Two weeks after receiving his PhD, at the age of twenty-seven, Jonah
Singer traveled across the country to a state he�d never been to, to
take his first real job as a clinical psychologist.
He�d seen the position advertised in the American Psychological
Association�s newsletter. It was a two-year post-doctorate internship,
leading to licensure in the state of Michigan. That meant that, after he
finished his two years, he could get a license to practice in Michigan
and probably anywhere else in the country.
The job description was simple. He would do nothing but psychological
evaluations of the severely mentally ill for Social Security Insurance.
The job appealed to him for several reasons. Foremost, he wouldn�t have
to do psychotherapy. He had found already, in his short career as a
student-psychologist, that he didn�t have what it took to help people.
Therapy required a sort of calmness in order to deal with the weekly
chaos brought in by clients. Jonah had always found himself obsessing on
every detail and essentially, �missing the forest for the trees,� as
more than one supervisor had told him. Therapy also required an interest
in the wellbeing of people. And though Jonah didn�t wish ill will on
anyone, he couldn�t bring himself to care about anyone either.
Evaluations for SSI didn�t seem like something that would require him to
And then there was the extreme factor. Jonah had learned that severe
mental illness was less complicated than the gray area of mild to
moderate neurosis. If you were truly fucked up, to the point that you
were seeing things, couldn�t get out of bed in the morning, or needed
money from SSI in order to survive, then the prognosis was simple:
Patient is fucked.
You could take some pills and experience some sense of normalcy, but the
prognosis did not change. Patient is fucked.
So dealing with the severely mentally ill would be simple, always. At
least, that was what Jonah thought.
So, after a successful phone interview, Jonah had packed his bags and
drove from South Carolina to Michigan. That was where the simple became
complicated. That was where Jonah met the demon.
It was mid September, a Monday morning, about three weeks into the job,
when the chaos began.
Jonah pulled up to the Meade Center a few minutes before 8 am. It was a
small office building a few blocks from downtown Stanton, a city of
about 19,000 in northern Michigan.
Jonah had gotten up early this morning, hoping to come in at least half
an hour before his first client, giving him time to set up, to make sure
all his files were organized and contained the right forms, to help the
day go smooth. But it didn�t matter. His home rituals kept him away
until the last minute he could possibly wait. And now he knew he would
Clients were scheduled back to back, one hour each, or two if testing
was needed, until eight or nine each night. There was little room for
even the slightest of errors, a missing form here, a misplaced test
A small lot ran along the west side of the building. A really old Subaru
that looked like it had come straight from a salvage yard, faded navy
blue, silver tape and cardboard where a window used to be, was in one of
the parking spaces right up next to the building.
Seeing it there, Jonah felt the irritation rise, as hopes of having time
to set coffee brewing and have one last peaceful smoke dwindled from his
Jonah parked his Dodge Neon two spaces away from the Subaru. There was
no one in the other car, meaning the client had probably walked around
to the front door. Knowing he should hurry, but not able to resist the
anxiety that directed him, Jonah unzipped his bag and checked it one
last time. There was a spiral notebook, two pens, a pack of smokes, and
the eight packs of snack crackers he would be shoving into his mouth
Jonah got out and locked the door, then checked all the other doors to
make sure they were locked, pulling up on each handle, not satisfied to
just see that the little knob was down.
The air was cool, actually a refreshing change from a South Carolina
September, where summer would still be kicking ass and taking names. But
the cool air reminded him that a winter was coming that would be like
none he�d ever experienced. It would be a winter he would have to adapt
to and make jive with his rituals, and that thought made him even more
Great. First work hour of the week, and I already want a nice rock to
Jonah thought about peeking around the front of the building, just to
say, �Hi. I�ll be right there.�
But what if the client wanted to talk immediately? And they often did.
Let�s get started right here, outside on the parking lot. He didn�t have
Jonah dug out his keys and opened the side door. Inside, he saw that the
bathroom door at the end of the hall was wide open. Did he have to pee?
Yes, a little. He knew he should just hold it, his client waiting and
all, but he might not get another chance for awhile. He rushed into the
bathroom, flicked the switch on, and pulled it out, his bag still
strapped to his shoulder.
The floor was filthy with the dried mud of people�s shoes. Stray toilet
paper was scattered in a couple of places. But at least it was only
paper and earth on the floor this time, and at least the toilet wasn�t
backed up, this time.
Jonah couldn�t squeeze a drop.
He put it away, washed his hands and left the bathroom. He got out his
keys and opened the door to the lobby. He was pleasantly surprised when
he didn�t see someone standing outside the glass of the front door. He
went straight back to the room he usually worked out of. He sat his bag
behind the desk and was out. He took out yet another key and opened the
The secretary, Steph, would be in at nine. Steph was the one thing about
the Meade Center that was well kept. She was younger than Jonah, twenty
or twenty-one, a part-time community college student, short brown hair,
small but not too small, cute. Already, on several occasions, Jonah had
gotten the quick little glimpses of her that women often give men: Down
her shirt at a bright colored brazier and the upper part of a tit, down
her pants at the rim of her matching panties. Steph had worn a
dangerously high skirt one day and bent down in front of him to pick up
a conveniently dropped file. Before he had looked nervously away, Jonah
had made out the outline of her crotch underneath a pair of red panties.
And Steph touched him frequently, usually on a shoulder or bicep. She
had leaned into him a few times.
Jonah wondered if she were coming onto him, and at home he had
fanaticized about it, but he�d not done anything else, and he doubted
that he ever would. Three times in his life he had been with a girl. Two
were relationships, and one had flat out said, �I want to fuck you.�
Never had he made the first move. There were just too many thoughts
involved in that. It was easier to wait and to use his hand in the
Aside from Steph, Jonah, the clients, and hopefully a maintenance
person, no one would be there this week. On Friday, Jonah would drive
down to Jack Meade�s main office in Lansing for supervision. Jack,
according to Steph, only visited the Stanton office a few times a year.
It hadn�t taken Jonah long to figure out that Jack had brought him in as
a money making arm for a town far away from his main office. SSI paid
ninety dollars per hour of evaluation. Jonah got eighteen of that. Jack
got the rest. And with a little more than thirty hours a week, Jonah was
sure he made Jack enough to cover the little bit of overhead from the
In Steph�s office, on top of a metal filing cabinet, were all of the
files for today. Jonah grabbed those and took them to his desk. He
opened a drawer and took out the release forms that allowed them to
communicate about clients with SSI and sat them on the desk. He went
back out into the lobby. He saw the client through the front door, but
the man was facing away, smoking a cigarette.
But what for? Jonah knew he should check the files, make sure all the
forms were there. Or he could make coffee.
The forms would make the day go smoother. He�d had two cups of coffee at
home already. The choice was simple. But then the thoughts hit him:
Steph didn�t always make coffee when she came in, and he couldn�t bring
himself to ask her to. He might not have time to make it between
clients, especially since he would have to smoke. What if he got tired?
What if he couldn�t concentrate while he was with a client?
Jonah grabbed the decanter and went to the bathroom facet for water. He
got the coffee brewing before the man was done with his cigarette.
Catching the man�s glimpse, Jonah smiled and opened the door.
�How are you?� Jonah said to the man.
He was a small man, early forties, but still boyish looking. He wore
baggy, ripped jeans and a green jacket far too big for his body. He gave
Jonah an inquisitive look, which didn�t catch Jonah off guard. Around
here, it had been the southern accent that got people. Yes, I�m from the
South. No, I don�t own a rebel flag, grits are not a staple of my diet,
and I don�t consider Hank Williams a God.
After a couple of seconds, the man nodded at Jonah, then walked quickly
passed him into the building.
Inside, he turned toward Jonah. And then Jonah realized that the stare
was more than �You talk funny.�
Here we go, Jonah thought. The evaluations were done for SSI, who
contracted with Jack Meade. Not always, but a great deal of the time,
what went into the report was used to make the final determination about
whether the client would receive a monthly check from SSI. Hence, the
crazy act. Even clients who really had problems sometimes overdid it,
doing themselves more harm than anything. Patient seemed to represent
symptoms in an exaggerated manner.
�You want to come back with me, and we can get started?� Jonah asked.
The man didn�t respond, so Jonah just nodded and walked by the man,
assuming the man would follow him back to the office. He did.
Jonah went behind the large desk and waited as the man walked in.
�You want to get the door,� Jonah said before the man could sit in one
of the chairs in front of the desk.
The man stopped his slow walk and did just that. That was when Jonah
noticed that the man was shaking profusely. He wished now even more that
he�d been early. Then he could have taken time to check the man�s file,
known what to expect. Maybe this man was PTSD, which would have
explained the anxiety and vigilance. Or maybe there would be several
past reports in his file with several different diagnoses, pointing to
Moving slowly, the man seemed to take forever to get back to his seat
and seated. By the time he was ready, Jonah had retrieved the SSI
interview form�thank God it was there�from the man�s file, placed it on
his clipboard, and shoved an information-release form across the desk.
�Before we get started, I have a . . .�
Jonah looked up and caught a set of eyes that looked as if they might
come out of the man�s head. Tears came from those eyes and streamed down
the man�s face.
The man�s mouth opened and closed a few times before words actually came
out. Then, with a high-pitched sob, the man uttered, �You . . . You . .
. You . . .�
No, Jonah thought. It�s not about me. It�s about you. And it�s only
about you for an hour. So let�s stop with the dramatic bullshit and get
on with this.
Of course, he couldn�t say what he thought. The SSI evaluations didn�t
require that he be exceptionally warm. In fact, according to Jack, SSI
frowned on that. But he couldn�t be rude either.
�Alright, sir,� Jonah said in a quiet but stern voice. �I want you to
take a few deep breaths and try to calm down. You�re going to get
The man didn�t seem to hear him.
�You . . . You . . .�
Jonah restrained a sigh, thinking of how this was probably going to take
the better part of the hour if not more. And that would mean no time to
grab a smoke before the next client. That meant DTs while performing the
next eval. Or maybe he�d just have to sneak out anyway and be that much
�You,� the man said. �Youuuuuu!�
Jonah, not knowing what else to do, pointed at the form and said, �This
is our release of information form. If I could just get you to sign
The man was no longer speaking. But he wasn�t looking where Jonah was
pointing either. He was looking around the desk in front of him. His
eyes finally fixed on the big Swingline stapler. He reached out and
grabbed it. He cocked back the hand that held the stapler.
Boom! Jonah was in a new place. It had happened twice before. And, in
memories, those times came back to him now.
Age fifteen, Mom�s drunk boyfriend coming at him. �What, boy! You want
Sophomore year at USC. Rednecks catch him outside at night. �What�s up,
Nigger-loving, liberal bastard!�
He was suddenly calm. The rest of the world had melted away. He was like
�What ya plannen on doen with that stapler, boss?�
The man shot to his feet. �No! Make it stop! I don�t want what�s in
Not sure why, Jonah got to his feet.
The once slow-moving man darted out the door.
Jonah walked out of the office, but he didn�t move fast enough to see
the man again. Standing outside, he felt his usual self return.
What did he do now? The client was gone. Did he need to call SSI? Should
he call Jack? Should he do something immediately or try to calm himself
with a smoke first?
Jonah went back to the office to get the pack of smokes from his bag. On
his way behind the desk, he stopped for a second and noticed the room.
What had just happened to him? He was not a brave man. He avoided
confrontations like the plague. But behind the desk was where he had
been. There had been no out behind him. The only way out would have been
through or around the man.
Backed into a corner. That had to be it. Just like Mom�s boyfriend. Just
like the rednecks.
Jonah got the Camels from his bag. He took them outside. He put one in
his mouth. It didn�t feel right. Jonah laughed in exasperation. He had
forced himself to buy the filtered cigarettes, promising himself that he
would smoke them as they were this time.
But what if it didn�t satisfy him and he just ended up smoking again?
�Fuck it,� Jonah said, then ripped the filter off.
It was 9:15 when the last client walked out that night. It was supposed
to be nine, but the fat woman with fibomyalgia had wanted to vent,
giving him way more information than necessary for his report, and he
was too tired to dig out of his bag of psychological tricks that he
would need to stop her.
All had showed after the initial walkout. So it had been more than
twelve hours straight. With the exception of the last, they had all been
timely enough. After each client, he�d managed to smoke, grab a cup of
coffee, and shove a couple of crackers in his mouth, before he had to
start the next one.
And now, sitting in the chair, his body was protesting the day. His
nerves were shot, too much caffeine and nicotine firing on muscles and a
brain that couldn�t do anymore, resulting in a spinning headache and an
electric, but tired, body. His stomach, having only the peanut butter
crackers in it, was begging him to eat, but, at the same time, telling
him it was too nervous to hold food. Get up or stay sit? Eat or not eat?
It didn�t matter. He was going to be sick anyway.
Jonah knew the last thing he needed was a
cigarette. But that he didn�t need one didn�t matter too much. Jonah got
up and went outside.
Jonah supposed it would have taken most people less than five minutes to
get out of the Meade Center once the last client was gone. Really, it
should have just been a matter of grabbing the files, hitting the
lights, and locking up. But, of course, for Jonah, there was the
checking factor. He had grabbed his files, hit the lights, locked the
front door, got in his car, got out of his car, went back in the
building, checked the lights, checked the doors, then went back to his
car. Afterward, he had almost gotten away, only to feel the anxiety
overwhelm him again. He got out and repeated the entire sequence,
promising himself this was it.
Again, sitting in his car, he tried to fight it. He lost. But it was a
loss with a compromise. The next time he got out of his car, it was to
check only the outside doors of the building. He pressed down on each
handle and held for a five count.
Jonah felt satisfied when he left the lot. Tonight, the compulsions had
been extra, but that wasn�t unusual when he was so tired and at the same
time so keyed up. He was a block away, before the image to the coffeepot
entered his head.
He thought he had turned it off, but he wasn�t sure. That is, he was
only 99% sure, which, in the mind of an obsessive compulsive, is only
seen as not sure. He went another block and turned the car around.