THE VAMPIRE SHRINK - EXCERPT ONE
The beginning ...
My involvement with vampires began innocently enough, long before the blood hit the fan, so to speak.
Like most psychologists, I’d been trained to view the world through a diagnostic lens, to hear my clients’ stories with my metaphorical ears, searching out the deeper meanings. Thankfully, my tendency to reduce each person to a prevailing neurosis was tempered by my irreverent, dark sense of humor, which kept me from taking myself and the world too seriously.
While I was never as bad as some of my colleagues about believing only in what I could prove – if you can’t quantify it, it isn’t there – I had seen enough bizarre situations in my psychotherapy work over the years to make me more skeptical than I was comfortable admitting. That said, my private practice had its share of UFO abductees, demonic possessions, satanic-ritual survivors, religious cultists, attached entities – all the newest selections on the menu of emotional and mental pain – alongside clients with all the “regular” therapy issues.
So when I opened the door separating my reception area from my office that fateful Friday to welcome my new client, I was only momentarily surprised. Waiting for me was a young woman wearing a long black dress covered by a dark-purple velvet cape. Rings adorned all ten fingers, and a long snake bracelet with sparkling ruby eyes wound its way up her arm from wrist to elbow. She had waist-length light-brown hair with multicolored streaks, and she wore white theatrical makeup, dark-red lipstick, and remarkably lifelike, high-quality fangs.
My mind began to pick out the various category boxes I could assign her into. Hmmm, goth? Vampire wannabe? Acting-out teenager?
Well, well. This ought to be interesting.
“Please come in and have a seat.” I gave my warmest therapy smile and waved my hand in the general direction of the couch and chairs in the center of my office. “I’m Dr. Knight. Please call me Kismet”
That’s quite an outfit. Spectacular, really. This sweet young thing has a flair for the dramatic. And what’s that delicious fragrance? Sandalwood?
She walked in silently, handed me the packet of forms she’d filled out in the waiting room, and sat on the end of the couch farthest from where I was standing. Scanning the information, I noticed she’d listed her name as Midnight.
“Midnight? That’s a lovely name. Is there a last name?”
“No. I have no need of anything from my human past,” she said, with exaggerated seriousness and a dismissive flick of her fingers.
Okay. Let’s not assume the obvious. I chose a chair across from her and picked up my notepad and pen. “Tell me how I can help you.”
“I’m only here because my family made me come. They can’t accept my choices and they’re hoping you’ll talk me out of wanting to be a vampire. They want you to fix me.” Her voice separated each angry word like little staccato notes.
She gave me the once-over I’d come to expect from my younger clients: the smirking scan that evaluated my tailored light-blue suit and sensible black heels and found them hopelessly conventional. Then, inevitably, her eyes moved to my dark hair, which was very long, curly, and often had a mind of its own. The dissonance between my conservative suit and the unintentional rock-star hair disrupted the inner picture she was constructing of me. My age – I’d not long turned thirty – added to the dissonance. I always enjoyed the flash of confusion that washed over their faces at that point. My inner trickster was never far away.
She hiked her dress up until the hem rested on her knees and crossed her legs dramatically. “You’re not what I expected.”
“What did you expect?” Freud in drag?
“Someone old, with her hair in a bun and no makeup. You’re not that much older than me And you’re pretty. You remind me of that actress – Megan Fox, the one with the long dark hair and blue eyes.” She studied me. “Or maybe Angelina Jolie, except with blue eyes and less lips.”
Less lips? I knew what she meant, but I ran my tongue over my standard set of two just to verify their existence, and tried not to imagine an extra pair on Angelina’s face.
“Thank you. Are you comfortable with someone who isn’t old and who doesn’t have her hair in a bun?”
She frowned. “I guess so.”
I could see that her need to connect was struggling with her automatic protective defenses, and the jury was out as to which one would continue the session.
“That’s a start.” I smiled encouragingly at her. “So tell me about your desire to be a vampire. How long have you wanted to be one?”
She pursed her lips, and sat silently for a few seconds. Quick flashes of emotion danced across her face as fear, disappointment, and resentment gave way to hope. “Ever since I met Devereux – Dev, as we call him – about a year ago,” she said dreamily.
Ah, connection won. Maybe she’ll let me in.
“Why would meeting Dev make you want to be a vampire?”
“Well, duh, because he is one.” She rolled her chocolate-brown eyes and made that “tsk” sound with her tongue against her teeth.
I kept the practiced smile on my face and ignored the teenage angst. “Can you tell me about Dev?”
Sounds like a lost child has convinced her that he’s a vampire.
She stared down at the floor, using the tip of her tongue to play with the fangs. “I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about him. He wouldn’t want me to. He says it’s better if no one believes vampires really exist.”
Of course he does. Oh, I see. Her sharp little fangs fit perfectly over her own canines, with an almost-invisible band holding them in place – similar to braces. How clever.
“Do you believe that vampires really exist?” I tried not to sound as if there was only one right answer to the question.
“Oh, yes.” She nodded, and sat up straighter. “Denver has tons of vampires.”
Tons of vampires? What a bizarre visual . . .
“Really? Midnight, I want you to know that anything we talk about in here is completely confidential. You can feel free to tell me anything you want, and it will go no further. I’d definitely like to hear about all these vampires.” I jotted a note on my pad.
Vampires. Well, that’s certainly a change of pace from aliens and demon possessions.
She arched an eyebrow. “How do I know you won’t tell my parents?”
Good. Let’s get right to the trust issue.
“Unless you’re going to hurt yourself or someone else, I will never tell anyone anything that we discuss,” I explained, giving her my ethically required disclaimer.
She paused a moment, watching me, twisting her hands. “Well, I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to get them in trouble. They need to hide from the humans.” She licked her lips.
Damn. She doesn’t consider herself one of the humans? Is she brainwashed? How confused is she? Her anxiety level just shot up. Shaking hands, dry lips.
“Ah, I see. Let’s leave the vampires for later, then. Tell me about you. Are you in school?”
Her mother had left a message on my voicemail saying she and her husband were concerned because their daughter graduated from high school last year and had no future plans. She’d had a 4.0 grade point average, then turned down a scholarship to college and was making reckless choices. Her mother said she thought a boy was involved.
“No. I used to like school but I’m not into that kind of education anymore.”
Hmm. What kind of education is she into?
“What did you like about school? Any favorite classes?”
A spark of interest flashed across her features before she wrestled her face back under control and reset her bored expression. She stretched her fingers then slid her hands along her thighs, probably to dry the moisture on her palms. “I studied art. Painting, drawing. I also write a little poetry.”
“You’re an artist and a poet?” I smiled. “That’s wonderful. What great talents to have.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore.” She lifted a shoulder and shifted her gaze to the clock and then back to my face.
Oh, yes. Practiced apathy. Feigned nonchalance. Fear.
“Why is that?”
She tapped a blood-red fingernail on her leg. “It’s a waste of my time to sit in closed-up rooms, listening to boring people talk about boring subjects. I have bigger plans.”
I wonder if she’s given any thought to how closed-up a coffin is?
“What bigger plans?”
“I already told you,” she said with an impatient tone.
“Oh, yes, becoming a vampire. . What’s so great about that? Why would you want to be a blood-drinking dead thing? Do vampires really sparkle in the sun?” I asked, thinking about the latest trendy vampire movies.
Can she find the humor in the vampire craze, or is it deadly serious?
“Wow.” She laughed and leaped off the couch, then paced in the space behind the furniture. “You are really off. Vampires don’t sparkle. And they’re not dead. Well, I guess they’re technically dead, but they don’t look like zombies. That’s probably what you’re thinking of.”
I followed her back-and-forth motion with my gaze, noting how her purple cape flared out with each turn in her path. She appeared agitated, perhaps even slightly manic. I relaxed back in my chair and breathed evenly, wanting to encourage her to follow my example.
“The vampires I know are unearthly beautiful.” She stopped walking and took a deep breath before returning to her seat. She met my eyes, her chin raised in defiance. “Vampires don’t feel bad about drinking blood, either. They don’t have to kill to eat – they can just take a little. Obviously they’re simply higher on the food chain than we are. It’s really quite natural.”
“Sucking blood is natural?” I wrote another note.
Sure. They’ll sell blood at holistic food stores any day now. Buy a pint of A-positive and get a pair of Birkenstocks or Crocs for free.
“Well, yeah.” She looked at me as if I were the village idiot. “Every creature has the right to exist. Just because we don’t understand them doesn’t make them bad.”
Poor, misunderstood bloodsuckers. Midnight is definitely wearing rose-colored – I mean blood-colored – glasses. .
“So what is it, then? Do you want to be unearthly beautiful? Is that what appeals to you?”
“Of course. Who wouldn’t want that?” She flipped her hair over her shoulder. “But I’m more interested in immortality, and being with someone forever.”
“Anyone in particular?”
She stared at me, silent.
Okay. That struck a nerve. Try something different.
“I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live forever,” I said, twisting the pen through my fingers. “Can you? What would I do with myself for all those centuries? I already get bored sometimes over the weekend.”
Midnight giggled, despite her attempt not to. “I guess it is hard to imagine. At least I’d have a lot of time to practice my art. My vampire friends talk about some of the things they’ve done with their lives.”
I wonder if these vampires are imaginary friends. Is she having auditory hallucinations? Is she psychotic?
“What do they say?”
She looked around the room, probably giving herself time to decide how much to share. “Some of them spent a lot of years just trying to learn how to be vampires. Nobody taught them, so they traveled around the world, figuring things out, trying not to get staked. Others spent the time doing things they loved – that’s what I would do. Nobody could force me to do anything.”
“Who is forcing you to do something?”
Definitely more going on here than meets the eye. Is she in a dangerous situation or delusional? What happened to derail her? How did she go from straight-A student to vampire wannabe? Time to regroup.
“Do you have a good relationship with your parents?” I played with a button on my suit jacket – a nervous habit I’ve never extinguished.
“I guess. They don’t understand me.”
The teenage lament. I remember the feeling.
“Tell me about your mother. What’s she like?”
“There’s nothing to tell. She has all these ideas about who she wants me to be. Did she ever ask me what I want? No. She thinks because she’s a lawyer, I should be one, too. Being an artist isn’t a good enough career. Money is the only thing that matters to her. All she does is work. She says it’s hard for a woman to make partner in a big law firm, so she’s a workaholic.”
Poor Midnight. Looking for someone who won’t abandon her.
“How do you feel about that?”
“I get where she’s coming from, but I don’t want that life. She’s not happy. I don’t see the point.”
“Do you miss her when she works all the time?”
She opened her mouth to answer, then closed it. Sadness clouded her face before she shoved the feeling into the deep freeze. “Nope. I hang with my friends.”
Lots of bottled-up pain here.
“Do you have brothers or sisters?”
“No. I’m an only.”
“What about your father?” I circled a comment I’d written earlier in my notes.
She paused and studied the carpet. “He’s a drunk. A boozer. That’s what he calls himself.”
“Out of control.” She nodded and brought her gaze to mine. “A nut job, an addict. He sees someone like you. That’s why I ended up here. They’re worried I inherited whatever glitch he has.”
“You mean a substance-abuse problem?”
Crap. As if things weren’t challenging enough for her . . .
“Yeah, among other things. He’s an alkie. Drinks so much he has hallucinations sometimes. He can’t work anymore. He’s totally paranoid – thinks everyone’s out to get him. I’m surprised he doesn’t wear an aluminum foil hat to keep the aliens away. Growing up with that has been a real freak show.”
No wonder she has no boundaries between what’s real and what isn’t. Mental illness runs in her family.
“Do you think you have a problem? Drugs? Alcohol?”
“No.” She frowned. “I’ve smoked my share of pot and I like wine, but I’d rather die than be like my father. I keep myself under control.”
She’d rather die . . . Is all this vampire talk just another form of suicidal ideation? Does she have a plan? A quick way to escape from the pain? She’s sending out such mixed signals.
“Are there times when you don’t have yourself under control?”
She chewed on her lip again, then glared at me. “Why are you making me talk about this stuff?” Her eyes glistened with the beginnings of tears. “I’m already sad all the time, except for when I’m with my friends. What’s the use of talking about it? Do you want me to feel worse? There’s nothing I can do about my family. I want to think about something good. Something positive.” She sniffled.
Yes. This is good.
I met her gaze, grateful that the dam had finally broken and she might share what was really going on. “I know it doesn’t make sense, because all we want to do is avoid the bad feelings, but sometimes talking about them helps. We’re afraid to put our emotions into words because they’re overwhelming. Frightening. But if we can find a safe place to let our guard down, to vent some of that intensity and purge a little of the negativity, we usually start to feel better. Therapy can help. I hope you’ll begin to think of this office as a safe place.”
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