veritable nightmare. Neurotics have been known to stare endlessly at two almost identical cans of stewed tomatoes, trying to decide on which one is the best purchase.
“Well—I responded—I think it’s important that you to decide what you should do. We can take this up in our next session.”
He missed his next appointment, which didn’t surprise me. Nor did it bother me. I knew he was obsessing about the whole thing and would have to stew for a couple of weeks before he came to any plan of action. In the meantime, I had plenty of other things to do. I was in the middle of planning my trip to Cabo San Lucas with my family. After a long winter, I was going to take some time off from a hectic schedule, and spend some time soaking up the sun on the beach.
Tuesday rolled around and he appeared at my office for his session. When he walked into the office, I could tell that he had an air of confidence about him, a certain glow, and a lingering smile. Often this is a sign that patients are moving on. He was elated, relieved; he was a new man. I figured that he had either done the chicken or the cook.
“So, tell me about your last two weeks,” I said.
“She made chicken again,” he said with a smile.
“And, then what did you do?”
“At first it was horrible; I fought it off for as long as I could. I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was seeing the headless chicken sitting on the cutting board, slathered with butter, salt, pepper and rosemary. I couldn’t take it anymore. It invaded my dreams; I could hear it walking across the floor, knocking on my door, trying to get into my room at night. I’d lie in bed at night. First it was too hot, and then it was too cold. I was tossing and turning. The smell of the chicken penetrated everything, in my nose, my skin, in my hair, on the sheets. I finally cracked.”
“I left. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to leave the house. I was going crazy. I went to sleep in the cemetery where my mom is buried.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No. And, you know what? She followed me out there, and watched me sleep. While I was sleeping, I had this dream that I was being sucked into the ground, buried alive, and I called out to her. She came and saved me. It was then that I had her in my arms, I kissed her.”
“No more chickens.”
To make a long story short, the two lovers ended up having sex in the cemetery, right over his mother’s plot. In the business, we call this “suppressing the primary signifier,” which means that my patient finally was able to suppress his absent mother’s presence. It’s an oedipal thing. The ghost was gone, and he was left with the cook. It is kind of like a fairytale if you think about it. In any case, my patient, Mr. Chicken Man, cancelled his next sessions and has yet to reschedule. I wished him well. It is customary in this line of work to get to know people very well, and then tell them that you hope you never see them again. I didn’t have too much time to ponder the situation, I needed to write up my report and head to the airport. I was scheduled to a morning flight out of Chicago.
To be continued…
Cross-posted at jimmygabacho.com