An animal trainer
“Don’t eat that!”
By James Kennedy
The first thing anybody would notice about this room is how horribly the furniture clashes with the room itself. The room is walled with Victorian patterns and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Yet, the furniture looks like it was purchased at IKEA.
Tim is here with his ten year old son and their psychiatrist, Dr. Barbara Jae. Today is the every-other-Thursday that comes twice each month. Tim keeps hoping that the next month will only have one Thursday. This wasn’t his lucky month though and neither was the last. Tim never tires of talking about his only child Dominic, but when his son’s sanity is being analyzed it takes the fun out of it. Especially when it is that he and the doctor can plot against him for the sake of his ‘proper development’.
Dr. Jae really has been a blessing for them though. Sometimes Tim feels like he is the one who needs the therapy. Being a single parent should automatically qualify any person for free therapy. He remembers his mother doing it with far less money than what he makes as an engineer. She hadn’t even had a vacation until she retired and moved to the beach. Dominic spends the summers with her and she is convinced it’s the doctor who needs help. In her eyes Dominic is just too smart to be understood by the lay people of the world. Clearly he is a genius, albeit at times a seemingly evil one, but a genius no less.
“So Dominic, it’s almost time for you to go visit your grandmother for the summer.” Dr. Jae gives her usual half grin on a face painted in pleasantries. “Are you excited about visiting your grandma?”
“Of course, I’m a kid. I have to be excited about visiting my grandmother.” Dominic gives an over exaggerated roll of the eyes while throwing his hands up.
“You don’t have to be excited” says Dr. Jae.
“Yes I do.” He drags the word do out for no less than a full second and through a full octave. “There is all kinds of stories, and songs, and poems, and they are all about grandmas and how much us kids love them.”
“Yes, but how do you feel about visiting your grandmother for the whole summer?” She puts the extra stress on ‘you feel’.
He pumps his hands out from his shoulders and saying “I just told you”. He gives a big release of breath and says again “there’s the stories, songs, poems”.
“Okay, I understand Dominic” Dr. Jae gives a small chuckle. “Have you been good lately or have you gotten into trouble?”
Tim butts in and says “oh boy did he get into trouble”. Tim does his best not to look condemning. He doesn’t want to be that father. “He almost poisoned the kid next door. We’re lucky his mother didn’t find out, she would have called the police.”
“Well, there is this kid next door named Edward” Tim begins.
“He’s super fat!” Dominic bows his arms out in front of him and puffs his cheeks out. He wobbles side to side in his chair.
Dr. Jae doesn’t reward this with a comment or a look and stays focused on Tim for the moment. “What happened with this Edward?”
Tim gives sideways grin to mask the embarrassment. “He tried to get Edward to eat a doughnut that he had sprayed with can of Raid. I don’t think it was enough to harm the kid, but just the idea of it got me pretty worried.”
Dr. Jae looks at Dominic, who has given up on the fat impression. “Do you like Edward?”
“Yes, he is one of my friends” replies Dominic in a dry tone.
“Why did you give him the doughnut?” she asks.
“Because he was sad that his mother stopped giving him candies” he replies.
“Why did you spray pesticide on the doughnut?” she asks.
“Because I wanted to see if he would still eat it” he replies.
“Did you want him to eat the doughnut that had pesticide on it?” she asks.
“Why did you want him to eat the doughnut with pesticide?” she asks.
“Because I wanted him to fail” he replies.
“Did he eat the doughnut?” she asks.
“He tried but his mom ran out and said ‘don’t eat that!’ and knocked it on the ground.” Dominic gives a boyish laugh and then does a little impersonation of Edwards’s mom by scowling and poking the air with his finger.
Dr. Jae proceeds to ignore this impression and asks “Why did you want him to fail?”
“Because he thinks he is smarter than me.” Dominic begins to look a bit vindictive. “He needs to know that it isn’t true.”
“Do you want to hurt all your friends?” she asks.
“No” Dominic says. “I don’t really want to hurt people, I just want them to be good for me.”
Tim hates when she starts jotting little notes. He interjects “He has a little girlfriend.” Dominic smiles broadly at this. “A family just moved in across the street. I believe they said they were from Zambia. Dominic cringes if anybody else touches him, even his grandmother or me, but that little girl puts stickers on his face and gives him kisses on the cheek and he just stands there and takes it with that same stupid grin.”
Tim is smiling just as broadly as his son. He reaches over and gives him a little nudge on his arm and a manly-man’s look. Dominic just sits and continues to smile. “They even let him play over there with her for a few hours if I have to work late or if school gets out early.”
His son Dominic was recently awarded the title of sociopath by Dr. Jae after a scare over a picture that was either very red owls or bloody human torsos. He had been worried that his son might be one of those children who turn violent as a result of trauma that he saw either on 60 Minutes or Oprah. Luckily a mother that runs off isn’t quite the kind of trauma to cause that. Instead, it turns out that his little Dominic was a sociopath. It turns out Dominic wasn’t trying to be hurtful with his picture, but see how his dad would react to something so uncertain.
He still doesn’t know if it was red owls or not. Tim just hung it on the fridge next to his stack of report cards full of high Bs and low As and tells people they are monster space owls. Dominic always plays along with whatever thing he comes up with. That always makes things a little easier.
Dr. Jae asks Tim “have you two had any extra time to spend with each other lately?”
Tim perks up and says “Yes, the school had a teacher’s day. That means no school for him so I brought him to work with me. I got to introduce him to everybody. He was very social. It was nice to see him interacting with so many people.” Tim is now glowing with the kind of pride a parent should have when talking about their ten year old.
“Did you notice any inconsistencies in his discussions?”
“Only one. He seemed to tell every man he met he wanted to be a fireman and he told every lady he wanted to be an animal tamer.” Tim does his best to make that sound as innocent as possible. Dr. Jae’s brief facial expression tells him that is a ‘potential indicator’.
“Afterwards we were driving home and saw a garage sale” Tim says in an attempt to change the subject to something more positive. “Dominic found some old Dungeons and Dragons books there, so we got those. He was fascinated with them and spent the whole weekend reading through them. He reads amazingly well.” He begins to glow again. “Best four dollars I’ve spent on him to date. I spent four hundred on his Xbox and games. And he barely touches those.”
The fact that his son chooses reading obscure books over video games is a good thing as far as he is concerned. It’s his new favorite thing to tell the guys at work. He listens to the other guys complain about how their children spend hours a day on video games, and then when they kick them off they’ll just sit there messaging their friends on their phones. That’s when he reminds them that his son actually reads and it practically takes a natural disaster to get him out of a book he really likes. The guys will say stuff like “I might need your kid tutor mine in the future” and “let me know if you’re looking to trade yours in for a lazier model”.
“So, Dominic, you like to read.” Dr. Jae often uses his love for books to pick up useful bits of information. Information that can aide in manipulating him into obedience. A lot of awkward child sociopaths grow up to be successful adult sociopaths, but it takes good parenting. A good psychiatrist helps too. “How often does your dad buy you books?”
“Whenever I ask him to.” Dominic smiles as he says this. He loves it when people respond to his words with actions. He loves it more than books, candy, or anything else. “There’s only one book he refused to buy me.”
“Which book was that?” she asks.
“The Parent Trap.”
Dr. Jae gives Tim a quick glance. The message was clear, probably a good choice not to buy that one.
“Where do you normally read?” she asks Dominic.
“In my room.”
“Is that your favorite place to read?” she asks.
“Yes, but I saw a picture of place I think is better.”
“Where is that?”
“It was a really old red barn in the middle of a cornfield.” He gets a large smile. “The cornfields went on for infinity.” He drags out the last word so long it’s enough to make Tim laugh.
“Is that where you want to be Dominic?” she asks.
He nods big with a scrunched up facial expression that says ‘ooh yeah’. Tim knows this as the ‘we are guys’ look. Appropriate for all moments of awesome guy stuff. It is moments of expression like this that are the norms as far as Tim is concerned. Dominic isn’t running around being crazy all the time. He never has to raise his voice or tell him when to go to bed.
Dominic acts normal most of the time. He is a bit anti-social, but he can play well with others so long as the others aren’t too mean. These sessions often seem like a cruel and unusual punishment for a child that is only manipulative and impressionable. And really, what child isn’t a bit manipulative and impressionable.
Maybe Dominic is really just being all the child he can be. But he has been to enough of these meetings to know what kind of response that will warrant. Dr. Jae would tell him if he was normal he wouldn’t be trying to be all the child he could be, he would just be the child he is.
He doesn’t care though. He loves him. That’s the flesh of his flesh and the blood of his blood. This pragmatic son of his isn’t some little weirdo. He may have something wrong with him, but he knows his son is bigger than the problem. He knows his son is so much more. This is his boy, his first born son, his only child. This is his legacy.
“Dominic, wouldn’t you get lonely being out in the cornfield?” she asks.
His face shifted to absolute neutrality. He leans a little forward and his eyes widen. He asks “When do you feel lonely Dr. Jae?”
Dr. Barbara Jae knows not to answer this question. She has also made sure that Tim knows not to answer these kinds of questions.
Tim also knows this is going to be a lifetime of effort to raise this child. And worth every second of it.
© 2013 James Kennedy