I haven't shared this story in many years. I'm trying to tell you of memories I'd rather forget, with enough brevity to keep you reading until the end; I apologise for any missing details.
I started seeing a psychiatrist about five years ago. I was hospitalised for a dissociative event; a stranger found me walking down a road at five in the morning, unable to give any information on who I was and where I'd come from. A doctor who spoke to me in the psychiatric unit released me into the care of Dr. Martin Shelby, who I was to see immediately upon my discharge.
I drove to his office the following day. The building was a conventional, brown brick one-story. The parking lot was much bigger than necessary. I walked into the glass doors and was immediately greeted by a receptionist.
"HANNAH" was printed on her silver nametag, which was pinned to her white dress. She smiled and asked for my name, which I gave her. "I'm here to see... Dr. Shelby, I think that's his name," I told her. She nodded, the smile never leaving her face. For the next year, I would see Hannah every visit, and she would always have that smile.
I sat in the waiting area, hiding myself in a solitary chair in the corner. The waiting room was filled with people, some of them talking to each other, others looking through magazines and avoiding eye contact. A tall man walked into the area and sat next to me, folding his long fingers over his knees.
He did not speak. I looked up at him to see his ocean blue eyes staring calmly at me. His black hair was perfectly sculpted around his head. He made me feel peaceful; he made me smile for the first time in weeks. He held out one of his hands, which I quickly shook, and introduced himself as Martin Shelby.
I stood and followed him down a long hall. We entered the office at the very end of the hallway, and he locked the door behind him. He sat at his desk, which was punctuated by so many toy dog bobbleheads. I pointed at them and laughed. He laughed too.
"Would you like to talk about the events that brought you here?" he asked, after a moment of silence.
"I don't really remember... did Dr. Morris not tell you why I'm here?" I looked at my fidgeting fingers.
"Of course he did," Dr. Shelby smiled. "We just need to see what it is you remember." He picked up a file and looked through it, then back at me. His face was so comforting. He seemed made for this job. "It says here Dr. Morris has you on Risperdal. I know you've just started this and it's very unorthodox, but I'm going to take you off of this immediately." He handed me a bottle. It was unlabeled. "Take these, instead."
"What are they? You haven't even spoken to me, really... You're already changing my medication?" I turned the bottle over in my hands, looking for any kind of writing.
"Triazolam. A sedative. Dr. Morris and I spoke and we both agree you do not need the Risperdal. Just take two of these pills before bedtime. Now," he smiled again, "can we go back to your last memory, before... the incident?"
I told him everything I could recall, which wasn't much. I was counting sheep in my bed one moment, and the next I was in a hospital with tubes sticking out of my arms. He nodded a lot as I spoke, but didn't have much more to say. Before I left, he told me that my insurance covered my visit and I did not have to check out with Hannah, but that I should call the following day to make an appointment for next week. He unlocked the office door, and I left the room, then the building, nodding at Hannah as I did.
That night, I fell asleep easily into a vivid nightmare. I was standing in the middle of an empty room. I could see the stripped walls and the bare floor, but I could not find the door. There was a single window, one I could not bring myself to approach. I was surrounded by screams, wails of agony, disembodied voices that I felt in my stomach. I opened my mouth to join them, but nothing came.
For months, I had that same nightmare, at minimum of once a week. I'd told Dr. Shelby about the nightmares when they started. Six months later, he asked me if I'd like to try some hypnotic therapy. I agreed with no hesitation. We'd made no progress on what had caused my dissociation and the nightmares were becoming unbearable. Anymore, they were all I could talk about in my sessions.
"Breathe deeply. Inhale, exhale. You're walking through an abandoned building. You can see the light from the sun shining brightly through the windows. Inhale. You can smell the grass of the outdoors. You see a door to your right. Exhale. You exit through the door. You are outside and now the sun is beginning to set. Inhale. You can feel the grass against your ankles. Exhale. Your arms and legs are relaxed. You feel as though you're floating. You close your eyes, inhale..." And suddenly, "Wake up! Wake up, dammit!" My face wet with tears, I held on tightly to Dr. Shelby. His face was twisted into a look of concern.
"Why... what happened?"
"Do you remember anything? Anything you just said... anything at all?" He handed me a tissue and I blew my nose. He handed me the box and I began to clean my face.
"No... why is that? Why don't I remember?"
He pulled out my file and wrote something in it. Then he handed me another bottle. "Don't stop taking the triazolam. Take these in the morning, as soon as you get up."
"But... what are these? What happened?"
"You told me some... very disturbing things," he shook his head. "I want to help you, I will help you. We'll talk about all of this next week. Go home now. Get some rest."
I went home that day. I sat with my bottles of pills and cried. I didn't think I'd ever be helped. I'd never know what happened to me that night. I tried to lie down and read, but the overwhelming despair I felt was too much.
That's when I saw him. Standing outside, across the street from my house, a tall man hiding in the shadows. I couldn't see his face, but I felt it. He was looking right at me. I went to call the police, but when I came back, he was gone. There was nothing I could say to the officers once they arrived at my house. They looked around my house and my neighbours' and found nothing. I feigned relief, just to keep an appearance of sanity. I wished, desperately, there was anywhere else I could go.
The next few months, Dr. Shelby did more hypnotherapy and I became more depressed. I remember walking into that office every week, seeing Hannah's ever-present, yet more confused, smile, telling Dr. Shelby all of my fears and weaknesses, hoping that we'd reach some kind of epiphany. That I'd be healthy.
I began to relay more my frustration with his inability to cure me, merely pump me full of pills until I was no longer a person. I got fired from my job. I lost my friends. My neighbours ignored me. All psychotherapy was doing for me was isolating me, turning me further into myself while not revealing any answers.
"Dr. Shelby," I said, on my final day. "I'm sorry, but I can't do this anymore. It's not working."
"I can understand why you'd want to give up-"
"No. No, I'm sorry, but you don't. Alright? I just... you can't help me. Maybe no one can. I'm sorry. We've tried so hard. You've tried-"
"Don't leave this office," he said. He was smiling.
So I smiled, too. "I'm really sorry. I am. Maybe, I dunno, maybe I'll come back. But I need a break. A long one. Maybe I just need to forget." I got up and waited at the door. He remained seated. "Please unlock the door, Dr. Shelby."
He nodded, and stood slowly. He approached the door, then held my hand. I looked up at him, at his blue eyes. He leaned down, as though he meant to kiss me, and unlocked the door.
I stood for a moment, then smiled at him, and left for the front desk.
"I'm sorry, Hannah," I said to the receptionist. "I've really tried. But I don't think I'll be back again."
"I can't say we're surprised, hon," she said, her eyes sad, but her lips still smiling. "Good luck out there."
When I arrived home that evening, I sat alone at my dining room table, looking at food I knew I wasn't going to eat. I took my pills, deciding to go to bed early.
And I saw him.
He stood right next to the window. I still couldn't make out his face, as the lights were on in the dining room. I think I screamed. I probably screamed. He turned and ran away. I was terrified, but couldn't call the police. How many calls would they answer from me before they stopped answering them completely?
I made sure the doors were locked, windows closed, and called a neighbour to ask if they'd seen anyone lurking around my house. No one had. I stayed awake until my eyelids started to flutter, then locked myself upstairs in my bedroom.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of breaking glass. I grabbed the phone as soon as I heard the footsteps on the stairs, but barely had enough time to dial 911 before my door started shaking. Someone was trying to break in to my bedroom. I screamed for help into the phone, but could only hear someone on the other line repeating, “Hello?”
The man entered my room, the door seeming as though it followed behind him, now in splinters. I screamed again. “Doc- Dr. Shelby? Please don’t hurt me. Please please please…”
He grabbed the phone from my hand, throwing it to the ground. He picked me up by my wrists and dragged me from the room, down the stairs, and out of the house. I tried to scream, but it was like the nightmare. Nothing came.
I wished that my neighbours would hear something and come to their windows, anyone, to save me at that moment. My fear at its peak, I blacked out.
The floor was cold against my body. I was naked, lying in an empty room. There was a single window in the room, no furniture and no lighting. But I could see. I could see a door directly in front of me. I stood, and the pain between my legs nearly knocked me back down. I could barely crawl to the door, and when I opened it—a kick to the jaw so hard and fast I couldn’t react to it. “I’ve been waiting for you to wake up!” Dr. Shelby laughed. He crossed through the door to kick me again in the chest. “Welcome back,” he smiled.
I coughed. I wanted to ask him why, why he was doing this, why me, but I couldn’t speak. He picked me up, pushing my torso over his shoulder. I coughed more, bleeding on his crisp white shirt.
“Do you remember, yet? Do you remember what you saw?” He sat me down on a steel table in a different room.
I shook my head. “Please. Please… let me go. Please. I won’t say anything.”
“Don’t you see? I want you to. I want you to tell everything. I want you to tell the world. What did you see that night? What did you see?!”
I started to cry. He smiled and shook his head. “No, there’s no time for this. I’ll cut it out of you.”
He took a scalpel from a nearby counter. I started to scream and slid down the table. He turned his anger toward me, punching me in the face and stomach repeatedly until I could no longer scream. He pushed me down onto the table and my tears nearly choked me.
“I’m sorry. It’d be so much easier to put you out,” his voice held such sincere sympathy. I wanted to vomit. “You need to be awake. You need to remember.”
The scalpel pierced my stomach so sharply, so suddenly, that I began to scream again, beyond myself.
“That’s fine, that’s good. Let it out,” he whispered, as he continued to cut into me. I could see only his face, then nothing.
The sound of sirens pulled me from my sleep, from my death, from wherever it is I went as he skinned me. I could hear him swearing, throwing things around, and I didn’t want him to know I was awake. I tried not to move or breathe, but the pain was excruciating, unlike anything I thought I’d ever feel.
“I have to go,” Dr. Shelby said, leaning down to speak to me. His hair was falling into his eyes, his face covered in blood. “But I don’t want you to worry. I’ll see it, too. Someday, I’ll see it, too.” He ran in the opposite direction of the sirens. I tried to inhale to scream, but only darkness came.
The steady beep-beep-beep of a hospital monitor was the next thing I heard. There were those tubes, again, the cords, all hooking me up to a machine that kept track of my lifelines. I choked, coughing erratically, my fingers absently touching my stomach. There was very little pain, which I attributed to the miracle relief of painkillers. Nurses rushed into the room not much longer after that, followed by a doctor. I was awake. I was back from wherever I’d been.
I spoke briefly to a therapist that came through, with two detectives. They asked me what I remembered. I told them of Dr. Shelby, of the therapy, of the kidnapping. I remembered everything. They asked what I’d seen the night of my first dissociative event.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I don’t care.”
“We have something to tell you,” the female detective said, trying to make her voice seem as kind and patient as possible. “We spoke with Dr. Shelby. He says he’s never seen you. You’ve made appointments with him and left before every one.”
I was bewildered. “That’s impossible.”
“The receptionist remembers you,” the male detective said, “and she corroborates Dr. Shelby’s story. She says you’ve been coming there for a year, and you- these are her words- ‘got cold feet every time.' You hid until one day you just decided that ‘therapy isn’t for you.’”
I started to cry. “No… it was him. It was Dr. Shelby. He attacked me. He raped me!”
“Please calm down,” the female detective said, her hand on my shoulder. “We believe you were attacked. We just need you to try to remember who did it.”
“Take me there,” I begged. “Please. I’ll show you.”
“Maybe when you’re well,” the therapist said. “Not now.”
“It needs to be now!” I insisted. “He could get away. Please.”
“We’ll see,” said the therapist, leading the detectives from the room. A nurse came in, pushed something into my IV, turned off the lights, and left.
A week later, I went with the detectives to Dr. Shelby’s office. Hannah wasn’t smiling. Her eyes recognised me, but she had no smile to greet me.
“Where’s Dr. Shelby?” I demanded. She shook her head, standing. A man walked into the waiting area from the hallway.
“I’m Dr. Martin Shelby,” he said. “I don’t believe we’ve met.” He looked at me with sorrowful brown eyes, his hair white. He was maybe a few inches taller than me. My stomach sank.
“No…” I turned back to Hannah, who nodded. “No, it’s not you. Dr. Shelby is… tall! His eyes are blue, it’s not you!”
“Hon,” she said, “This is Dr. Shelby.”
“I was searching, and I found your file,” the doctor said. His brows furrowed. “I think the detectives will want to take a look at it.” He handed the file over to the female detective, who opened it. There were so many pictures of me, starting with me walking down the highway, barefoot at night, sitting in my dining room, sleeping in my bed.
“Then who have I been seeing? He obviously works here. He has the office at the end of the hall, with all the bobbleheads-”
“That office is empty. It has been empty for a couple of years,” this new Dr. Shelby said.
“I want to see it,” I demanded. The detectives nodded behind me, Dr. Shelby and Hannah led me to the room. There was a bare desk and two chairs, nothing else.
“I’ve sat in this room, an hour a week, for a year,” I said, turning to Hannah. “How could no one know? How did no one know!?”
“I’m very sorry,” Hannah said, blushing. “We thought you were leaving.”
“Didn’t you see me? Didn’t you see me with that man?”
Hannah shrugged, looking at the ground. “I’m very sorry,” she said. The man who really was Martin Shelby looked at her with what I could only assume was hidden disgust.
“We’ll have someone come through and fingerprint this area,” the male detective said as the female detective walked me out of the room. I put my face in my hands, but there were no tears left.
Five years later, and they haven’t found him. I’ve moved on with my life, or tried to. I’m engaged to a man who has worked very hard to earn my trust. We’ve moved out of the state, and I’d begun to feel safe. Until I got the letter in the mail this morning.
“You’re not cured, yet,” it says. “Remember?