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by Branden Hart
"What does it feel like?" asks Melissa.
"I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"I mean, I don't know. I don't have anything to reference it to."
"Because you've always been this way?"
I nod. We're walking down the street at dusk, passing storefronts that have been closed for two hours now. The restaurant we're going to, she assures me, is very clean. This is a couple of days after my first appointment with my psychiatrist.
That first day, I walk into the office with minimal apprehension. I feel blank. I feel like there aren't any feelings inside me at all. Just me, peeking out through my own eyes at a world that wasn't really a true representation of itself at all.
As if everything isn't a variant of something it isn't.
There are all sorts of colorful toys lining the walls of the waiting room. Big wooden platforms with squiggly metal bars drilled into them. On those bars are small little shapes that you could push up and over one squiggle, only to watch it fall victim to gravity as it careened down to the bottom of the loop. The entire thing is bolted to a table. And why not? Who could trust kids with mental problems? If that thing wasn't bolted down, some messed up bastard could pick it up and throw it across the room.
There are colorful magazines. One of them is even named Rainbow. Under the title is the tag line, "Because every child is special."
Special is one of those words that mean something different to the person saying it than it means to the person hearing it.
"You're just special," says my foster mother on the way to the doctor's office. "And we want to make sure that since you're so special, you're happy."
This from a woman who was fucking my brains out three nights before. A woman who is supposed to care for me and make me safe. Now she's calling me 'special' like I have a fucking disease. She can't even look at me. She didn't have a problem looking at me the morning after I was balls-deep in her asshole; but now that I'm 'special,' she won't meet my gaze.
There are stuffed animals in the waiting room. Most of them look worn out. They have been touched by the hands of thousands of children, in my estimation. Grubby little hands that probably hadn't been washed after they wiped an ass. There is one teddy bear in particular that rests up against a plush unicorn. The bear looks worn out, tired. It's missing part of its bowtie and an eye. The fur is worn and dingy, blackened from years of handling by children who just didn't understand what germs are, what they can do to you.
A small child waiting in the office is staring at me. I stare back. He's sitting next to the only available seat, on a small leather couch facing the receptionist. We just look at each other for a moment. Then he sneezes. Snot comes out all over his hand, which he wipes on his jeans and on the couch.
"You can sit anywhere you like," says the receptionist, not looking to see that there is only one other place to sit, whether I like it or not.
"I'll stand, thanks."
My foster parents are working on the papers with the receptionist when my name is called.
"Dr. Norovim will see you now. Third door down, on the right."
Well, this will make things easier, I think. Three doors, I can handle that, and so I walk through the first door into the hallway, one, two, three times.
I don't realize that there is a woman at the end of the hallway, outside the third door to the right, watching me. I stand still.
"That's ok. Keep doing what you're doing. Just walk down here like you would normally walk everywhere."
I walk up to her door. Will she try to shake my hand? Will she understand if I refuse to shake hers back? I'm thinking about this as I walk through the door to her office one, two, three times. When I get inside, she follows, closes the door, and sits across from me.
"Hello. I'm Doctor Norovim. I understand you're suffering from some anxiety issues?"
I shrug. "I haven't had anymore panic attacks, if that's what you mean."
She starts writing this down. Again with the writing. Won't anybody just listen?
"Your foster parents said they found you last night curled up in the bathtub with ice cold water running over you. You wouldn't call that a panic attack?"
"A panic attack is when you feel like you're going to have a heart attack. I didn't feel like that last night. I just felt…numb."
Her pen scratching against the paper is the only sound I hear.
"Panic attacks are very strange," she says as she writes. "Some of them feel like what you described first—a heart attack. But others can feel different. Did you feel like yourself last night when this happened?"
I answer immediately. "I didn't feel like anything at all."
"Tell me about the way you walked in here, just a second ago. Walking through doors three times. Do you do that all the time, or just when you're nervous?"
"I do it all the time. It's when I don't do it that I start getting nervous."
"What other things make you nervous?"
How much time do you have? I think to myself.
"We have plenty of time," she says, reading my mind. "And we'll talk again in the week, so don't feel pressured to cover everything today, because we won't. Now tell me, what else makes you feel nervous?"
"Germs," I manage. "Just the germs that are everywhere, waiting to infect us. Things not being clean. Screen doors that let too much air in from the outside. Talking on a telephone that hasn't been properly disinfected. The idea of running out of soap in the shower—that's terrifying."
"People not keeping to their schedules," I continue. "People who act like my schedule doesn't matter. They're the worst about it at school. You can sit all day in the office, waiting to talk to someone, and it's like they don't even care that you're waiting there, that you may have something else more important to do."
"I don't like not knowing things. Not knowing how people feel about me. Not knowing why people talk to me the way they do, or what they're saying in Hushedwhispers."
She puts the pen down for a second. "Hutch wispers?" she says, as if it's in a foreign language.
"No, hushed whispers. The language people use to talk about you when they aren't sure whether or not you can hear them."
"Did you come up with that name by yourself?" she asks, writing again.
"Well, kind of. It's from a book. The Castle in the Sky. I can't remember the author. The line goes something like, 'He could barely hear what they were saying in their hushed whispers, but he knew it was about his family.' "
"So people talking behind your back makes you nervous?"
"It isn't even that. People talking behind my back wouldn't make me nervous if I didn't know they were talking behind my back. It's just knowing that they're talking about someone behind their back, and not knowing whether it's me."
"It sounds like you care a great deal what people think about you."
"That's just it—I don't. I don't give a shit whether Sally Whatshername thinks I'm weird, or whether Bobby Jockhead wants to beat me up. I don't care."
"Then why does it make you nervous?"
"I don't know!" I say, frustrated, louder than I intended. "Sorry."
She puts down her pen and looks at me. "That's ok. You can yell at me—I won't get upset. Sometimes everyone needs to yell."
She's nice. By the time we're done that day, I feel comfortable with her. She tells me that she wants to talk to my foster parents, and that I'll see her again in a week. In the meantime, she gives me some pamphlets to look over: "The Obsessive Compulsive Personality," "Depression: Don't Suffer Silently," and "Anxiety and You."
In the days before my date with Melissa, I thumb through the pamphlets and discover that I have almost all of the symptoms they talk about.
"Will they give you medicine for it?" she asks as we get closer to the restaurant.
"I don't know," I say. "Some of the pamphlets said that sometimes you can get over it with therapy. Sometimes you can't."
She hooks her arm around mine and leans in closer to me. "I went to a psychiatrist once. He said I needed Xanax. You ever taken Xanax?"
"Never heard of it." Cars screech past, one two three, one two three. We walk together. I time my steps with hers, one two three one two three.
"I took one, didn't like it. Felt like I was all messed up. It's supposed to relax you, but they say some people get even more anxious because of it."
"That doesn't sound any good."
"Well, it wasn't for me. I ended up just letting my mom have it after she begged me for awhile. Now I just go back to the psychiatrist to get the prescription refilled so she can have more. Tell him it's working, blah blah blah, I think next time it might be my breakthrough. God, it sucks that you have to lie to please people in this world."
When we arrive at the restaurant, my first thought is that it isn't as clean as Melissa originally insisted. As we sit down, Melissa asks a question that raises another thought:
"What will the medication do to you?"
It isn't long before I find out, because it isn't long before my doctor puts me on Prozac. Now, up on this hill, with my almost-dead girlfriend and the bastard she was sleeping with, I can't help but think that all of it—all of this, all of what I've become—is because of that Prozac.
That goddamned medicine.