Steve Sobel, MD
Northwestern Counseling and Support Services, St. Albans, Vermont, United States
Taylor Swiftby WEZL
Sometimes the obvious is revealed to us as a life-altering revelation that shifts the tectonic plates of our world. Such was the case when I sat in a stuffy, cramped bedroom listening to Taylor Swift singing “Love story” on the radio. Suddenly I realized this was not just another famous singer. Taylor was signaling directly to me that she was the girl I played with in my hometown while growing up in New Hampshire. Her website claimed she grew up in Pennsylvania, but I knew that was simply a ruse to lead astray the busybodies. It was a lucid, penetrating spiritual connection that grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me out of my reverie. I wondered how it had taken me so long to comprehend her message. But now she was in my face, almost screaming out her love for me. I had not rested my head on a pillow for two nights, but energy jolted my body into action.
I could not wait to tell Jim and Gary, my neighbors who often tormented and taunted me. We’ll see who was “psycho” now. They would finally have to admit I was the superior being in this apartment complex, a legend in the making, living incognito and using lowlife scum like Jim and Gary as camouflage. Somehow Taylor had managed to track me down though. It amazed me that her love had been burning so strongly, so invincibly all these years. How had I been so oblivious? Reading between the lines of her song lyrics, I instantly deduced that she hoped to settle down with me:
You’ll be the prince, and I’ll be the princess.
It’s a love story, baby, just say yes,
’Cause we were both young when I first saw you.
That evening I encountered Jim and Gary in the entranceway as I returned from throwing out the garbage.
“Wassup, loony boy?” shouted Gary with his usual knack for the humiliating epithet.
“I’ll tell you what’s up, imbecile,” I replied with as much cool composure as I could muster. “Ever heard of Taylor Swift?”
“She and I are about to become an item.”
Jim and Gary broke into guffaws of ridicule. Jim launched a verbal assault: “Do you really believe this shit, man? I mean are you bullshittin’ us, or are you stupid, or just plain nuts?”
I explained to Jim and Gary that the lonely, 12-year-old girl in torn jeans and tattered sandals who once invited me to venture out of our neighborhood for a picnic lunch had grown up to become a famous musician. She and her family had disappeared from town only a few weeks after that picnic on the bank of the Saco River. I had forgotten about her until she sang “Love story” for me that day. I was still reeling from the impact.
“Hey, I don’t have time for this crap. You’re lucky we’re good Samaritans—otherwise you’d be in a straitjacket by now,” sneered Jim.
“Was that girl’s name really Taylor Swift?” Gary mockingly inquired.
“These people always take stage names, idiot,” I parried. “Back then she went by the name of Linda. I don’t think I knew her last name. But she’s clued me in through her songs. It turns out the reason she writes her songs is to communicate with me.”
“Dream on, psycho boy,” muttered Jim as he turned to Gary with the aim of dismissing me.
I decided the truth would come out eventually. Every dog has its day, and my day was coming down the track. Blithely, I spun away from those local nobodies and sauntered through the entrance to what now struck me as a rather gloomy, dilapidated apartment building. Visions of an imposing hilltop mansion flitted through my mind as ecstatic warmth infused my body.
The immediate dilemma was how best to respond to Taylor, letting her know that I had received her message and eagerly awaited our too-long-delayed reunion. Could I convey my feelings and dreams best in a letter, or would a face-to-face meeting be preferable?
The solution presented itself in the most spectacular and unforeseen manner. Emanating from the radiator, Taylor’s voice greeted me and professed her lifelong love for me. At first I searched for her in the apartment. For a fleeting moment I wondered if Jim and Gary had contrived some sort of practical joke. I soon ruled out any such chicanery.
In no uncertain terms, I shouted out my response to Taylor, “Your love will be requited! You will forevermore be the sole purpose of my existence! I am happy to live for you and will do anything to make you happy!”
To my shock, Taylor proceeded to describe her erotic fantasies about us in graphic detail. I felt the heat rise to my face as I blushed in embarrassment. There was not even an iota of doubt in my mind; we were destined to be together, and our union would brook no further postponement. Taylor herself insisted I must pack my bag and get on a train. I asked her for her address. She advised me to come to her next concert. A quick internet search turned up her scheduled events. The next concert was in five days at Club Nokia in Los Angeles. I had no credit card, so I could not purchase the online tickets, but I would get in, “come hell or high water,” as my dad used to say. Los Angeles was a long way from New Hampshire, but there could be no insurmountable obstacle for our relationship. In fact, I would head off that very evening.
While focused on the glorious future that awaited me in my promised land, I stuffed some clothes and other essentials in my duffel bag and was soon prepared for the journey. I lit off for the state highway shortly after sunset and stuck my thumb out. Several cars passed me by, irritating me beyond expression. Enraged, I kicked a boulder beside me. To my great relief, headlights appeared like eyes of a sympathetic alien seeking me out, slowing down as they drew nearer.
The driver lowered the passenger window. “Hey, Kevin, where ya’ headed?” asked Mr. Richards, owner of Richards’ Pharmacy. I explained that I needed to get to the bus station in Concord. “Okay, hop in,” he replied. “I haven’t seen you in ages,” Mr. Richards commented.
“No, I haven’t been taking the lithium for a month now, and I’m doing better off that stuff.”
“So, where are you taking a bus to?” he inquired.
Suddenly I felt an overpowering urge to blurt out everything that had transpired. My speech could not quite keep up with my thoughts, but that did not deter me from trying.
“I was listening to the radio, the one I got at Walmart, like my uncle worked at for a while, I’m never working in that place, maybe I’ll go back to college, be a professional, then we’ll be a fine couple because she told me over the radio to come get her, we’ll get married, have kids, she loves me, unbelievable how direct she was about sex, like a text, like in Texas or somewhere where they do that, maybe an English flat, right on their backs, I’m going to California to marry Taylor Swift . . .” It was a lot to explain, but somehow I got the major point across because Mr. Richards seemed to get my drift.
“Kevin, you sound pretty excited, but just slow down a minute, okay? I’ve got to make a stop first at the New Hampshire State Hospital pharmacy before the bus station.” The mere mention of that place usually gave me the creeps, but tonight I was in seventh heaven, no matter what happened. Besides, this would give me more time to blabber on, carefree and naturally high on love.
Eventually, we pulled into the hospital entranceway. Mr. Richards instructed me to sit tight in the car. It was all I could do to keep myself from busting loose and just dashing off to California by foot.
A few minutes later, two burly security guards approached me. They seemed friendly, but intimidating too, the kind of people you do not want to aggravate.
“Hello, sir,” one of them greeted me. “We’d like you to come inside to talk to someone for a minute.”
“I don’t have time now, man—I’m about to catch a bus to see my fiancée in California.”
“This won’t take long, buddy,” the guard reassured me, as he firmly grabbed hold of my arm. For a wild instant, I considered just taking off, but somehow that did not seem like a wise move, so I allowed him to lead me into the hospital.
The guards directed me towards the admissions office. The whole situation was starting to seem bizarre. How had I ended up in a psychiatric hospital when I was just waiting for Mr. Richards? Suddenly, intense frustration fed the fire of my irritability. How would I explain this delay to Taylor? I no longer trusted these guards or anyone around me. They were trying to keep me from Taylor! I screamed for Mr. Richards to hurry up. Instead, I seemed to summon another two security guards. The next thing I knew they were grabbing all my limbs. I could not believe it.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I had totally lost it. I began to sound like my crass, ignorant neighbors Jim and Gary. “Get your redneck hands off of me! Do you know who I am? I’m on my way to see Taylor Swift! Call her up, and ask her yourselves!”
Within minutes they had my arms and legs bound to a bed. A psychiatrist entered the room, asking me tons of questions, but I could not even respond to most of them; I could no longer focus on anything except Taylor. Why was this happening? These people were all trying to stymie me, to keep me stuck, not just in my hometown, but in a psych ward! I wondered if Jim and Gary had conspired with those guards to ruin my life—those bastards. I could tell the doctor did not believe me. He thought I was crazy. Euphemistically, he called it a “manic episode.” He told me I was too out of control to leave. They were keeping me there! Taylor’s voice boomed out from nowhere, “Run, Kevin! Come to me!”
I tried to do what she asked of me. I did everything in my power, but did not have a chance against those beefy, macho guards. Everyone had betrayed me—Jim and Gary, Mr. Richards, the security guards. I thrashed, I hollered, but it accomplished nothing other than incensing me even more.
I have been here five weeks now. I have learned not to mention anything about Taylor or our mansion on the hill. I take their pills. I keep my passions under wraps. I maintain my composure. I’m pleasant toward everyone. This way I will soon “earn” that weekend pass and be on my way.
I try not to let them shatter my nascent dreams. But Taylor has not spoken to me in a few weeks. I can not imagine that she could be tired of waiting for me or that she would ever allow me to step foot again in that sea of despair—in that desolate, ramshackle apartment building where two bullies would greet me, “Welcome home, psycho boy.” She is probably just giving me some privacy.
STEVE SOBEL, MD graduated from medical school at Tel Aviv University and subsequently completed his psychiatry residency and research fellowship at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Currently, he is the medical director at Northwestern Counseling and Support Services, a community mental health center in rural Vermont. He is also the clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and strongly believes that diagnostic interviewing should include listening to patients’ personal stories.