Daily Fiction 20: The Gaslight

I went into my psychiatrist’s office last week. It’s on the second floor of a restaurant, a Montreal-style deli. They call their pastrami variant “smoked meat.” It’s good but it’s too expensive. When I’m poor I never have the money to go there, and when I’ve got more income I’m so used to nice food it doesn’t feel worth getting excited about some pastrami.

I still feel like I should go there, because I like to kill two birds with one stone, and to feel like the place has some special benefit, a feature I can use thanks to the convenient location of my psychiatrist’s office. I’m very suggestible that way. I’ll get polarized sunglasses, for example, and start finding excuses to go to the water, so I can look underwater with the polarized lens.

Still, I rarely end up going. Last week there just wasn’t time. I came in after work. I was a little bit late. I opened the little shoddily-painted white door next to the deli and went in to the unlit staircase and up past the restaurant office and knocked on the door to my shrink’s office.

“Yes?” he said.

“I’m here for my seven o-clock” I said.

“Come in,” he said.

He was sitting in his office with his head resting on one hand.

“So what’s going on?” he said.

I told him my vague worries—that I was getting older, that I was’t gonna find love, that people were laughing at me, that I was going to get cancer, that I was mediocre, that, though I wasn’t depressed at the moment, I was going to succumb to depression inevitably unless I constantly worked hard to keep my safety net up, which seemed like a huge hassle.

He sighed.

“What do you think about all this?” I asked him

“I think you’ve gone mad” he said.

“Mad?” I said

“Yep.”

“Gone?”

“Yep.”

“So I wasn’t.”

“Obviously you weren’t always mad. Now you are. You’ve gone mad. Is this making sense to you?”

“Not really,” I said.

“That’s because you’ve gone mad,” he said.

“I don’t think so.”

“Of course you don’t. You can’t trust a madman to self-evaluate as mad.”

“Well, look, sure, but like, I think I would know if I was approaching going mad, like if things were out of wack, like I would at least feel like something was crazy. I dunno. I feel like this is all pretty normal.”

He raised an eyebrow. He really managed to get that eyebrow high.

“Do you?”

I did. But I didn’t really understand why he didn’t back me up there. He was usually saying that kind of thing himself, to reassure me. That’s really all I wanted that day, someone to validate my self-reassurance. But he hadn’t been like that at all today.

“Yeah…” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, pausing to take a long sip from lowball glass with a few mostly-melted ice cubes and some clear beverage. “That’s the madness talking.”

“Okay, well what exactly do you mean by ‘mad’?”

“You’re in a state of madness,” he said. “Take a brochure.”

“Where?”

“Where? Out in the lobby. Not now, not now. After the visit.”

“What visit? All you’ve done this whole time is call me mad.”

“Wrong,” he said. “I’ve diagnosed you as mad.”

“Okay, well, let’s say I am mad. What are we gonna do about it?”

“Do about it? Madness is incurable. Best we can do is send you to the looney bin!”

“Jesus,” I said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you.”

I got up and walked out the door.

“Hey man,” he said “I’m just gaslighting you.”

“Gaslighting me?”

“Yeah. It’s fun. Want to try it?”

“What?”

“You wanna try gaslighting some people? I’ve been doing it all day. Passes the time. It’s funny. And because I’m their psychiatrist, people really listen to me. You can get away with a lot of crazy shit if you just commit hard enough.”

“You’re crazy” I said.

“There, now you’re getting the hang of it,” he said.

I explained to him that I wasn’t a psychiatrist. He told me that it was fine, it would just make people crazier if I pretended that I was him. and acted like everything was the same.

I had to admit it sounded like a pretty good idea.

He went to hide behind a file cabinet, while I sat in the chair that he was in. It was 7:30, which was time for his 7:30. There was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” he said. The door opened. A tall, hefty-framed red-haired woman walked in. She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t as high as the doctor had gotten his, but there was more subtlety. She put one hand on a hip.

“Dr. Millstein,” she said “Are you gaslighting me again?”

“No,” I told her.

“Ha, very funny.”

“What is it you find funny?”

“Ah, come on. Gaslight me once, shame on me. Gaslight me twice..well, you better gaslight me so good I’ll forget that I was gaslit before.”

Millstein popped out of the corner.

“Fine,” he said “Ya got me.”

“So you boys are gaslighting people?” she said.

“Trying to,” he told her.

“Shit, I’ll gaslight with y’all” she said. “I’ll gaslight so good you’ll think I set a fart on fire.”

[to be continued]

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