Vitality: A Psychiatrist's Answer to Life's Problems

By Richard Esser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2.
TURNING LIVING AROUND, EIGHT THUMBNAIL SKETCHES

People who came to me for help wanted to turn their living around. My aim was to help them do just that. In the following eight stories, I set forth in capsule form some of the helping problems I have had to deal with and how I did so. They are an attempt to give an idea of what I have found so challenging and so fascinating in my work.


TOM, CUS, FLOYD AND ME

He was 16 but looked 22 or 23. Big, well over six feet, powerful and, most characteristically, with a ferocious scowl on his face that said loud and clear, “Don’t cross me.” I’ll call him Tom (all the names in these stories are fictitious). I was working at a psychiatric center in Harlem at the time we first met. He had been referred by the school because of violence; he had been in dozens of fights. He had had a fistfight with an assistant principal and had once threatened the principal with a knife. Even though he was a loner, because of his size and anger he was sought after in gang fights.

We hit it off well from the start. He started right off with what seemed like a question but was really a challenge, “What can you do for me?” I said, “I can help you get the school off your back, if that’s what you want.” He began to open up. He had vivid fantasies of blowing up buildings and killing people. Nevertheless, I liked him. When he dropped his super-tough mask I saw a warmth, openness, and honesty in him. I learned that he had a strong mother, no father, and four older, domineering sisters. He then confided to

-19-

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