Dr. Tariq’s greeting was both friendly and welcoming. He treated my mother and I as though we had been invited to dine with him at his house. He shook my mother’s hand, spoke kindly to her. Then he introduced himself to me. He smiled, and when he did, I was unable to escape those amber eyes. He asked if I would prefer to talk with him alone or if I wanted my mother to join us. I liked that he gave me a choice. I admitted, “I’d like to talk alone.”
Dr. Tariq turned to my mother. “We will be back.”
“Oh,” my mother said. “Okay.” And she sat back down.
Dr. Tariq led me down a long hall where sound machines were spaced intermittently along the floor to conceal the confessions being told behind closed doors. I was surprised by how many doors and sound machines there were. Was the world so full of broken people?
Dr. Tariq escorted me inside his office, holding the door open for me. I sat down in a chair off to the side, comfortable enough to be well suited for long conversations. Dr. Tariq sat across from me, rolling his own chair to the side of his desk so that we could see each other fully. His cologne filled the room – subtle hints of honey and spices. He was dressed in a crisp gray suit. A silver watch on his right wrist. He had a slender, yet masculine face, clean shaven and smooth, with dark, almost golden skin. His features were handsome, yet he didn’t seem vain, and there was an elegance about him that made me think of a prince.
Dr. Tariq began with cordial questions about who I was. My family and my friends and the things I enjoyed. When I told him I enjoyed singing, he sat up straighter, as though he was enthralled by such a gift. He smiled often, easily. Led my answers with other questions, gaining a better understanding of who I was. The more we talked, the more I came to realize that to Dr. Tariq, I was not an oddity, I was a person.
When Dr. Tariq diverted the conversation to questions about the woman in the window, his demeanor changed. He became serious and intent. I explained in detail everything I had been going through, beginning with the first night and ending with the music box.
“What does your mother think?” he asked.
I wiped my eyes. “She thinks I’m crazy.”
“No. But no one believes me.”
“I believe you.”
I turned my eyes to him, both hopeful and suspicious. “You do?”
“Does it help if I say such a thing?”
“It helps. To talk to someone and to think they believe you. Yes.”
“Does it change anything?”
“No, not really, I guess.”
“Tell me, why not?”
At that point, I knew treatment had begun. “It doesn’t change that there is a woman who comes through my bedroom window to torment me. Whether it’s in my dreams or in reality.”
He considered me in silence. “This is true. It changes none such details. And so, I will ask, will talking through your ordeal in therapy or being prescribed medications change any of these facts?”
I pulled in a feeble breath of despair. The last thing I wanted was medications, or even therapy. They would be the final proof that it was all in my head. Proof to everyone but me. “My mom thinks they’ll help.”
He smirked, a slight upturn at the left corner of his lips. “I did not ask what your mother would think. I would like to know what you think.” He raised his prescription pad. “Will writing you a prescription change anything pertaining to the woman in the window?”
“Do you want medications?”
“And why not?”
“They wouldn’t help.” I was fidgeting in my seat, biting my nails.
“Sarah,” he said.
“You are safe with me.” His voice soothed my nerves enough to continue, and he asked again, “Why won’t they help?”
“Because I’m not crazy. Because the woman in the window is real.”
“But how do you know? You must be aware, Sarah, that I have numerous patients who are truly mentally ill, plagued by a mind that haunts them. It is heartbreaking. These individuals are truly helped by the medications I prescribe for them. So, how do you know you are different from them?”
“I don’t know.” I tried to figure out how to explain but couldn’t.
“Like, I have no idea.” I felt like such a teenager.
“I just know it’s different.”
“That is a child’s answer.”
“Because, like you said, it’s in their mind. So, medication can help them, right? But the woman in the window. She’s actually done things to me. Like when she bit me. Or when her hair was in my throat.”
“Yes. These are your proofs. Both proof of your sanity and of your insanity.”
“What do you mean?”
He shook his head, his face resolved, yet gentle. He would give me no more answers. “You tell me what I mean.”
My brain felt like it was in gym class doing pushups. “It’s proof of my sanity because the woman in the window has actually done those things. But other people would never believe that, so they think I did it to myself, which only makes me look super crazy.”
He paused with a grin. “Super-crazy. Yes, I assume that in the eyes of some, such a term might accurately describe you.” He winked. “What is it you want, Sarah?”
“I want the woman in the window to leave me alone. And I don’t want to be afraid anymore.”
“Yes. Very good. We are finally presented with a choice. You want the witch in the window to leave you alone. And you don’t want to be afraid anymore. Which one of these is your choice?”
“Woman,” I corrected.
“You said witch.”
“Right, right. My apologies. The woman in the window.” He asked again, “Where is your choice?”
I considered the two. “My fear is the choice.” Saying those words provided a sudden sensation, as though someone had handed me a key, but I still didn’t’ know which door it would open.
“Yes. Precisely. Your fear is the choice. You cannot choose away the woman in the window. But you can make a choice with regards to your fear. Despite the horror of this woman, your fear is not necessary, nor does it help.” Seeing my obvious reluctance, Dr. Tariq offered, “Yet, choosing to not be afraid can be the most difficult task of all. Sometimes, and for many, it is impossible.”
“Easier said than done,” I said, even though it wasn’t something I ever said.
“Yes. Easier said than done.”
“Can you help me?” I asked. “So that I won’t be afraid.”
“Possibly. But I have another question. When you are rid of your fear, Sarah, what will you do? The woman will remain in your window and she will remain in your life. So, what action will you take if and when you are able to rid yourself of your fear?”
I looked to his office window where the lush red curtains were drawn open. The far off buildings of the city and the clouds above were doused in the rich colors of the dying sun. Dr. Tariq said, bringing my attention back to him, “Yes. The sun sets. Night will come. Sarah, what will you do when you are rid of your fear?”
“Does it matter?” I asked with sudden resentment.
He remained calm. “More than anything.”
“Because the woman remains in your window, and from the way you have described her, she intends to rip you apart whether you are afraid of her or not. Yet fear will inspire the victim in you, stealing away the choice that is yours. But it is not the only choice to make.” Dr. Tariq cupped his hands together as though holding something precious. My choice. “To remain afraid is to flee away to small rooms and closets where she will eventually find you each time. What you do with the fear, that is your choice.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“I never said it was.” Dr. Tariq pinned me with his gaze, seeming to know my thoughts before I did. “Do you believe in God?”
It was the oddest question he could have possibly asked. “No. Not really. Do you?”
“More than I believe in my own existence.”
“I didn’t think psychiatrists were supposed to believe in God.”
Dr. Tariq smirked at that. Smirked at me. “Ah, Sarah, do not be fooled by the seat I occupy as a psychiatrist. It is true, this profession entices intelligence, small faith, and even smaller imagination. I am a psychiatrist. Yes. Yet, each of us is quite different from one to the next, for we are only human after all. But do not permit the title to fool you. This labor, this practice, is one of subjectivity masked by objectivity, and while we may pretend to have the answers, we are simply men and women ourselves, and at times, we are no better than blind leaders of the blind, as one once said. So, Sarah, I ask again, do you believe in God?”
“I never thought about it much.”
“Well. Whether you do or whether you do not, does not matter. God is neither hindered nor manifested based upon what you believe. And so, I will ask another question: What do most men do when Death reaches for them in that moment of reclaiming?”
“I don’t know.” His questions had become so abstract. I was struggling to follow along.
“Come, now, Sarah, you are very intelligent. I want you to think. Think of the stories where men are before that unhearing and unfeeling keeper of mortality. What do men do when they are on their knees, watching helplessly as their very lives unravel?”
“Beg, I guess.”
“They beg,” Dr. Tariq confirmed with a smirk, as though he found it amusing. “And who do they call out to?”
“God, I guess.”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Well then, you don’t know. I shall tell you. They call out to God. The same God they never believed in. What is my point? I want you to try something when you find the window rising again. Possibly tonight. I want you to pray. It cannot hurt. If God is not there, then he will not hear you. But if he is. Well, maybe he will answer.”
“Are you allowed to talk to me about God?” I asked.
Dr. Tariq chuckled amusedly. “Did I offend you with my beliefs?”
“No. I was just curious.”
“Well then, you were curious. Let us say that I prefer to talk of those things I believe in the most. It provokes my sincerity, without which, I am of no help to anyone. Am I allowed? I am not a child. Therefore, I shall talk of whatever I want, so long as I remain sincere in my conviction to help you and others.”
“Okay, you guess?”
I smiled. “Okay, I guess.”
“I cannot save you with trifle words.” Dr. Tariq paused to scribble something. Then he walked to me and handed me a prescription. “I do this for your mother. But it is your choice to take the medication. If you choose not to, I advise you not to tell her. It will only make her nervous, and it would be best for you to assure her of your willingness to listen, especially your willingness to listen to me. By doing so, you will enable your mother to believe that you are returning to the daughter she has always known and raised. That is what she desires the most.”
It made me sad to remember. “I know.”
“But before you leave, Sarah, remember, your fear is the choice. You are not some senseless creature who must fly off to a nest or burrow beneath the earth. Now, if you do not want to take the medications, but you want to keep your mother appeased –” He opened his mouth and touched the inside of his lip with his tongue, showing me how I might hide my medication.
“Oh,” I said. “What’s the medication?”
“What does it do?”
“It will help you sleep.”
It felt as though I were in a deep hole, and Dr. Tariq, instead of reaching his hand down to me, had given me a shovel to dig myself deeper.
He saw my anxiety. “I provide this to you for two reasons. First, sleep can be good for anyone, and it is a start. That is what I will tell your mother.”
“It has to do with the choice you have.” Dr. Tariq stood beside me and ushered me up from my seat. Our session was done.
Before I stepped out of his office, I asked again, “Do you really believe me?”
“Do I believe your story about the woman in the window?”
“Does it matter?”
Embarrassed, I dropped my eyes to the carpet and our feet. “Yes.”
“Sarah, look at me.”
“Do I believe you? Such a vast question. I believe all things, if I might put it so simply. But more than anything, I believe in the darkness. I believe in the darkness and the ways in which it inspires men to obey the perverse cravings that fill their being. I believe in the darkness and the way it births the monsters around us, even your woman in the window. And so, yes, Sarah, in a world as dark as the one we live in, I believe you.”