THE COLD INSIDE
by AL BRUNO III
Wednesday November 30, 1994
Tristam knew he was being appraised, Dr. Butterfield was casual about it of course but Tristam knew. He sat rigid in the office chair, listening to the classical music drone on and on. His mother and Greg were bad enough but how could he hide the madness he was involved in from his psychiatrist? He wondered what kind of subconscious signals he might be giving off. Guilt? Fear?
I think I might be in over my head superpowers or not.
Calm down. Tristam thought, Just chill out, he doesn't know anything. How could he?
Dr. Butterfield cleared his throat before speaking again, “I said you seem preoccupied today.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Tristam straightened up in the chair, “Long day at school.”
“You mother tells me you were pretty sick on Monday.”
If my Mom tells you everything then why do I have to be here?
“A twenty four hour bug, it was pretty embarrassing. I got sick all over my desk.”
“How did having that happen make you feel?”
The classical music faded, a pair of gentle voices began speaking. Tristam shrugged, “It made me feel ...nauseous.”
Dr. Butterflield’s gaze turned icy, “I mean aside from that.”
“Well, I felt embarrassed, humiliated. I was worried about what everyone else was going to think. I mean I know it’s not as if my reputation at school could get any worse but still…” Tristam let his voice trail off, hoping he’d said enough.
“No.” He cheered inwardly, realizing he’d just avoided blundering into a major landmine, “It’s like you said about control being an illusion.”
“So you didn’t feel any anger? No need to shift blame elsewhere?”
“Nope, no anger.”
“Do you masturbate?”
“Wha-” Tristam blinked “What does that have to do with anything?”
The psychiatrist scribbled a few notes in his yellow legal pad as he spoke, “It’s seems to be a relevant question. You’re a teenager and that is a part of being a teenager.”
“I am not a virgin you know.”
“I’m not saying you are, what I’m asking is if you masturbate.”
Tristam squirmed in his seat, “That’s not something I want to talk about.”
“Why? It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s a natural biological function.”
“Does it make you feel guilty? In a religious sense?”
“Yet you didn’t feel guilty about having intercourse with a girl you weren’t married to.”
“Geez, I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t.” Tristam thought the joke was hilarious but a sidelong glance showed him that he was the only one smiling.
“I think we have-”
Tristam asked “Do you believe in life after death?”
“I don’t think my views are relevant.”
“They are if you think I'm crazy for believing in a soul.”
“I suppose you have a point but let me promise you that my religious beliefs will not influence the way I treat you here,” he stood, crossed the room and clicked off the stereo. “Are you afraid of dying?”
“Not so much the dying as the stopping. The idea that I'm here experiencing all this and then someday- hopefully a long time from now- the show will be over, that I'll just stop. It gives me chills.”
Dr. Butterfield nodded as he returned to his seat “Doesn’t your faith help you?”
Tristam shrugged, “I have religion but I don’t have a lot of faith. Not in God or anything else. I sometimes think that religions are just another kind of clique.”
“A lot of people feel that way.”
“I don’t understand people.” Tristam said, “You know I met this one old guy where my Mom works, he's kinda cool but he's so bitter. You talk about anger, this guy is angry. Sometimes I think we’re sort of friends but he doesn’t really act like he's my friend, half the time he’s cutting me down, making me feel stupid.”
Dr. Butterfield said, “You know, we often subconsciously place ourselves in situations where we are assigned the roles we think we deserve. We allow other people to define our self-image.”
“What are you saying? That all this crap I'm going through is happening because I want it to happen?”
“I was just wondering if you had noticed that your relationship with this older man-”
Don’t say it like that!” Tristam said with a sweep of his arm, “You make it sound gay.”
“All right then, I was observing that your friendship with this man echoes your relationship with your father. He's critical, he puts himself in the role of the distancer leaving you to be the pursuer.”
“I didn’t pick him to be my friend for that reason.”
Dr. Butterfield narrowed his eyes, “Then why?”
Oh great, he’s got that blood in the water look.
“Because…” Tristam struggled for a way to explain that wouldn’t land him in a rubber room, “Because I thought I could learn something from him.”
Dr. Butterfield nodded “What do you think now?”
“I worry that he might be screwing with me.”
“Sometimes the way he acts around me, it reminds me of my old friends.”
“Like a fair-weather friend?”