Halfway through my ten sessions of anger management with Dave Knoepfler, I was on the verge of suicide. What was my offense? I caught my wife in bed with my best friend, Carl Stratton, one night last summer when the drilling rig shut down early. As Carl scrambled to put on his pair of pants, I landed a jab to his jaw, the blow breaking it so that it had to be wired for six weeks. After striking Carl, I shook Brooke, my wife of three years, asking her the whole time “just what the hell was going on.” After shaking her twice, I immediately let go.
“Go ahead, hit me. You want to. I know you do.” When I backed away, she said, “You know Jake, you always were a lousy lay, you always thought you were such a man, you were always someone who never got the joke. Well, the joke’s on you. Hit me. You think you’re man enough. There was a pause. “Hell, you’re no man at all. You think I ever loved you, really loved you. Well think again.” At this juncture, she walked past me to the other side of the bed to attend to Carl. He was mumbling something about his jaw being broken.
When Riverton’s finest arrived, Brooke having called them, they acted as if I should be a bear in a cage. There were laws about this. After I spent the night in jail, my brother bailed me out. The police escorted me back to my house to gather my personal belongings so that I wouldn’t do any further harm to Carl, his jaw now wired, lying on my side of the conjugal bed I’d shared with Brooke, who sat on the bed next to him, feeding him a vanilla milkshake through a straw. As I gathered my clothes the police officer looked at me like I was something that he’d scrape off his shoe before entering his house. I moved into my brother’s spare bedroom, not that he minded but his wife did. Needless to say, my day in court didn’t go so well either. Judge Tarr, who seemed terribly sympathetic to my wife, gave me a rather harsh sentence for someone who had a spotless record until the night he discovered his wife simply was not faithful. I received a year’s probation, a thousand dollar fine, and was mandated to go through anger management classes.
Two months later, the rigs started shutting down in Parachute, like the lights of Christmas trees going out the week after New Year’s Day. My tool pusher, who seemed to like me and was sympathetic to the situation I found myself in, pulled some strings and got me a job in the Gulf of Alaska, off Soldotna. As soon as I cleared it with my probation officer, I was off for the New Frontier. When I checked in with a probation officer in Soldotna, he told me that I needed to get my anger management classes done soon, pointing out the only one doing them was Dave Knoepfler, a psychologist with an office in the strip mall on the highway that proceeded on into Homer.
I began my anger management classes with Knoepfler shortly after my arrival. They were like a boot camp for the mentally deranged. That particular Thursday was like any other March afternoon on the Kenai Peninsula, the skies overcast, every so often squeezing off a tear or two, with the sun a dull smudge hanging low in the southwestern heavens.
I waited for one o’clock, my appointed time with Knoepfler, with dread. For the four previous sessions, he had done his best to break me down psychologically. He accused me of being hot-headed, but there are certain inherent lines not crossed in something so primal as marriage. For four sessions I had put up with Dave Knoepfler’s antics, teasing me like a cat plays with a mouse he is about ready to dispatch, Knoepfler questioned my manhood, my integrity, my honesty, and, certainly, not the least, my character. During the first session, he asked how many times I had beaten my wife.
“I never beat her. Not once.”
“You were arrested for assault…”
“So I shook my wife. I never, not once, slapped her or hit her. Not once.”
Then he asked me why I was lying to him about that matter. Again, I denied it. For four sessions he had done nothing but disparage me. He gave me books on anger and violence to take back to the trailer and read. Here I was in Soldotna, not knowing a soul, nearly penniless, almost insolvent from the alimony awarded my wife, with Carl, my one-time friend, lolling about my old house like a pet dog marking his territory. I was as depressed as I ever had been in my life. There were days on the drilling platform, when I found myself looking down at the tumultuous waters of the Gulf of Alaska and thinking that if I jumped, no one would miss me. If I jumped, my problems would be over. Perhaps I didn’t simply do it because I lacked the courage to put an end to all of it.
Today, when I walked into his office, there was no one in his waiting room. There never was. Nor did he have a secretary. In lieu of having an assistant, he had an answering machine. Knoepfler knew when someone arrived by a bell chiming that was attached to the transom over the door. Whenever he heard the bell, he popped out of the door of his inner office, like a prairie dog, to test whether any predators were about.
His private office was beautifully appointed. There was a window, but when he was in session with his patients, he closed the blinds over the vista that looked over at the mall across the street. What gave the office gravity was a stately roll-top desk. During our sessions, he sat in the chair to the desk, his chair turned around to look at his client, and took notes.
A diminutive man, Knoepfler looked like the Marlboro Man, in situ, one not past his high school years. Knoeplfer, with his creaseless face, his thin mustache, his short and bandy legs, was one of those small men that looked like they never passed through puberty. I’m fairly sure that was why he sported the full mustache that he did. One minute they were choir boys, the next they were married with two kids, kept a dog, and paid a mortgage. I hated them—wearing a flannel shirt and Levi corduroys that draped over cowboy boots with Vibram soles that were popular among the men in Alaska. As I entered his office today, he popped out of the door to his inner sanctum. “Give me five minutes. I have to return a call.” Then like a prairie dog, he dove back into his inner office.
In five minutes he reappeared, “I had to return some patient calls.” Without bothering to introduce himself, he ushered me into his inner office, a small room with no windows where he allayed his patients’ woes, in the process extracting their deepest worries and buoying up their fragile and frazzled psyches. Or this was the way I pictured it before our first session.
I sat down in the over-stuffed chair and he turned towards me in his swivel chair, the roll top desk at his back. “Are you still bent on wasting my time today like you have at all our sessions so far?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t put it that way. After all I’m paying you for these sessions. From what I’ve seen so far, I haven’t been too impressed.” Though I felt like a whore in a church, I was going to try to keep things positive, so I said, “I read the books you gave me.”
“Just what did you do to your wife?”
“I shook her by the shoulders and asked her what the hell she thought she was doing sleeping with my best friend.”
“You must have said more than that.”
“I was angry. I told her that I could kill her.” That much was true.
The little bastard slouched back in his mahogany chair, sucked on the end of his expensive pen, and eyed me like an insect he had just caught. He had sleepy grey eyes of unusual cruelty. I was an insect whose wings he was about to pluck.
Then he began again to verbally abuse me, just like he had every time before. I accepted this up to a point for I knew he was trying to get a rise out of me. “I wouldn’t be surprised to find out you were fondling a little boy….” It was only then that I jumped out of the chair and bloodied his mustache with a right jab. The police would know where to find me.
By Joseph Dylan