When I was twelve, I came to the conclusion that everyone in the world, including my own family, was against me. I was never a problem child, but my parents sure treated me like one.
For example, I used to need to be home by 5:00 pm every day. This clearly restricted my amount of “playtime” outdoors. I wasn’t allowed to have friends over to play at the house, nor was I allowed to go over anyone else’s. I had to finish homework directly after I came home from school, no matter how long it took. My parents refused to buy me video games and forced me to read books and then write a book report on them to prove I actually read it!
Now, even though those rules listed above were quite frustrating to me as a child, they aren’t what upset me most. What really hurt me was the lack of compassion on behalf of my parents. My mother was a bitter woman who always made me feel guilty about accidents or mistakes I’ve made. My father only knew one emotion: frustration. The only time he spoke to me was when he screamed at me for receiving poor test scores or beat me for misbehaving.
But enough about them, let’s talk about my school’s psychologist. For his own privacy, we will call him Dr. Tanner. Like most junior high schools, a psychologist is always available on campus during school hours to assist any students in need of counseling whether it is emotional, academic, social, behavioral, etc.
To be honest, I have never seen any students talking with Dr. Tanner. Every day, I would walk past his office on my way to the cafeteria and peek through his door’s little window. He would always be alone in there, working on some paperwork.
I guessed that most kids were too afraid to speak about their problems to an adult who was practically a stranger. For this reason, it took me three weeks to muster enough courage to go into his office. March 2nd, 1993, was the day I decided to voice my troubles to Dr. Tanner. During lunch break, I stood in front of his office door and knocked.
Through the window, I could see him raise his head, smile, and motion for me to come in. I did.
He greeted me by introducing himself and asking for my name. Dr. Tanner was a very soft-spoken man who seemed to radiate kindness. In less than thirty minutes, I rambled to Dr. Tanner about how mean my parents were to me and how they didn’t care about me at all. After a while, my voice began to quiver and I stopped speaking. The psychologist listened patiently to my whole spiel, arms folded and head nodding. I half expected him to begin talking about how everything I had just said was untrue and that my parents loved me dearly and blah blah blah. But he didn’t.
Dr. Tanner leaned towards me with a grin on his face and said “You know… I’m the best school psychologist in the world. I promise we will fix this.”
I rolled my eyes. “Okay, but how?” I asked.
“I have my ways!” he replied. “I’m a man of my word. I promise that within just one month, the relationship between you and your parents will change for the better. Forever.”
After a brief pause, he continued; “Although, I do need you to make me a promise.”
“You have to promise me that you’ll come back to my office after school tomorrow and that you won’t tell anyone that we had this conversation today. It’ll be our little secret.”
* * * * * *
The following day, I returned to Dr. Tanner after school. It was around 4:00 pm when I entered his office. After a warm welcome, he asked me to have a seat in front of his desk once again.
Upon sitting down, I watched Dr. Tanner close the blinds of the door’s tiny window. “There,” he smiled, “now we have all the privacy we need!”
We began to talk about my likes and interests, my favorite subjects in school, my least favorite teachers, and things of the like. About an hour into the conversation, Dr. Tanner offered me a soft drink.
I gladly took the offer, considering my parents never allowed me to drink soda. Dr. Tanner reached over to his mini-fridge and fidgeted around before setting down two open cans of soda on the desk.
Afterwards, we continued to talk about what was going on in my life but it wasn’t long before I passed out from whatever drugs Dr. Tanner placed in my drink.
* * * * * *
It took me a minute or so to adjust my blurred vision upon waking…
… And when it did, I had no idea what to think.
I was handcuffed to a bed and my mouth was sealed with duct tape. I immediately began to panic- squirming and tugging at the cuffs- but gave up soon after.
My eyes widened in disbelief after looking around the room. There were posters of superheroes pinned up along the walls and photographs of famous athletes on shelves. In the middle of the room was an old television and Super Nintendo, various game cartridges stacked alongside it.
I didn’t know what to think. Here I am in a room filled with items most kids would die to play with. I would have probably cried from joy hadn’t I been handcuffed to a bed frame.
My stomach sank once again as the door opened and Dr. Tanner walked inside. He sat down on the edge of the bed.
“Now listen,” he said, “remember that I’m here to help you and I would never hurt you, okay?” Dr. Tanner gently removed the tape from my mouth and then the cuffs from my hands.
My first instinct was to begin crying but something about Dr. Tanner made me feel safe. He smiled at me. “You’re going to be staying here for a while,” he continued, “and during this time, you’re allowed to play with any toys in this room while I’m here at home.”
“But when I leave the house, I’ll need to cuff one of your hands back to the bed. You can still watch the television, but I want you to only watch the news channels when I’m away.”
I sat in silence, still trying to process the information he had given me.
“So!” Dr. Tanner yipped, slapping me on the knee. “You go ahead and knock yourself out; I’ll be back when it’s time for dinner.”
He got up from the bed, walked across the room and clicked the TV’s power button before locking the door behind him.
Several more minutes passed before I realized that Dr. Tanner wasn’t joking. All that was left for me to do was boot up the Nintendo and play Mario until nightfall.
At about 7:00 pm, Dr. Tanner returned to the room carrying two plates of mashed potatoes and chicken strips. I finally gathered up the courage to ask him how long I’d be staying in this room. “Well, about a month,” he replied, “give or take a few weeks. I just have some work I need to do.”
* * * * * *
The following morning, I awoke to Dr. Tanner’s hand patting my head. “Hey bud, you don’t have to wake up right now if you don’t want, but I am going to need to put this back on,” he whispered, clamping the cold steel handcuff onto my wrist.
I gazed up at him. He was wearing a collared shirt and slacks, a coat draped over his shoulder and a suitcase at his side. He looked just how he always did when I saw him around school. Before leaving he placed the TV’s remote next to me and told me to turn it on and watch the news.
The first thing I saw upon turning it on was a “breaking news” segment. An important-looking police officer stood at a podium surrounded by people with microphones. I happened to begin viewing half way through his speech.
“A statewide Amber Alert has been issued as of this morning. We have several investigators working towards identifying potential abductors, but as of right now there is not much evidence. Faculty members state that the boy had been last seen around four or five in the evening on-”
I began to feel nauseous as a photograph of me appeared on the screen. It was my yearbook picture from last year. Captions for the photograph displayed my name and age, my school, and my town. Above my picture were alternating titles: FBI BEGINS SEARCH FOR CHILD and KIDNAPPING SUSPECT UNKNOWN and POTENTIAL RUNAWAY.
The live footage continued and two figures I soon recognized as my mom and dad stepped up to the podium. Both appeared to have reddened eyes. Tears streamed down my mother’s face as she took hold of a microphone.
I’d never seen so much emotion come from my mother before as she wept on live television, stuttering on sentences such as “please return my baby back to me” and “I’m so sorry” and “please come home to us.”
When my father took the microphone, I nearly expected his attitude to be stone cold, but he too had tears in his eyes. He pleaded to the world to bring his son home safely and lastly begged for my forgiveness! “I know I haven’t been the best father, but goddamn it do I wish I had been now. Please bring my boy back.”
I turned the power off shortly after. My emotions were mixed for I had never once seen my father cry.
I felt miserable that my parents were being put through so much, but at the same time, I felt relief. I now know how much mom and dad love me.
* * * * * *
Nearly four weeks have passed and Dr. Tanner has been treating me with the utmost respect. He leaves me in the morning cuffed to the bed frame, but returns in the afternoon to eat lunch and dinner with me, talk, and play games. I never would have guessed how good Dr. Tanner was at Monopoly and Scrabble.
But one morning when Dr. Tanner woke me before heading off to work, I noticed a stern look on his face. I also realized that it was three hours earlier than when he usually wakes me.
“You need to watch the news today. No exceptions. I want you to keep the television on all day and pay close attention to it,” he stated grimly.
I, of course, complied and watched him exit the room.
About two hours later, a breaking news segment interrupted the toothpaste commercial I was watching. The title:
HUMAN REMNANTS FOUND
Two staunch looking men in suits stood aside one another and began speaking:
“We are displeased to bring up such unfortunate news this morning regarding our missing child case from earlier this month.”
One of the men bowed his head while the one speaking shuffled through some papers. He continued:
“Remains of a body have been found in a garbage bag beneath a highway overpass. The body appears to be that of a child, although not much of it is left. The body has been decapitated and much has been burnt to ash and bone.”
The screen shifted over to a helicopter view of the freeway, dozens of police cars gathered near the bottom of a tall overpass. The man’s voice could still be heard:
“Within the bag police found a junior high school identification card labeled as such.”
The screen showed the school ID card I always kept in my backpack. The plastic was sort of melted away, but my photograph and name were intact.
After the two men dismissed themselves, the camera panned over to my parents. They were sitting among reporters; my mother’s face held a painful grimace and my father sulked his head down at his knees.
I shut the television off.
* * * * * *
Dr. Tanner returned home very late. He hurried into the room, unlocked my cuffs, and placed a bottle of fizzing water into my hand.
He placed his hands onto my shoulders and smiled.
“I made you a promise, didn’t I?”
I nodded, tears squeezing their way out my eyes.
“You need to make me a promise again,” he whispered.
He told me that I needed to drink all the water in the bottle- it would help me sleep- and that from here on, I am never to tell anyone that I ever met him. I promised.
“I told you I’m the best school psychologist in the world, didn’t I?”
* * * * * *
And he was right.
I awoke later that night to find myself lying in the middle of a park, stars shining brilliantly across the night sky. I recognized the park; it wasn’t too far from my school.
A mile or so down the road, I saw my house. The lights were off inside, but I could make out my father sitting on the step leading to the front door.
I hesitantly called out to him. He lifted his head slowly, but when he saw it was me, he sprang to his feet, ran towards me arms open, yelling my name. My mother erupted from the house behind him.
Dr. Tanner was right. Things have changed with my family and I. My parents smile more often and treat me lovingly. I could not ask for a more perfect ending.
Every now and then, I see Dr. Tanner on campus- walking to and from his office. Rarely do we ever make eye contact, let alone speak to one another, but sometimes he’ll shoot me a wink and a smile.
I’ll always keep my promise to him and pretend I never met him, but there will always be one question forever floating in my mind: who did Dr. Tanner decapitate and throw off the overpass?
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