Chapter One: In Love with a Patient
If someone had told me that someday I would fall in love with one of my patients, I would have recommended that he or she become one of my patients.
Now I have to admit that this most improbable event has occurred at my own clinic. It got so I couldn't wait to get there every morning. It was as if I had found that the doorway to paradise was always right in front of me. I quickly discovered that when you're with someone you love, the most mundane things suddenly become wonderful.
I suppose I'll never forget the day your mother arrived, Willow. She and I often talked about it, first as part of her therapy, and then, as time passed and our relationship grew into something I'm sure neither of us had expected, we were actually able to laugh about it.
You know how people often discuss what they were doing when some major historical event occurred. My father used to talk about where he was when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, for example, and I often think about what I was doing the day President Kennedy was shot. Events like those are so imprinted on your mind it is as if life went on pause for a while and then began again.
Shall I tell you that when I first looked at your mother and she looked at me, my heart paused and then went on again? Shall I tell you that during those moments it felt as if there was no one else in the world but us? Does all this sound too romantic, perhaps more like the words in a love song than the words of a psychiatrist?
As a psychiatrist, I am too analytical, I know. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with my work. I don't really like to dissect people's emotions like some pathologist in a lab, but it is what I have been trained to do. Forgive me for how often I do that while writing this to you, Willow.
The truth is I remember everything about that day your mother arrived. It was unseasonably warm. Ordinarily I don't pay very much attention to the weather. I spend so much of my time indoors at the clinic, I don't care whether it's raining or not, whether it's cloudy or sunny, but for some reason (I hesitate to call it Fate or anything similar -- it wouldn't be very professional of me) I remember sitting at my desk and looking out the window and admiring the soft, lithe look of a cloud moving lazily over the tops of the trees in front of my clinic. I don't daydream very often. I simply didn't have time for it with my patient load at the clinic, but that day it struck me that this was the only cloud in the eastern sky and I thought it looked lonely. I could even see a sad face in its fluffy surface and told myself something my mother used to tell me when I was a little boy: Rain, she said, was merely the teardrops of sad clouds, and when it stopped raining, we knew the clouds were happy again, sunshine lighting up their smiles.
"All smiles have to have sunshine behind them, Claude," she told me, "otherwise, they are not smiles; they are masks."
Perhaps that was my first lesson in psychiatry.
I laughed at myself for remembering such things and having such a thought -- a cloud, lonely -- but it brought back that wonderfully pure feeling of innocence. And then, suddenly there was your mother and grandmother's limousine coming in the front entrance and approaching the clinic.
I had a number of patients from well-to-do families, so I didn't think all that much of the fact that someone was bringing me a new patient in a fancy, luxurious limousine. Even though I don't have any hard and fast studies on the matter, I suppose I should tell you that I do believe wealthy people are more embarrassed by their mentally ill relatives, especially, unfortunately, parents who are embarrassed by their own children. They can't wait to drop them off here and pretend they are somewhere else.
Later, I discovered that was exactly what your grandmother had done. She told people in Palm Beach, for that's where your mother and grandmother lived, that her daughter Grace was off again to college, only now out of state. Palm Beach, according to what your mother told me later, was one of those places where people can tell each other lies and feel confident they will be accepted as truth, at least on the surface. In her words, "It's just courteous to believe in someone else's fantasies. The richer they are, the more they believe in Santa Claus."
How clever she could be, don't you agree?
I watched her and your grandmother emerge from the long black limousine. Your grandmother wore a very stylish pink and white hat and indeed looked as if she was going to some ritzy charity event. Her teardrop earrings caught the sunlight and twinkled like tiny stars she might have plucked out of the Florida night sky. Even from my office window I could see she was an attractive woman, tall and stately with a runway model's posture when she walked. If she felt any shame, she wasn't about to let the world know it.
Your mother was difficult to evaluate from any distance, but especially difficult that day because she kept her head down, her shoulders turned inward, and her arms very close to her body, her hands crossed. This was not an unusual demeanor for me to see in one of my patients. People don't exactly come here because they are full of self-confidence.
Your mother and grandmother disappeared from my view when they walked to the front entrance. The driver followed with your mother's suitcases, and I sat back and continued to read her medical history, sent to me by her doctor in Palm Beach, a friend of mine, Dr. Anderson. I won't bore you with the medical terminology, the analysis and whatever. Suffice it to say, your mother was coming to me after having attempted suicide, but there were factors that told me she might very well not have realized the significance of what she was doing. I'll explain that later, and I promise, I won't be too technical.
While your mother was admitted, a process that involved some physical examination, recording of medications, etc., your grandmother was brought to my office. I usually meet with someone from the immediate family as soon as possible and preferably before I meet with the patient. Getting to know the parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, whoever, of a patient helps me understand what possible social and environmental factors are impacting on that patient.
Forgive me for writing about my work so seriously. I am trying not to be the doctor now, but your father instead, and, I suppose you have realized by now, I am not writing as your stepfather. I am writing as your biological father. I am your father, Willow, in every sense of the word. Your mother wasn't raped by some attendant as you were told too often by your stepmother, and I didn't bring you home because I felt guilty that such a thing happened at my clinic.
I have already told you how I was in love with one of my patients, your mother. I must now tell you how such a thing happened to a man who prided himself all his professional life in being objective, properly aloof, the doctor first and foremost. Your mother taught me that was not necessarily the best way for me to be, the best way for me to help my patients. In fact, dear Willow, everything gradually became reversed here between your mother and me. Many times toward the end, I felt more like the patient and your mother spoke to me with more wisdom than I had imagined she possessed.
But let me stop talking about what happened and talk about how it came to happen.
Into my office walked Jackie Lee Montgomery, your grandmother. I should say burst in, for she had that sort of confident, domineering presence. She was looking at everything like someone who was thinking about buying the clinic. It brought a smile to my face, but a smile I've learned to hide well under what you used to call my "doctor mask." There was just a slight quivering at the corners of my mouth as I told myself, Claude De Beers, you'd better dot your i's and cross all your t's when you speak to this woman.
My receptionist, Edith Hamilton, brought her to my office and announced her at the door.
"This is Mrs. Montgomery, Dr. De Beers," she said and stepped back, closing the door softly behind her.
I rose quickly to greet your grandmother, and she held out her hand like a queen who expected it to be kissed.
"Jackie Lee Montgomery," she said, holding her head high, her eyes fixed on mine.
"Please have a seat," I said, pulling a chair a little farther from the desk the way a gentleman would pull out a chair for his lady at a dining table. It made no sense for me to do that, but your grandmother had that sort of an effect on me. Later, I laughed about it with Grace. She told me her mother had become Palm Beachified. That was her term for it, for all the changes in her personality the wealth and the social life had caused.
"It breaks my heart to be bringing my daughter here, despite the wonderful references and recommendations I have received concerning you and this mental clinic, and despite how beautiful your building and location are," your grandmother Jackie Lee began.
"I understand, Mrs. Montgomery," I said, taking my seat.
"I'm sure you're wondering why I didn't return to my first married name or even my maiden name. My daughter was very fond of my second husband, Winston Montgomery. He adopted her and gave her his name, and I thought for the sake of simplicity, to avoid confusion..."
"I thought I should tell you that right away," she said.
"I understand completely," I said. "You made a wise decision."
"I would never keep my third husband's name," she said, pursing her lips so hard, it brought little spots of white at the corners of her mouth. "Dr. Anderson told me he has given you everything, so you are familiar with all that horror, I expect."
"I am, somewhat, yes."
She opened her purse and took out a frilled silk handkerchief and brought it to her eyes even though I didn't see any tears.
"I've done the best I can dealing with this. What can anyone expect when a woman learns her husband has seduced, really raped her daughter in their own home, right under her very eyes practically?"
"It is quite overwhelming," I agreed.
"And Grace," she said, shaking her head and sighing, "hiding her pregnancy from me all that time until it was far too late to do anything about it." She paused and focused sharply on me as she leaned a bit forward. "Can you explain that to me? I never had a sensible explanation from Dr. Anderson for her behavior."
"Well, of course without speaking with Grace and exploring her troubles, it's difficult, Mrs. Montgomery. I can give you some classic reasons, which might very well be her reasons."
"What? What reason could anyone have for such behavior?" she practically pounced.
"First, of course, there's guilt. Too often women assume full or most of the responsibility for such things. To alleviate their own guilt and responsibility, some men often make them feel that way."
"He would," she said, spitting the words disdainfully at the floor.
"And if you have an impressionable young woman who has been through some additional mental crisis, she is more vulnerable to such chicanery."
"Chicanery. Exactly," she said, nodding, her eyes brightening with the way I sympathized with her situation.
"So keeping all that in mind, it wouldn't be all that unexpected for her not to hide her pregnancy so much as to go into complete self-denial."
"What do you mean by complete self-denial?"
"Try to convince herself it wasn't true, ignore the symptoms, and succeed enough at that to justify not telling you for a long time, as hard as it is for you to understand, Mrs. Montgomery."
"Jackie Lee, please."
"Jackie Lee. It's possible your daughter in all sense of the word actually believed she wasn't pregnant."
"Madness, utter madness. She does belong here."
"I saw from a note in her records that afterward you encouraged this in a way by pretending the child was yours. Am I correct that you actually simulated a pregnancy to persuade people it was so?"
She looked surprised that I knew that, but it was something that stood out in Dr. Anderson's report.
"I did what I did for her," she snapped back at me. "I was protecting her. You don't know how cruel and biting people are there. It was difficult enough trying to find her a decent man with whom she could develop a relationship. Imagine what this sort of sordid news would have done. I might as well have shipped her off to Somalia or some such godforsaken place."
I just nodded. Some people take that for agreement, and for the moment I could see it was better she assumed I approved of all she had done. In my experience, if you don't let parents, especially parents, come to their own conclusions as to their responsibility for the child's illnesses and problems, they will resent you and refuse to accept. Acceptance is the beginning of recovery.
There I go again, being the doctor. Sorry.
After I read the references to Jackie Lee's behavior, I had spoken with Dr. Anderson, of course, and he went into some detail about this cover-up Jackie Lee had created. He told me she became so absorbed in her own efforts to fool the public that, he thought, she had fooled herself as well. At least for a little while. He believed it contributed significantly to Grace's current depression and introversion. The truth is that the way he described your grandmother's behavior made it sound as if she should have been brought here as the patient and not your mother.
Now he was worried about the child, the little boy named Linden, growing up believing his grandmother was his mother. Dr. Anderson hoped I would help return Grace to a balanced enough state of mind so she could return and recapture her own child for both their sakes. It added pressure to my efforts, of course, and a solid reason for my letting her go. Neither of us could be selfish enough to see Linden without his mother. (It brings tears to my eyes just to write this, to write the words, let her go, for as you will see, that was just what I had to do.)
"Yes," I replied after a moment. "I'm sure what you did, you did for good reason, Jackie Lee."
She liked that and obviously liked I had stopped calling her Mrs. Montgomery.
"Exactly." She paused, dabbed her eyes again, and looked at me, her face turning dark and serious. "You don't think that it had a lot to do with what she...what she attempted to do to herself, do you?"
"It's best to wait for me to begin my examinations before we come to any conclusions about anything. I would be doing you a disservice to shoot from the hip, Jackie Lee. Give me some time."
"I know Dr. Anderson believes that it did. I could see it in his face whenever he spoke to me about it," she said, smirking. Then she sighed so deeply, I thought she had cracked her heart. "She was such a happy child once. When her father was alive, before his terrible helicopter accident, he doted on her and she practically worshiped the ground he walked upon. I was always warning him that he was spoiling her, not so much with gifts as with love. You can give someone too much love, you know.
"'Grace will never be able to love any man because she will always compare him to you and find fault with him,' I warned him, but he didn't listen and that's exactly what happened."
She leaned toward me.
"You know she's not had one satisfactory romance and she's in her twenties!"
"It's not so unusual, Jackie."
"I'm sorry. Jackie Lee. Not unusual at all, especially these days," I said softly.
"It is for Grace. Wait until you see her. She's a very attractive young woman when she wants to be. Right now she looks like something the cat dragged home, but when she's had her hair fixed, especially by my stylists, and she puts on one of her designer dresses and has her makeup done properly, she's a little movie star. I saw the way men looked at her at charity events and parties.
"But she was always pushing them off for one reason or another," she said sadly. She nodded and then she stared at me a moment. "You know what she believes, don't you? I imagine it's down there in that report Dr. Anderson sent you," she said, nodding at the folder on my lap as though it were a criminal record instead of a doctor's file.
I didn't reply. I didn't want to reveal anything in Dr. Anderson's report.
"You don't have to read it. I'll tell you. She believes she carries a Jonah curse, that everyone or anyone who loves her or whom she loves will have something terrible happen to him or her. She'll tell you all about it, I'm sure, about all of them, her victims," she said, throwing her head back and rolling her eyes dramatically.
"We'll try to get her to think differently about herself," I said.
She sucked in her breath and sat straighter.
"Yes. Well, what do you think? Can you cure her? Will she ever be a normal woman and marry and have a family and a home?" she demanded.
"I hope so, Jackie Lee. It's my intention to make that a reality, yes. She does have a son to care for and raise, of course."
"Care for and raise," she muttered. "Well, I can't just toss him out there to be at the mercy of those sharks, now can I? For now, I'll continue being his mother."
"That might do him some harm in time, Jackie Lee. Perhaps you should think of how you can gradually get him to understand the truth," I suggested softly.
"Yes, well, we'll see. I don't want to make promises to him that will never be fulfilled. I know how mentally ill people can be, how their recoveries can be false or only temporary, especially someone in her condition. I've read a number of magazine articles about it."
"There is a lot of misinformation about that, Jackie Lee. Perhaps the old adage, 'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing' applies to this more than anything. Just be patient and give it all some time," I told her.
"Time. Exactly. How often should I come here?" she asked, rather demanded, I thought.
"Not for a while," I said. "Let's see how it goes and I'll call you."
She looked satisfied with that answer.
"I thought Grace was going to put up a fight or an argument about coming here, but she didn't so much as utter a little reluctance."
"That's good," I said.
"Good? Who would want to come here? How can that be something good?"
"Perhaps she realizes she needs help. That's what good, Jackie Lee. You have to recognize you have a problem before you can solve it."
"Um," she said. "Maybe. You know what she did, don't you? You know about her jumping off the dock in the middle of the night and then telling us she was getting on a ship with her dead father. She would have just let herself drown if we hadn't realized what she had done!"
"When people are so troubled, they lose their hold on what's real and what isn't. We all live in a little bit of illusion," I said, "but the difference is we know when to come back to reality."
"She doesn't," she said sharply.
"She will," I replied, now holding my eyes on her.
"I hope so," she relented. "Should I go back to say goodbye to her?"
"Maybe not. Maybe it's best you just leave quietly. She's in good hands. As you know, I have a wonderful staff here, and we don't like to see the families make the patients feel abandoned in any way."
"I'm not doing that," she retorted sharply.
"No, of course not, but someone who is already suffering with misconceptions, self-deprecation, loss of identity..."
"Yes, well, I suppose you are right. You do know more than I do," she said, standing.
"I'll walk you out," I said.
"It's a very pretty place. I mean, where it's located, those willow trees, the river nearby, the grounds."
"Nature is a true healer," I said.
"If that were true, you'd think the ocean would have been that for her. We lived right on the beach."
"It held other connotations, other meanings for her, perhaps."
"Her father crashed in the ocean, but we never talked about that," she said, nodding. "Oh, this is all so complicated. It makes me spin."
"Don't worry. We'll sort it out," I said. "Did you want to see the rest of the clinic, our facilities?"
"No," she said quickly. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to sound disinterested, but seeing all these disturbed people, especially the younger ones, depresses me. I don't know how you do this sort of work, Doctor. How do you do it?"
"You think about helping them, seeing them walk out of here to be productive people again, and that's how you do it," I said.
I walked out with her to the waiting limousine. The moment the driver saw her, he jumped and rushed around to open the door for her. She had that sort of aura about her continuously, commanding.
"This isn't easy for me," she said at the car, looking back at the clinic and taking a deep breath. "She's my only child. Aside from poor Linden, of course."
"I understand," I said.
"I keep thinking about how happy we all were when our lives were chaotic, when we were moving from naval base to naval base, following my husband in his career, never really having any roots. They used to salute each other, you know," she said. "With two fingers. She did it when she was only two, and he thought it was so funny and cute that he never forgot and always did it the same way."
She was really crying now, and I thought that under the shell she had created for herself in order, perhaps, to survive in the world she had found herself living in now, she still had a very warm, loving other self, desperately trying to be heard. When we're honest about our own emotions, we have the best chance for happiness, Willow. Always remember that.
I squeezed her hand gently.
She looked at me one more time and in a whisper said, "Take care of my baby."
Then she got into that luxurious, shiny black limousine with its tinted windows. I actually felt sorry for her. She looked shut up, locked away in there. The windows reflected me and the clinic. I no longer saw her, and moments later she was driven away.
I watched her go, and then I turned back to my clinic and walked with determined steps to attack whatever monster resided in your mother's troubled mind.
Copyright © 2003 by the Vanda General Partnership
Dark Seed © 2001 by the Vanda General Partnership