Preface: This is the first chapter of a book I’m finishing. Now seeking representation.
“You think I’m gonna lie to you.”
He looked up from his notebook. In the background, the clock ticked through the seconds. I could hear it, over the scratching of his pen.
Tick, tick, tick.
Maybe he slowed the clock down. I felt like I’d been sitting here for a long time. The two last sessions weren’t this slow. Were they?
“What makes you think that?” His eyes were wide behind the thick glasses. Dopey. Like he’d fall for anything.
“Well, I mean…” I gestured around the room. “I bet a lot of people lie to you on the regular, right?”
A riot of neon-colored book spines, stuffed without breathing room in creaking bookshelves. Bullshit modern art, hanging on the wall. And the clock.
Tick, tick, tick.
“Not really. Not if they want to get better. Most people who come through here understand that if they want help, they need to ask for it.”
“Isn’t that a little self-defeating, though? If they’re here, they’ve already asked for help. Why punish them and make them ask again? Why humiliate them like that?”
It was the obvious question, the easy front-runner. I should have seen it coming from a mile away.
“Did I what?”
Stalling, now. He knew it; he scratched something off the page with his pen.
“Come on, Felix. Did you ask for help?”
Shit. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. I didn’t have an answer. He made another note. It sounded short, definitive. The pen scratched over the clock, louder in this second than the previous. I felt like Hook, running away from that goddamned crocodile. I hadn’t seen Peter Pan in what, seventeen years? Ever since Anna was a little kid and I babysat when Mom and Dad went out. I still remembered the crocodile. He was supposed to represent Time, wasn’t he? We’re all running out of time.
The rain drummed against the window panes. The iron and glass buildings were ghostly and half-real in the low-hanging clouds. Falling away to streets I couldn’t see.
“Felix?” He sounded frustrated, but he was trying not to show it; a tone I was familiar with.
“How much longer do we have?”
“Why? Got somewhere to be?”
“I–no, no. I just don’t wanna waste too much of your time. I’m sure you’ve got…I’m sure you’ve got more important people to see.”
“I think you’re important.”
My snort of laughter came out thin, high-pitched. I fiddled with the zipper on my jacket.
“It’s your job to think I’m important. You’re supposed to say that.”
He cocked his head. “Do you think you’re not important?”
All of a sudden, I couldn’t stay seated. I jumped up, paced around. My heart trip-hammered in my chest, a thousand miles a minute. They said it would feel like this.
A pair of couches, facing off over a glass coffee table. I didn’t sit on the couches when I came in–too cliche.
“Why am I here, Doc?” I leaned over, inspecting a snaggletoothed child in a silver picture frame. I clasped my hands behind my back, then in front of me, then crossed them.
“I’m not a doctor.”
I turned around. “What? I thought, like, all of you had to be doctors. Diplomas on the wall et cetera.”
“A pretty common misconception, actually.” He stuck the pen behind his ear and leaned back, stretching. “In school, you really only need a master’s degree to practice. There’s a series of exams and continuing education afterwards, but most of us only get a doctorate if–“
“Right. Yeah, I got you.”
“–they’re interested in research. Big studies, experiment design, that kind of thing.” He rolled right over me, casually oblivious to my interruption.
“You coulda told me.”
“You signed the non-disclosure. My certifications were there, right next to my name.”
“Uh-huh.” I nodded like I understood, or cared. There were a lot of papers to sign. I must have forgotten that one. I walked the room, and tried to ignore the clock.
Tick, tick, tick.
I wished I could see the city from the windows. It felt like we were on an island, isolated. Like I wasn’t really here. Like I was stuck somewhere, dreaming of the city.
“Why am I here?” The same words, the same questions. My voice, an echo of itself.
“You tell me.”
“You think I’m gonna lie to you.”
“I think you think you’re gonna lie to me.”
“I’m not a liar.” I didn’t mean to snap. His expression didn’t change, not by a fraction. He waited.
“I’m not a liar.” Softer, this time. I wiped my face. Fifty degrees outside, and I felt hot. “I just…sometimes I don’t remember things right. I don’t mean to lie.”
“That’s okay. Memory is a tricky thing. And we all lie, sometimes. It’s part of being a person. It’s not always meant to be hurtful.”
He was being careful. Walking a fine line; supportive, but without endorsement. Kind, but not pandering. He listened. Like, really listened.
The room grew smaller. I walked to the door, to the bookshelves, back to the desk. He didn’t say anything, didn’t ask me to sit down. He waited, patiently. He wasn’t checking the clock.
“Felix, can I ask you something?”
“Sure thing, doc.”
“Not a doctor.”
“Right, yeah. Sorry.” One of those cliche wire-and-ball contraptions sat on his desk. I swung one side, watched the tap-tap-tap. It sounded like the clock, but sped up. Screaming through the seconds. I stopped the tapping.
“Why do you think you’re here?”
“I’m here because my mom’s got more money than sense.” I meant to laugh, to take the acrid sting out of the words, but I forgot. Something a child would say, blaming your mother. I wasn’t a child.
He didn’t laugh. He just waited. We’d been down that road before. A whole hour gone by, talking about her. He wasn’t sidestepping with me this time around.
“I’m here…I’m here because I gotta be. It was a deal between me and my parents.”
“And you’re not getting anything out of it? You’re here because you have to be, and that’s it?”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Felix, this is our third meeting.” He adjusted his glasses as he spoke, wiping them on his worn-out cardigan. The cardigan didn’t match the office; the cardigan belonged in a shag-carpet office in a strip mall somewhere, next to an atrophying yoga studio and a SportsClips. In that office, I laid on the couch, and he asked me how I felt. In that office, it would be easier to lie– or, to misremember.
We weren’t in that office.
“If you were settling a bargain with your parents, why did you come back? You didn’t have to.”
“I, uh…I like it here. It’s peaceful.”
“It’s funny, I was just about to say how at peace you look.”
I twisted from my place at the corner of the bookshelf, inspecting the spines on my hands and knees. Goddamn there were so many acronyms; CBT, DBT, DSM–how much of his degree did he spend just memorizing acronyms?
“Why are you here, Felix? Here, in this office, with me?” He gestured at the art-laden walls, the bookshelves. The clock.
Tick, tick tick.
“You came back. You’re here. You want something. What do you want? It’s not a bad thing, to say what you want. It’s part of being a person.”
“You already said that.”
“So I said it again. Felix.” An edge to his voice now. “All we do is talk in circles. I say something, you turn it around on me. Over and over again. I’m here. I’m right here, and I want to know.”
“Know what?” My mouth felt dry. A fog in my head, growing, expanding to touch the fog outside. Like I was immaterial, and if I stopped thinking about it, I could just…float away.
“You know what.” His eyes were no longer dopey. He saw me.
“How long have you known?” My fingers were cold. Wasn’t I just hot? I stuffed them in my pockets.
“I knew before you walked in the door two sessions ago.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because, Felix–” He set the notepad and file on the side table beside him, leaned forward. The clock ticked faster, now. “I can’t help you if you don’t ask for help. That’s not the way it works. I can’t reach into your thoughts and pull them out. You have to tell me. You have to get there. I can only help you part of the way. You are not the documents in your file. They can’t tell your story. Only you can do that.”
A thousand thoughts burst into life, distracting from the hard truth he served me. My brain, flashing anything at me to keep me from opening that sealed box in my head. I’d buried that box, pushed it deep.
I had to tell him.
I was out of time.
“I never meant to kill myself.”