it was in a manila envelope. plain, addressed to my father and my mother. it had the word “confidential” stamped on it in red ink.
“what the hell is this?” i asked myself.
I was alone in my new house tucked away in one of the most secluded part of marin county. it was night. earlier in the day i stopped for coffee and outside the market there was a weathered, sixty-something irishman, in paramilitary gear with black air jordans, holding court with a few of his friends. there were guns and ammo magazines splayed out across the table. “that’ll folking cut through just about anything.” i heard before i walked on down the road up to my house.
“wow. you’re not in san anselmo anymore.” i said out loud to myself, referring to the yuppified town i had moved from, just fifteen minutes drive down the road. everyone there talked about mountain bike parts and the stock options they were going to cash in on after their company got bought by google. “where are you, chris?” so many answers to that question.
i opened the manila envelope marked “confidential” and slipped out a stack of papers stapled together. i noticed another confidential stamp and then read down the page:
name: christopher cole
age: 7 years, 8 months
referred by: self
reason for referral: psychoeducational evaluation
examiner: dr. catherine parker
psychoeducational evaluation? am i crazy? yes. but how do they know?
i checked the box where this came out of before reading further. it was a box of my mom’s stuff. she passed away, out of the blue, a few years ago. she was young, healthy. but all of a sudden she was gone. this must have been one of the boxes i hadn’t checked yet. no other confidential or interesting looking envelopes, so i read on.
chris was a blonde-headed, snaggle-toothed, big-for-seven friendly youngster with a gleam in his eye and an impish grin. he was a delight to work with, conversation was no problem.
not much has changed there. except what braces fixed, at least before i disassembled them in eighth grade with a pair of pliers. they were mostly straight by then anyway.
he chattered away easily, volunteering information about himself and his activities and asking appropriate questions about the center, the testing situation and why he was here. Though he made every effort to appear nonchalant and somewhat “world-weary” he was anxious to do well on most testing tasks.
i’m still big on the volunteering information about myself. but, world weary? at seven?
in the afternoon, after the morning sessions, it was difficult to engage his attentions.
hello! i’m friggin’ seven, doc.
he reffered to his “after lunch malaise” and suggested that he might need a “siesta.”
i don’t remember knowing the word malaise. as i read on, i realize that i have no memory of this test or this day whatsoever. this may seem normal, but i remember a lot about my childhood. in a bet with my dad a year before my mom died, i told him i remembered my mom singing “you are my sunshine” to me in the master bathroom of our house. i’m always reminding him of things. i remember the blue tiles with the sun reflecting off of them as it went down over the san fernando valley. he said no way. “first of all there were no tiles, second of all, no one can remember anything from when they’re one.” we called my mom and she concurred—the tile, the song and her predilection for that large bathroom with the sun-stroked, blue tile and picture window. that’s where she would put me down at night.
on the wechsler intelligence scale for children chris scored in the superior range both verbally and overall. in no subtest score did he score below the 90th percentile. however his anxiety about not being perfect and his unwillingness to become more involved in a task which he feels unsure, however, result in variable attention and inconsistent functioning.
what the hell does that mean, lady?
chris’s kinetic family drawing was done to the following narrative: “first myself—just walking; now dad—he’s tall and powerful—lifting weights. The baby’s sleepin’. here’s mom (draws full figure, then scribbles out the lower portion to make a sink) she’s doing dishes.” salient features of the drawing included chris and dad drawn at the top of the paper, mom in the middle, and baby jonathan at the bottom. chris drew himself in profile and walking away from the rest of the family; jonathan had neither arms nor legs, and both mother and father had their hands fully occupied by something else.
heavy shading suggests that mother’s preoccupation is particularly distressing to him. his wishes to be “45 years old” so as to be older and more powerful than his mom and dad and “to be the most powerful person in the world; to live in a mansion; and to have everything he touches turn to candy” emphasize the dichotomy of his need for mastery combined with his still childish need to be nurtured and fed.
childish need to be nurtured and fed? i’m seven. i am a child, is that really so unbelievable that i’d want to be nurtured and fed? what is this shit? I read through the rest. twenty pages. with more tidbits like chris’ mood clusters are low. he is liable and tends to overreact both to success and criticism. emotional response is unpredictable and he may fly off the handle easily and without provocation. i become angry at dr. catherine parkins. i become angry at my mom and dad, for putting me through this. i wouldn’t let anyone do this to my son. no wonder i don’t remember this day. why exactly did i need psychoeducational therapy, and what the hell does that even mean—
“wait” i say to myself.
i’m silent, not answering myself right away.
“this is you.”
i pour through the pages again. it strikes me, how accurate it is. i shudder. i haven’t changed at all. and this test is completely on the money. dr. parker nailed me better than anyone has my whole life. i mean, i don’t really fly off the handle like getting mad at people. but i do send reactionary emails to girls i like. and stuff like that. “look at your last week, dude.” holy crap. i’m psychoeducational.
last night i went to quiet lightning, a reading series i’m involved in. the first place i published, the first place i read what i wrote to people i didn’t know. the place where i just met some of the best friends i’ve ever had. people i’ve known from before we ever met. i am now part of the board for the non-profit organization that the founder of the series and publication just created. we went to zeitgeist for the afterparty. it’s a mission district bar built around the messenger bike ethos, whatever that is.
i end up talking to a very successful writer, an author, who i respect immensely. we talk for an inordinate amount of time given the flittering social turbulence occurring around us. among other things, such as running a website and working on a movie adaptation to his book, that james franco is making, he writes what he calls “an overly personal email” to a subscription base of around 6,000 people. i relate to him completely, even though we’re different. at least i think we’re different. but our similarities keep coming up. i tell him about the psychoeducational evaluation i found the night before. he smiles and says he had a lot of those done. in fact, he constantly had them done. part of his childhood was spent in group homes. he said they’re always right. despite what he thought about them at the time. he told me about when he was twelve, he would go to his friend’s house and read poetry to his friend’s mom. she would be smoking pot, offering him some occasionally. he said “she wore tight jeans and listened to me. that’s why i’m a writer.”
i woke up this morning and saw his daily email in my inbox. and there was our conversation, towards the middle. i felt a sense of pride. and i realized that i seek attention. i seek perfection. i want an audience. i realized, that this is part of what dr. catherine parker was saying was my problem area. i don’t think it’s a problem. and if it is, it’s okay with me. this is who i am.
i put the confidential document in a glass case, that i could display in my living room. i wanted to be able to always access it, to share it. to learn from it. with one document, i just saved six figures in psychotherapy.
thank you dr. catherine parker, wherever you are.