‘Have a seat,’ she says, swooping me into the office with her left hand. An instinctive, graceful movement that gives me the impression she used to be a ballet dancer. ‘Just have to finish up some details and I’ll be right with you.’ She heads off to her business office, while I head into our talk zone.
The office is standard shrink. Subdued, rich, dark green carpeting with a simple checkered design. The walls are three shades lighter, reminding me of lime sherbet and are littered with various college degrees. BA from Boston University, Graduate degree from Holy Cross, PhD from Tufts.
Two floor to ceiling windows are on the opposite wall and look out over a side alley so narrow I need to press my face to the glass just to see concrete. The main view is the beige brick siding of the building next door. David would be betting me he could make that jump, claiming it can’t be more than ten feet. I smile at the thought.
The window treatments are functional, simple, yet somehow elegant. Hanging slats that can be spread apart pulling one chain, swivel to block the sun pulling another. I experiment to figure out which chain does what and notice they barely make a sound when I move them.
Flowerless plants are placed by each of the windows on solid, cylindrical end tables that have no legs and no character. They are yet another shade of green.
Everything soothing. Non threatening. Boring.
Hanging between the two windows is a picture of Therapist about fifteen years younger. She’s accepting some sort of plaque while shaking hands with Bill Clinton. Clinton barely has any grey in his hair; his Presidential twinkle turned up to full wattage. Wonder if he tried to grab her ass at some point during their meeting. What I assume is the plaque Clinton is presenting to her in the picture is hanging just below, perfectly aligned. 'Presidential Achievement' of something or other. Blah blah.
She's taking her sweet time.
I'm about to stroll over to my usual seat when I notice a small, unframed picture stuck to the wall with a thumbtack. The corners are just starting to curl, testifying to it's longevity in the location. There are two tack holes on each side of the picture, as if she had to try twice to get the photo just where she wanted it.
The picture is of Therapist with her husband and daughter (I'm guessing) on either side. All are sitting on deck chairs on a dock. Hubby and daughter have scooted to the edge of their chairs so they all fit in the picture. Behind them are those dozens of those little sailboats, all pointing in the same direction. Must be a race. What's it called? Ricotta? No, idiot! That's a cheese. Regatta!! That's it.
Daughter is a beauty. All the sharply defined features of her mother without the harshness. Could be a model if she chose. Husband, while smiling, seems distracted and confused. He's looking past the camera, like something behind the person taking the picture has caught his eye, but he can't figure out what.
'Lake Ossippee,' she says behind me. 'Bought that cabin nearly 20 years ago. Makes me feel old just thinking about it.'
'Worth it?' still looking at the picture.
'Every penny. We have spent a lot of time up there. We've made some improvements over the years, so it hardly classifies as a cabin anymore. Nice to get away from the city and unwind.'
I consider the possibility that I may never be able to unwind again. It's a depressing thought that clamps me in place for a few seconds. I pretend to study the picture while I struggle to get back in control.
Looking back, she has taken her seat, legs crossed, legal pad on her lap, pen poised and ready to note my ramblings.
'What are we talking about today?' She smiles while asking, but it's calculated. She has a plan.
'You tell me,' I offer. Might as well get to it.
'Have you gone back to work, yet?'
Ah! 'I don't know if I can go back there.'
'That's understandable. Do you think you will at some point?'
I shake my head.
'Are you still being paid?'
'Everyone has been given 3 months off with pay. They're offering grief counseling and..' I motion towards her.
'Right. You attend any of the grief sessions?'
'They're group sessions. I'm not ready to see anyone from work.'
'Often those can be helpful. Sharing your thoughts and problems with people that went through the same thing you....'
'None of them went through what I did!' She flinches a bit at the anger.
'You were all there from the beginning. You all...'
'Are you telling me those people could tell me what it's like to do what I did? That they would understand what it is I'm going through?'
Her silence answers for her.
A random thought pops up. I look at her, making sure we have solid eye contact. 'Are you afraid of me?'
Defiance flashes in her eyes. 'I'm concerned for you. You are very angry. Understandably so, but if you don't find ways to deal with it....Look, I've seen this many times before. Anger...rage is very destructive. The ones that did this to you and the others aren't here anymore. They can't....'
'Is that who you think I'm angry with?' I nearly laugh.
She stops, momentarily confused, 'Who are you angry with?'
'Why can't I just be angry at the injustice of it all? Why does it have to be directed at a specific someone?'
'You don't strike me as someone who 'Rages Against the Machine', so to speak.'
'I don't even know what that means'
'Exactly,' she answers, confusing me more.
Before I can ask for clarification, she continues 'I want to try something today.'
'A simple exercise, then I'll ask my question for today.'
'Is your definition of simple the same as mine?'
'I hope so, for your sake.' A smile. Did she just make a joke?
'I reserve the right to back out if I don't like where it's going, ok?'
'I want you take a particular memory from that day. You don't have to tell me what it is, but I want you to get it in your head.'
Before I can stop it, Angela's face appears. Her tear streaked face turning back as they lead her out the door. Our eyes meet for a split second and I read the undiluted terror and despair; the pleading for someone to do something, before she turns the corner and is gone forever.
'Thanks,' I say angrily.
'Sorry,' but she doesn't mean it. 'But that moment you just had? Even though I don't know what it is, I'm betting that's the turning point for you. That was the switch that made you do what you did.
I say nothing, still recovering and afraid my voice will betray me.
Nod. Tears now, despite myself. I fucking hate this woman!
She reaches out and almost touches me, but I retreat. 'I'm sorry,' she says again, but this one has more feeling. Or maybe I'm just more emotional and hear it that way.
'Last week you mentioned feeling like a zombie,' she says, handing me a flowery box of tissues.
'Do you remember?'
I nod again, but don't look.
'Whether you were aware of it or not, that was a perfect description of how you might be feeling. Someone who is the living dead. Or was dead and brought back to life. At some point during that ordeal, you may have given up on yourself. On everyone that was with you. Accepted death. But you are still here. You're still alive. It's time to start putting it back together.'
The entire time she's talking I'm staring at the green carpeting with it's little squares etched out in gold. Her voice has a gentle rhythm and cadence to it that calms me down. Manages to get me back to a normal breathing rate.
'I need you to look at me,' she says.
'I'm not sure I can,' but I do. Lift my head and look her in the eye. For some reason I expected to find a scornful, motherly look, but instead I see compassion and a touch of fear. Maybe she is scared of me.
'You are not dead. You managed to survive that day.'
I say and do nothing. Just look at her for a beat, then away.
'You ready for your question?'
This makes me laugh. It's an unsteady, soggy laugh. 'You haven't tortured me enough?'
'It's a simple one and I don't want you to answer me today.'
Intrigued, 'Why not today?'
'Because this answer won't be verbal. Your answer will be whether you show up next week or not.'
She's giving me an out. 'Go ahead.'
'Do you wish you died that day? If you do, then don't bother coming back. You can pretend things didn't happen the way they did. You can try and fake the rest of your life, but you will never be the same from this. I think you already know that. Or maybe you want to just walk out the front door and into the path of the next bus? Take the coward's way out.'
She leans forward a bit, 'But if you didn't want to die, if you wanted - and want - to keep living, despite everything you went through, then I expect to see you next time. You have the weekend to think it over.'
With that she stood, picked up her stupid yellow pad, turned her bony, ugly ass to me and walked out the door, leaving me sitting there. Face stiff with dried tears. Wet tissues balled in my hand. Feeling abandoned, naked and raw.
I fucking hate that woman.