My initial hopes of a step forward seem to have suffered a paradigm shift.
Since our pleasant and engaging chat over malt whisky, my sessions with Christian Grey have been difficult, to say the least. He’s cancelled two appointments without rescheduling, refuses point blank to try using a dream diary, and insisted that I call him ‘Mr Grey’ rather than ‘Christian’. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he decides to end our sessions completely.
It’s a levelling thought, particularly as I’d believed I was beginning to get through to him. I fear I will be closing my case notes on this particular client. He won’t be the first person I’ve been unable to reach or help: some people simply don’t want to be helped. But I can’t stop thinking he will be my greatest failure. Undoubtedly I have been arrogant in my belief that I was helping him move forward.
I read in the papers that he has acquired a shipyard, securing 3,000 jobs for the local economy. It’s quite a departure from his telecoms empire. I was vaguely aware, from my research, that he had bought a ships’ chandlers early in his career, but this seems to be a completely new branch of business. I wonder what has driven this acquisition: I fear I will never know.
I mull over my failings as a therapist whilst listening to the BBC’s World Service internet broadcast, over a roast beef and horseradish sandwich at luncheon.
I am aware, naturally, that a therapist, in any discipline, needs to be able to erect and maintain a thin but invisible barrier between oneself and one’s client – either that or be drawn into their lives in a way that is healthy for neither. There’s no doubt that Mr Grey has piqued more than a professional interest: perhaps it’s as well that he has chosen to keep his distance.
So I’m surprised and delighted when my dear, hard-working and matronly receptionist, Edna, informs me that she’s just made an appointment for the aforementioned Christian Grey: in one hour.
I wonder if it’s worth planning a topic: there are several areas of his life, well, about fifty in fact, that I would like to draw him out on, but I now know him well enough to assume that he’ll drive our discussion. Or not – if it’s one of his incommunicative days; I’ve several possible subjects up my sleeve.
I find myself looking forward to the verbal sparring that is sure to ensue.
At precisely 2pm, the intercom on my desk buzzes.
“Mr Grey to see you, doctor,” Edna informs me.
I stand up to shake hands as he enters the room. He is well dressed, seemingly calm and in control.
“Good afternoon, Dr Flynn.”
“And to you, Mr Grey.”
I wave him to a seat and he sits, an elegant arrangement of Gucci-clad limbs.
“I apologise for cancelling two appointments recently, Dr Flynn,” he states. “I have been otherwise occupied.”
I’m taken aback that he has started our session with an apology: not his usual style at all. If anything, he is usually combative, bordering on aggressive. Sometimes passive aggressive; but this is new.
“To do with your purchase of a shipyard?”
He looks surprised.
“You have been doing your homework, Dr Flynn.”
“Happenstance, Mr Grey: I merely bought a newspaper.”
He seems affable so I’m keen to keep the conversation going.
“Not that I am au fait with your business, but it does seem a change of direction for you?”
His face acquires the blank, impassive look that I’ve come to recognise: he uses it when he wishes to hide his deeper feelings. He stills in his chair, deliberately holding himself in. I’ve struck a nerve: interesting. I decide to pursue this unexpected advantage.
He stares, his eyes locked on mine. It is one of his greatest weapons: utterly unblinking, he seems nerveless. I, however, know better and I can’t help a small smile escaping.
“It is simply a good business decision,” he says at length.
“Yes, indeed, because the shipbuilding economy is booming all over the world,” I nod sagely, more than a soupçon of sarcasm in my voice.
He raises an eyebrow, but that is his only response. I pretend to sigh, “Well, I’m sure if anyone can turn it around you will, Mr Grey, but I understood there was a reason that most heavy manufacturing is moving to the Far East.”
He doesn’t reply or rise to my verbal riposte. It’s going to be one of those sessions.
But then he leans forward and puts his head in his hands. Except for our impromptu meeting when he’d made the tentative and, in my opinion, unproven link to his submissives and his mother, it’s the most vulnerable I’ve seen him. I’m intrigued as to what has brought this on. I sit back, hoping he’ll give me a clue.
“I like building things.”
He speaks so softly I can barely hear him.
Then he leans back and seems to make some sort of internal decision: he begins to talk.
“What do you know about the commodities market, Dr Flynn?”
“As I understand it, it’s a way of buying raw materials like coffee or cocoa beans or gold on a fixed contract as a sort of bet against which way the market will go. The aim is to buy at a cheaper price and sell at a better price. It’s a form of gambling because the price can go up or down.”
“Correct, Dr Flynn.”
There’s another pause. Has he really come here to give me a lesson world economics? I must be patient.
“I don’t trade in the commodities or futures market, Dr Flynn. GEH has no interest in that sort of… how did you put it… gambling. I want my company to stand for something more than a way of making money.”
“It’s possible to make large profits by buying up all the coffee beans, for example, creating a shortage, and waiting for the world price to rise to ensure profits.”
“If I liquidated all my assets, I could buy up 17% of the world’s supply of wheat. I alone could force prices to rise to the point where my current wealth would pale into insignificance.”
I’m appalled. Is this his plan? I’m reminded that the definition of a business – to derive the best profit it can, where personal cost or lives destroyed is simply collateral damage and of no interest. It is shockingly similar to the definition of a psychopath:
‘psyche’ from the Ancient Greek for ‘soul or mind’ and ‘pathos’ meaning ‘suffering’ or in medical terms a disease or condition.
The characteristics of a psychopath include: shallow emotions and lack of empathy; cold-heartedness; superficial charm; manipulative qualities and egocentricity.
One might conclude that these can be applied to Mr Grey. But a true psychopath also lacks guilt, is often irresponsible and may display a number of antisocial behaviours. Mr Grey, however, carries more guilt than one person can easily support.
Neither do I believe that his emotions are shallow: in fact I would argue that the opposite is true. He has simply become an expert at hiding his emotions. It is one of his characteristics that must make him a formidable businessman.
He looks up at me and I realise I’m still staring at him.
“And do you plan to buy up 17% of the world’s production of wheat?”
“You can’t eat money, Dr Flynn,” he says, wearily, meeting my eyes.
I admit I’m having some trouble following his chain of thought. I’m not sure Mr Grey has chains of thought: he seems to make leaps of intellect, leaving us lesser mortals to try and catch up.
“Ships deliver food around the world,” he says softly.
And suddenly we’re on the same page.
“You intend for the ships you build to freight food around the world – to help feed people.”
He shrugs, looking uncomfortable again.
“So… this new business venture is, to use your word, perhaps more to do with a philanthropic ethic?”
He snorts with derision.
“I’m hardly a philanthropist, Dr Flynn. I’m a fucking billionaire! I don’t ‘love humanity’!”
“You’re being disingenuous, Mr Grey. That is one definition of a philanthropist. Another is ‘private initiatives for public good’. That does seem to fit you: and I am aware of your funding of the farming initiatives at WSUV.”
“That’s just good business,” he mutters, defensively.
He gives me his stubborn teenager expression. I hope my own children don’t develop that look or I’ll be the one in therapy.
“Why does it bother you that I see some of your work as philanthropic?”
“Because that’s bullshit.”
“How so?” I repeat my question, and he narrows his eyes, refusing to answer.
Well, I’m not letting go this time: he’s here for a reason and I shall get to the bottom of it if it’s the last thing I do, which, looking at the expression on his face, may well be the case.
“You are a philanthropist, Mr Grey. Please tell me how you will use this fact to self-flagellate yourself this time?”
His mouth drops open in surprise but then he presses his lips together and grasps the arms of his chair tightly.
“Cargo ships can carry a great many things around the world – not just food. And yet it is food that is your primary concern. Believe me, Mr Grey, I didn’t train for seven years without being able to make the blindingly obvious assumption that this goes back to your formative years when access to food was not always consistent. You don’t wish others to suffer what you suffered: this is the very essence of philanthropy. Why are you so reluctant to recognise that fact?”
“Because it’s not a fucking fact! It’s business: that’s all! Don’t fucking patronise me!”
His face is a mask of anger.
“Don’t patronise me, Mr Grey,” I retort, letting some of my ire show. “There’s a link, you know, and the reason you obstinately refuse to see it is because you’re determined to believe that you don’t have a humane bone in your body. Well, frankly, Mr Grey, that’s bullshit – and you’re full of it.”
He gapes at me, for once, silenced. He leans back in his chair and stares at me doubtfully.
I speak more calmly.
“Well, I’m sorry, Christian, but you’ll just have to face the truth: you’re a good man.”
It takes several attempts for him to try to speak.
“I was born a bastard, Dr Flynn, and now I’m a bigger one.”
“So you want me to believe that your good deeds are entirely accidental?”
“I’m not trying to buy my way into Heaven, Dr Flynn. I’m already damned.”
“Then perhaps you should see a priest and not a therapist,” I reply, calmly. “Really, Christian, whilst I do enjoy a little theatre, your cup does seem to be rather overflowing with a touch of the melodramatics at the moment.”
He stares at me and, to tell the truth, he looks a little wounded. But then he raises an eyebrow and I see a small smile on his lips.
“Melodramatic? I haven’t been called that before.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure you have, just not to your face.”
This time he laughs out loud.
“Well, that might be true.”
His body relaxes and he loosens his tie slightly.
“So, other than making multimillion dollar purchases of heavy industry, what else have you been up to?”
“Oh, the usual, Dr Flynn: whipping, fucking, making donations to charity.”
“In that order?”
“Not particularly, although the whipping and fucking generally go together… not so much the other.”
“Do whipping and fucking always go together, in your experience?”
The smile vanishes like mist on a summer morning.
“That’s the way I like it.”
“I’m curious: have you ever had sexual intercourse with any of your submissives, or indeed when you yourself were a submissive, that didn’t involve corporal punishment?”
“I see where you’re going with this, Dr Flynn.”
“How delightful: does that mean you’ll answer my question?”
Oh, we’re back to the surly teenager – he’s never far away.
“No, Doctor Flynn, I haven’t.”
“Doesn’t that strike you as… a little limited, when it comes to exploring your own sexuality, putting aside that of your submissives for a moment?”
“Limited! Dr Flynn, I’ve fucked more women, in more ways, for longer periods of time, than you can possibly imagine. I think I’ve explored fucking pretty fucking thoroughly.”
“Well, lucky for me, Christian, that I have quite a wide bandwidth when it comes to feats of the imagination. But you’re deliberately misunderstanding me – again. How do you know that you wouldn’t enjoy – what is your term – vanilla sex – if you haven’t tried it?”
“We’ve been over this before, Dr Flynn.”
“Yes, indeed: and you avoided answering me then, too.”
His impassive, blank look is back.
“Perhaps you would consider it – as an experiment?”
“No, Dr Flynn, I wouldn’t.”
“Because!” He pauses. “Because I need it.”
At last – we’re getting somewhere.
I can tell he’s distressed again because he’s using his trademark ‘tell’ of running his hands through his hair.
“Because I do!”
“Because I can’t punish her!”
He screams the words at me, suddenly standing, and all the blood has drained from his face.
“Thank you for telling me, Christian. Please sit: take a moment.”
His eyes are those of a wild animal in a trap; he’s utterly vulnerable. I must choose my words very carefully.
“I’ve pushed you a lot this afternoon, Christian. It seems to me that you understand more about your self than anyone: more than me, more than any number of the therapists you’ve seen over the years. But allowing yourself to say it out loud, to sort out the tangle of thoughts and ungovernable feelings: that’s a step forwards, believe me. To use a rather trite metaphor: I can show you the path, but you’re the one who has to walk it.
“But to take those steps you need to understand the direction you want to go. I believe you can choose to be happy. That is the fundamental at the heart of my therapy. Decide where you want to be in life, Christian. You have already chosen to be a good man. You now need to allow yourself to choose to be happy, too.”
His face morphs from anguish to defeat.
“I don’t know how to,” he says.