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the elephant (from March 17th, 2018)

“Before we begin I have a favor to ask” the man with the graying temples began. “Please refer to me as a psychiatrist. I am not a psychologist nor am I a therapist.”

“So continuing to call you a shrink won’t fly?” the younger man seated across from him replied, attempting unsuccessfully to remove any sarcasm from his tone.

“Correct. So tell me why you’re here.”

“I think you already know why I’m here.”

“I want to hear why you think you’re here.”

Sean was in his early 30s. Single. He had recently been involved in a robbery. He wasn’t the perpetrator; the criminal involved had died at the scene of the crime.

Sean had killed him.

He thought over the question a bit. “Perhaps the court just wants to make sure I’m not a threat to anyone.”

“What about to yourself?” asked the psychiatrist.

Sean laughed.

During the hold up the deceased wannabe-robber brandished a large knife and, during the course of the attempted robbery, threatened a couple of young girls with it. Sean had just stopped into the convenience store to buy a sandwich and a drink. It had never occurred to him to think about what would have happened if he’d have chosen to stop at a fast food place instead.

“You think I might have a death wish?” asked Sean.

“We just met. I have no idea what wishes you might have.”

Sean rolled his eyes to indicate that if anyone was truly honest about what wishes they had they’d probably be at a shrink three times a week trying to figure them out.

“Can’t somebody just be brave? Just react without thinking?”

The psychiatrist jotted something down on his pad and then seemed to give the question some thought.

“Is that what you did Sean? React without thinking?”

Sean wondered if the psychiatrist had seen the footage from the security camera. He assumed he had so he decided to tell the truth … to the best of his ability anyway.

Sean was on the other side of the store when the robber had approached the counter and it wasn’t until the younger of the two girls, she might have been thirteen or fourteen, screamed that he was even aware of what was going on. After only a moment’s hesitation he walked towards the counter. The criminal told him to stop but he didn’t.

Tell me Sean” the psychiatrist continued “Have you had any military or self-defense training?”

Again Sean laughed. “If you saw the video you’d know I have not. I believe I got my purple belt in karate when I was eight. My mom worried about school violence so she enrolled me in one of those McKarate studios you find in every strip mall.”

“Were you picked on as a kid?” the psychiatrist dutifully asked.

“We both know that’s not why I did what I did.”

Sean never broke stride. He walked straight up to the robber and attempted to wrestle the knife away. He was stabbed twice during the process. Both cuts were deep and bled like a pair of wilderness rivers. In the end that’s what saved him. The robber clearly was not ready to kill someone for the forty-some dollars in the register.

“So why did you intervene when the safer play was to sit back and watch?”

“I guess I’m not getting out of here without answering that right?” Sean’s laugh was different that time. “Ok. If you really want to know here it is…” He sat back and stared at the ceiling. “I knew I wasn’t going to die. No matter what happened I wouldn’t die so why not?”

The psychiatrist scribbled on his pad a little more intently. Usually a statement like that doesn’t come in the first session. He tried to control his enthusiasm.

“And why did you believe you weren’t going to die?” When Sean didn’t immediately reply he added “The man had a knife.”

“When I was twenty five I went to a fortune teller. The woman told me I’d live a long life.”

The scribbling stopped abruptly. The psychiatrist looked at Sean, trying to figure out if he was kidding.

“I know fortune tellers and psychics and all that are bullshit. I’m not an idiot.”

This time the psychiatrist let the silence linger. He could see that Sean was wrestling with how to continue.

“This woman, the fortune teller, she was a fraud. It was obvious. The cheap sitting room. The bad gypsy headdress.”

The robber had let go of the knife after stabbing Sean a second time. It stuck in his chest as the robber stepped back. Nobody in the store breathed. It was like the whole city held its breath. Sean looked down at the knife and then the girl screamed again. He removed the knife and drove it into the neck of the robber.

Nobody in the room breathed. Sean was trying to figure out how to explain why he believed the fortune teller and the psychiatrist was remembering the few seconds in the security footage where it was clear the robber was going to flee.

“Would you like a glass of water?” asked the psychiatrist.

Sean took a deep breath instead.

“I don’t know if you know this story but last month there was this celebrity in Hollywood who wanted to see a live elephant. His house was decorated with elephants. Everywhere you looked there was some statue or painting of an elephant. Hindu this and African that.”

Clearly this was not the direction the psychiatrist had seen the conversation going so he relaxed a little and listened.

“So anyway, the movie star didn’t want to go all the way to Africa to see an elephant so he decided to have one brought to his house. He was conflicted of course, he liked to think of himself as an animal lover and if it ever got out that he made some poor elephant schlep all the way to his house just so he could see one it would certainly hurt his image … but he was a movie star so he did it anyway.”

The police didn’t press charges. It was obvious that it was self-defense. The media made Sean into a mini-celebrity. He got his fifteen minutes on TV as a hero.

Still … when a judge watched the video and saw that moment when the robber could have fled she decided to have Sean sit down with a court-appointed professional. Better safe than sorry.

“It took the elephant hours to get to this guy’s place. Stuck in a small trailer, stuck in traffic in one hundred degree heat.

The movie star and his people and the handler and his assistant all had the same thought. This elephant was going to be in the presence of the top-grossing movie star of 2014. Even if it didn’t appreciate it, it was still quite an honor for an elephant.”

The psychiatrist shook his head slightly.

“Why are you telling me this?” he asked.

“I thought you wanted to know why I killed that man.”

“I do” said the psychiatrist.

“I wanted to see an elephant” replied Sean.

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