Of all people, Tony understands the importance of ritual. The structure and order humans have to impose on a chaotic world so that their lives have meaning, purpose. Even choosing not to have routine is a ritual sometimes, but even his most chaotic patients try to impose order on their lives somehow. That’s what makes most of them so dangerous.
And it’s the little rituals that mean the most to most people. Getting dressed before breakfast or after it. Whether a coat is for work or for the weekend. Books arranged by size or by subject. Leaving shoes on a rack in the hall or tossed in the bottom of the wardrobe. Coffee in the mornings, tea in the afternoons. Clearing the remnants of the last case off the desk, ready for the new one to land on it.
Despite what Carol thinks, Tony does have a filing system for the things that matter. Patient notes have to be safely locked away, student essays have to be marked (eventually), police case files have to be returned or shredded. His own notes are on the computer in password-protected files organised by year. He knows colleagues who keep them by type of patient or type of psychosis, but he’s never really found that helps. Each person is a unique blend of their own brain chemistry and experience, and as much as they tend to react in similar ways to similar situations, it’s dangerous to ignore the outliers on the bell curve.
With the way his memory works, he’s more likely to remember them in clusters, grouping together patients he was seeing around the same time as someone else. Of course, over the last few years it’s been more like whose treatment was interrupted by what police case, but it’s a system that works for him. At the end of each case, clinical or criminal, he puts the closing date in the file name and moves it to the appropriate folder. He has to be able to do that, to move it into the right compartment, waiting for recall if needed.
There are times when he wishes he had the same kind of system for ordering his kitchen cupboards. During a case, he doesn’t worry too much about the little things; laundry, washing up, stuff like that. The trappings that make life more pleasant but aren’t really important. Not the way people are important. Except that he has a tendency to forget that he’s a person too, and that little things like eating and clean clothes might not be very interesting, but they’re pretty nice all the same.
When Carol first arranged for Sonia to come around, he’d told her she was overreacting. Then she’d asked him why he was wearing his jumper inside out, and he’d had to admit it was because he’d got ketchup down it two days ago and hadn’t been able to find a clean one. Then he’d had to admit that maybe she had a point. And now he also has to admit that Sonia is pretty good at her job. She doesn’t touch his papers or move things around that might, however tangentially, have some bearing on a case. Before she started coming, Tony had totally underestimated how nice it was to know that the milk he was about to put in his coffee hadn’t gone off, or even how nice it was to always have a clean mug for the coffee in the first place.
She doesn’t mother him or humour him. Most of the time, they communicate by notes anyway. Thanks for the milk or I put the steak in the freezer along with whatever cash he owes her for the shopping. He suspects Carol lets her know when a case is finished, because he often comes home to a blue bag on the kitchen table with a new loaf of bread, some fresh fruit and a few ready meals. It’s not that he can’t cook - well, he understands the theory of cooking, anyway - it’s more that he has a tendency to sleep for fifteen hours straight and wake up starving. There’s something about the smell of toast and the instant gratification of food-to-plate in less than fifteen minutes that puts his world back on track.
Ritual again. There’s no escaping it, no matter how much humans try. Better just to acknowledge, accept, move on, rather than try to fight one of the most basic of instincts. Not that he doesn’t appreciate variety as well. If it’s been a bad case, there’ll be a bottle of wine in the bag as well, usually one of Carol’s favourites, and Tony makes sure he puts two of the meals in the microwave. If it’s been worse than that, there’s no bag at all, and he just turns around and heads back out again, knowing that he’s supposed to collect food on his way. He’s good at hearing the unsaid, and Carol is good at not talking.
Part of him - the part that’s Tony Hill rather than Doctor Tony Hill, clinical psychologist - bristles slightly at reacting this way. He has a faint sense that both Sonia and Carol are managing him, handling him, and he hates being prodded in the right direction. Fortunately for him, the psychologist part of his brain, the part that he couldn’t turn off if he wanted to, knows that it’s the right direction and is able to let the frustration go. It’s not Carol’s fault, or Sonia’s, that he can sometimes be so completely oblivious, and at least they’re prompting him rather than expecting him to notice and getting upset when he doesn’t. Aberrant personalities are his field; he’s always off his game when it comes to social interaction. He needs it to be that way, for the sake of his patients, his students and his police work, and he’s not ungrateful for the people who try to shepherd him into what probably passes as normal human behaviour.
He knows Carol still finds it a bit unnerving when he turns up on her doorstep with a takeaway that turns out to be just what she wanted. It’s not much of a trick, but it’s one he likes, something trivial in the middle of such seriousness. The wine he’s had to learn over time, and he’s never as certain on that ground, mostly because Carol herself isn’t. Sometimes she likes to try something new and sometimes she likes something that she knows she’s going to like. As her tastes are so varied on that front - white or red, French or Spanish- he can’t predict that one and his hit rate is more like sixty percent. But he’s learning. And she hasn’t refused to help him finish the bottle yet.
And when he wakes up on her sofa or spare bed or - on one occasion that he really wishes he could remember - in the bath, with a crick in his neck and marsala sauce on his shirt sleeve, there’s something secure about knowing that at home Sonia will have hung his wet washing up to dry so that his bathroom will smell of soap, and that there’ll be enough tins of beans the cupboard to keep him going for at least a week. If he’s lucky, she might even have bought him some yogurt. He’ll leave the cash on top of the receipt and file the blue bag with all the others. She’ll have known that it was now okay to hoover the carpet and pile the papers and photographs on the corner of his desk, like pressing the reset button on his flat, getting it ready for the next case.
It leaves Tony free to try and work the kinks out of his back, get a spare towel from Carol’s airing cupboard and put the coffee on as he heads towards the shower. That’s his morning ritual - shower, coffee, breakfast, clothes, patients - and getting back to it brings him back to routine, back to normal.
Well. Normal for him, anyway.