It’s that standing appointment you have, when you find yourself sitting across from your therapist, those doe eyes, pursed lips, expressionless, with her flowery cardigan and placid disposition, in her suburban office in a converted townhouse in the East End that reeks of potpourri and scented candles, littered with overstuffed throw pillows stitched with positive affirmations, a poster of the Serenity Prayer tacked to the back of the door, muted classical music drifting in from the lobby. She just glares at you the way she does, expecting you to come up with the answers. You want to tell her that if you could come up with the answers you wouldn’t need to be here to begin with, could save the drive across town in traffic and pocket the two-hundred-dollars-an-hour, even with insurance, to put toward your efforts to self-medicate because that helps you more than this. But you resist. And you shift position. And you glance around and wonder why the hell there are so many boxes of tissues in this room.
These bi-weekly sessions have become such a drag, and a drain, and you strain to get through them, fifty minutes to sort through the myriad of issues you’ve allowed to accumulate and fester for too long. But you can’t give up now, for whatever reason, perhaps out of fear that if you did your life would truly go off the rails. And besides, what else would you be doing on a Wednesday evening at seven-thirty? The really funny part (not funny, ha-ha, but funny fucked up) is that this therapist was recommended to you by her, because this therapist did such a bang-up job for her that she thought you might benefit as well. She worried about you like that. She worried about a lot of things like that. Until she didn’t. Yet here you are still, with this same therapist, those doe eyes, and you don’t believe you have made any progress whatsoever and it could be that you don’t deserve to.
Your therapist ends this silent stalemate by asking if you’ve been journaling. You catch yourself from snickering, and lie to tell her what you know she wants to hear. “Uh-huh” and “yep” you reply, confident, a little too confident, with a wink. Then you think how that’s not altogether a total fabrication (and could be you’re lying to yourself) since you do have every intention of journaling. It’s just that whenever the moment arises, you can never find a note pad and a functioning pen, a goddamn gazillion pens from a goddamn gazillion places and none with any goddamn ink. You slink into the sofa that’s way too soft to be comfortable, and it’s more just overwhelming, and numbing, and all-consuming, and you stare across at the words of the Serenity Prayer and you would figure that by now you might have memorized it but that last part always stumps you. You want to shrink into these pale blue and white cushions and disappear, to reappear somewhere else, somewhere different, better maybe, where you don’t have to worry about someone analyzing you, where you don’t have to worry, where you already have the answers. But you know that’s not possible, least not for the present, not ever perhaps. So you sigh, and clasp your hands, and sit up as best as you can because this couch is utterly devoid of any support and you might as well be sitting on the floor, and you can’t understand why the fuck there are so many boxes of tissues in this room — wherever you turn, on every table, on ever ledge, a box of tissues.
Your therapist writes something down in the note pad that she cradles on her lap, legs crossed, the pen scratching the course paper. Your stomach grumbles because you haven’t eaten dinner yet. And you could kill for a cigarette, or a greasy slice of pizza, or both. When she’s done writing, journaling, she looks up at you, those dead eyes, and asks you what you want out of this. You’re not sure you heard her right, so you say, “out of what?” She shrugs, like it’s obvious, or that she’s bored, and she repeats, with emphasis, “out of any of this.” You sink back into the couch, and you think about it, and you think about it, and you think about it, and you can hear the muted classical music drifting in from the lobby, and the tick-tick-ticking of the stoic clock on the opposite wall, and the door to the building opening and closing and the heavy footsteps of her next victim, or patient, entering. Your mind goes blank, and you feel your cheeks get flushed, and your pulse quickens, as she glares at you the way she does, and you’re certain she will happily leave you here to squirm and dangle until either you answer her or this couch completely engulfs you. So you say something, anything, just to be done and finished with this.
“Serenity?” you offer, weakly, more a question than an answer but still.
Your therapist takes a moment, and then nods, like maybe that makes sense, or maybe it doesn’t, maybe that answer is completely bonkers but she would never lead on as such to you because that would be bad for business, as she writes something else in her note pad, scratching, scratching, scratching. Your mouth is running dry, and you take a tissue not because you necessarily need a tissue but just because it was there within arm’s reach. You wad the tissue in your hands and it absorbs the perspiration in your palms. When she finishes writing she looks back up at you, and sort of smiles, as if you passed this pop quiz, and concludes, satisfied, “very good,” and notices the clock and mercifully announces that “our time seems to be up.” You consider it more your time than hers since you’re paying for it yet you’re relieved that it’s up all the same. You awkwardly extricate yourself from the man-eating couch, careful not to pull a muscle or fart, and pretend that this has helped, and stroll out into the lobby to hand your credit card over to the receptionist to swipe (and if anything you’re that much closer to your out-of-pocket max), then move past the next patient waiting, neither of you making eye contact, some unwritten code, but no doubt both of you wondering if the other is more screwed up and thinking probably so, and you leave, maybe to get something to eat, but probably just to go straight home.
This short story is from the collection, Three in the Morning and You Don’t Smoke Anymore (Insomnia Edition), available now exclusively as an e-book on Amazon and for Kindle Unlimited.