21: The Antidote to Righteousness (JP)

“Case 11-X, session 6. Male, 16 years of age, with the abilities of a highly advanced empath. Unlike all other patients here he is not a mutant. Before coming to the Institute he had made little or no progress in controlling this ability. The situation of the Institute with a lot fewer people has begun a change in the relationship he has with his ability, it’s domination of his life has lessened. Nevertheless the sessions have been quite challenging as a result, for obvious reasons.”
Samson settled into his chair he would have preferred to have done the consultations at his offices in Manhattan but given the nature and in some cases the physicality of the patients here at Xaviers that was impractical. The pastoral care here though was second to none and the office he had been allocated was comfortable, light and airy, it felt nice.
There was a knock at the door a moment before it opened.
“Mani, come in.”
The patient came in, he had a slight frown.
“Sorry, you prefer Caleb.”
“I do, Manuel is my father.”
“My apologies, I forgot you are choosing to use your middle name here at Xaviers.”
“If they give us spare names why not use ‘em.”
“Sit please. It’s very nice to see you, Caleb. How have you been?
“Fine, I guess.”
“You had a football game yesterday, correct?”
“How was it?”
“It was fine. We won.”
“That’s wonderful. That must have made you happy.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I suppose everyone on the team was excited about winning?” The tone of the therapist’s voice made it clear it was a question.”
“Yeah. Yeah, everyone was pretty excited. It was really…it was really loud.”
“People were shouting? Or, do you mean it was loud for you internally? I know you’ve had problems with post-game gatherings in the past.”
“It was just loud.”
Samson decided not to labour the point and move on.
“How was school this week?”
“It was alright.”
“You had a big presentation in English class? Isn’t that right?”
“How did it go?”
“It was ok.”
.oO(Practically monosyllabic today Caleb). Samson decided to push him a little.
“Remind me – what was the topic?”
“That’s right. Did you enjoy reading it?”
"It was okay I guess. I… I didn’t really like the witches – they were really creepy and I didn’t really like the whole ‘free will thing’.”
“What do you mean the whole ‘free will thing’?”
"Well, Mr. Riley was talking about how the witches take away Macbeth's free will by, like, tempting him to kill the king and make him confused and stuff?”
“Do you agree with that assessment?”
"What do you mean?” the boy asks, his brow slightly furrowed.
"Do you agree that the witches took away Macbeth's free will?”
"I don’t know. Not… not really. All they did was make a bunch of prophecies that they knew Macbeth would like. I mean, he was still the one that killed people.
"Him and Lady Macbeth, many would say.”
"Yeah, and Lady Macbeth. I didn’t really like her either.”
"No, she’s not a very likeable character.”
"I just don’t think that’s possible - making someone do something, just because you know what’s going on in their head. Macbeth was already ambitious; the witches couldn’t control him just because they knew that, right?”
"What do you think?”
Caleb thought for a long moment, he knew snap decisions here would be spotted all too easily. "No, no, I don’t think they could.”
"Remember, in the same way that Macbeth chose to murder; the witches and Lady Macbeth choose to manipulate. It doesn’t matter what information you have. It’s about what you choose to do with it.”
"Yeah, I guess so.”
"Caleb, are you worried about making someone do something they don’t want to do?”
"No, I just…”
Samson waited, letting the patient fill the gap.
“I think I made something worse,” Caleb said quietly.
"What do you think you made worse?”
"There’s this kid in most of my classes, he looks like a total loser-”
"Caleb, remember, don’t use insults to connect to people.”
"Right. Sorry Dr Samson”.
"So this kid is one of those weird emo types… sorry… He’s different I guess. He’s in every one of my classes and he’s always drawing these pictures and listening to like - like, some kind of stupid, sad classical music. And it’s so fucking distracting. I… I’m sorry.”
"It’s alright. It’s good to express your frustrations. Does this boy… What's his name?
"Does Noah bother you during class? Talk to you?”
"Not really, no. He doesn’t talk to anyone very much, he’s not very approachable. He’s one of the X-Men.”
Samson nodded, he knew the boy.
"But you find him distracting? Is it because he’s an X-Man?”
"What? No. I mean he’s just… He’s so sad, like all the time. And it… it… it’s…”
"And it makes you sad?” Samson ventured.
"Yeah, no shit. It makes me sad. Whenever he’s in the room I can’t feel anything else. I… I just feel his… his stupid emoness crawling all over me and it’s just… it’s not fair, okay? I don’t care that he’s sad, a lot of people are sad, just fucking deal with it! What does it have to do with me?”
"Remember what we talked about, Caleb. Responding with anger is not productive.”
"Okay, I know you say that, but I think- I think you’re wrong. When I get angry the other stuff goes away.”
"But you’re not dealing with it Caleb. You’re overpowering it.”
"Why is that a bad thing?”
"Because it’s a temporary solution. Caleb, you have a wonderful gift. Being able to feel other people’s emotions is something many people would be thankful for. I know it would certainly make my job a lot easier. When you try to drown that out with anger and frustration, you muddy the waters. You need to learn to take in each feeling and balance them alongside your own emotions. I know that’s easier said than done.”
"No shit! I can’t balance this stuff if I’m walking down a hallway of a load of students who all have their own stupid problems and emotions. It’s just, it’s like, suffocating, you know?”
"Other students’ problems are not stupid. Everyone had their own burdens to bear-”
"Yeah, so why should I have to bear all of them? I didn’t ask for this! I don’t wanna… I don’t wanna deal with this anymore!”
"Your mother told me she thought that coming here with a smaller student body you would find it easier.”
"I didn’t want to come here because there was no football team. But there’s a local adult team, and they are pretty good. Adults are easier. Mom wanted to try home tutoring, but spending all day with one person is hard. I start feeling only what they are feeling and I don’t like that. It’s like… like having someone else inside of my chest, you know?”
"I can see that, yes. I have to say I’m surprised you find football enjoyable still. Don’t your teammates’ emotions get in the way of the game?”
"Not really. It was a bit crazy back at my last school… Look, it’s easier when everyone is feeling the same thing, and most of the team I play in now are at least a few years out of high school Most are older. Football is intense. But it’s… I don’t know, it’s comfortable. It’s simple.”
"Hmm. You said that when Noah is in the room you can’t feel anything else. Do you mean his are the only other emotions that you feel?”
"Yeah, pretty much. He just sort of… drowns everything else out.”
"Isn’t that preferable to feeling what everyone in the class feels? You don’t sound very happy about it.”
"No, of course I’m not happy about it, that’s literally the point. I can’t be happy because he’s so miserable.”
"Do you know why he’s sad?”
"No, how the fuck would I know that,” Caleb almost yelled. “ I’m not a mind-reader! Look, I… I just know that he’s sad.”
"In previous sessions, you’ve talked about how similar emotions can have slightly different colours to them. Happiness over getting a good grade versus happiness over seeing a friend, for example. You feel that difference. It’s something that you’ve felt many times in school, correct? Those different colours?”
"Sounds a little gay when you when you put it like that, but yeah I guess…”
"So does Noah’s sadness have a special colour to it? Is he sad over his grades? His family?”
"Like I said, I’m not a mind reader. But I mean, I don’t know, it’s pretty general. He’s lonely, I guess. Yeah, he feels alone. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, so I guess that makes sense. Actually I don’t think he has, like, any friends other than the other two X-Men…”
"Perhaps that’s why you only feel him when he’s around. His loneliness isolates you from feeling anything else.”
"Yeah, maybe. I mean… look, people are sad and lonely all the time, it’s high school right? He’s… he’s different for some reason.”
"You said you made something worse this week? Did that have to do with Noah?”
"What? Um yeah. Yeah it did.”
"What happened?” Samson asked when Caleb didn’t continue.
"Well, we did our presentations on Macbeth. Mine went pretty okay.”
Samson was pretty certain it was far from okay but did not challenge Caleb as he was opening up.
“I mean, I basically read off the Spark Notes for it, so… what? Everyone does it. Anyway, he gets up there and he gives this, like, really long, really weird presentation about the witches and symbolism and King James and I don’t know. I didn’t really understand any of it. It seemed pretty smart, I guess. Mr. Riley was impressed. But all of us were like ‘who does this nerd think he is?’. It was just really show-off-y.”
"And that bothered you?”
"I mean, a little. It was… it was just really annoying but at least he wasn’t sad during it. He was just focused. So, you know, that was a little bit of a relief.”
“So… how did you make it worse Caleb?”
“After class a couple of the others were making fun of Noah because he had been so good.”
"Were you a part of this behaviour?
"No, I mean, why would I want to make him worse? It was just going to make me feel worse.”
"And did you? Feel worse?
"Yeah, I did. I mean he was just starting to get really sad again and really angry. The dude’s got a lot of anger. Like, way more than I would have thought because he is always so calm. Anyway, his annoyance was making me really mad. So, I asked them to stop bothering him.”
"And did they?”
"Yeah, they walked away. They were going to walk away anyway, I mean he’s one of the X-Men for christ's sake.”
"I don’t understand the problem then. It sounds like you did a really good thing, Caleb.
"Yeah, except… except when I told them to back off. I said ‘leave him alone the dude’s sad enough as it is. Can’t you see that? He he wants to be left alone.’ And then… oh man look on his face, he looked so embarrassed and I could feel him getting even more depressed. And scared. Why would he be scared? He’s like… Jason Bourne with super powers. I think it was the wrong thing to say. And now I’ve made him sad and scared. I was just trying to help and I’ve just made him feel worse.”
"Sometimes, people don’t want others to see their sadness. He probably thought he was hiding it well and the fact that you noticed frightened him. It brought into focus just how unhappy he is.”
"See what I mean? I knew how he was feeling and instead of fixing it, I made him more unhappy. You’re always talking about this like it’s some sort of stupid gift, that I can help people. But I always just fuck things up.”
"That’s because you haven’t learned how to control it yet. You’re so young and you’re dealing with so many of your own emotions that handling others’ is going to be overwhelming. Being a teenager is hard, you know that. I’ve said before that I think this ability get easier as you grow older.”
"Yeah, I know, I know. Being a teenager is rough, there are hormones and all that stuff, blah, blah, blah. That doesn’t change the fact that I suck. It’s not an excuse. Someone was sad and then I opened my mouth and now they’re sadder. And I don’t know what he’s going to do or how he’s gonna react, or if he spent the whole weekend thinking about it…”
Caleb was looking at Samson with a fierce expression, when he spoke he was furious. “Would you stop that! I can feel your fucking pity bleeding out of you and I don’t need it! I’m not some pathetic emotional loser, okay? I’m not like him!”
"Okay, okay, Caleb. Caleb, it’s alright. It’s alright. I don’t pity you. I’m empathetic to what you are feeling. Surely you of all people can understand that, right?”
"Yeah. Yeah. Right. Sure. Look I’m sorry, I… your feelings are normally pretty quiet and so, it just surprised me, that’s all.”
"I see. I think you are being too hard on yourself Caleb.” Samson’s tone was light, not jokey, just light. “You are not responsible for what other people feel. But, as I was saying earlier, you can choose how to respond to it. You need to get these outbursts under control. Think before you speak. And that will only be possible if you learn to filter the incoming emotions. I think it’s possible you’re not in control of your own feelings because they are being overpowered by others, that’s why you need to learn to balance them.”
"I know. I don’t like the idea of someone getting hurt. That’s all.”
"I have an idea. I think you’ve been given a unique opportunity.
"Awesome,” Caleb deadpanned, “more unique opportunities.”
"If you couldn’t do what you could do, do you think you would have noticed that Noah felt worse after you intervened?”
"No, I guess not. But, I wouldn’t have gotten involved in the first place if I couldn’t do what I do.”
"I mean that you know now, that he’s feeling worse. And maybe you can help make that better. Make the choice. I think you should talk to him on Monday. Try and become friends.”
"Why the hell would I do that? Suck up to one of the X-Men. One of the school’s elite.”
"The X-Men are people too, you know. You said yourself that Noah’s lonely. Being elite is not all good times. Remember. He could probably use someone who understands what’s going on with him. And it might help whatever misplaced feeling of guilt you have if you befriend him.”
"Using my ability to make someone feel a certain way is exactly what I’m trying to avoid. Isn’t that an abuse of power or something?”
"Is it?”
"I don’t know.”
"Noah’s feelings are having a profound effect on you for a reason. I think you owe it to both him and yourself to find out what that reason is. If his emotions are so overpowering, perhaps it will help you learn focus and control to get some one-on-one time with him. Learn to contain both his feelings and yours.”
"I don’t know. That sounds a little… sounds a little weird to me.”
"Promise me you’ll at least try? Ask him to have lunch with you this week and try to get to know him. Focus on the feelings that are coming from him and see if you can control how much it affects you. Will you do that?”
"Yeah, okay. I mean I’ll try.”
"Thank you. Now, let’s work on your mediation exercises.”

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