(warning: heavy profanity)
Then his face softened and his eyes shifted from their hard glint to an almost tender gaze. He leaned forward. “You know that don’t you, Daniel?” suggested Collins softly. “You’re just like the rest of us poor slobs who get whiplash every time a nice piece of tail walks by.” He leaned in close and held Daniel’s gaze. “You are no better than the rest of us, Daniel. You are filthy.”
Filthy. The word just seemed to hang there in front of Daniel’s emotionless eyes. That is a word that Daniel understood.
Daniel took in a deep breath and held it for a moment, letting it out slowly. He didn’t reply. He looked down at each spotless shoe and each sterile, raw, red hand.
It started in Daniel’s first year of marriage to Ashley. Daniel, who had been carrying around a fantasy about marriage being a 24/7 sexfest, was becoming increasingly aware of a gap between his fantasy and his reality. Here he was, sharing a bed with a sexual super goddess, but less and less was happening. Daniel was sure something was wrong with her, but Ashley had a different take on it. There was something about Daniel’s touch, something missing. Instead of feeling alive when he touched her, she felt dirty.
Daniel felt it, too, and as he lay awake each night on a bed of quiet desperation, he felt something else as well: resentment.
In his head, he kept a list of reasons for resenting Ashley. Lack of sex, too many rules, pushy, insecure, and so on. But the real reason was one that he could not have guessed.
Daniel had another list that was written deep in the back of his mind, a steadily growing list. This list had a power that was beginning to take hold of him, although he was not even remotely aware of it.
Because of the power of Daniel’s unconscious list, he would begin quietly polishing his shoes one night after a botched sexual encounter. Because of this list, he would begin checking his email at work hundreds and, sometimes, even thousands of times. It was because of this list that, three months before beginning his visits with Dr. Collins, Daniel would begin checking his shoes every time he had a sexual thought. But it wasn’t until he began washing his hands that Daniel began to realize that something had a hold on him.
It was this list that was driving him to lose his marriage, his job, his friends, and (Daniel thought) his mind.
“Dr. Collins, how did I get this way?” Daniel felt a knot swelling in his chest and up into his throat. “I didn’t used to…” He broke off, holding back … something.
“Daniel, ” Dr. Collins rocked back in his chair and looked at his books. “There’s never just one reason.” He stopped, considering for a moment. He began fine-tuning, in a way. His eyes narrowed. His focus seemed to briefly gather on a single spot in the air. “It may have happened something like this. You were a little baby. You didn’t do anything but cry, sleep, eat, and shit your diapers. Then one day you smile. Big fucking deal. But everyone in your little world starts doing cartwheels. They can’t fucking believe that their little Dannykins smiled. They get big ol’ mommy and daddy hardons just thinking about it. This is your first encounter with approval. Then, one day, you’re sitting in your high chair and you accidentally knock your cup onto the floor. Your mommy picks it up and sets it back in front of you. You do it again, except this time you do it on purpose. Mommy figures out your game and gives you a hard look and says ‘No.’ This is your first encounter with disapproval. At some point you decide you like the approval better than the disapproval. You become an expert–just a little fucking shit factory, he said chuckling to himself. “but an expert at getting your parent’s approval. Eventually, as you become a teenager, you can’t do it anymore without fucking splitting yourself in two. The ‘Good’ Danny,” he made little quoting hand gestures, “and the ‘Naughty’ Danny. Do you see, Daniel?”
Daniel pooched out his lips as he always did when he’d almost gotten his mind wrapped around something.
“Your life is all about shoulds and shouldn’ts.”
Well duh! You can’t just go around doing everything you want to do. “I guess,” replied Daniel, unsure.
“You lose a few things when you split in two like that,” Collins continued. “First, you lose your ability to decide things for yourself. You base every decision on what you think the people around you expect. Second, you lose your ability to experience emotion in a normal way. You become like a machine. When a ‘bad’ emotion comes up, you find a way to hide it. Some choose booze, some drugs, some sex. You’re the poor bastard in the men’s room washing the hell out of his hands … like little gears just spinning your feelings away like a machine. Well, you say, what’s wrong with that? What do have when you take away all the ‘bad’ emotions? The ‘good’ ones, right? Wrong. Eventually the good ones go away, too. You can’t experience the one without the other. You’re washing out the good stuff along with the bad stuff, buddy!” Dr. Collins chuckled a bit. Then his face became serious. “You’re not ever really happy at this point in your life, Daniel. You’re just pretending. You’re like an actor on a stage. But you know? I don’t think you’re even that good an actor. You’re not fooling anyone anymore.”
Daniel wanted to feel something. Anything. Just to prove this guy wrong.
“Listen, Daniel. I know things are shit right now, but you’re doing something about it, right? You’re young and you haven’t broken anything that can’t be fixed.”
“Well that’s just it, ” began Daniel, frustration rising in his voice, “how do I fix this? Where do I start.”
“It’s simple. Look, just do one thing for me this week.” They both stood up and moved toward the door. “You love your wife don’t you?”
“Find a way to show her you love her. She needs your passion, man. Sweep her off her feet any way you can.”
Daniel nodded again. But I don’t know what she wants. I don’t know how, Daniel thought.
“Don’t think about it, Daniel. Just do it. You’re a lucky guy, Daniel. You’ve just forgotten.” Collins chuckled as he opened the door, his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “Now go home and fuck the shit outta that girl or I’ll just have to come down and do it myself!”
Dr. Collins PhD silently gestured Daniel out of the door, eyebrows raised, the eyes beneath them sparkling with light.