Transcript of 4th Session between Charles Balis, M.D. and Mr. Thomas Darden, Friday, April 4, 1997 at 4:00 pm.

Mr. Darden: Charles?
Dr. Balis: Oh hello, Tom. Sorry. Come on in and have a seat while I put these away.
Mr. Darden: Taxes, eh?
Dr. Balis: Yes. I've been putting these forms off for too long.
Mr. Darden: Well, I guess that's one good thing about being poor--takes two minutes to fill out the EZ form and then it's off to the mailbox. I don't have to worry about factoring in all those pesky investments like stocks and CDs and so forth. I've already received my refund. Now I can finally afford those dirt floors I've always dreamed about.
Dr. Balis: How was your week? Free of ritual killings, I trust?
Mr. Darden: Yeah, no murderous rages this week. There's only so many ways you can reheat leftover girl scouts, you know.
Dr. Balis: Isn't that the truth.
Mr. Darden: Anyway, I apologize again for being so snappy toward you during the last session. That was really inexcusable.
Dr. Balis: Nothing to be sorry for, Tom. I admire the way you handle your frustration, in a way. Your sardonic style of humor seems to increase proportionately to your anger. Actually, I find it very healthy.
Mr. Darden: Just a shame I have to be angry to get a few laughs. So where were we last week?
Dr. Balis: Well, your brief references these past few sessions to your stepfather obviously paint a very grim picture. Tell me about him.
Mr. Darden: I really shouldn't give him any more airtime than he deserves, but I'll tell you what you want to know: he was the most twisted son-of-a-bitch who ever slithered his way into our lives. When I think back on him, I'm reminded of that drill sergeant from the movie "Full Metal Jacket." Except John was short and bald. Maybe that's what his problem was: he had a short complex. Always barking out orders, made us call him "Sir." But I'd be damned before I ever called him "Dad." He didn't deserve such an honor.
Dr. Balis: Was he in the military himself?
Mr. Darden: Army sergeant. He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. I'm not too familiar with the particulars of exactly how he went from Captain to a non-commissioned officer, but the gist of it was that the Army had had a surplus of officers during the war and solved the problem by demoting many of them. About twelve years ago, he was able to sue the government over it and received a settlement, but that came after Mom's divorce, conveniently enough. Anyway, I think the demotion made him bitter. He was a very angry man, and I only refer to him as a man for gender purposes.
Dr. Balis: Your mother met him two years after your father's death?
Mr. Darden: Right. They met at a county fair, of all places. His two sons were participating in some equestrian event or something, I can't exactly remember what. John was originally from Texas, you see, and I guess he had lived on a small ranch at one time, so that's how he brought up his kids. Mom worked with John's sister and she sort of set the two up. I wish that'd never happened. Mom brought us to the fair and introduced my brother and me to him, and immediately I sensed something phony about John, like he was putting on some kind of an act. The bad thing was Mom fell for it.
Dr. Balis: What was it about him that tipped you off?
Mr. Darden: Just his mannerisms. It was like he didn't really know how to be nice. The things he said sounded awkward, even to a kid. The clincher in my mind was when he sat me down and had this "man-to-man" talk with me, saying how much he wanted us all to be together as a family and how much he loved my mother. Keep in mind they had only dated for about a month. Everything during that time seemed to be happening way too fast, and it was pretty obvious that Mom was being caught up in his lies.
Dr. Balis: How long was their courtship?
Mr. Darden: Well, let's see. They met in July and were married in November. About four months. Four months! I don't know what Mom was thinking.
Dr. Balis: Perhaps your Mom was trying to keep the best interests of you and your brother in mind when she made the decision. She may have thought having a father figure in your life would benefit the both of you. How old were John's two sons?
Mr. Darden: David, the oldest, was 19 at the time. Lynn was 17. They were almost as abusive as John. It was like they were tentacles of him, and even when he wasn't around, Dave and Lynn would be right there to take up where he left off. Dave was definitely the worst of the two, though. At least Lynn had some sense of humanity to him. He'd sometimes stick up for us, but then other times he'd just wig out.
Dr. Balis: What sort of abuse did you endure?
Mr. Darden: Well, it wasn't sexual, but when I think back on a couple incidents I think it's possible John tried. It was physical and psychological. He really knew how to get under your skin. I guess they teach that in the military. The abuse didn't start until shortly before Mom and John's wedding. One day I was in a light argument with my Mom, when all of a sudden I felt this sharp pain in my ass. John had kicked me as hard as he could, and he was wearing cowboy boots at the time. A little safety tip, Charles: asses and cowboy boots don't mix.
Dr. Balis: What was your mother's reaction?
Mr. Darden: She trusted his judgment by that point. Mom gave me a "you deserved it" look and that was that. She told us later that John would help teach us discipline.
Dr. Balis: Did he abuse your younger brother, too?
Mr. Darden: Alex? Yes, but I tried to shield him from it when I could. I mean, I didn't physically get in between John and my brother when Alex was being hit, but I would do things to make John focus his attentions on me in general.
Dr. Balis: How often did the abuse occur?
Mr. Darden: After the marriage, it was pretty much daily. John had his prize so he didn't have to put on a show anymore. He had us pack our things and we all moved to an army base near Scranton. The housing situation was awful. The place was pretty run-down, and I remember this lingering odor in all the rooms, like maybe there was once a fire. I hear you can never get that musty, smoky smell out of a house that's had a fire, so that's probably what had happened. It was a three-bedroom apartment, so Dave and Lynn shared a room and Alex and I shared one. I think that was the one good thing about the whole situation, because Alex and I could commiserate. I remember how every night, we'd plan out how to murder John and move back to Swiftwater. We'd entertain ourselves with new ways of killing him. Alex got the bright idea to slice off his legs and then stand the limbs up in the middle of the living room with "these boots are made for walking" scrawled in blood on one wall.
Dr. Balis: What else would John do?
Mr. Darden: Well, he had these really strict rituals that we needed to abide by every day. Like the beds had to be made so tightly that they'd pass that stupid bouncing quarter test. What's with that anyway? How is not making your bed a danger to national security? I've never heard of soldiers getting killed because the sheets on their bed weren't tight enough. Anyway, if they didn't pass that test, he'd tear them apart and send us back to our room to redo them--he didn't care if we missed the school bus or not. Then he'd beat our asses raw until we got it right. Alex and I started using safety pins to pin the sheets to the mattress. Kind of a crude trick but it worked. Then there was dinner. John was very particular about our behavior at the dinner table. Dave and Lynn sat at one end of the table while Mom and Alex sat on either side of John. I sat next to my Mom. We weren't permitted to sit back in our chairs: we had to sit on the very edge of the seat and keep our backs straight. He'd go around the table to make sure everyone was doing this. If he caught you sitting back in your chair, he'd use one of those long bread knives to slap the exposed part of your ass. When he sat down, we all had to pass our plates over to him. He decided what you ate and how much. John knew exactly what foods each of us liked and didn't like--he had found that out during his "nice" stage. Once he knew that I liked mashed potatoes and gravy, he made sure I never got any. When he realized that Alex and I hated hot peppers on our steak sandwiches, he'd put extra heaps of them on the bun and make us eat every bite. One night we had chicken--everybody got a decent piece of meat except for me. He gave me the chicken neck and made me eat that. Strict table manners had to be adhered to at all times. If we were chewing, we weren't allowed to hold our forks. The knife had to be resting at a 12 o'clock position on the plate when it wasn't in use. Alex learned the table manners well, because John kept him close enough to slap a spoon hard onto his head if he did something wrong. I remember one day when it was Alex's birthday, John started going off on him, slapping him silly until he was crying, then sent him up to his room without dinner. It turned out that John only did that so that my Mom would have time to bring out the birthday cake. So when John called Alex back down, the lights had been turned off and the candles were lit and everyone was singing "Happy Birthday." My brother still had tears streaming down his face. John beat us around a lot, sure, but it was the head games like that incident that really affected us.
Dr. Balis: It sounds like he was a very disturbed individual. You mentioned a couple incidents that you believe could have turned into sexually abusive situations. Can you tell me about them?
Mr. Darden: John liked to prove his manliness a lot by wrestling around, even it if was with someone much younger and obviously weaker like me and Alex. One time he grabbed me while I was doing one of my daily chores and pinned me down. I kept telling him to stop, to get off me. "Quit squirming," he yelled. He pulled my pants down. I started crying. Finally he picked me up, walked me toward the front door and threw me outside, with my pants still hanging at my knees. He thought this was extremely funny. Another time, I walked up to my bedroom to find John standing over Alex as he slept. John was wearing just his robe and he was just staring down at my brother. He wasn't looking at him like my Mom would look at us. He looked like a predator. It really sent chills through me. Then he suddenly turned and realized I was there. "What the fuck are you staring at?" he yelled. My brother woke up and immediately cowered into a little ball with the pillow in front of him.
Dr. Balis: Have you talked to your brother about this and the possibility of abuse?
Mr. Darden: Yeah, we discussed it. He says nothing like that ever happened. I sure hope so. Jesus! John really dicked us all. I hope that sick son of a bitch is dead now.
Dr. Balis: Obviously the level of abuse escalated as time went on. How was your mother taking all this?
Mr. Darden: She blocked it all out. She was sort of like a robot. When we'd tell her what John would do to us, she'd say things like, "there's nothing wrong. Everything's fine." It was so mechanical how she said it. Like she had been brainwashed.
Dr. Balis: Was she also abused?
Mr. Darden: In a different way. John and Mom's bedroom was right next to ours, so we could hear things. Many nights, I'd hear my Mom screaming, telling John to stop. Now, I know the difference between orgasmic screams and those of someone in distress, and I tell you Mom was not having a good time. He'd wrestle around with her and stick the pillow over her face and do who knows what else. Plus he was cheating on her. He was screwing around with some bimbo who worked at the officer's club. But what really scared the piss out of me was something Aunt Denise had told me. I guess John was screening Mom's phone calls, listening in to her conversations and generally being possessive. Denise said that one night Mom called her and said that she feared for her life. I guess she was finally beginning to realize what kind of nut John really was.
Dr. Balis: Was it at that point that your mother sought a divorce?
Mr. Darden: No. Actually, it was more John's doing. He told her that he was being assigned to a different housing area, which was large enough only for him and his two sons. So he had Mom, Alex and me move back to our apartment in Swiftwater "temporarily." What John was really doing was making his apartment available for the bitch from the officer's club. Needless to say, we never moved back in with John. Mom filed for divorce about a month later.
Dr. Balis: So how long were they married?
Mr. Darden: About two years.
Dr. Balis: Well, obviously there's a lot of animosity that has been generated from this episode in your life, and clearly the fact that your stepfather's abuse, compounded by the new surroundings and your adjustment to a new school, played a role in the development of your social behavior. I know replaying those events today in your mind must have rekindled some of that hatred. I'd like to delve more into this anger and perhaps, in time, we can try to manage it together.
Mr. Darden: Sure. Maybe we can hunt him down and stick his head on a pike. I think we could manage my anger a lot better after that.
Dr. Balis: I'm sure we could, but I make it a point not to conduct sessions with iron bars separating me from my clients.
Mr. Darden: Good point. See you next week, Charles.
Dr. Balis: Take care, Tom.
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