“Dr Flynn, you have five minutes before your next appointment – with Mr Grey. May I get you a cup of tea?”
Dear Edna: she does worry about me. My receptionist takes an almost maternal pride in my work, and is always meticulous in her own. She has a calm and friendly air that has soothed many an agitated soul.
Personally, I cannot bear the type of physician’s receptionist who wields the power of the appointment as a weapon, merely to emphasise the importance of their role – granting access to the hallowed gateway of Hippocrates’ successors, I suppose. No, I far prefer a receptionist who will manage appointments professionally, but who puts the clients’ needs before his or her own sense of identity.
Edna is a real gem, and it has become my mission to show my appreciation for her daily. But today I learned a curious thing about her: although she is thoroughly professional, she has a soft spot for one of my clients. Indeed, her eyes become quite misty when she refers to Christian Grey.
I’m intrigued. And, because I am always in my consulting room, and because I have never seen them interact, I’m very curious as to why this might be. Is it maternal? Is it because he is undoubtedly an astonishingly handsome man, with an almost unearthly beauty? Or is it because she senses he is broken, his sadness worn like a mantle?
So, on this particular day, I have decided to leave my door ajar as I wait for Mr Grey’s appearance.
He is a whole minute early: how unlike him. He is usually more precise in his time-keeping.
“Good afternoon, Mrs Parsons,” he says, his voice soft and polite. Always polite.
“Good afternoon, Mr Grey. Dr Flynn is waiting for you. Please, do go in.”
Is that it?
I’m disappointed: I’d expected some eureka-moment revelation.
Grey strides into my consulting room radiating latent power and carefully controlled energy. He’s in CEO mode. I’ve seen it before in him: it’s what we mere mortals call charisma.
‘Charisma’ has an interesting etymology. There is the theological definition of a divinely conferred power; but the Greek stem means ‘gift of grace’. He’s certainly graceful in his person, but this definition refers to the quality of mercy.
Lord Acton famously said, ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Grey is one of the most powerful men in business in the US today. He is not corrupt: he is a philanthropist and straightforward, if brilliant in his business dealings. Grey, however, would say that he is corrupt.
I want to dig a little deeper into the source of this belief.
One strand, undoubtedly, is the way he was treated as a young child: the child is treated badly and comes to believe that the treatment is deserved because they are inherently ‘bad’, and that the punisher recognises this. But the second strand runs parallel to this: his early seduction by a female dominant. He believes that she ‘recognised’ something repellent in him – the ‘bad’ – and that her ‘punishment’ of him was deserved. His teenage rebellion required punishment and he believes her behaviour was justified and, later, desirable.
I would like him to make the connection himself, between the two types of ‘punishment’ – to see the parallels; so far he has not, or will not, make this leap.
“Good afternoon, Christian.”
“John, good afternoon.”
We shake hands and he sits. Goodness, is this an appointment or a business meeting? I feel I should be laying out my business proposition before him, and hope that he finds it to his liking. Well, that’s an interesting idea. Hmm.
“Well, Christian, I certainly have a topic in mind; but if there’s something you wished to discuss with me first, please, the floor is yours.”
He raises his eyebrows. This is not my usual beginning and I see it has thrown him off stride a little.
“I’m intrigued, John. What has piqued your curiosity?”
Ah, he’s taken the bait.
“I wish to take you back to one of our conversations from a few weeks ago. You began to tell me about the woman who seduced you when you were 15.
“And you count her as a friend today?”
“She knows me better than anyone. I don’t want to talk about her, Dr Flynn. Not now.”
“What do you want to know?”
Everything, of course.
“Let’s start with an introduction: what is her name?”
He shifts slightly on his seat, uncomfortable with my question. But why?
“Surely you can tell me her name? Or, perhaps we could call her… Josephine?”
“No, not tonight, doctor,” he smirks at me, then sighs. “I call her… Elena.”
“And how did you meet Elena?”
“She was a friend of my parents.”
I’m not surprised: abusers are often closely connected with their victims.
“And you still see her… as a friend?”
“Do your family still see her?”
His expression is mulish: he really doesn’t want to answer. I’m pleased when he does, because it shows his trust in me is increasing, albeit slowly.
This is why he didn’t want to give me her name: she is still part of his family’s inner circle. Interesting.
“And they are not aware that you had a sexual relationship with her at any time?”
No, of course not.
“What do you think your parents would say to you if they found out?”
“But if they did?”
“They didn’t find out for the six years we were together: they’re not going to fucking find out now.”
He’s understandably defensive, and it’s classic abused-child behaviour – trying to justify and protect the abuser.
“You don’t have a sexual relationship with her now?”
“No. Just a business one.”
This surprises me – I wouldn’t have guessed he mixed business with… personal matters.
“I invested in her… business. I’m a silent partner. She’s a very astute business woman in her own right.”
“Yes, I’m sure she is astute: she began a sexual relationship with a minor under his parents’ noses – who were friends of hers – and it was never discovered. I’d say ‘astute’ only begins to cover her… abilities.”
“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit,” he snarls.
“Indeed: except I wasn’t being sarcastic. Do you accept that the relationship was illegal?”
“Yes or no, Christian. It’s a simple question.”
He frowns, and I see a tightness around his eyes. We have leapt out of his comfort zone into the very heart of his problems – into their depths, you might say.
“Yes, it was illegal in the eyes of the law,” he says at last, “but she helped me. I don’t regret any of it.”
“Yes, I see that. Would you regret it if you parents found out?”
He leans back in his chair, crossing his arms, a look of cold fury on his face.
“So you say. Let me put it to you another way, Christian: why do you think the law states that sexual relations for a child under the age of 16 are illegal in Washington State?”
He shrugs. “It’s an arbitrary number: in other states it’s 17 or 18; in France it’s 15. So what?”
“Do you think Elena knew what the age of consent was at the time?”
“I would have thought so.”
“So she knew she was breaking the law. Do you think she betrayed your parents’ trust, by beginning sexual relations with their 15 year old son, who, by his own admission was fucked up at the time?”
“She helped me, John! I’ve already told you that!”
“Yes, you have repeated yourself a number of times on that point, Christian, but it would be a pleasant change if you answered the question instead. Would your parents see it as a betrayal of trust?”
“I can’t speak for them,” he snarls.
“You mean you won’t answer because you know that you’ll have to admit the answer is ‘yes’.”
He stands up suddenly.
“This is fucking tedious, John.”
“As I’ve said before, Christian, you’re free to end our meetings at the time of your choosing.”
He runs his hands through his hair in frustration. I’ve deliberately backed him into a corner: I know it and he knows it – and he really doesn’t like it.
“It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks!” he shouts. “Elena helped me – when nothing else could!”
Time to give him some room emotionally.
“Would you say that Elena recognised your loss of control at that time?”
He lets out a long breath through his teeth.
“Would you say at the time that you had low self-confidence, that you were self-doubting, lacking in confidence and assertiveness, that you were likely to go on the defensive too easily?”
“Yes, all of those things. And your point is?”
“Humour me. And you felt that Elena’s ‘punishment’ was justified?”
“Yes, she stopped me drinking and fucking up my life. If I drank, she made sure I didn’t do it again.”
“Would you say that you became emotionally dependent on her?”
I can see that this is a hard question for him: he doesn’t wish to believe he could be dependent on anyone. I give him some time.
Eventually, he answers.
“At the time, I needed her. I needed what she could give me… she could touch me.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“She knew where she could touch me without… I didn’t think I’d ever be able to experience…”
He pauses, the words sticking in his throat.
“Yes,” he says, his voice stiff with suppressed emotion. “She gave me a way to cope.”
And now for the punchline.
“Christian, I have just given you six characteristics that you claim for yourself when you were 15. I’ll reiterate: you were naïve sexually and emotionally; you were willing to believe that Elena benefitted you; you agreed you had low self-confidence; you believed you deserved Elena’s punishment; and you agree you were emotionally dependent on her. These are the six markers of how a manipulative person chooses their victim. If you wish, I can lend you George Simon’s excellent book, In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People.”
“That’s a low, fucking blow, John,” he shouts, fury surging through him.
“You still see her as your saviour, Christian,” I say quietly, “but by anyone else’s definition she was a predatory paedophile.”
And he reaches his breaking point.
Swearing horribly, he slams out of my consulting rooms.
The silence seems to berate me.
I lean forward on my desk, my head in my hands. Have I pushed him too far? Is his refusal to accept that his so-called control has been an emotional cage of Elena’s construction, too much? Have I taken away his support structure without offering anything to replace it with?
No. He cannot grow and develop emotionally if he does not begin to see the truth.
Even so, I’m not sure how much my probing and pushing have helped him today. And I don’t know if he’ll be coming back.
I am interrupted with my musings on failure by Edna.
“Is everything alright, doctor? Mr Grey left in such a hurry – and before his appointment time was over.”
“A disagreement, Edna. He didn’t like the direction of our discussion.”
“I see,” she says and sighs. “Poor Mr Grey.”
Her tone is so sad, I sit up straight and really look at her.
“You do seem to have a soft spot for our Mr Grey, Edna.”
She meets my gaze. “As do you, doctor.”
I’m taken aback, and then I realise the truth of her words. Yes, Mr Grey has become more than just another client. I’d like to say that the syndrome of doctors treating the symptom rather than the person is dying out. I’d like to say that, but it’s rarely true. Of course, in private practice, one has a certain possibility of indulgence insofar as time, and therefore has a better chance of really getting to know a client.
But, yes, there is something about our Mr Grey. Perhaps it is his refusal to see any goodness in himself, when it’s blindingly apparent to both Edna and myself that goodness and decency shine out of him.
I know there are many, many people who would equate his sexual preferences as depraved and twisted – indeed Mr Grey believes that himself; but I have never known a human being strive so hard to be good.
“You’re right, Edna. I do have a soft spot for Mr Grey. But I’d be intrigued to know why you feel the same?”
Her response surprises me.
“Because he wants to deserve everything he has – so he never stops trying to be a better man.”
Indeed, she’s right, but…
“And you deduce this, how exactly?”
Edna gives me a look.
“It’s written all over his face.”
Ah, it is the looks after all.
She flushes slightly. “Goodness, doctor! Not in that way. I simply mean… he has a way of seeing the best in people…”
Yes, even in that wretched woman, Elena.
“…but he doesn’t see anything good in himself, does he?” continues Edna. “I mean, well, with his money and handsome face, you’d think he’d expect people to fall all over him, and maybe they do, but I’ve noticed that he treats everyone exactly the same. He is always polite – if a little old fashioned. Did I ever tell you my late husband used to mend clocks?”
“I’m sorry, pardon?”
“Yes, it was his hobby: it absorbed him for hours. I couldn’t be bothered myself, all those tiny little cogs and springs. But Mr Grey is like that: he knows that the smallest spring, the tiniest cog, is important. See – he treats everyone equally.”
“Ah, I see. Thank you, Edna.”
How right she is. And that is undoubtedly why Grey’s business is so successful: he values the detail. To use Edna’s metaphor: he sees each cog as essential. Perhaps this is why he thinks so little of himself: he knows he has pieces missing – pieces of his past that he can’t remember; empathy, that he is vaguely aware he lacks.
And, of course, the emotional void that he has filled – that has been filled for him – by the woman who manipulates him still.
He refuses to see it, and I understand why. If he has to admit that ‘Elena’ was a negative influence, then his whole, carefully constructed world will crumble. Unless… unless something – or someone – can replace that.
For the first time in my recent dealings with Christian Grey, I am not hopeful.
Edna turns to leave.
“Oh, by the way, doctor, Mrs Flynn asked me to remind you that you need to collect your tux from the dry cleaners for Saturday.”
She rolls her eyes and smiles at me.
“I put in your calendar, Dr Flynn… the fundraiser that Mrs Flynn has become involved with? Something to do with supporting mothers who are drug addicts… er… I think it’s called, now what was it… oh yes, ‘Coping Together’.”
Yes, I vaguely remember: one of Rhian’s new charities that she’s picked up. I hate these events: lots of rich people flashing their cash. Tedium ad nauseum with a bloody cherry on top. It’s enough to drive a man to drink.
“Thank you, Edna. What would I do without you?”
“Miss a lot of appointments, doctor,” she says, with a smile.