Saturday, October 17, 8:50 a.m.
As I see it, there are only four ways my life as a clinical psychologist would likely end. I could depart this mortal plane from natural causes such as a heart attack after working myself to death; I could die of an accident like tumbling down three flights of stairs running after a suicidal client; I could commit suicide over the continued “yeah, but” of another Esmeralda Sutton who refused to entertain any solutions to her problems; or I could be murdered by the legal system and carried out in a coffin bearing the name Lawsuit engraved on a gold plate.
Had I known what the universe was about to dump on me, I would have turned my Lexus south instead of north and left Boulder, Colorado, for good. But I was denied any forewarnings and because my morning cup of coffee hadn’t delivered its usual kick to the brain, in a sleepy fog, I continued this Saturday like most Saturdays—looking forward to eight clients scheduled an hour apart—with a half hour for lunch. To bestir my lethargic brain cells, I concentrated on developing a semi-sophisticated mental math problem when my cell phone interrupted. The music box version of Mary had a Little Lamb, my first piano solo at age four, plinked through the car. I fumbled the phone from my briefcase and checked the caller ID. A local prefix, but not a number I recognized.
I debated whether to take the call when the caller hung up without leaving a message, then immediately called back. This piqued my curiosity enough to answer, “Dr. Bradington.”
A young-sounding male voice said, “This is Jeff Hill from the Denver Post.”
Jeff Hill? Denver Post? He probably wanted a story about my testimony in yesterday’s dull court case. It must be a slow news day at the Post for a reporter to come calling. A cub reporter attempting to make something from nothing? Annoyed, I asked crisply, “Why are you calling me?”
“I’d like to interview you about the article in this morning’s Boulder Daily Camera. Is it true that one of your clients is suing you?”
That brought me to full alert. Suing me? Who? Why? Shouldn’t I have received a summons before the news appeared in the paper? What in the world was going on? I took a deep breath and reassured myself it was just a crank call. Thoroughly irritated, I asked, “How did you get this number?”
“Do you deny…?”
“Don’t call me again.” I shut the phone and pitched it back into the briefcase, then checked the time on the instrument panel. I still had over an hour to sort out the day before the first client was due. If I hurried, maybe I could beat the storm gathering force above the Flatirons. I sped up to five miles over the speed limit.
The cell phone played again and I cringed. What did he want? I grabbed the phone and flipped it on. “I said don’t call me again.”
“Faythe? Are you okay?” It was Rita Martinez, my best friend and confidant.
“Sorry. I didn’t look to see who it was.” I was in no mood to chat, even with Rita. “Look, I’m on my way to work. Can we talk later?”
“You don’t know?” She sounded surprised.
“Did you read…Boulder…Camera…?” Static was breaking up the call.
“Read the paper?” I responded. “Mine is at the office.”
“The bastards,” Rita went on. “They didn’t…to let you…before they…” Static overwhelmed her words and I lost her. Maybe I was close to another tower. My hands shook as I punched in her number, but when she answered, I still could barely hear her. “Call me…you get to…office,” she said, and hung up.
The man who called me—had he really been a reporter? Jeff Hill, wasn’t it?
I tossed the phone on the seat.
A lawsuit! I tried to remain calm, but my foot pressed the gas pedal as though on a mission of its own.
At Canyon Boulevard, I turned east to the Boulder Professional Building. I pulled into my usual parking spot just as the first hard gust of wind sent sleet hammering against my windshield—what a perfect reflection of my mood. I waited a minute to see if the wind would calm down, but it showed no signs of abating. I needed to read the paper more than I needed to stay dry, so I adjusted the hood of my raincoat over my head and prepared for a sloppy dash. I shoved the phone in my coat pocket, closed the briefcase over my new iPad and brownbag lunch, dashed inside, through the foyer and, by-passing the slowest elevator on the planet, rushed up the stairs to my third floor office. As usual, the Boulder Daily Camera lay in front of the heavy walnut door lettered in gold, Dr. Faythe Bradington. I set down the briefcase and snatched up the paper. The headline, “Governor Stops Midnight Execution”, covered a quarter of the front page and the story and pictures covered most of the rest.
That wasn’t that big a deal. He’d been threatening to do that for days.
Nothing about me. I turned the page. More of nothing. Interesting . . I was not the big news I imagined. I kept flipping pages until finally I found the small headline buried at the bottom of page six: “Boulder Psychologist Sued for Implanting False Memories of Abuse.”
My vision blurred. I had to blink my eyes into focus before I could read the story.
A lawsuit was filed late yesterday against Dr. Faythe Bradington, a leading clinical psychologist in Boulder, Colorado. Jim Kettner, from the law firm of Billingham and Groff, is representing Kera Lynn Dahl, who is allegedly one of Dr. Bradington’s former clients. (see ABUSE, page 8)
Finding page eight, I quickly read the rest of the article.
Mr. Kettner alleges that Dr. Bradington aggressively suggested certain memories of childhood sexual abuse involving her father to Ms. Dahl even though she remembered no such abuse. Ms. Dahl states that she was initially repulsed by Dr. Bradington’s relentless suggestions of abuse and tried, as best she could, to resist the suggestions and question whether such ideas were her memories at all, let alone real; but over time, under the constant and tenacious onslaught of Dr. Bradington’s insinuations and so-called professional interpretations, Ms. Dahl finally succumbed to Dr. Bradington’s influence, and came to believe that the false memories were actually her own real memories. Mr. Kettner, expressed his own heartfelt concern for Ms. Dahl, “The profound damage that Dr. Bradington’s malfeasance has inflicted on this poor young woman— in terms of personal and family relationships—I can only say that it just breaks my heart. It makes me angry when I think of the unspeakable devastation and irreparable harm Dr. Bradington has done to her through this irresponsible and grossly negligent act.” Mr. Kettner expressed doubt that Ms. Dahl will ever be able to outlive the horrible effects of what Dr. Bradington has done. Ms. Dahl, while claiming to now realize that the memories implanted by Dr. Bradington were actually false, and categorically denying that any abuse ever happened, she nevertheless admits that she suffers from ongoing mental agony and confusion, which haunts her nights with nightmares and days with panic attacks. Mr. Kettner refused to disclose the amount his firm was asking in compensatory damages.
I had to will my mouth to shut. These accusations were false, completely false. I would never do such a thing to any human being, let alone one of my own clients. The whole story was a lie. What was the reporter thinking? Kera Dahl? False memories of abuse? How dare the paper print an article like this without first checking their facts? My first impulse was to call them immediately. Then I realized that no reporter could have known so many details of Kera’s abuse unless he had heard the facts from a legitimate source. Billingham and Groff were ruthless ambulance chasers, for sure, but they were also shrewd and experienced. They knew the law and did their homework. They would never jeopardize a case by making a novice mistake like releasing a story to the press that didn’t have some element of truth to it.
Why had these accusations come up now? It had been almost a year since I last saw Kera, and I had only worked with her for a few months. During all that time, she never once suggested her memories might not be real.
I thought I remembered clearly, during her first session, how Kera mentioned that her father had abused her. Or had she? I wished I could be sure, but that was too many clients, too many memories, too many charts ago. I did have her chart and my intake notes. With abuse cases, for the sake of absolute security, I didn’t use electronic equipment, but right now I would give a gold brick for some videos and digital recordings.
I unlocked the door to the waiting room and leaned against it long enough to retrieve my briefcase. With my shoulder, I nudged the door wider and walked into the windowless room, lit only by a small night light in the lamp on the far side of the room. Once inside I let the automatic closer shut the door. I walked rapidly toward my office, shuffling keys and paper as I went, obsessed with thoughts of Kera and our sessions together.
Tension pressed on my temples as I struggled to remember the details of her sessions. I recalled that after Kera missed her last appointment I tried contacting her several times, but the phone had been disconnected. There was no forwarding number. Had she gone home to her father who then convinced her that the abuse never happened? I needed to cut through the confusion and find out.
Without warning, the toe of my high-heeled shoe hit something solid. I cried out as my body jerked sideways. My arms flailed the air. The newspaper dropped. The briefcase thudded on the floor, and my knees hit the carpet. I lay prone on my stomach with the wind knocked out of me, arms stretched above my head, my hands in cold gunk. I shuddered and focused on the floor before me.
There, in the shadows, lay a woman in a pool of blood. I gasped and recoiled —jerking myself away.
“Please God, no!” My cry shattered the silence.
I scrambled to my feet and stared at the scene.
Blood. Blood everywhere.
I looked at my hands. Blood flowed over them. Kevin’s warm blood . . . “Oh, Kevin,” I groaned aloud. Not again. Not another flashback. He’s dead. He’s gone!
I closed my fists and heard the squish and felt my fingers tingle.
This was not a dream.
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QUESTIONS FOR READERS AND BOOK CLUB MEMBERS to ponder and discuss:
1. Child abuse is a crucial theme in this novel. Talk about instances of child abuse, both physical and sexual, you know of that occured in your community or in your family or among aquaintances. What are the signs and symptoms of abuse in the child? What can you or your group do to help and support those who have been hurt?
2. What have we learned in our culture that allows child abuse to continue? Now that we know about it why does it continue at the same rate as before?
3. Where should the line between abuse and discipline be drawn?
4. All three characters, Dr. Faythe Bradington, Clinical Psychologist, L.P. Sanborn, Private Investigator, and Kera Dahl, the client, are dealing with Post Trauma Stress, one because of a preventable accident that killed her long time husband and best friend, one because of the trauma of war, and one because of child physical and sexual abuse. How are each of them fighting their demons differently?
5. If you were one of these characters, could you forgive the person who hurt you? Should you? Discuss forgivenes.
6. What exactly is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Whom does it effect? What are the symptoms and how would you recognize it?
7. What has your community done to prepare for the large number of returning veterans and their families? If Vietnam is any indication, 30% of soldiers will be effected by some degree of PTSD over the next couple of years. How can you help?
8. Have you ever wondered what memory is and how accurate it is? Can someone create false memory in someone else? How much do you trust your own memory? Have you run into situations where two people have experienced the same situation and remembered them differently? Discuss.
9. L.P. has psychic abilities. Do you believe this could happen in real life? What situations have you encountered that might validate or debunk psychic occurrences?
10. Klaus made his living as a hired hitman. But he has many emotional problems from his own past. Could you forgive him? Did he get what he deserved, or what do you think should have happened to him?
10. Both Faythe and Kera were denied justice. Over time Faythe loses her faith in truth and justice but then begins to return to them from a different point of view. Do you agree with Faythe’s earlier statement that truth is merely perception and justice does not necessarily occur on this earth? What are your beliefs about truth and justice? Can justice happen without truth? Discuss.
11. Pick a character and ask yourself how you would have responded in their situation? Discuss if in a group.