The Investigative Approach

By Caitlin Reilly

    The constant practice of non-commitment has led me to ponder many things. For example, how have I managed to tack together what I’m told are two of the most useless majors to study? Also, how have I managed to become and remain, so restlessly alone? That is, in a romantic sense. A little plastic compact disc case can be found tucked significantly between copies of textbooks from favorite courses of my underclassman days. Occasionally I stumble across this case, open it, and read the handwritten script on the digital videodisk inside: “Study 193 Couple 007,” then possible answers to these questions sprout in my mind.

    The disk was filmed on an October morning in 2010. My partner and I made a grand hike towards Kent Hall, where psychology studies and psychology classes took place. For extra points in class he and I volunteered to be in what seemed to be a hefty investigation as the study website offered ten credit points to young couples that had been together for at least one year. Ten points were pretty lavish for one session of participation. My partner and I met and exceeded the criteria. We joked about being hooked up to lab machines and made to memorize trigonometry while running on a treadmill or being hypnotized and tricked into divulging dirty secrets as we walked to the lab that morning, and shared a fragrant smoke.

    “Be careful,” he warned as we made our way through the sleek black doors “not to make a Freudian slip.”

    We navigated the halls of the psychology building. I had yet to declare my major in the field, so each crisp corridor of either all white or deep divergent blue walls seemed to look the same. Each abstract painting, which I’d assumed to be some sort of take on the Rorschach inkblots, only offered confusion. Finally, on the second floor, my partner and I met the two very serious Matthews. They were each dressed in starchy, condensed white shirts with trendy black ties tucked into cardigans of either muted forest green, or baby blue. They both had light hair, and one Matthew, the stockier of the two, had glasses. I greeted them with an unnecessarily enthusiastic “Hello!”, as I tend to do when feeling nervous in semi professional situations. The Matthews remained static: unsmiling, but approachable. They took us to the lab.

    While my partner and I imagined to each other, that the lab would have sleek stainless steel countertops, and mazes crawling with mice high on amphetamines, The Matthews led us to a very small office with walls that were just two shades too lemony to be eggshell white. A short brown carpet with some silly postmodern design spread out beneath a grey armchair facing a grey couch that had been handsomely decorated with two perfectly puffed and symmetrical throw pillows the color of candy apples. The furniture looked like it hade been made of a groomsman’s suit and handkerchief. 

    My partner and I took a seat on the couch, and I hugged one of the crimson puffs. One Matthew sat across from us, and there was a Formica coffee table between us, upon which a microphone with a glowing red power indicator and a box of facial tissues sat. Matthew explained with what seemed like either great seriousness or mind numbing boredom that we would be separated from each other for the first part of the interview. He made it clear that some of the questions might make us uncomfortable, and that we would be video recorded. If we wanted a copy on a digital videodisk, we could receive one later, if we would just sign this sheet, and these consent forms. We signed and soon, my partner and his designated Matthew were gone.

    My Matthew, the stocky, bespectacled one, hunched over, adjusting his glasses to search for a prompt in the clipboard in his lap. Then, for the first time, the corners of his mouth turned up to smile, just briefly. He offered me a plastic bottle of water, which I took out of apprehension, and the questioning began.

    “How long have you known your partner?”
    “Two years”
    “On a scale of one to ten with ten being very much so and one being not at all, how happy would you say you are with your partner?” I needed to explain something.
    “Well sometimes it’s really great, but not always, obviously.” I said, struggling distractedly to twist open the water bottle.
    “We can only take one answer for the interview,” Matthew said. “What would you say it is over all, on a scale of one to ten.” I hesitated, and finally freed the cap from the plastic bottle, left to think. Matthew began to repeat the question.
    “On a scale of one to ten…”
    “Ummm… For the most part I guess a five or six.”
    “If you had to choose one, what would it be?”
    “Five.”

    Throughout the interrogation I tried to have a laugh with Matthew. Maybe then I could figure out what he wanted me to say, or I’d get him to blow off the deep things, but he wouldn’t have it. He seemed to listen to me through the lenses of his glasses, the glare of the fluorescent light scanning in front of his thirsty eyes. “How often do you and your partner engage in intercourse, oral sex, what some may call “Heavy petting”? Do you have a family history of depression? Have you experienced suicidal tendencies? Is your partner aware of the extent of your mental illness? Do you and your partner habitually use or abuse mind-altering substances together? Does your partner have a history of mental illness?” I began to pull at my wooly orange sweater. I rearranged my brown hair into a neat bun on the top of my head while fumbling with answers which I knew well but had never practiced. The plastic palm tree perched in the corner offered no mindless escape, nor did the grey oil-paint cityscape framed on the pale yellow wall. In the corner of the high ceilings, to Matthew’s left, I noted the video camera, staring just as blankly as my interpreter. I asked Matthew if he minded that I did a quick sun salutation on his crappy brown carpeting to harness my thoughts. I was acting ridiculous, but Matthew unsmilingly allowed me to do so and fervently noted this in his book before continuing to the final half of the interview.

    “How is your relationship with your partner’s parents?” Matthew asked. I talked to him about Emma, who could never pronounce my name, but she’d offered me a place to stay while her other son was in jail. I told him about how Emma would fix p’loff without meat in it so that she could feed it to me and to fatten me up. I Matthew about Sam, who would explain to me in a thick Moldovian accent that his beloved 14 year old cat was too sick to live in the house anymore, and why it’s important to know how to fix American cars and know how to change one’s own oil.

    “How is your partner’s relationship with your parents?” Matthew asked. I told him it was not well.
    “How often do you and your partner argue?”
    “Almost never.”
    “What things would you change about your partner if you could?” I went on and on.
    “Can you imagine yourself with your partner in five years?” Matthew asked this with a special sense of detachment and monotony, yet it tore through me like a child through a well-wrapped birthday gift. He repeated the question and moments later, I answered.
    “No.” 

    My partner and I rejoined each other in the stark and spotless corridors of Kent Hall. I had balled tearsoaked tissues in my sweater pocket. My partner greeted me with welcoming but curious brown eyes. He told me that he’d even cried when they asked about his brother. As noontime light poured through the windows next to their lab, The Matthews handed us each an enveloped check, and thanked us for our time with grateful, measured professionalism.

    “That was pretty cool,” I said, as the golden and pumpkin colored tree leaves waved us out of our research state. “I think it’d be nice to do things like those Matthew guys. Measuring things like robots. They must always know what they’re talking about” My partner laughed and threw his arm into a loop around mine, an action that was so reflexive of us both at the time.

    “I don’t know,” he replied, grinning the way he would when he was confused “It got kind of deep, but hey, if you like that sort of thing, maybe you could try that instead of dropping out.” After a short only slightly unusual silence, very nonchalantly, my partner asked how I’d responded when asked if I couldn’t see us together in five years. I giggled nervously, and took his hand.