“What was it like living with your mother?” Samantha said.
I didn’t know how to answer her, so I started with, “Uhhhh...” Brilliant.
Tilting her head to the left, she smiled.
“Quiet?” I said.
I stared down at my fingers knitted together, couldn’t remember putting them that way.
“You’re the only one,” she said. “Who knows what it was like. That’s a lonely place to be.”
I shrugged, felt like yeah, I guess I was lonely though I never would of thought of it like that. Straight out like I was lonesome. I didn’t need anybody. I sat up straight. I didn’t need anyone.
“You said it was quiet. You didn’t talk much?”
I shook my head, looked over at the nauseating bookcases.
“She would go in her room, shut the door. She liked blues. Billy Holiday. Nat King Cole. Nina Simone. She gave me a stereo for my room.”
“Did you watch television together? See movies?”
I shrugged. “News. She liked the news. We didn’t do movies.”
“So you two didn’t do much together?”
I sat there, thought about all the nights I sat alone because she was working, or because she was upset that I hadn’t cleaned the living room right, or because she couldn’t stand the sight of me for one more minute. Was I really so ugly, so horrible? I tried to breathe past the coil in my chest.
“I could never do anything right.”
Samantha shook her head, pulled her hair off her neck. “You’ve mentioned that before. So what I’m hearing is that you think there’s only one way of doing things. Do you actually believe that?”
I stared at the floor, wondered if that really was what I believed.
I’d never thought of it that way. I just couldn’t do things the way mother liked them. Wasn’t I terrible at making decisions? Which must mean that I believed there was a right choice and everything else had to be wrong. Did that inherently mean there was only one way of doing things?
I stood, paced in the space between the desk and the door. I wrapped my arms around my middle, stopped in the center of the floor. I didn’t want to think about this, so I answered, quite rudely.
“I don’t think that’s fair. I do believe there’s a right way and a wrong way, that things are bad or good or both. I know I make bad choices. I just do. I’m just so stupid! But I don’t think there’s only one way of doing things.”
I didn’t know. How could I know?
“I didn’t say that.” I pinched the bridge of my nose, squeezed my eyes shut, tried to breathe. “You asked me a question and I’m trying to answer. So don’t jump on my ass.”
I realized, then, that I’d yelled that last part, which freaked me out. Now Samantha would hit me or something. And she had to hate me. I needed her to like me.
Realizing that totally flipped me out.
I needed Samantha to like me.
God, how stupid could I’ve been?
I backed away, feeling nauseous, turned away from her and covered my face. I couldn’t breathe, felt my heart racing.
I told myself to calm down. Chill out, I scolded.
“Violet.” I heard her chair squeak. She must’ve stood up, too. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. You can disagree with me and yell a little.” Her voice tried to sooth me, to quiet me. “It’s all right, Violet. It’s okay to be angry with me. I won’t hurt you.”
I opened my mouth to say I knew that but a gasping sort of quiet sob came out instead. Crying? What was wrong with me? I held my breath, held on tight to this cyclone inside of me.
“It’s okay,” she murmured. “Your feelings are valid. You’ve a right to believe what you want to believe, to have your own thoughts. To have your own emotions. It’s okay.”
I didn’t trust myself so I nodded. I had to get myself under control.
“Okay. Let’s go sit down and find another topic for awhile.”
So we sat. I picked at my jeans. They kind of bagged horribly around the actual leg, even though when I’d gotten them last year they’d been sort of snug. Annoying.
“What are you thinking about?” Samantha said.
“Stuff.” We hadn’t talked about the weight thing. I wasn’t all that psyched about getting into it. Why did bodies matter so much? Why couldn’t we all just float incorporeally?
“You were staring at your legs. Were you thinking about your weight?”
Great. Was she a psychic, now? I shrugged, plucked at the sleeve of my olive wool sweater.
“To be honest with you, Violet, I’ve been trying to give you some room with this before we got into it.”
“So why mess with a good thing?”
“It’s been worrying me. You haven’t gained anything yet, have you?”
I shook my head.
“Have you been eating consistently?”
I shook my head.
“Why do you think that is?”
I shrugged. “Maybe I’m just not hungry.”
“Yes. That might be true. Any other reasons?”
I shrugged again. Why did I hate to eat so much? What was wrong with me? Everybody else seemed to enjoy it. Why couldn’t I?
“Your mother is a chef, therefore food is a big deal to her. It makes sense that food would be a big deal to you as well.”
“I hate food. I hate eating. I hate it. It’s not a big deal.”
“Hate is a pretty serious word to use for something that isn’t a big deal. That’s a pretty big deal. You’ve never said that you hate anything. That’s really a big deal.”
“It has nothing to do with my mother. Food just makes me sick thinking about it. I’m so frustrated with how society makes it this huge central deal. Like it’s this big important thing. Yes, we have to eat to survive, which I resent, but we also have to pee and we don’t make that the center of countless holidays, now do we? And this coffee thing. It’s like this social norm. If you don’t drink it and go to cafes, you’re suddenly this freakish, Frankenstein monster, or something. I’m so tired of having to eat. So no, I don’t think it’s a big deal to me. At all.”
She would have to hate me now. I basically just told her she was a stupid idiot. Would she really hate me now? It didn’t matter.
It shouldn’t matter.
She’d said I should tell her how I felt. I’d been trying to do that. I wanted to be good. But she had to have realized by now that there was something really wrong with me. I just had to push her away before she pushed me away.
She smiled sadly. Here it came; the big good-bye.
“I don’t know how to get you to see this, Violet. I just don’t know how to get you to see what I see. This is a masochistic tendency that a lot of people have, either eating too much or not enough. I think the underlying cause of this is that you don’t like yourself. You’re punishing yourself. You’ve transferring your feelings of hatred towards yourself onto the food. And your mother has reinforced that because she spends time and energy on food instead of on you. She silently told you that she cares more about food than you. You blame yourself for your mother choosing the food over you, telling yourself that if you could just be perfect for her she would eventually choose you. But, Violet, you can never be perfect. Perfection is unattainable for us mere mortals. This is a flaw in her, not you.
“And it’s also a way for you to feel somewhat in control; you can’t control your mother or your living situation, but you can control what does or doesn’t go into your mouth.” She went silent, then, watching me closely.
I felt as though I might shatter into a million pieces.
I couldn’t think, had no idea what to think.
But it felt true, somehow, like she’d just told me something I’d known all along.
I was, quite assuredly, terrified.
I had to leave.
I didn’t want to see it.
“What time is it?” I willed myself to stay calm, to not shake, to breathe like a normal person.
My heart raced like I’d just run all the way from the library to Sipping Streams.
She frowned, checked her watch. “Five minutes after.”
I stood, walked stiffly towards the door. I didn’t want her to know how afraid I felt.
Could she possibly be right about me?
What would that mean?
“Wait,” Samantha said. “I think we should talk about this, don’t you?”
With my hand on the doorknob, I wouldn’t look back. “I don’t like food because I’m a freak, not because I have issues with my mother and myself. It’s not misplaced aggression.”
And as a parting shot, I added, “You’ve obviously been reading too much Freud.”
“It’s not your fault that your mother hurt you, Violet.”
“Go to hell.”
I slammed the door behind me, hurried through the halls and up the stairs, away from her. Finally I got to the lobby.
And there sat the perfectly beautiful Leah instead of Mrs. Grant. She read a magazine, as cool as you pleased. I stopped in the doorway. Where was Mrs. Grant? I couldn’t handle this. Why today of all days?
Finally, I took hold of my courage, tight in my fists, and walked across the lobby to her.
“What are you doing here?” Unh, what a spaz.
She set down the magazine, picked up her purse, and stood.
“I came to get you. Mom had to do something with Dad so she called me. I had to leave a meeting. I’m not any happier to be here than you are to have me so let’s get over ourselves, shall we?”
I should have stayed in bed that morning.
I hated her.
I turned to find Samantha coming into the room.
God, god, god, when would this end?
“Just a second, Violet. You will come back next week, won’t you?”
I glanced around the waiting area, saw people covertly staring at our drama. I shrugged at Samantha, wanted desperately to be out of there. Why the hell had I gotten up that morning?
What was forcing me to ever get up again?
I tried to take a deep breathe but I couldn’t get it past the constriction in my throat. Samantha handed me a business card, pointed at a handwritten number.
“My home number. Please call, okay? If you have any thoughts on our discussion.”
“Whatever,” I turned and walked out the building, leaned against Leah’s perfect little blue Toyota. She hurried out and we headed off toward the house. I stared out my window without seeing anything. The car smelled of something floral and fruity. I willed myself not to puke. I tried not to think about the masochistic tendencies thing.
“What happened in there?” Leah said quietly.
I glared out the window at the innocuous spruce. “None of your fucking business.”
She didn’t say anything else and when we got to the house she pulled up to the front walk. I got out, slammed the door. She pealed away, spitting gravel. I waffled on flipping her the bird but then she was gone.
I ran downstairs, puked, washed my face, brushed my teeth, stared at me in the mirror.
My face was strangely white, so pale, with huge black circles under the eyes. The hair had gotten kind of long, maybe half-an-inch. So I pulled out my electric razor, shaved it back to an eighth-of-an-inch, cleaned and oiled the razor, put it away.
I leaned against the wall opposite the mirror, slid down it, accepting the sharp cruel pain in my shoulder blade, pulled my knees up to my chest, wrapped my arms around my legs. With my chin on my knees I sat there, willing myself to think of nothing at all.
I was clean paper, a cold sheet spread on an empty bed, a blank canvas. I would not contemplate a thing. I would be whole and perfect and unchangeable.
After a while I heard people coming in, I wasn’t sure who, but I couldn’t move. I watched the pale grey tiles on the bathroom floor and reminded myself that there was nothing in my stomach to puke.
I was afraid of thinking about anything else because I did hate myself.
I was ugly and stupid.
I’d never be a great painter.
There was nothing in me of any value.
I didn’t deserve to breathe here in this nice house with these nice people.
I just didn’t deserve to live.
I willed myself not to cry. No crying allowed.
I stood up, locked the door, turned on the bathtub faucet, and put the rubber drain stop in. After the tub filled I pulled the electric razor out again, plugged it in, stepped into the water with all my clothes on and sat down. Made sure to not let the razor in the water. I sank down further until all of me was in except the hand holding the razor and my head.
I stared at the razor.
Turned it on.
Not exactly a fun way to die.
A knock on the door startled me.
I bobbled the razor for a second, breathing like a massive machine out of control.
I couldn’t answer, breath audible, catching, hitching.
“Violet?” Adam. “Are you hurling?”
“No,” I sat up, tried to calm down, turned it off, set the razor on the side of the tub.
Willed myself to just chill. “Calm down,” I told myself.
“What was that? Are you taking a bath? That’s odd, thinking of you taking a bath. You don’t seem much like the bath sort. I mean, not that you’re smelly or anything. Or dirty. Just that you’re more the shower type. You know?”
I stood, stepped out of the bath, unlocked the door and yanked it open.
“What do you want?”
He raised an eyebrow at my dripping clothes, smiled. “So I was right. You’re not the soaking type. Leah spends hours in the tub. Hours. What were you doing? We’ve got the washer, you know.” He looked over my shoulder, stopped, looked back at my hair. “You oughtn’t do that in the bath, Vi. Cut your hair.” He frowned at me. “It’s dangerous, you know.”
“I’ll keep that in mind for next time. Thank you. I didn’t know. Now what do you want?”
My mind went blank and I looked down at the floor around Adam’s sock feet. Beige carpet. Sturdy. Subtle.
Why would there always and forever be food?
“You can change if you like,” he said.
I blinked at him. “What was that?”
“You can change. Your clothes. Into something dry.”
“I’m not hungry.”
I thought about his first statement.
That I could change if I wanted to.
I felt dizzy at the thought.
Could I change enough to become someone worthy of...
Worthy of love.
“Vi, I’m tired of this. Look at you. You’re like a stalk of wheat. You have to eat. Come on.” He turned away and started up the stairs but then turned back to me. “I worry about you, Vi. I want you to be well.”
I felt my face frown, looked away from him, at the cool creamy wall across from me. He sighed, went on up the stairs.
I let the water out of the tub, left the razor there. I took off my wet clothes, dried off, ignoring the sharp edges and hollows, and pulled on my giant terry cloth robe. On the way to my room, Mrs. Grant came down and stopped me.
“You’re coming up then?”
“I don’t see as I have a choice, do I?”
She tucked a bit of hair behind her ear, smiled her comma smile. “Of course you have a choice. You don’t have to eat with us. I’d like it if you would. But you don’t have to.” She stopped then, looked down at the floor. “Leah told me about this afternoon.”
I braced myself for a blow or a verbal attack. Mrs. Grant shrugged.
“She said your counselor came into the lobby and gave you her number, told you to call her. That you were upset. Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?”
Quickly I shook my head. No, not possible. Because I wanted to so bad. Desperately wanted to hear her opinion and explain how I felt.
But then again, I didn’t know what I felt, what I thought, or what I should expect from Mrs. Grant. Did she pity me? Could she possibly like me? I turned away from her, stepped into my room. “I’ll change,” I said. “I’ll come up.”
“All right. See you upstairs.”
Why hadn’t Leah told her how rude I’d been to her? Would she, sometime in the future, use it to hurt me?
Journal Entry - November third
You have no security. You are unsafe. You are worthless. Give up. Loose the bonds, the fears that hold you here.
You are to blame.
You are to blame.
You are to blame.
I sat in Samantha’s office. I couldn’t say anything, couldn’t think of anything to say.
Samantha tried to get me to talk, to answer her.
We had ten more minutes before I could go.
It wasn’t that I was angry, I guessed.
I felt so strange, really, like I’d come up against a wall.
Like something had to give.
I would either find the truth or kill myself. I leaned toward death.
Death’s daughter. Good name for a band.
Shay Griffin had asked me three times that week if I was okay, Adam every five minutes. Tiresome, but kinda nice to pretend they maybe cared a little. I didn’t know. I was afraid to make assumptions.
Samantha stood up, looked out the window, nattered on about something or other. I checked the clock. Eight minutes more.
Time was so strange. Oddly elastic.
I hated people hurting me.
I hated letting people down.
I couldn’t stand letting Mother down and I always had, every chance I got. How could I be any different with anyone else?
I was the one with the flaw.
Mother had liked other people, respected them.
I was the one in counseling.
I was to blame.
I closed my eyes, thought about how I could kill myself.
But I was scared.
I didn’t think I really wanted to die. Not yet, anyway. Not before I’d done anything worth doing.
I tried to quiet my stupid head with ways to kill myself. There were pills, razor blades, knives, electrical appliances, poisons, guns. So many ways of dying. Drowning, suffocating, burning to death. I didn’t have a gun, no poisons, no razor blades. The Grants had lots of knives and electrical stuff. I thought of the long thin white scars running up both of my wrists, hidden by my shirts every day. Marks of will. My fists tightened into hard balls.
Marks of will.
Samantha looked at her watch, looked at me.
“Okay,” she said. “You can go.”
I stood, headed for the door.
“Violet,” she said. “Are you okay?”
Without turning I shrugged. What did okay mean, anyhow? I’d made some sort of a decision. I had to be okay with it. That would have to be enough.
“All right, then,” she said. “See you next week.”
Next week, I thought, she would most likely find me a grave woman. Grave woman. Like Mercutio. Grave woman. Funny stuff. I was almost out the door when she said my name again.
“What?” I turned around.
“I don’t know. I don’t trust you today.”
“Well, good. Neither of us trust the other. I’m leaving.” And I did but she followed me into the hallway.
“Violet, can you honestly say that you have every intention of coming back next week?”
I stopped, suddenly nervous. “Is that a loaded question? Are you afraid I’m looking for a new counselor?”
“I’m wondering if you’re thinking of killing yourself.”
I went cold inside. She could mess it up. Wouldn’t she try to stop me? Institutionalize me. I turned.
“I’m not going to kill myself. I’ll come back next week.”
She stared at me for a bit and then shook her head. “Like I said, for some reason I just can’t seem to trust you today. I don’t know why.”
“I’ve gotta go. Mrs. Grant’s waiting for me. I’ll see you next week.”
“I’ll walk you up.”
Out of options, we trooped up to the lobby together. What could I say to get her off my back? It was my life, after all. I could kill myself if I wanted. I sometimes thought the scars on my wrists looked like zippers begging to be unzipped.
Mrs. Grant stood up, eyebrows hidden under blunt bangs, as we walked in. She looked maybe startled, a little concerned. Could she possibly care about me? Admittedly, I probably looked as though I’d swallowed a roach.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered to me. I shrugged. Nothing, nothing, nothing. It was all fine. Fine.
“Do you have a few minutes?” Samantha said.
“Of course,” Mrs. Grant nodded.
We marched into a cozy little office just off the lobby. The conference room where they would go when the kid was finally ready to tell his parents everything. Great. I wasn’t ready to tell anybody anything.
Samantha sat in the swivel chair, we sat on the love seat opposite her. I felt hollow, washed out of anything that had ever been useful, of everything that had ever had any meaning. I couldn’t breathe. I held on tight to the arm of the insipid pink-flowered couch. The world became a tunnel and I tried to swallow down the nausea.
I stood. “Bathroom?”
“Two doors to your left.”
I stepped into the lobby, found the door, stepped inside, puked into the toilet. It had become so predictable, to throw up. Something I knew. Of course, I hated it. I wondered if I controlled it or it controlled me. Puked again. Then I wondered what they could do to me. Put me in some hospital? Like those places for crazy people, where you had no privacy and they owned you. I would have to convince them that I was fine. I quickly washed my face and rinsed out my mouth.
When I stepped back into the office they both sat on the love seat, talking quietly and intently.
“Hi,” I said.
“Violet.” Mrs. Grant looked up at me, really looked. “Are you all right?”
“Fine.” I tried to sound convincing.
“Samantha was worried about you today.”
There was a weird vibe in the room. I felt like bolting. What were they planning? Could they ambush me, somehow? “’Kay,” I previcated.
Mrs. Grant stood. “So you’re ready to go?”
I stared. “That’s it?”
Samantha stood. They smiled at each other. Cozy.
“Yes,” said Samantha. “I think so. See you next week.”
They really cared. Yeah. Right. Went right out of their way for you. It must’ve been a relief for Mrs. Grant to get me out of her house. And now Samantha wouldn’t have to listen to my stupidity. They couldn’t have done anything to change my mind but I must’ve mattered so little that they wouldn’t even try to save me.
Which was as comforting as cold potato soup.
Life was ironic. Lessons? Don’t trust anyone. I was unlovable and worthless. Yes. Well. Like I’d been telling myself; life sucks. If I’d thought for a second in there that someone might want to save me... Well, I was stupid, right? Of course.
“Violet?” Samantha said. “I told Anna that you’re considering killing yourself this week, so be prepared for interference.”
And then they surprised you with their vigilance.
“I told you I’m not going to.”
I suddenly hated them both. In me, there was nothing beautiful or worth saving. But I so desperately wanted to be saved, to be worthy of saving.
Would anyone ever see something in me worthy of love?