Most people believe wholeheartedly the greatest lie ever told to humanity: that everything happens for a reason. I envy those people. They seem so content, at peace with the knowledge that they’re living the life for which they were destined. My life? My life is a train wreck. I wish I could blame some mystical force, but I know it’s my own fault. I just don’t know how to fix it.
The clock on the mahogany writing desk snags my attention. I wonder what he would do if I threw it against the wall. The way it ticks off the seconds like an old-fashioned metronome drives me to distraction. I try to focus on something else instead.
This is a game we play. He asks a question; I give him what I believe to be a perfectly sufficient answer. He stares at me for several long, ticking moments to see if I’m going to say anything more. Up until now, I’ve always waited him out. This time, because he seems unusually exasperated with me and because the clock is making me more anxious than usual, I break the silence.
“Does this trick ever work for you?”
His fingers are steepled beneath his chin, his posture relaxed. I’m sure he’s sitting this way on purpose. Everything about him seems deliberate. I would bet good money there was some profound reason he chose to wear those particular socks with the paisley designs today.
He sighs. For a moment, his practiced posture slips, and I catch a glimpse of the man he could be outside the office. “Actually, it works almost every time with everyone except you.”
“Well, I do like to be different.”
“Clarification – it works for everyone except you and sullen adolescent boys.”
“I think that’s the very first time in our relationship that you’ve insulted me. We may have a breakthrough yet today.”
“I doubt that,” he mutters. “Look, Kate. You’ve been coming to see me for a month now, and what I know about you could fit on an index card.”
My right eyebrow lifts a bit. “A three and a half by five, four by six, or five by seven?”
“Why do you ask such specific questions?”
“Because I want to know the specific answer. Why don’t you ask more specific questions? You hardly even ask questions. You say things like, ‘Tell me how that made you feel.’ What kind of adult even says things like that?”
“The kind who gets paid $200 an hour to say things like that. My point is that you are indeed paying me a nice chunk of money for these sessions. Personally, I enjoy what we have going here. It’s one of the quietest hours of my week, but I don’t think it’s doing much for you. If you aren’t comfortable talking to me, maybe we should find someone with whom you’ll be more comfortable.”
It would be just like me to get fired from my own shrink. “I work with children. Their minds don’t work like ours. Open-ended questions make them try to please me, and from a medical standpoint, when I am very specific, I’m more likely to get the truth rather than an embellishment.”
The handsome, boyish face breaks into a small gin. “That’s the most I’ve ever heard you say. Can we try another, Kate?”
His tendency to overuse my name irritates me. We’re the only two people in the room. Who the hell else would he be talking to? It doesn’t make me feel closer to him or trust him more. “Sure, Xan. What would you like to know?” That is actually on his diploma from George Washington University: Xan Michael Brooks, Ph.D. Not Alexander. Just Xan.
“Let’s stick with Dr. Brooks, shall we? So why is it so hard for you to answer my questions with more than monosyllabic words?”
“Well, Dr. Brooks, I’m guessing that if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be in a shrink’s office at seven p.m. on a Wednesday.”
“Why is it so hard, Kate? Come on. Give me something. Why do you get uncomfortable when I ask you something personal?”
I let myself really ponder the question. “I guess because I’ve worked very hard to shove everything in my life into neat little compartments. And I’m afraid that if I start to talk about how I feel, they’ll all get jumbled up.”
“Why is that necessarily a bad thing?”
“Because I can handle any one of them at a given time, but I worry that if I let them intermingle, my mind would short circuit like an overloaded electrical outlet.”
“I’ve asked you this before, but I never really got an answer. Why are you here, Kate?”
“Well, Xan.” Old habits die hard, and I have always been a smartass. This time, he doesn’t even bother to correct me. “If you must know, I’m here because the man I’ve been sleeping with off and on for the past eight years suddenly wants more from me than lunch on Wednesdays and sex a couple of nights a week.”
“So you’re here for him? Not for yourself?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“So you would be here anyway? Regardless of him?”
“Of course I wouldn’t be here. I hate having my emotions on display. This isn’t my idea of a good time, but I owe it to him to try to get my shit together.”
His next question doesn’t make sense to me. “When do you let yourself express them?”
“Your emotions. When do you let yourself feel them? It’s obvious you keep them reined in most of the time.”
I stand up abruptly, the leather sofa pulling at the back of my thighs as if in cahoots to keep me here, to make me say more.
He stands up, too. “When did you last let yourself cry, Kate?”
I feel cornered. “I don’t want to do this. I think you’re right. This isn’t going to work.”
“Just answer the damn question! It isn’t that hard!” Even he looks shocked by his outburst.
“If it isn’t so hard, then you tell me. When did you last have a good cry?”
He seems to really consider the question, so I wait, and wait, and wait as the ticking of the clock grows louder, and louder, and louder. He abruptly snatches the clock off of the desk and slams it into the metal trash can.
I have a suspicion that both of us will be drinking tonight. The room is now completely silent, with only a few occasional sounds creeping in from the street outside. I cross my arms over my chest and wander over to the window. It’s dusk in DC, and people are driving like maniacs.
Finally, he says very quietly, “I cried at my father’s funeral. He died one year ago today.”
He’s suddenly a real person to me, and I feel the tiniest thread of a connection forming. It’s unusual for me to feel connected to another adult. “My father died four years ago. I didn’t cry at his funeral.”
“You didn’t answer my question. When did you last let yourself cry?”
He’s so tenacious that if it didn’t unnerve me, I would admire it. “I cried last night.” It’s true, but I don’t think he believes me.
“Why did you cry?”
I glare at him, trying but failing to tamp down my tendency to be snappish. “Because the world fucking sucks.” For some inexplicable reason, that seems to be an acceptable answer.
“Where were you?”
“When you cried? Where were you? Were you in bed? Were you in the kitchen? Where were you?”
“Does it matter?”
“Kate, come on. You don’t have to analyze every question I ask before you answer.”
“I was in the shower, okay?” I know he’s going to make a federal case out of it.
He regards me shrewdly. “Is that unusual?”
“You mean for me to cry or for me to cry in the shower?”
“No. It’s not unusual for either.” I know what he’s going to ask next, so I save him the trouble. “I cry in the shower because I can let my guard down without feeling too exposed. I like the way the tears wash away immediately without leaving a trace.” Absently, I pull on the strings to the blinds, opening them up and then down.
“So you only cry when you’re alone?”
“Doesn’t everyone prefer to be alone when they cry? But sometimes, if he’s there and knows that I’m having a bad night, Harrison waits for me outside the shower with a towel. That’s actually kind of nice.”
“That’s his name? Harrison? The man you’ve slept with off and on for the past eight years?” I nod, not looking at him. “So he sleeps over then?”
“Does he have a key?”
“Yes.” My stomach is churning, wondering what he’ll ask next, but he surprises me.
“So I’m thinking that maybe you’re not as screwed up as I originally thought.”
“Wow. High praise from Xan Brooks! Maybe we really are close to a breakthrough.” My tone is snarky, but the truth is that this is why I chose him; maybe he’s a little young, but he isn’t the slightest bit stuffy. I heard about him from a patient’s mother. She has a two year old with the same genetic anomaly that claimed the life of her four year old, and she told me after her daughter died that Dr. Brooks was a godsend, that he wasn’t afraid to joke with her at a time when everyone else was walking on eggshells. I knew I needed that in a therapist.
He returns to the sitting area, and I reluctantly follow. “It’s like pulling teeth to get you to talk about things.”
“You’ll just have to work a little harder for your money with me then, won’t you?”
He looks so frazzled that I almost feel bad for him. I know that I have to pull it together and cooperate. He slides a spiral, top bound notepad towards me, open to a blank page. A Pilot EasyTouch pen is on top of it. I notice because they’re my favorite. I like to click the top when I’m reading or making notes about a journal article. It drives Harrison crazy. He uses this expensive pen that he carries around in his briefcase. I find that pretentious. I’m itching to pick the pen up just to have something to do with my hands, but I refrain. Instead, I narrow my eyes.
“Are we playing hangman?”
He’s probably mentally counting to five. “No, Kate. We’re not playing hangman. I want you to make a list.”
I hate this crap. “Of what?”
“I want you to make a list of defining moments in your life.”
“You can’t pass.”
“Of course I can. I’m paying you.”
“Then you’re going to have to find a new therapist.”
In the end, I pick up the pen and notepad. He sits back into another of his practiced poses. “Would you like me to repeat the instructions?”
“No. I heard you fine the first time.” To give the paper some relief from its pristine perfection, I doodle vines around the outer edges, framing the entire page.