Ten weeks before
Her eyes keep coming back to the top left corner of my face. She looks away toward the window, out over the manmade neighborhood pond visible from her home office, but then it’s right back to the place where I’ve been sewn back together.
I don’t know how this is going to work. On her website she says she is “above all a nonjudgmental, compassionate and discreet psychologist accomplished at using writing therapy to address anxiety.” For fuck’s sake then, stop staring. I’ve told her I’m here because I’d like to feel less nervous.
She smiles at me. That’s better. She says, in a lilting infomercial voice, “There are many, many extremely helpful exercises used in writing therapy. What I love most about it is that you can explore as far and wide and deep as your imagination and inhibitions will allow. We’ll try a variety of approaches and see—” she tilts her head to the side in a way that is at once obviously rehearsed and yet strangely attractive “—see what works best for you, Maddie.”
I nod, and the hair I wear pulled over the left side of my face must move a little. She’s playing it very cool, but her fascination is evident. I’m not surprised. The bruise has faded but the whole mess is still pretty shocking.
I feel discouraged. I need this to work, but this woman is not what I expected. It was important to me that I do writing therapy, and there were not all that many choices in my area. When I chose Dr. Camilla Jones, with her private practice in Overland Park, I pictured a lady in a sophisticated suit and some grandmotherly pumps. Kind eyes. Silver hair.
This woman, this Camilla, has told me that her name rhymes with Pamela. What? Instead of Dr. Jones, she wants me to call her Cami J. She is dressed in a loose, floral off-the-shoulder T-shirt, yoga pants and a baseball cap. I hate to be shallow, but I have to point out that there are rhinestones all over the front of her cap. All over. Everywhere. It’s probably as hard for me not to gawk at her cap as it is for her not to gawk at my face. The focal point on this cap is a giant rhinestone fleur-de-lis. This troubles me. She’s got be in her early sixties even though she looks fucking great. Honestly, though, I just didn’t want my psychologist to remind me of a Zumba instructor.
Finally she is looking me in the eyes. “Maddie?”
“Yes?” I don’t know why but I am clenching my fists, then opening them, then clenching them again. I used to get carpal tunnel syndrome from all the writing, and I would do this when my wrists were sore. I stop.
“Let’s cut to the chase and start easy. I want you to write down twenty things that set off your anxiety.” She passes me a piece of lined notebook paper and a pen. “Try not to think too much about it. Just what scares you or makes you sad or nervous. Write the first things that pop into your head, okay?”
- When Charlie cries. Anything bad happening to Charlie.
- When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. Or when he won’t wake up.
- When someone shoots kids in a school, or really when anybody goes and shoots a bunch of people randomly, but especially kids. I don’t like the guns in the house either.
- When someone drives a gigantic eighteen-wheeler through a beach parade in France and mows everyone down.
- It sounds silly but I get scared when I go somewhere to meet new people and they want to sit in a circle and have me tell them about myself. I don’t go to the Meadowlark mom’s brunch thing anymore.
- When the angry man with the beard on the treadmill in front of me gets off and walks away and leaves his big backpack sitting there.
- When I call the dogs and they don’t come and I can’t find them. (Probably just because this happened last night. They dug under the fence but they didn’t get hit by a car. I patched the fence where they got out.)
- When my parents or Charlie get sick. Deadly new strains of the flu.
- 10. When Ian goes to dangerous countries to work. All the things that could go wrong.
- Funerals. Hospitals and lakes.
- When Ian gets angry at Charlie.
- That an alligator can lunge out of the Disney lagoon and snatch a little boy right out of his father’s arms.
- When my heart races uncontrollably. This happens usually when I start missing Joanna and thinking about how she probably still hates me.
- Drowning, especially little Syrian kids that wash up dead on the shore, I can’t even cope, sometimes for days, and I dream about Charlie drowning and sometimes I worry about the dogs drowning. Tidal waves.
- When I take Charlie to the park and then suddenly he’s gone and I can’t find him.
- The darkness in some people. Like, that guy in Germany who paid some other guy to cut him up a little bit at a time, cook him and eat him.
- When Charlie cries.
- When I have to leave Charlie with Ian.
- That something is wrong with me.