Deep in the Act
First Published on Chaleuria
Fang Chi frowned a little at his words, but he soon recovered his appearance of neutral composure. A professional therapist must never allow such expressions to be seen by his or her patients. “How can you be sure that you’re a woman in your dreams?”
“My feet hurt. Because I was in heels.” All color had drained from Gao Zhun’s face. He averted his head, his face white as a sheet, unable to look at Fang Chi. “And there’s my voice. And…”
Gao Zhun gritted his teeth. Fang Chi thought of something and ventured a wild guess, “Was there someone else in your dreams?”
Staring at him in shock, Gao Zhun blushed. A deep crimson soon suffused his cheeks.
“Who was it? Was it someone real?” Fang Chi asked, shifting his chair closer to give Gao Zhun a greater sense of security by reducing the physical distance between them.
Gao Zhun’s face paled again. Watching as the blood drained bit by bit from the corner of Gao Zhun’s lips, Fang Chi’s heart began to ache. He did not want to see the other man suffer anymore. “Was it… me?”
Gao Zhun clamped a hand over his own mouth. His eyes widened in absolute terror and shame, like a frantic, pathetic creature in the throes of its death-struggle at gunpoint. Despite knowing what was coming next, Fang Chi had no choice but to press on with his questions, “What were we doing in your dreams?”
Tears gushed from his eyes and flooded down his face. “Sor… sorry! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
“It’s alright. There’s no need for you to apologize.” It seemed that Fang Chi was right in his guess. It was not the first time he had encountered patients in the same situation as Gao Zhun, though their numbers were few. Most of them started having such dreams after developing some kind of dependency on their therapists. “It’s very common – don’t worry about it.”
Fang Chi’s unperturbed demeanor put Gao Zhun at ease. “Really?” he asked in a small, timid voice.
“Really,” Fang Chi assured him with a gentle smile. He did not elaborate that patients who developed such conditions tended to be women, most of whom were victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault. Fang Chi made a mental note of this anomaly.
“I was disgusted with myself. I… I was so vile. When I woke up, I gave myself a beating. I really did!” Anxious to convince Fang Chi of how sorry he was, Gao Zhun leaned forward in his chair, as if he would fall into Fang Chi’s arms at any moment. “Please. I beg you. Please don’t look down on me. Please don’t…”
On reflex, Fang Chi stretched out a hand to catch him. But he held back at the last moment. “Do you know why you were having such dreams?”
He expected Gao Zhun to shake his head, but Gao Zhun nodded instead as he intoned with despair, “I do.”
It was clear that his dreams were related to his trauma. “Are you still unwilling to tell me what happened to you?” Fang Chi probed.
Gao Zhun covered his eyes with his hands and answered Fang Chi with silent rejection. Fang Chi backed down and suggested an alternative, “If it is too painful for you to talk about it, you can act it out for me.” He knew that many patients suffering from PTSD often showed an inclination for re-enacting their traumatic experiences, despite their refusal to speak about such experiences. He thought that Gao Zhun would be willing to try it out, but he was wrong again. Gao Zhun’s reactions to his suggestion were violent beyond his expectation; his body was quaking so hard that even his chair had begun creaking under him.
“Alright, alright.” Fang Chi rushed to calm him down. “How about… let’s try something else. Can you try recalling that incident in your mind? And let me observe you as you imagine the scene?”
Gao Zhun finally lowered his hands and looked at Fang Chi with glazed, watery eyes. “I know this is just as difficult for you, but we need to overcome the challenge. I wish for you to be well again, all smiles and no more tears.”
The struggle within Gao Zhun continued. Understanding what he was going through, Fang Chi decided to help him along by giving him a little push. “I will be with you. Won’t you give it a go, for my sake?”
A coy, childlike dependency seeped into Gao Zhun’s expression; he was the exact image of a petrified child with a fear of needles. Motivated purely by the desire to make Fang Chi happy, he nodded after some hesitation. “It will be more comfortable for you to lie down,” Fang Chi said, pointing to the crimson Freudian couch standing in a corner.
Gao Zhun did as he was told. The couch was very soft; it supported his entire body with a firmness reminiscent of Fang Chi’s touch, and he truly began to relax. Fang Chi carried a chair over. Although he usually sat about a meter away from his patients in these settings – a reasonable distance for any therapist in the same setting – he chose to seat himself right beside the couch this time for Gao Zhun. After some thought, he reached out and took hold of Gao Zhun’s hand. A quiver ran through Gao Zhun’s body, and he returned the grip immediately, muttering, “Don’t let go of me…” Fang Chi’s heart tightened in pain at his words. “I won’t,” he replied in a vague murmur, “you… may begin.”
Gao Zhun closed his eyes and immersed himself in his memories. Fang Chi knew nothing about that internal world into which Gao Zhun had disappeared. He could only watch on in silence, tenuously connected to Gao Zhun’s feelings through nothing more than their interlocked hands. His gaze fell on the pale face, thrown into relief by the deep red of the couch, and Fang Chi realized all of a sudden just how beautiful Gao Zhun was. He had long lashes, like a girl. His fine brow was at once delicate and defined, as if it had been touched by the chills of spring. His lips were like apricots…
Gao Zhun tightened his grasp, and Fang Chi felt the fear it conveyed. Soon, tears rolled down the length of his nose again to pool at the slight dip in the corner of his lips. What has he been through? There was a terrible mess in Fang Chi’s head, and he could not find a way to break through the chaos. He thought of Gao Zhun’s timidity, fear, nervousness… and that dream, which he had left untouched. What were they doing in the dream, he wondered? Were they in love? Did they hug or kiss? Could Gao Zhun be exhibiting homosexual tendencies?
His attempts at analysis, however, were cut short by the increasing intensity of Gao Zhun’s reactions. Gao Zhun’s grasp became so tight that Fang Chi’s hand began to hurt. Suddenly, as if he had taken a stab to the back, Gao Zhun sprung up from the couch and broke down completely into fits of hysterical tears. Fang Chi glanced at his watch: it had been less than five minutes since they started. This meant that the event in question happened in a sudden, unexpected manner, and was a powerful stimulus that escalated quickly within a very short period of time.
“Everything’s fine now. You did well. Don’t be scared. I’m here for you,” Fang Chi coaxed as he stroked along Gao Zhun’s back with a slow, calming touch. Gao Zhun was still clinging to his hand. Even though his fingertips had gone numb, Fang Chi had no intention to withdraw his hand. He figured that a hug was what Gao Zhun needed most right now, but he wanted Gao Zhun to work for it himself. “Mr. Gao, do you remember our previous exercises involving physical contact?” he asked as he wiped away Gao Zhun’s tears. Gao Zhun grabbed this hand as well and nodded, nuzzling his cheek against its palm. “I would like you to initiate this time. Can you do it, if it’s just a hug?” Fang Chi asked.
Gao Zhun lifted his head in embarrassment and looked at Fang Chi seriously, as if he was trying to make a study of his face. Then, filled with shame and longing, Gao Zhun opened his arms slowly and moved towards Fang Chi like a baby bird that had imprinted on him, falling into the safety of his arms on instinct. Fang Chi returned the embrace. It was a good start, he thought, and it was only a matter of time before Gao Zhun told him everything about that traumatic event. “That’s all for today. You did very well.”
In his arms, Gao Zhun nodded at his words of affirmation. Holding on to each other, they remained locked in an embrace as time seemed to still around them. When Fang Chi checked his watch again for the time, fifteen minutes had passed, and the session had overrun by ten minutes. Gao Zhun was deeply apologetic, and could not stop telling Fang Chi how sorry he was. When he was about to leave, after putting on his coat, he recalled something that had slipped his mind, “Are you free this weekend, Dr. Fang?”
Fang Chi was a little surprised. Perhaps unaccustomed to making such invitations, Gao Zhun seemed uneasy as he explained, “Linlin says that it’s been a long time since she last saw you, and we’d like to thank you too, so we’re wondering if you would be open to a meet-up…”
Fang Chi was ready with his excuses. It would have been easy for him to turn Gao Zhun down – as easy as it was for him to dismiss Zuo Linlin’s invitation with a single sentence. But Gao Zhun assumed an air of deference and continued in a distressed tone as if he was talking to himself, “I told her that you are very busy and may not have time, so…”
Fang Chi understood. He detected Gao Zhun’s desire for him to accept the invitation, and heard the fear of rejection in his voice as well. Leaning against his desk, he studied Gao Zhun for a while with a thoughtful gaze. “Sure,” he finally replied, with a rather charming smile. “Why don’t the two of you decide on the time? Call me and let me know the details on Friday night.”