Shrinkwrapping of the soul
There are only two ways to see a psychiatrist immediately. Either try to kill yourself for
the first time or plead insanity when you’re on trial for murder. That makes it sound like
I wanted to see a shrink (that was the last thing on my mind) but the fact that the maid
had found me unconscious in the bath, blood from my wrists gently leaking into the
warm water, meant that there was no choice. It was a prestigious hotel and scandal was
to be avoided at all costs.
As far as I’m concerned it’ll probably be just more crap. The shrink isn’t out to help me,
he’s a numbers man - improve the statistics and his bank balance at the same time. But
this is another experience, I’ve been told the man is good and you never know he might
have some answers – I’ll play along for now.
He starts by asking about my childhood, no answers there and I should fucking know.
Relationships next – textbook this guy is – and there might be something there, so I tell
“You know those books they shrink wrap, I mean why do they do that? You can’t judge a
book by its cover, they say, so why are we supposed to buy the bloody thing when we
can’t see what’s inside?”
“Your point?” he says and I like him a little better, no bullshitting, makes a change.
”Well, I’ve been thinking, it’s like that with people. Even when you fuck a girl, you never
know if the cellophane is off. Some women you think you’ve got through, only to find
there’s another layer and then another. And there are so many fucking layers I’m not even
sure there’s anything underneath. After the 999th you begin to lose interest in finding
“And do you think all people are like that, always hiding behind the masks, the shrink
wrapping?” he asks. I’m not sure if I detect a sneer, which is pretty rich, considering
that’s what he’s paid to do, put on his shrink mask and listen bored shitless, but I’ll go
with the flow for now.
”No, I think there’s a moment in everyone’s life when they see who they really are.”
“How so?” he asks and I’m thinking, you should fucking know, you’re paid to find out
but it’s obvious to me that he doesn’t and I’m getting these thoughts like ‘Physician, heal
thyself’ and ‘Shrink, know thyself’ and why am I wasting my time but I’ve been
struggling a lot with this lately, how will I know if I don’t keep an open mind and so I go
“I’ve been looking at a lot of photo books lately – when I can get the shrink wrap off
them. And there are a few pictures that really grab me. You know the one with that police
chief shooting the Viet Cong guy? You look at that picture – I mean really look. The
cellophane has come off that guy but did he have long enough to look, to see, before he
died? It bugs me.”
“Ah, death – is that why…”
”Then there’s the one of that soldier fighting for Franco in the Spanish Civil War. He’s
been shot, his body arching, arms outstretched. But you don’t know if he’s dead or not,
you can’t see his face clearly and I really would have liked to have seen his face. But the
body, the body’s free – like its fucking flying – and I think the guy knows something. Something
we’ll only find out once right at the end, something we can never share.”
I pause then, expecting to be interrupted but he nods me on.
”They withdrew all the pictures of the jumpers on 9/11, so I’ve only got the memory.
There was this one man, vertical, head first, perfect symmetry. And his face, serene like
an angel – free of cellophane masks. He knew, that guy, and I find myself green with
“But these are all images of strangers,” he says. “How can you really know what they
were feeling, what they saw. Images can be manipulated, they may look different but it
could just be that the mask is new.”
”OK,” I said, “I’ll bring it closer to home. I remember the day my dad died. The early
morning call from the hospital - come right away, he’s taken a turn for the worse, he
hasn’t got much time. All the clichés they must use every day. But his death was anything
but a cliché for me. He’d slipped into a coma that night and when we got there his body
was tight, drawn in like a fist, lungs fighting, squeezing out painful, long breaths. I felt
like a voyeur, a rubbernecker – his own son gawping at the last fight of an old, old man.
But when he died, it all changed. It wasn’t just that the fight went out of him. His eyes
were closed, you understand, but even so, I saw the light leaving him. It had been a
tortured thing, dull, worn by MS, all greys and shadows. But when it left I saw colours –
greens and reds, and violent, bursting yellows - gone in a moment but they burned my
eyes and I see them still. The light, his spirit, touched me, caressed me, for a second, and
it whispered sweet words but what they meant I do not know.”
“Interesting,” the shrink says and talks of tunnels and lights and tricks the brain plays on
us. He reels off statistics and I know then that he is a man of little vision. I can shrink
wrap myself with the best of them and so I put on the cellophane of the reformed suicide –
a touch of madness, stupid I know. I speak convincingly, helped perhaps because I
now know it to be true, of why suicide is not the answer. I talk of the inheritance my
father left me, and notice his eyes glinting through his mask of concern, and how I will
travel, sooth my mind. He is swayed (how little it takes!) prescribes some pills and talks
of an appointment on my return.
There are two things I told him that are true. I will not kill myself - the time has to come
to you, you can’t make it happen. Topping yourself is just another cellophane trap. And I
will travel, if the answer does not lie in violence but in study and contemplation then it
may lie in the East.
I was to be disappointed.
“Do not waste your time searching,” a monk in Nepal said to me. “Live your life, death
will come soon enough and even then, it may not bring the answers you seek.”
“Trust in the Lord,” a priest in Jerusalem said. “Look to Him for answers. Open your
eyes and you will see.” But his truth was not mine, so tightly wrapped I did not have the
energy to unpack it.
Everywhere I went it was the same. Just more layers, more cellophane – shrinkwrapping
of the soul.
And now, I follow disasters wherever they happen but always arriving days, hours, too
late. I can’t live if I don’t know and I can’t die without knowing.
And sometimes I think of my father but now I wonder if he knew, if he saw the beauty,
tasted the truth of who he was before it was too late.
Part of me knows that by looking I may never find it but I can’t let it go. The secret of
life is in the moment of death and when it comes, I want to be prepared.
Chris Bleach lives in Halifax in the North of England with his wife, two children
and a dog who thinks she's human. He writes about business for a living but much
prefers to write about life. He has been not been writing and submitting for long,
but with the encouragement of his internet writing group, has had several
publications including stories in Eclectica, 7Q and SOR.
© 2005 Underground Voices