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by Branden Hart
“How are you handling all of this?” asks my psychiatrist on my second visit.
‘All of this’ is a phrase people use when they want to let you be the one who actually brings up a problem. Most people don’t want to point out problems they see other people as having—they want those people to provide those problems themselves, and then begin their criticism.
“You’re going to have to be more specific,” I reply.
“Let’s start with how you feel about the death of your foster mother.”
Oh, the woman I lost my virginity to? The first person in this world to show me the carnal side of life, who took advantage of me, who could go to jail for what she did if she wasn’t a coward and hadn’t offed herself? How do I feel about the fact that she wrote a letter to her husband and told him we had been together and that’s the reason she put a bullet through the back of her head?
“I feel fine. I mean, it sucks, but I feel fine. I didn’t know her that well.”
“It must have been difficult to leave that night. The state gave me a little information. You were picked up by police?”
Literally. When you walk around for nearly ten hours without anything to eat or drink, your body breaks down. I had been walking all night, since I left my foster parents’ house. I didn’t have any other idea what to do, had no place to go. I couldn’t go back to Melissa’s—it was too late. I didn’t have any friends, family, anything. I just had a change of clothes, Kleenex, and antibacterial hand sanitizer. And that was about to run out when I fainted.
“Yeah, they took me downtown until my foster father could come pick me up. I tried to tell them that there was no way he would pick me up, that he had kicked me out.”
Not only had he kicked me out, he had displayed quite a bit of control since he hadn’t picked up the gun and shot me in the face for fucking his wife.
“And why did he kick you out?”
I shrug. “I guess he blamed me. For his wife dying.”
“Why would he blame you?”
I could feel heat rise in my cheeks as I blushed. “Hell if I know. Had to blame someone, I guess.”
She writes for several seconds, then puts her pen down. “But your foster father did pick you up, didn’t he? Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be here.”
Surprisingly, she’s right. He came into the station less than an hour after they called him. I heard him tell the clerk that I had run away that night, that we’d had a misunderstanding after he found my foster mother, and that he’d been out looking for me.
“Yeah, he did.”
“And how are things going between the two of you? What did he say to you?”
He told me that he’d be damned if he lost his tax breaks because of this. He said that I needed to stay the hell out of his way and not to make a sound. Told me I should start seriously thinking about coming home as late as possible and leaving as early as possible to avoid seeing him, because he doesn’t know if he’ll snap the next time he sees me. He told me that he’d still pay for my psychiatrist. When I asked him why he would do that, he said, “Because that only costs me ten dollars. That’s nothing compared to what you save me. And I don’t want to come home and find you in the shower again.”
“So how are things for you now?” she asks, writing more.
Oh, just dandy. I get up at 5 in the morning so I can avoid my foster father. I walk around aimlessly until it’s time for school. I go to school and spend the day worrying about what I’ve touched and who’s touched what and was that just a stinging in my dick and oh my god I must have caught something and maybe that’s the reason my foster mother killed herself because she found out she had something or holy crap could she have been pregnant? Then it’s off to the bathroom to either puke or have diarrhea because I’m worrying myself so much my stomach is doing horrible things. I spend time after school wandering around town, stopping at a phone every now and then to call Melissa, to see if she’s around, but I only get her the first time I call, and then she says she has work to do and tells me she thinks we should take a break and shouldn’t talk, and then I ask her why and she hangs up. So I continue to walk until it feels like my feet are going to fall off. I usually make it home around 10, quietly make a sandwich, and try to wash off all the dirt and grime from the city with a long, hot shower.
“Things are fine.”
“You aren’t talking much today,” says my psychiatrist as she’s writing.
“Not much to say.”
Or not much I feel like I can say. How can this woman who doesn’t even really know me help me with these problems? The counting, the germs, everything else, I’m sure she can help me with that. But not this.
“I can’t help you if you don’t talk,” she says.
“Talk about what? You know my problems. It’s your job to fix them.”
Writing. “And I want to, but you have to be open with me. You know, other parts of your life are affected by your disorder. The way that you deal with those other parts--that’s part of your disorder as well.”
I break. “What, are you saying that the way I deal with the fact that my foster mother and I fucked like rabbits for the few weeks before she offed herself has something to do with my disorder? Are you saying that the fact that I can’t even look at my girlfriend without wanting to vomit because I found out exactly what kind of disease can be spread through sex has something to do with my disorder? How about the fact that I’m starting to wonder if she has another guy on the side, and I’m scared what I’ll do if I ever find out that’s true. Does that have something to do with my disorder?”
She looks up from her pad. “Not something—everything.”
I’m not sure what I expected, why I didn’t tell her these things before. Maybe I was worried she would turn against me. That she would find me disgusting. Maybe I was worried that she would tell me she couldn’t see me anymore, or send me to a psych ward, or call the police and tell them about all of this. But I realize I was worried about something, and as I sit there, staring at her staring at me, watching her face free of all emotion, I realize that all that worry was in vain.
I realize she isn’t here to judge. She’s here to help.
“Well,” she says, looking at her watch, “we’re out of time today. But I want you to come back next week. We have a lot of ground to cover, especially in light of what you’ve just told me. In the meantime, I’m going to write you a prescription. It’s for Prozac. Prozac is an antidepressant, but it helps people who don’t necessarily suffer from depression. People like you. I want you to take one capsule—twenty milligrams—every day. You probably won’t notice anything at first. You might not even notice anything before you come back next week, because it is a time-release medicine. But it will start working soon.”
She hands me a piece of paper with illegible writing on it.
“Don’t worry,” she laughs as she sees me trying to decipher her handwriting. “Take it to the pharmacy next door—they know my chicken scratch.”
How could she be like this? I just admitted what horrible things I had done over the past few months. And now she’s joking with me?
She stands and sticks her hand out. I shake it, trying to repress the anxiety that causes. “Take care this week, ok? I think we had a really good conversation today. And don’t forget to take your medicine.”
It takes them fifteen minutes to fill my prescription at the pharmacy. I buy a water and down my first pill in the parking lot. I take the second one when I wake up the next morning. I take my pill every day, every day, waiting for something to happen, but nothing ever does.
And then one day, about two weeks later, after I’ve been back to the psychiatrist and told her I’ve noticed nothing whatsoever, I wake up and find importance in the nothingness.
For the first time in years, I don’t have the urge to wash my hands. I sit there on the edge of my bed, and think, “What’s the use? There are germs everywhere. Washing your hands fifty times a day isn’t going to do anything to keep you from getting sick. Just wash them when they’re actually dirty. But that time isn’t right now.”
It’s a familiar voice. But this is the first time I’ve actually been able to listen to it.
And that’s when things start getting weird.