Chapter no 17

The Silent Patient

“THIS FEELS RATHER DIFFERENT from last time,” I said.

No response.

Alicia sat opposite me in the chair, head turned slightly toward the window. She sat perfectly still, her spine rigid and straight. She looked like a cellist. Or a soldier.

“I’m thinking of how the last session ended. When you physically attacked me and had to be restrained.”

No response. I hesitated.

“I wonder if you did it as some kind of test? To see what I’m made of? I think it’s important that you know I’m not easily intimidated. I can take whatever you throw at me.”

Alicia looked out the window at the gray sky beyond the bars. I waited a moment.

“There’s something I need to tell you, Alicia. That I’m on your side. Hopefully one day you’ll believe that. Of course, it takes time to build trust. My old therapist used to say intimacy requires the repeated experience of being responded to—and that doesn’t happen overnight.”

Alicia stared at me, unblinking, with an inscrutable gaze. The minutes passed. It felt more like an endurance test than a therapy session.

I wasn’t making progress in any direction, it seemed. Perhaps it was all hopeless. Christian had been right to point out that rats desert sinking ships. What the hell was I doing clambering upon this wreck, lashing myself to the mast, preparing to drown?

The answer was sitting in front of me. As Diomedes put it, Alicia was a silent siren, luring me to my doom.

I felt a sudden desperation. I wanted to scream at her, Say something.

Anything. Just talk.

But I didn’t say that. Instead, I broke with therapeutic tradition. I stopped treading softly and got directly to the point:

“I’d like to talk about your silence. About what it means … what it feels like. And specifically why you stopped talking.”

Alicia didn’t look at me. Was she even listening?

“As I sit here with you, a picture keeps coming into my mind—an image of someone biting their fist, holding back a yell, swallowing a scream. I remember when I first started therapy, I found it very hard to cry. I feared I’d be carried away by the flood, overwhelmed. Perhaps that’s what it feels like for you. That’s why it’s important to take your time to feel safe and trust that you won’t be alone in this flood—that I’m treading water here with you.”


“I think of myself as a relational therapist. Do you know what that means?”


“It means I think Freud was wrong about a couple of things. I don’t believe a therapist can ever really be a blank slate, as he intended. We leak all kinds of information about ourselves unintentionally—by the color of my socks, or how I sit or the way I talk. Just by sitting here with you, I reveal a great deal about myself. Despite my best efforts at invisibility, I’m showing you who I am.”

Alicia looked up. She stared at me, her chin slightly tilted—was there a challenge in that look? At last I had her attention. I shifted in my seat.

“The point is, what can we do about this? We can ignore it and deny it and pretend this therapy is all about you. Or we can acknowledge that this is a two-way street and work with that. And then we can really start to get somewhere.”

I held up my hand. I nodded at my wedding ring. “This ring tells you something, doesn’t it?”

Alicia’s eyes ever so slowly moved in the direction of the ring.

“It tells you I’m a married man. It tells you I have a wife. We’ve been married for nearly nine years.”

No response, yet she kept staring at the ring.

“You were married for about seven years, weren’t you?” No reply.

“I love my wife very much. Did you love your husband?”

Alicia’s eyes moved. They darted up to my face. We stared at each other.

“Love includes all kinds of feelings, doesn’t it? Good and bad. I love my wife—her name is Kathy—but sometimes I get angry with her. Sometimes … I hate her.”

Alicia kept staring at me; I felt like a rabbit in the headlights, frozen, unable to look away or move. The attack alarm was on the table, within reach. I made a concerted effort not to look at it.

I knew I shouldn’t keep talking—that I should shut up—but I couldn’t stop myself. I went on compulsively:

“And when I say I hate her, I don’t mean all of me hates her. Just a part of me hates. It’s about holding on to both parts at the same time. Part of you loved Gabriel. Part of you hated him.”

Alicia shook her head—no. A brief movement, but definite. Finally—a response. I felt a sudden thrill. I should have stopped there, but I didn’t.

“Part of you hated him,” I said again more firmly.

Another shake of the head. Her eyes burned through me. She’s getting angry, I thought.

“It’s true, Alicia. Or you wouldn’t have killed him.”

Alicia suddenly jumped up. I thought she was about to leap on me. My body tensed in anticipation. But instead she turned and marched to the door. She hammered on it with her fists.

There was the sound of a key turning—and Yuri threw open the door. He looked relieved not to find Alicia strangling me on the floor. She pushed past him and ran into the corridor.

“Steady on, slow down, honey.” He glanced back at me. “Everything okay? What happened?”

I didn’t reply. Yuri gave me a funny look and left. I was alone.

Idiot, I thought to myself. You idiot. What was I doing? I’d pushed her too far, too hard, too soon. It was horribly unprofessional, not to mention totally fucking inept. It revealed far more about my state of mind than hers.

But that’s what Alicia did for you. Her silence was like a mirror— reflecting yourself back at you.

And it was often an ugly sight.

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