The further the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat got in his story, the wider got the eyes of the Therapist Emeritus. She could hear the whole thing, the things he was not saying, as well as the things he was.
He seemed to be telling the story of some boy who had witnessed extreme violence between his parents. This boy responded to his father’s abandonment by pretending to be a sniper and going on a killing spree. The boy had shot most of a neighboring old man’s dogs until the old man, believing he was next, decided to kill himself.
This story was gruesome, horrible, and ingermane. Why would a man, consumed by guilt and tracked across the country by ghosts, interrupt a session, and deliver to his therapist a story about some boy, as if that boy had anything to do about anything?
Why, indeed, but for the fact that the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had been that boy, now grown to be a man haunted by ghosts. I think we, at last, have discovered the secret sin the old Puritan preacher had alluded to. The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was a killer.
I don’t know if the Therapist Emeritus had the same problems with this story as I did, but it was evident from her wide eyes that she had problems with something. I thought it was strange that the creatures the boy had killed weren’t the ones haunting the grown man. He wasn’t being pursued by Old Man Jenson and his kennel full of baying hounds; they seemed to outsource their haunting to others. I didn’t know ghosts did that; but clearly the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat thought so.
It was also odd that the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat thought he could admit to something without actually admitting to it and release himself of guilt by confessing in the third person. Maybe, though, this was just his opening bid; he would try a half-assed non-apologetic apology, but would be willing to go full strength if he needed to. I suppose I can’t blame a guy for seeing what he can get away with, even if he is a mass murderer.
Here’s another thing about the story I’m not sure I get. So, the boy kills a bunch of dogs. He shoots them down with a powerful rifle while hiding under cover. That’s pretty bad, but at least dogs aren’t people, right? He’s not really a mass murderer, technically, because murder, unless you are a member of PETA, is the killing of humans. Here’s the thing, though: as he was shooting, he was imagining his victims were humans, not dogs. So, what is he guilty of? Killing humans, as he intended, or dogs, as he actually did. I know, in a court of law he would not be tried for murder, but are the statutes the same in the spiritual world, where ghosts have their citizenship? I think, in a spiritual sense, he is guilty of murder because he imagined the dogs as people. He’s no different than those people who, from time to time, show up in public places with automatic weapons and kill humans, imagining they are dogs. For that matter, he’s also guilty of the killing of Old Man Jenson, who, strictly speaking, killed himself; for Jenson would not have done so if the boy had not besieged him and shot all his pets.
Oh, I can hear you saying, the boy imagined he was at war. War excuses killing. To my thinking, war may or may not excuse killing, but, in this case, imagining he’s at war excuses nothing, for he was not in a war, or, at least, not in the usual sense.
I can also hear you say, give the guy a break, he’s insane. He had a dysfunctional family, an abusive father, a violent mother; he was poor, the product of a broken home, and lived in a trailer. He was young and didn’t know any better. His parents failed to keep an eye on him. They didn’t lock up their guns. The guy needs therapy, not condemnation. That may well be, but it is not my opinion that is condemning him; it’s those ghosts. Ghosts don’t care about whether you’re insane. As far as they’re concerned, a state of insanity is where they want you to be.
But, enough about me and what I think. It’s not my assessment that matters here. I’m just a fictional character. What really matters is what the Therapist Emeritus thought. She was the shrink, after all. Did she have a flashing insight or a searing diagnosis? More importantly, what did she do? Did she have an intervention that freed him? What therapeutic model did she apply? Did she prescribe medication? No, like I said before, she didn’t have a license to prescribe medication. Did she teach her client the difference between catharsis and decathexis, fixation and delayed gratification, parataxic distortion and narcissistic coenaesthetic expansion? Did she deliver an anomalous paradoxical intention? Not this time, she didn’t. How about all those skills she learned: NLP, CBT, EFT, DBT, ACT, and EMDR? Did she go all Albert Ellis on him? No, she didn’t have a good impression of Albert Ellis. Did she suggest he go out on a date? No, she already did that. She did the best thing a therapist emeritus can do in the circumstance, an intervention all of her therapist friends would secretly approve of, even as they said her actions were unethical.
She decided it was time to retire.
Yes, the Therapist Emeritus decided to retire. She had once done so before and it didn’t stick, but she was serious this time. She would go on that cruise, take up that hobby, see her grandchildren, go out with a bang. She would stop seeing clients in a coffee shop and volunteer at a soup kitchen if she was bored, or, maybe a dog shelter. She would never again listen to anyone speak more than three sentences at a time. She would say to everyone what she really thought, without obfuscation, discombobulation, or bewilderment. She would never again nod her head and say go on, unless she meant it. More importantly, she would make the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat someone else’s problem, and all the people like him.
She actually said, “I’m retired.”
“Retired, don’t you know what retired means?”
“You weren’t retired when I came in and interrupted a session.”
“You noticed that, did you?”
“When did you retire?”
“When you were about halfway through your story. About when I figured out the boy wasn’t really a sniper and he was really you.”
“You can’t retire now. I need help.”
“You’re right, but I’m not qualified to give it.”
“Because I’m retired.”