Bette Adriaanse – Dr Hughes

photo credit: heart industry


Bette Adriaanse
Dr Hughes

“What if you are not real?” I wrote to my psychologist one day. “Apparently I imagine all kinds of people, who says you aren’t one of them?”
My psychologist wrote back one sentence: “Maybe you are dreaming me, but who is dreaming you?”
I could tell he was quoting someone, even though he didn’t use quotation marks. He always comes up with some lame quote when I ask him a question. That is how you can see he is a real psychologist, my Dr. Hughes, even though he’s only an online psychologist. Psychologists never like to get personal about themselves.
It was Dr. Hughes who started writing to me. He had seen my name in the paper and introduced himself as a retired psychologist.
“I miss my profession,” he wrote, “perhaps I can help you.”
Even though I did not really have problems at that time, in my opinion at least, I did feel bad for him being a retired psychologist with nothing to do. So we started my therapy. One email a week at first, later it turned into one email a day except Sunday. After a month or so I made the joke that he knew more about me than I do, which he said was funny but also true. Although Dr. Hughes doesn’t like to get personal about himself, he does like to get very personal about me. He’s always asking: How did that make you feel? What happened next? What time was this? What were you wearing?
That last question may sound a little shady, but he says that including facts in my observations, such as what I was wearing, will help me become more factual and rational. According to Dr. Hughes I am suffering from an ‘overly imaginative state of being’. He told me to write down everything that’s happening to me, so he can help me make the distinction between real and imaginary. He also makes lists for me, attempting to divide things up into the categories REAL and NOT REAL. For instance a list would be like this: REAL: You work as a translator of web content. You have an aunt in Florida who calls you but you never pick up. NOT REAL: You did not meet and have coffee with Daniel Day-Lewis. He did not give you a dog named Bandit.
In reverse I try to help my psychologist a little bit. I collect evidence to go with my writings, like receipts and maps and drawings, so he can verify that Daniel Day-Lewis was indeed in town that afternoon. And then there are the little personal things I do for my psychologist as well, for instance when he writes me an email after 2 AM, I write in capital letters: GO TO BED DR. HUGHES! You are not 20 anymore!
He always writes back, sometimes even straight away. He gets very worried sometimes, Dr. Hughes. He thinks I will make ill-informed decisions.
“What did you do today? Where did you go?” Dr. Hughes asks me in his mails even when I’ve just told him exactly what I did, that I went to an amusement park with my friend Nancy and it was such a blast and we ate popsicles and got nauseous. Still he keeps asking me these questions, “Where did you really go?”, “Why don’t you want to tell me?”, like I’m some kind of werewolf or something. Between you and me, I personally think he cares a little bit too much. He should have a hobby, start playing the trombone, meet a nice lady!
Jeez, dr. Hughes, I write back in red letters, Jeez.
Sometimes I joke that we are like an old married couple. I like that idea, and I used to imagine the two of us as old people together; Dr. Hughes as John Cleese and myself looking like my grandmother, both reading a book in bed. Wordlessly we switch off the lights when we are ready to sleep. This is not a very realistic picture though, because Dr. Hughes does not look like John Cleese at all. In truth, he looks almost like the opposite of John Cleese.
I know this, because I saw him once, by accident.
Maybe it was not completely an accident, but it did start out as an accident, so I am not a stalker or anything. The thing is, that I saw Dr. Hughes’ nameplate by accident when I was strolling down the street. Maybe if you were an interrogator you’d say well isn’t that a bit of an extreme coincidence in a big city like this, maybe then I would crack and say yes I tracked down the house address through his business registration number, but you are not an interrogator so I am not cracking, haha.
It started because I had bought Dr. Hughes a present: chequered socks. It may seem like a silly joke, chequered socks, but it is actually a very thoughtful and moving gift from me, because those little details are the things that make middle-aged men appealing to women, especially psychologists. It says: ‘Hey I might be an old psychologist, but I have a funny side!’ Those socks might just pull some jolly old lady over the edge one day, and he’d have me to thank for it.
Of course I intended to mail the socks first, but the post is so unreliable nowadays, and I did not see the harm in putting the parcel through his letter box myself, provided that I left straight away afterwards.
He lives on the ground floor of a tall apartment building. ‘Mr. Hughes,’ a silver sign on the door read. There was a drawing of a cat next to his name. It was the cat that did it. I could have left it for what it was, I honestly believe, if it wasn’t for that cat. The cat did not fit in to the image I had of him at all, so I had to see how much of my image was real. Maybe he is a woman, I thought. Maybe he is some crazy woman pretending to an old man. There are people who get off on stuff like that you know. So I sat down on the stairs towards the second floor and waited for him to come home.
The first thing I noticed when I saw Dr. Hughes, was that he was a little bit fat. I couldn’t see it properly, because I could only see him from above, but it was very clear that he was not lean and tall like John Cleese. I could see his head, a little round ball, and below that, a bigger one, like a Skippy ball.
He always writes to me that I should play sports, “Get yourself a tennis skirt and get out there,” he’d write, “Mens sana in corpere sana!”, but that day it turned out he is not sporty at all. I noticed that his feet were completely invisible from above. The other thing I noticed was that his hair was black and shiny, and the third thing I noticed was that he took a key out of a fake hollow stone that was in the flowerpot and opened the door. After that I didn’t notice anything because I had left.
I never told him it was me who’d sent him the socks, because I knew how he would respond.
You would do anything not to look at yourself, he would write. You imagine there is something wrong with everyone; everyone needs help, except you.
“What are you afraid of?” Dr. Hughes asked me three weeks ago. “What is your fear?”
That is so typically him. Why would my behaviour have anything to do with fear? In his mind there is only one reason people do psychologically unusual things, and that is fear. There could be many other reasons, like confusion, wisdom, or just the fun of it.
I told him I could not tell him because you should never tell people your biggest fear: it gives them too much power. Like when Linda M. in third grade did her presentation about phobias and she said the subject interested her because she had a spider phobia, which is a very stupid thing to say in front of a classroom full of boys. From that day on they put spiders in her sandwich, in her locker, in her shoes and in her hair. Some people like to see other people scared. “You should be very careful about who you tell your biggest fear, Dr. Hughes,” I wrote to him.
“But did her fear of spiders disappear?” Dr. Hughes replied straight away.
“And that is why you are the psychologist!” I wrote back. “You got me there! After a while she became less afraid of spiders, it is true. A little bit more afraid of humans, but maybe that is good too. You got to learn that lesson at some point. Every cloud has a silver lining Dr. Hughes, that’s the most important thing I have learned from you. Where do you think that saying comes from, about the silver lining? What do you say?”
“I think you are traumatized,” he wrote. “Some bad things happened and you need to face your fear. You can open up to me. Trust me.”
“What about your fear Dr. Hughes?” I asked him. “Let’s do an exchange. You tell me yours and I will tell you mine. Do you trust me?”
I could tell he was pretty desperate because he did not even answer with a quote that day. “Fair enough,” he wrote the next evening. “I am afraid of burglars. Someone entering my house while I sleep. It is an irrational fear, seeing a dark silhouette standing by my bed at night, not knowing who the person is and what they want. So, there you have it. Sclerophobia. I do not let it influence my life in any way.”
Then, for some reason, I did not answer for a few days, a week, maybe two. I was quite busy, taking Bandit for long walks and such, but I still felt guilty. Dr. Hughes sent me two emails asking how I was doing; a long one about mutual commitment to recovery and opening up to him, and a shorter one, curt almost, reminding me of our contact schedule. I could tell he was angry.
So I am not sure really how the idea came into my mind and why exactly, but in any case it was night-time when I had it and I knew I should do it straight away.
Why didn’t you wait, you would say if you were an interrogator, why didn’t you do it during the day like a normal person? But it was nicer to do it straight away. I am the kind of girl who likes to do things straight away and then waiting becomes unbearable and knowing how much Dr. Hughes cares about me I was sure he wouldn’t want me to suffer and sit on bed the whole night with Bandit in my arms waiting for the clock to say 8 o’clock.
We were going to face our fears.
It was very quiet in Dr. Hughes’ flat. The front door led to a hallway, where I almost knocked over some empty wine bottles that stood by the door. His living room was smaller than I imagined, with a TV that took up half the room and no books. The door to his bedroom opened quietly, the draft strip slid over the floor without sound. The wind was playing with the white curtains at the foot end of the bed.
Dr. Hughes was a hump under the covers, his back to me.
I was a bit nervous, but I told myself it wasn’t scary at all. I was probably the scary one myself, standing in the bedroom in the night like that!
This must be how a crocodile feels, I thought, which was funny, because it was a funny moment to be thinking of crocodiles, but still I kept thinking of them. They lurk in the water, very still and silently, and then all of the sudden, WHAM, they come out of the water and they just bite that water-drinking antelope into two pieces! My thoughts were very loud like this but my body was completely still.
Dr. Hughes did not resemble an antelope at all of course. He was just sleeping there like a round shape under the covers.
Maybe you are dreaming me, I could have said, but who is dreaming you? I didn’t say it because that would have been very creepy.
I had been very rational about going to see Dr. Hughes; I had made a list of pros and cons and I thought about the consequences. It was an unusual time to go to his house, but on the other hand: tomorrow I would not want to tell him about my fear anymore. Knowing Dr. Hughes, he would appreciate that we were both confronting our fears at the same time and then we could put them behind us and we could be very glad we did. Still, now that I was there, I could not shake the feeling that Dr. Hughes might be a bit startled when he saw me.
So I woke him gently, pretending to be his alarm clock. Beep, beep, I said, softly, standing half behind the curtain, beep, beep. The plan was that he would slowly wake up and when he was fully awake I would emerge from behind the curtain, making a joke about an early bird, to break the ice. However he was a little bit filled with terror and he locked himself into the bathroom. You can’t really blame him. When you have a burglar in your house you don’t know who it is, you just expect the worst, which is a natural reaction. But it was only me! If he had known it was only me he would not have been so scared that he locked himself in the bathroom.
It is the worst thing you can do, by the way, locking yourself in the bathroom when someone is coming after you. Always go out into the street, people, or at least stay near the windows and shout and wave as much as you can. A bathroom usually has no windows, and once the person coming after you gets in he has you cornered! So! That is not funny!
I started to feel pretty bad for Dr. Hughes because from what I could hear behind the door he was not over his fear yet. I also started to feel that although this had been a good idea in theory it wasn’t turning out very well in reality. With everything being a little chaotic and Dr. Hughes banging on the radiator, I felt a little too tense to say anything. I stayed by the door for a while, ticking my nails on the wood, but the moment did not come. I could not open up to him.
So I kept it inside after all and I put the key back in the hollow stone in the flowerpot and went home to Bandit. It is better to regret the things you tried, than the things you never tried, Dr. Hughes would have said if we were still in contact.
Since the incident I have received only one email from Dr. Hughes.
“Dear Client. I am taking a period off work. I wish you all the best for your future and I hope you will recover. Dr. Hughes.”
Even though it was a short, business-like email, I could tell this was aimed directly at me. It is his way of showing he is very concerned. But he really does not have to worry about me staying in and being a hermit and being afraid forever. In the end I am a sucker for life, I will go back to it like a wife to her abusive husband, haha. I just need some time, but I will, I am sure of it. After all I am a sucker for a good joke, pretty clouds, a good hotdog with sauerkraut.