Authors: Camilla Grebe,Åsa Träff
Tags: #FICTION / General
Aina falls silent and gives me time to let her message sink in. I know she’s right. I only wish that Sara could wait a little.
It’s early. Too early.
One mild summer evening I followed the other one, her slutty colleague. I followed her the whole way from Medborgarplatsen to Hornstull Beach via Mariatorget and Fogelströmska High School, as twilight fell over Söder. I was careful to keep a distance so she wouldn’t see me. But I didn’t need to worry, because she never turned around, just walked as if she was in a hurry; as a matter of fact she was almost scampering, she looked a little crazy
Like an overgrown kid
At Hornstull, she veered off and went down toward the water, the market, and the outdoor café by the pier. I watched as she embraced a man, kissed him lightly on the mouth, and sat down with him at the café
I was sitting on a pile of lumber at a safe distance, smoking, while I observed them through the throngs of people; she looked cheap but I have to admit, not without a certain style. She was wearing a pink T-shirt dress with a deer printed on the chest and a deep neckline that she consciously let slide down over one shoulder to reveal an angry green bra strap. Bare, tanned legs, worn Converses on her feet, her hair tied back in a careless bun
The man across from her looked younger than her. He was wearing worn jeans, a hoodie, and something that looked like a Palestinian scarf wrapped tightly around his bearded neck. His long, frizzy hair was fastened in a ponytail at his neck
I really wanted to know what they were talking about, but it was impossible, even though they were sitting only a few yards away, with the loud mass of people scurrying back and forth the whole time
Then the other one leaned over toward the man and played with a lock of hair that had come loose from his ponytail. She smiled and looked at him with a gaze that could not be described in any other way than horny. The guy in the Palestinian scarf took her hand, laughed, and squeezed it. She laughed back, wriggled out of her shoes, and unabashedly put her feet on his lap
I leaned forward to see better. The man’s facial expression had frozen and
he was squeezing her hand harder now. It looked white. She grinned, and as I leaned forward I could see her feet kneading, massaging, and caressing his crotch. A sudden wave of nausea and dizziness forced me to turn around and take a deep breath of the damp night air
Suddenly everything was spinning. I wanted to get away from all this decadence, away from all the bodies, all the flesh and desire. All the emotions that I had to exert so much energy to restrain
The filth, the sweat, and the stench of the crowd oppressed me with renewed vigor, and suddenly the people in front of me seemed to flow together to create a single large organism. A stinking, moaning, passive amoeba of human urges and desires that encircled me as I sat helplessly, with a cigarette butt between my fingers
I got up and shakily left the place: disgusted, nauseated, and without looking back
The evening has turned into a black, late-summer night, and the air around me is damp and raw. My house rests like a sleeping animal between softly rounded rocks and pine trees forced to their knees by the wind. I hear the sound of the sea as I jog along the narrow gravel path toward my door. I have to remember to install some kind of lighting outside.
Inside the house I follow my usual routine. I turn on the lights and make a quick visit to the bathroom. In the kitchen I pour a glass of wine, serve myself a bowl of canned soup, and sit down at the table to go through the day’s mail. An electric bill, an invitation to a workshop, a statement from the bank.
Among the mail on the table is a high-quality gray envelope. I tentatively feel the thick, textured paper and let the envelope rest in my hand to feel its weight.
My name and address are printed in black ink. The handwriting is neat and regular. I have saved it for last because it looks the most intriguing. Perhaps it’s an invitation, or a letter—a real letter. I slowly open the envelope. A photo falls out. For a few moments I study it with interest without grasping its content. Then I understand, and a wave of uneasiness spreads through my body.
It is a picture of me.
I am wearing my linen outfit and sandals and seem to be in a hurry as I cross Medborgarplatsen. The picture must have been taken recently.
On the back, someone has written, “
I’m watching you
Date: August 24
“I thought I would start by informing you about how an assessment interview is done and what happens next.”
“Okay. I understand.”
I observe the patient in the chair before me. A handsome man approaching forty. He is well dressed and looks kind of… expensive. His shoes are polished and his nails manicured. He doesn’t fit the description of my usual target group.
I describe the procedures, the two to three assessment interviews, the treatment structure, and information about payment. Peter Carlsson nods, listens, and appears to be concentrating. Despite his controlled manner, I sense he is nervous. I guess that he would not be here if he did not feel he absolutely had to.
Just as I inspect Peter Carlsson, I can tell that he is assessing me. Taking me in, my face and my body.
“Are you really a therapist, I mean, that is… you look really…
I’ve heard that question before. My appearance is sometimes a disadvantage in my work. My patients often expect to see an older woman and are surprised when they see me. Maybe I have to work a little harder to get them to accept my relative youth, which seems to signal inexperience.
“Yes, I really am a therapist,” I answer, trying not to look irritated. “But now I want to talk about you. Can you tell me what makes you want to get treatment? During our phone call you mentioned obsessive thoughts and anxiety. Can you describe them in more detail?”
“Okay.” He nods again and looks out my window. “So, I guess I’ve always been a little prone to anxiety. Worried.”
He meets my gaze to confirm that I’m listening and that I understand him.
“When I was a child, it was important for me to do things a certain way, not to step on cracks in the sidewalk, to leave my clothes in a particular order in the evening. It was nothing strange, really, I think many kids behave like that, but the difference is that I never grew out of it. Or, I grew out of that sidewalk business, but there were always new rituals.”
“Did you have any thoughts about what would happen if you didn’t perform these actions?”
Peter looks at his nails, inspects his manicured hands.
“Well, that something would happen to my parents maybe. Especially after my grandmother died.”
“Your grandmother died?”
“Hmm, she was… special… she was very close to us children. And she was pretty young, too, only in her sixties. She seemed so invulnerable.”
Peter falls silent, and I see that he is losing himself in memories of his dead grandmother.
“Cancer,” he answers shortly. “And after that the world was, like, never safe again. Do you understand? Everything I believed to be fixed and anchored proved to be…
. My childhood changed after that. It wasn’t that I grew up too quickly or something, but it was different. The conditions of my existence changed and these rituals became a way of trying to hold life in check. I became afraid that something would happen to my parents, that everything would be even more disrupted. I was worried they would get sick, or get in a car accident, or whatever. I started watching over them, always wanted to know where they were and what they were doing. I had meltdowns whenever they left the house. Although it settled down after a while, it’s like those rituals are still there. Routines.”
“In what way did they change? What were they replaced with?”
“Other things,” Peter says hesitantly.
I try to make a quick mental summary of what Peter has told me so far. What he is describing sounds like classic compulsive actions or rituals. Fairly common in childhood, this kind of behavior is often not of clinical significance. It’s part of a child’s normal development. For Peter, however, the grief and fear in connection with his grandmother’s death seem to have made the rituals persist into adulthood.
For many individuals, compulsive thoughts and actions are strongly associated with shame. You are ashamed of your thoughts and fears, and of your inability to control them. Many times you behave according to rituals that those around you may think strange and odd, and so you do everything you can to conceal them. Often there is a fear of losing your grip or going crazy. And I can sense this fear in Peter. I can see it in his gaze, which avoids meeting mine, and in the slight redness in his face. It is so hard for him to tell me, to break the silence and talk about what I guess he has kept hidden from others since childhood.
“Have you sought help for these difficulties before?”
Peter only shakes his head, thereby confirming my suspicions.
“Tell me about the other things that worry you.”
I want to signal that what he is admitting doesn’t surprise me, that I have heard similar stories before.
“There are thoughts about hurting someone.”
He looks down again and slowly brushes away some invisible specks of dust from his pant leg.
“Uh, it started when I got my driver’s license. I had thoughts that I might run someone over with my car. A child, perhaps. Some poor person who had the bad luck to cross my path.”
He makes a grimace and looks profoundly sad.
“And I couldn’t let go of that thought, I started thinking that I really had run over someone, without noticing it. I would drive back in my car to look. I would get out of the car and walk around searching for signs that I had injured someone: broken branches, blood on the sidewalk, a
body. Sometimes I’d see a stain on the street or something—an oil stain, maybe—and I simply had to find out what it was. I’d get down on my knees and sniff the stain. Scared to death that someone would see me and think I was strange. Out of my mind. And then, when I was done searching and hadn’t found anything, I still would not believe it. I was forced to go another round, and another.”
Again, Peter falls silent, his face tormented and pinched.
“What did you do?”
“I stopped driving,” he answers very quickly. “It was too difficult. I didn’t drive for almost ten years.”
“And what happened after ten years? You started driving again?”
“I had to drive Dad to the hospital. We thought he’d had a stroke. It was Christmas Eve, there were no taxis available. Chaos at nine-one-one. The ambulance was delayed. Mom was going crazy, screaming and crying. Everyone had been drinking except me. Somehow it just worked. We drove to Sankt Göran and I didn’t even think about running someone over. I just wanted to get there.”