In my time I have been forced to deal with some difficult patients. Some were beyond help and others simply would not accept it. Disappointing as those instances where I learned to deal with failure. It came with my line of work. Alan was the only patient who made me wish I had never tried.
I’ve always found it a little funny, the way we admire athletes. They set a bar, inform us on just how far the human body can be pushed. What it’s really capable of, but rarely do we separate ourselves from them. “He should have caught that!” we say, or “What the hell’s he doing out there.” As though we feel that, with enough effort, everyone is capable of such feats. I’m guilty of it myself. It is as if we cheer for the strength of the species, rather than the individual. Less common is the biological paralleling of the human mind. We see madness and horrible acts of violence as something detached from the common man or woman. “There’s something wrong with him,” or “he’s a monster,” we say. It’s largely believed that there is a mental defect or malfunction that sends a man to asylums or correctional facilities. That the average man or woman doesn’t possess the capability, or lack thereof, to end up in these places themselves.
It is of my opinion, that it is nurture and not nature which sends a person into madness, however in all my years of schooling and professional study I couldn’t pinpoint a specific trigger. It was a secret goal of mine to understand what sets reasoning astray so far as to require long-term institutionalization. The places we send those we perceive to be mad or violent have a shockingly low rate of rehabilitation. To recognize and prevent the circumstances that lead to an individual’s confinement in the first place, would be a large step for society’s well-being.
The case of Alan krone was a remarkable one. I was used to getting assigned to patients with severe mental disorders, but few who spoke so articulately or with such a colorful past.
He had a long psychiatric and criminal rap sheet. Born to a middle-class family in the suburbs of Massachusetts, he was raised by both a loving mother and a kind father, neither maintained any known addictions nor were there any reported cases of abuse in the household. His grades were above average in school, and there were no instances of bullying he or his parents could remember. The child seemed to blend into any situation quite well. His parents regarded him as a very calm, intelligent, and thoughtful child up until the age of fourteen. This perhaps, was what made his extreme change in behavior seem so dark in contrast to the years leading up to it, and yet gave hope that he might, one day, return to his original demeanor and conventions.
Allan’s change was abrupt. Prior to the event that led to his incarceration at a local mental hospital, nobody noticed any angry or aggressive behavior in him, and there seemed to be no build up to his horrid acts, other than the changes in his sleep patterns.
He had never complained of nightmares before, at least not any more than most children do when they’re younger. Partly into his fourteenth year, his parents began noticing that he was staying up much later than usual, and was developing dark rings around his eyes. His father came into his room to check on him one night and found Alan pacing and sweating next to his bed. Just a bad dream he said, though when his father checked on him an hour later he was sitting up awake. They wrote it off as stress and hormones. It wasn’t until they found him sleepwalking that they decided to take action.
It was his mother who found him. She heard footsteps above her bed and left the room to find the attic stairs outside her room had been extended, but the light was off. She poked her head up only to see a dark figure with its back turned rocking back and forth over a small open box. It was Alan. She walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. He screamed, swatting at the air and running his hands up and down his body. When he finally calmed down she sat him down at the breakfast table and made herself a cup of tea.
“I think we oughta see a doctor about this Alan. You don’t look well.”
“I’m ok, just another bad dream.”
“You’re not sleeping, and I’m getting worried. Your grades have dropped and now I find you up above our room in the middle of the night. What if you slipped on the stairs? You could’ve really hurt yourself,” she said, “The doctor can help.”
“Good I’ll set up an appointment tomorrow morning. Now try and get some sleep.”
“Goodnight,” she said
“Whose stuff was that in the box?”
“Yours from when you were a baby.”
“What’s in that vase?” he asked
She smiled and said “Nothing, it was just a gift. Go get some sleep.”
The doctor prescribed a sleep aid which he was to take every night before bed. Even with the medication, his parents saw little difference. While his mother was changing his sheets one day she found that he had been hiding the pills inside his pillowcase. That night she made him take the pill in front of her and checked up on him later to make sure he was asleep, and sure enough, he was.
The morning of his first psychotic episode started like any other according to his parents. He got out of bed at the appropriate time, made himself breakfast and packed up his book bag for school. His mother noticed he was quiet, but simply assumed it was a side effect of the medication. She wished him a good day and he started on the walk he normally made to the class. Everything seemed alright until a teacher noticed his absence and called Alan’s parents as was customary for the school. After the boy’s mother assured the teacher that she had seen Alan leave for class, a town search was underway.
After all main roads were examined the police spoke to the family’s neighbors for information. Jennifer, the elderly woman in the house next door said she hadn’t seen him, but added that her dog Lucy was nowhere to be found. Another neighbor thought she saw him walk down the trail to the old stone bridge in the woods.
The police found Alan about a half a mile down the trail, his shirt soaked with blood. A couple yards away, they found a leash was tied to a nearby tree. The other end was clipped onto the collar of Lucy, or rather, what was left of her. I will spare you the details, but needless to say, it was quite an upsetting scene for those who saw her. His eyes were glazed over, but once the police began talking to him he began to shake and weep hysterically, clawing at his stained clothes. It seemed he hadn’t fully comprehended what he had done until presented with an audience. Alan spent the next four years of life in a mental institution specializing in violent adolescents.
Upon entering the institution, nurses reported him as being quite paranoid and uneasy around others, but his most notable condition was in his sleep pattern. He stayed awake hours later than the other patients, sometimes for several days, and when he did drift off he tossed, turned, and inevitably woke up covered in sweat, yelling loudly. Once awake he would run his hands up and down his body vigorously checking for something that wasn’t there.
Initially several of the nurses and staff members expressed how hard it was to act polite with him simply because such a heinous act was tough to forgive, but over time they learned to tolerate his presence. Towards the end of Alan’s stay, as he grew more comfortable around the staff, some of the older, more desensitized nurses reported liking the boy. One went so far as to describe him as fairly charming and witty. He continued his school studies in confinement and though, many of his instructors condemned him for his actions, they would be lying if they said he was not an extremely gifted child. He was released back into society at the age of eighteen with plans to attend a community college and begin taking steps toward re-integrating. At the time of his release, he appeared to show deep remorse for his previous actions and a drive to seek moral redemption, yet his time out of confinement was temporary.
The second display of aggression was discovered by police, however this time the subject was not a pet. A young male only a year older than Alan was had been skateboarding after dark at a local middle school, making use of the handrails going down the back staircase of the building. The police reported that Alan approached the young man carrying a knapsack, saying something about how he wasn’t very good and wanted to learn. The man had agreed to show him some of the tricks he knew, and try to give Alan a few pointers. Only five minutes after his arrival, Alan attempted to grab the skater and secure his hands to the rail with his belt. Luckily, the man was able to fight him off. He hit Alan with the board. The metal trucks connected with his right temple, and he dropped unconscious. The man threw his board through the school window and the alarm was triggered. When the police arrived they arrested Alan for assault and battery and took him to the station. After discovering the contents of the backpack, the charges were later raised to attempted murder. The next ten years for Alan were spent behind bars at a penitentiary.
Alan’s time in jail didn’t go as smoothly as it did in the ward. When Alan woke up screaming, his cell block woke up with him. After enough beatings, they took him out of general population, but all he ever complained about were the dreams.
Upon release, he was to be on a probationary period for two years. He was to live with his parents, who were both as happy to have their son return as they were timid. They agreed to house him, as long as he was to be checked regularly by the state and under the supervision of a psychiatric rehabilitator. I met him at the gate and was the first person he saw coming out of jail.
He was a tall man with short buzzed brown hair. He was very pale and had a slender build. His face was long and he had a stern look about him. He looked very serious and somewhat worried as he walked over. He kept his head down as he approached me.
“Hi, Alan, hows things? My names Dave, I’m going to be your counselor for a while. I’m just gonna help you sort things out until you’re back on your feet. Sound good?”
“Yea, nice to meet you,” he said avoiding eye contact
“Nice to meet you too. I know you’re tired and haven’t seen your parents in a long time, and I’m sure there are a million things you’d rather do besides talk with me after coming out of there, but if you don’t mind I’d like to go for a drive to the park so we can sit somewhere and chat in private. I’ll make today’s session short for you.”
I bought him a hot dog and a cab ride then followed him to the park in my car. Nothing, in particular, jumped out about Alan at the time. He seemed like a lot of my other patients, quiet and antisocial.
We sat on an unoccupied chess table where the seats were facing one another, he seemed reluctant to talk or open up and didn’t say anything to me unless asked a question. I didn’t pressure him at first. Though he was sent to prison for a good reason, ten years is a long time, especially in a cell. I offered him a cigarette, lit my own and waited until they burned out to initiate conversation. It was a nice afternoon outside, the leaves were just beginning to turn red and the park was empty beside the few joggers and dog walkers. I waved as they passed our table. Alan fixated at the edge of the table in front of him with a rather focused stare. He didn’t fidget much but he seemed nervous for some reason. His body language didn’t reflect nervousness, but there was a feeling I got just being around him that he was deeply uncomfortable. I stubbed out the filter and I turned to face him with a small smile.
His eyes met mine reluctantly as I said, “I’m just here to help you stay outside those bars, I want the best for you, and I mean that. There’s nothing you can say to offend or disturb me, trust me, I’ve dealt with much worse. Feel free to think of me as a friend,” I said, expecting no answer
“Funny, how can I consider a person who clearly has a professional interest in my sanity, a friend? A person so financially tied to my well-being is not a friend, rather, a reluctant guardian.”
I was a tad caught off guard by his statement, by both its substance and how articulately it was spoken. The files did mention his intelligence.
“I can’t deny all of that. It’s true, this is a job, but it’s one I chose, and for good reason. You should take some comfort in knowing that a trained professional in these matters wants to work with you. I do want to work with you. I have spent my life working with those whom society has cast away with much success,” I said
He smirked “I bet you feel very proud of yourself,” he completely dropped his polite attitude and began responding more aggressively.
I laughed as I replied “Oh, come off it. Nobody likes a shrink, I get it, but what do you have to lose by talking with me? Our communication is one of the parameters set up in order for your home to be your parent’s house, otherwise, you will stay in the mental health facility and neither you or I want to see you go back there. So, with that being said, what is the motivation to hurt?”
“I just wanted to know what it felt like.”
“But why have another living thing suffer. Why do you need to know what it’s like to take a life? Not to judge but most people shudder at such talk. Death, well, I myself am curious about it, but I’d never go to such means for mere curiosity. Why do you do it?”
“Maybe I am not like most people. We cherish our own existence so much and we possess such a fear of death and the unknown. Life just doesn’t hold that weight for me, and what little weight it does hold cannot compare to the weight of desire to take it. I just want to watch the flame burn out.”
“Can you tell me why though? I mean, do you get a rush from it? Does it make you feel powerful? Is it a sexual thing? Or is death something you’re afraid of and it helps to see something else go through it? That’s the case with a lot of murderers you know, that they’re just afraid. They feel they need to experience death vicariously. There are much healthier ways to deal with those fears.”
“I’m not perverted and I’m certainly not afraid of death, of all things. No, I don’t even think I like doing it. I just see no reason not to.”
I sighed, “well, admittance is a step in the right direction.” I really was disappointed in his answer. I had been able to aid schizophrenics, maniacs, and the emotionally unstable but there’s really no treatment for a sociopath. There’s nothing to be done for them but restraint and confinement.
“It’s your first day out and I don’t intend to overwhelm you. Meet me at this spot tomorrow morning around nine. Before I go through, I want you to think about what you would like to tell me. Be honest because the more I know the more assistance I can be. Whether you believe it or not, I care deeply for my patients,” I said, “Try and get some sleep and I’ll see you tomorrow at ten.”
He got up and left without saying another word and I got in my car and headed home. Feeling defeated I thought a lot about what he said and was sad to know I would have to report his lack of compassion to the state. I felt bad committing anybody. It’s not fair, but I couldn’t live with myself if they hurt someone and I could have prevented it. We simply don’t have the tools or the time to look after them. I let him see his parents if for nothing but their sake of being reunited with their child for the night, and I would make my decision as to his long-term arrangements after another talk in the morning.
That next morning when I saw him there was something different in his demeanor. The cold stare was gone and what replaced looked something like desperation. It was very visible this time in his body language. His eyes looked red as though he had been crying earlier. I didn’t pay too much attention to it at first, simply because he may have fall allergies and crying is extremely uncharacteristic for a sociopath if my hunch about him was correct. It turns out I was not, and his words clearly conveyed a change of mind.
“I was lying yesterday. You will think I’m mad, and I very well might be, but I need to tell you, if for nothing else than not to hold this burden alone.”
Needless to say, I was stunned by his change of heart and had completely believed what he had said previously to be his true feelings towards others. He must have thought deeply and rehearsed what he was going to say, as that was not an organic start to any conversation. Tears were welling up in his eyes and he began sputtering half sentences until I stopped him. I brought out a bottle from my bag and broke one of the scored pills in half. I slid it to him with a cigarette. I watched as he swallowed it and waited for the medication to take effect. In a matter of minutes, the tears and sputtering stopped. His shoulders relaxed, and he took in a deep breath like a diver surfacing out of the water.
“What do you mean? Was there something you left out?”
“I portrayed myself as a remorseless killer. It takes the emotion out of what I’ve done. If I didn’t feel shame for my actions, they would be easier to bear but that’s not the case. I…”
He sobbed and tears were slowly dripping down his cheeks. There was hope for him yet. A sociopath couldn’t possibly misrepresent himself with such conviction and emotion, I have seen them try and it’s was never convincing. They try and portray what’s seen on television and movies, but Alan wasn’t doing that at all.
“I experience what most would consider nightmares. I had dealt with them before as a very young child but none like the ones that started before I killed Lucy.”
“Yea, they haven’t stopped since. Every time I go to sleep he’s waiting. He takes pleasure in torturing me. Like I’m just something for him to test. The more I scream the more pleasure he seems to get out of it, and the longer it continues the more creative his methods get.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but may I ask what that has anything to do with your violence in reality. Not to belittle your experience, but they are just dreams. They can’t hurt you.”
Alan thought for a moment before asking “Have you ever had a dream where you were falling?”
“Of course, that’s not uncommon. Many of my colleagues feel it represents a feeling of being out of control. I don’t like them, but they’re not abnormal.”
“do you always wake up before you hit the ground?”
“I don’t. I’ve hit the ground and it hurts, and that’s nowhere near the worst of it. He does terrible things. He seems jealous. I know him from somewhere, but I don’t recognize the face. Look, I know they’re just dreams. It’s all in my head people say, as though I’m complaining of a hangnail. I wouldn’t have listened to myself either. At first, they were just dreams to me too, but then they began to sting. I just wanted comradery. I wanted someone else to truly know what I felt. I’m rational enough to know my experiences are mentally conjured up, but that doesn’t make the pain less real. What I did to that dog leaves me heartbroken, but not so shaken that I didn’t try to repeat the act on another man. I have all my senses about me, but any sympathy is overridden by the desire not to experience these horrors alone. I’m a horrible person. A monster, but I don’t want to be, and I wasn’t always this way. It is fear and jealousy for others that drives me to hurt, but I still have a conscience. I don’t want to do these things, but I feel compelled to. I want to die, but my living conditions in these prisons strip me of any means to do so, and I can’t let my parents be the first to find another disappointment from me.”
“Don’t talk like that!” I replied, “You’re in a position where you can have a new future and I can work with you on those thoughts. Your sleep shouldn’t dictate your life when you’re awake. I’m looking at you right now. You could stand to eat a little more’, I said jokingly, ‘but there’s no scars, no bruises, no marks. Whatever happens, it’s only a dream and there are people here for you to talk about them.”
“Then you don’t understand.”
“Look what you said to me today was the best thing you could have. We can get you out of this cycle and back to what you were destined to become. Your condition is treatable and though it will be difficult I’m gonna see that you succeed. Go home and try and do something to take your mind off this. Do something you enjoy, and remember above all else, even if nobody else understands what you’re going through, I do. I assure you I’ve dealt with this before. I understand your pain.”
He looked displeased and left but not before saying, “ I guess I’ll see you later.”
I couldn’t let such an important session end like that, “Alan, wait. Take these,’ I handed him the bottle of pills, ‘I’m not supposed to do this, but these will help. Take one before bed tonight. It will stop the dreams, or at least you won’t remember them. It’s not a permanent solution, but it’s something for now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I left the park that morning feeling good about Alan. I felt I could make some real progress with him, and maybe he could go on to do great things. His level of intelligence applied to the right area could produce great results. It took me the rest of the day to produce a report for the state. I was to let Alan remain in his current conditions and after a couple weeks trying to fit him for a job or the training to obtain one. I finished the report around nine and before bed, I tucked in my daughters and had a celebratory glass of wine. I caught the end of the news and fell asleep.
The next morning after dropping my daughter off at school, I waited for Alan in the park. After about an hour past our meeting time, I called the house. His parents had said he left that morning, so I waited until another hour passed, and got back in my car. I wanted to wait longer, but my job was on the line. I called his probation officer, then made a follow-up call to the police. After all the progress I thought I was making, we were back to square one, and Alan would be back in the hospital by the end of the day. I went home. Frustrated, I hit the dash of my car hard enough to hurt my hand. I tried to calm down, it was out of my control now. I set an alarm for the time to pick up my daughter, then tried to take a nap
I woke up to my alarm. As I tried to sit up, I noticed my arms and legs were restrained. I looked around panicked to see a figure sitting in the chair in the corner. It was Alan. My screams were muffled by a makeshift gag. He saw that I awoke and moved over to the bed, my heart was pounding. He brought over a small revolver.
He picked up the revolver, “This is for me, but before I say goodbye I wanted to show you how little you know. My pain, my suffering. I’m here to show you that you don’t understand, but before I leave I assure you that you will.”
He walked back to where he was sitting and picked up a backpack.
He opened his backpack and I looked away as not to see the tools of my own demise. He was in a hysterical state, crying and talking loudly to someone only he could see. I had enough wiggle room to get the bic out of my pocket. I tried to time the flicks to the clatter of what was in the bag until finally, the flame caught. I waived it against the cloth over my torso until the fabric singed away on one side. With his back turned to me, I removed the gag and picked up the revolver he left nearby. He turned around as I set the spring of the hammer.
“Don’t do it, Alan. We can get past this. I want to help you,” I said, but his grip only tightened around the pick in his hand. He grimaced and looked like he was fighting against himself. He said something under his breath, and then a wave of calm seemed to wash over him.
He rushed toward me and lifted the pick, and I turned away. The pressure on the trigger built and gave way. I don’t remember hearing the shot, just the ringing in my ears, and the thud as something I would not look at crashed beside me.
I was put on paid leave and spent the next month at the house, painting and spending time with my daughter. After enough time had passed I drove down to Alan’s home. I met with his parents. I would like to write that it was to console them and apologize, but really I hoped they could ease the weight of the guilt I felt. Tom and Mary were understanding. We talked over coffee and did the best we could to ease each other’s minds. Still, something she said continues to bother me. It was in response to my observation of how hard it must be to lose your only child.
“It’s been difficult, but we’ve dealt with death before.”
“The doctor said we were blessed to have two children. Twins. Unfortunately,’ she dabbed under her eyes with a tissue, ‘god had other plans. we never got to meet poor Jeremy.”