I’m strung out as I shower, my insides still shaking from my encounter with Dad. I feel so different, and yet as I towel dry my hair I’m beginning to wonder. What the hell is going on with me? What did The Granddaughter do to me when she did that mind probe? Maybe she’s not really my great-great whatever from the future and I’m just a teenage alien abductee, someone who is visited by aliens and being prodded, a human lab rat for testing by a foreign species. I pull on my pants to get ready for my shrink appointment. Maybe Michael can help me.
As I put on my lip gloss I want to call Jimmy but there’s little time until we have to leave and I’m sure his dad is right there with his cell by his side waiting for me to do just that. It’s really starting to bug me . . . how did everyone at school know about what happened between us if Jimmy didn’t call and blab to his moronic friends? And if he did call and blab . . . what an asshole. I know he was mad at me when he dropped me off this morning, but seriously . . .
“Jessica? In the car in five minutes. I have to run next door for a moment,” Mother calls from below. Five minutes! I can check it out in five.
“Be right there,” I reply, reaching for my cell. I speed dial Jimmy and I’m surprised when he answers.
“Jimmy! My God, are you okay?” I ask, caught off guard.
“As well as I can be, seeing as how my life is destroyed,” Jimmy says in the crabbiest voice. I hate it when he sulks, but I guess he has good reason.
“Your dad really fell apart, huh? I’m so sorry you got caught sneaking back in! Are you sure the coach won’t let you back on the team when your suspension is over?”
“What do you want?” His voice is so mean, so sour. I can tell his dad has been poisoning him against me. It’s happened before.
“I just want to make sure you’re okay. I’m suspended too, you know. And the rah-rah squad got me when I went on campus today.”
“What do you mean?”
“That bitch Molly tripped me, totally messed me up. . .” I’m about to describe my injuries when I remember that The Granddaughter healed me and that I have no marks to prove my case. “Anyway, it was a rough morning. It’s so unfair that we’re both suspended for something we didn’t even do at school! We should report Principal Hicks to the school board for this.”
Jimmy is silent, the way he gets when he’s gathering his thoughts. I can picture his long black eyelashes resting as his eyes close in concentration. I hear him breathe in like he does after making a decision. I can see his black wavy hair toppling forward over his eyebrows, and yet I’m caught off-guard when his words come.
“We’re done, Jessie. I can’t see you anymore.”
“Look, Jimmy. . .” I stammer. “We’re the victims here, can’t you see that? We’re the ones who were wronged! And if we break up, then everybody else wins! Don’t you get it?”
“Is your dad standing right there, making you say that, Jimmy?” I hear a weird sound, like a snicker, but it’s coming from Jimmy.
“No, my dad didn’t tell me to break up with you. He didn’t have to. Last year, before I met you, I knew what I wanted, and I was focused and training to be the best ball player. You were like . . . my screw up, just a mistake. I’m done messing up my life because of you. We’re over.”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I can’t believe that his dad isn’t standing right next to him with a match and a can of gasoline getting ready to torch his beloved car if he doesn’t say these horrible words to me.
“That’s pretty harsh,” I say in a choked voice.
“I know, and I’m sorry. But don’t do anything stupid, Jess. I’m not worth it.”
I know what he means, he’s telling me not to kill myself. It pisses me off that he thinks I’m so fragile.
“I know you’re not worth it,” I sneer, and I feel better.
“Then I guess we’re clear.” There’s a pause, a pause that means we should hang up the phone. But I’m not done yet.
“Did you tell your friends what happened? Is that how they found out?”
There’s another pause that answers my question. I feel something snap inside of me.
“Ah, I told Brent I got caught sneaking out with you. That was it.”
And that makes sense, why they all assumed that we had sex last night. Because Jimmy never told any of those friends of his that we have never had sex. They think he’s been shagging me all along, and that’s why we were together.
“Okay,” I say.
“Breaking up on the phone sucks. But it will be a while till I see anyone, since I’m suspended and all. Sorry to hurt you, Jess. Please stay safe.”
“I get it. Bye Jimmy.”
I hang up and sit on the bed in shock, startled by the impatiently honking horn of Mother’s minivan in the driveway.
Lucky for me Mother isn’t speaking to me so I am allowed to sit quietly in the front seat and process my thoughts on the way to Michael’s office. I feel as if I should be devastated but I have no tears for Jimmy. It’s weird, as if something broke inside of me. Not in half, like a broken heart, but something broke free . . . some mysterious invisible cord that connected us once is now detached and we’re both just ourselves again. I want to be sad. I think of his eyelashes, of the “J&J” we scratched into the tree by the football field, of the smell of his neck. I feel a longing for him physically but not a sadness of never being with him again. I wonder if my heart isn’t a small black charcoal thing incapable of love anymore.
Mother is a stony stare and a stiff lip. She drives too fast and corners too wide, trying to make a point. I want to say something to her but I feel the wall inside of her. Anything I say will end up an argument but I feel a need to slow down her thoughts and her driving.
“Jimmy broke up with me,” I offer.
Mother looks surprised, and then her eyes narrow. “I’m not surprised. The one good thing that’s happened to you in the last year.”
She has no idea he’s really the only good thing that’s happened to me since I became the social outcast, but I don’t say that to her.
“He wasn’t so good. He just wanted to get in my pants,” I say instead. Mother flies around the corner, her travel mug shooting out of the cup holder and soaring across the width of the van. Wrong tack. We land precariously in both lanes and Mother hits the gas pedal.
“I’m not upset,” I say in a soothing voice. “I’ve figured out some stuff.” Mother’s foot eases up and the van slows, but we’re still speeding. “I need to focus on myself for awhile. Jimmy was like a buffer to my figuring out what happened last year. He took all of my attention, which isn’t a bad thing cuz I needed him then, except that I haven’t learned how to just be me by myself. That’s what I want to work on next. I’ll tell Michael today.”
“What are you saying?” Mother says, driving the speed limit.
“I don’t know. . . I just feel okay to just be myself now. That’s all.”
Mother is silent, her expression still sharp, but the line of her mouth has softened.
“I’ll be here when you’re ready to come home,” Mother says as she drops me off in front of Michael’s office. It’s the nicest thing she’s said to me all day.
Mother, in her hurry to be rid of me, has dropped me off twenty minutes early for the specially-scheduled appointment. The receptionist, the young one whose name is either Christine, Kristen, or Kirsten, and her nervous checking of the clock, means another client is due for the doctor who shares space with Michael, and she needs me to be out of the way since there’s a rule that two clients can’t be in the waiting room at once. There might be an uprising.
“Do you mind waiting in Dr. Gelman’s office?” she asks quickly.
I shake my head and let myself in. I am alone in Michael’s office for the first time. I touch the deep wood of Michael’s desk, and pick up a letter opener from the leather pencil holder. It’s wood with a rounded point. If I tried to slit my wrists, it wouldn’t even scratch me. The only thing it could hurt is one of Buffy’s vampires. Intrigued I search for any sharp or dangerous object, just out of curiosity. The lamps cords are cut short and special plugs have been mounted just inches from the lamp base. There are locked safety covers on the plugs. The table and desk have rounded edges. The glass windows are six feet off the ground at their lowest point and . . . yep, safety glass, with wire mesh inside. I wonder if Michael had to buy all these things at a special store, Shrinks R’ Us. There is only soft leather and thick rugs and curved knickknacks. This room has been baby-proofed to the nth degree. Somehow I’m disgusted by that.
I sit in Michael’s chair, wondering what it is to be such a man who has to watch out for the safety of his fragile- minded patients. His chair is very tall. He’s always looking down on me, literally, I think. I never noticed that before. I just thought he was tall. The room I visit twice a week seems strange to me now from this side of the desk. I hear Michael’s voice in the reception area and hurry to the other side of room and sit in a different chair than usual, the scratchy floral one, so he’ll literally have to see me differently today.
Michael looks harried, probably from having to come into his office early. The man who is normally so neat and organized is a bit breathless and his manila folders are slipping fan-like from under his arm. I feel as if I should help him out but I stay seated. Finally he’s sitting at his desk, rearranging his folders, and after a moment he looks up.
“Jessie,” he says, as if trying to download the information about me into his brain. It hits me that he is the one always prepared for me. He knows when I’m coming to his office. He has five minutes between clients to sip some water, go over my files, look at his notes about our last conversation and our ‘homework’, those little life lessons he has me try at home between visits. But the way he stares at me shows me a dark truth: I’m just another client to him. I’m words in a manila folder, I’m the neat blue-penned notes he takes, I’m a stack of papers to be filed and examined at will.
“Are you comfortable?” He seems confused, and I realize it’s because I’m sitting in a different spot.
“Good. Your mother called me and insists you’re in a crisis. Care to tell me what’s happening?”
“Well. . .” I say, ready by habit for the bullshit game of lion hunter vs. prey, but it’s not in me today. I’m not even careful as my words lope into the open. “I was suspended from school today because I went sneaking out with Jimmy last night and he got caught coming back in this morning.”
“You were suspended . . . was he late for school?” Michael is not any less confused by this information. I shake my head.
“Exactly my point. It was a bogus charge. Jimmy’s dad is an old friend of our principal. He’s trying to teach him a lesson in responsibility, so he calls up the principal, Mr. Hicks, who as you know hates me anyway, and gets Jimmy suspended from school and kicked off the football team. I was suspended too as an accomplice. What happened didn’t even happen at school! It’s completely unfair.”
“Football was his chance to get into college, wasn’t it?” Michael asks, and I’m glad he didn’t have to look something up to know that.
“Yes. That’s why it’s so unfair. To ruin his son’s life to make a point, that’s just horrible.”
Michael pauses, and I recognize that old hunting-lion look in his eyes. I stumbled into his territory like a willing victim.
“And yet you would be the first to admit that last year you almost ruined your family’s lives to make a point,” Michael says.
Right for the throat. God, he’s good at his job. A week ago a statement like that would have wounded me. I smile a little.
“Good one, you’re right.”
Michael is right. Sometimes to be a decent human you have to look around and see who might get caught up in your self-inflicted stupidity.
“It’s still bogus, though. For Principal Asshole to suspend us both for that just because he’s doing his old buddy a favor.”
“You should know, Jessie, that there are some things that you have no control over. And here’s a life lesson. . . it’s not what you know but who you know. It’s just the luck of the draw. How did your dad get his job in the movie industry?”
“Well, he had this friend in college . . .”
Michael’s on a roll. This non-game is even more interesting than the old one.
“I get it,” I say. Weird, those are the last words I said to Jimmy when we broke up.
“So tell me about your crisis,” Michael says. He seems enthusiastic about our new relationship.
“I don’t really have one. I should, but I don’t. I snuck out because I told my parents yesterday that I was sorry about trying to kill myself last year and we had this big emofest, and then I couldn’t sleep and so I called Jimmy and we hung out but he tried to bone me and I wasn’t ready so he got mad and took me home and then got caught sneaking into his house and all hell broke loose by the time I got to school this morning.”
Michael raises his pen and then lowers it, as if unsure which piece of information is the most important for his notes. He drops his pen onto his desk and folds his hands together. I banter on.
“So I go to school this morning all fa-la-la ready to make up with Jimmy and Molly the bitch trips me, another guy practically threatens to rape me, and then I go to the nurse and the principal sends me home for a week.”
“You shouldn’t have gone out last night, Jessie,” Michael says, and it’s the first time he has ever, ever told me I’ve made an error in judgment. “It was inconsiderate.”
“I know. I messed up.”
“You’re paying for it now.”
“Yes. And the last part of it, is that Jimmy broke up with me this morning.”
Now he does make a note, a long one, in his file on me. I wish I could turn into a fly and buzz over and see what he’s writing. I smirk, picturing my thousand fly eyes not being able to read the mega-fractured version of his words.
“You were very close to Jimmy. You counted on him to hold you up emotionally. You must have some strong feelings about your breakup.”
“Not really. He told his best friend with the big mouth what happened so everyone at school hates me even more than before, and all along he’s been pretending we’ve been having sex but we haven’t so now I think Jimmy’s kind of a jerk.”
“I see.” More notes. I look outside through the high windows and see the palm trees swaying in the warm breeze and realize I have something unusual, a day off, yet here I am in a Beverly Hills psychiatrists’ office talking about my breakup and my troubles. This sucks.
“Hey,” I say, unexpectedly. “I wanted to ask you something. Do you think I’m crazy?”
Michael stops writing, breathes loudly through his nose, and then shakes his head. “No, not crazy,” he says cautiously.
He shakes his head again.
No with the head.
“Dangerous to society at large?”
Michael smiles a tiny smile and shakes his head ‘no’ again.
“Then is it okay if we don’t do this anymore? Me coming here I mean. I want to cut back on my therapy. I know it was required for me to get back into school because Principal Asshole has it out for me, but could you write me a note excusing me from twice-a-week therapy so we can both just get on with our lives?”
Michael folds and unfolds his hands on his desk and considers this a moment.
“What would you do to keep your stress managed?”
“Well, I’d like to get a jump on my tan. Just lie in the sun and relax. I haven’t done that in a long time.”
Michael pauses, his pen tapping the manila folder.
“Use sunscreen,” he says, not able to help himself as he licks his lips.
“Your mother wants to try antidepressants on you, Jessie, judging by the phone conversation I had with her this morning. But I’m not inclined to agree with her that it would help you. I’m not sure that’s a path I would embark on with you, and I was going to let her know today that I feel meds are not a good option for you. She would have probably removed you as my client anyway. I was going to try to prepare you for that.”
“Can you just tell her I’m okay? I don’t want this anymore. It’s just feels so . . . last year.”
Michael hides his smile, a bigger one this time, behind the manila folder with my name on it.
“I’ll arrange the necessary paperwork with your school if you agree to check in, say, once a month with me about your progress. This is a big step, Jessie. You’re going from counting on our visits twice a week to a check-in once a month. Yet we’ve discussed ways to cope in the real world. This is a good chance to explore some of your options. I’m a phone call away for you in a real crisis.”
“Not a mother-made-up-one, I know,” I say, standing up. “My mother’s downstairs. Want me to get her?”
“Not quite yet. I think that your mother will still be attending my parent support group, as she’s quite the advocate in that arena. If she makes the decision to have you come back to me, I want you to promise to comply.”
“I will, but things are different now between us. I know she’s mad at me but . . . since I apologized . . . it’s like this huge boulder was moved out of the way and we can talk again.”
“Okay, bring her up and we’ll go over our decision with her together. I’ll explain to her our options. And remember, this isn’t a ten-mile hike, it’s a baby step. I’m here if you need me.”
“Thanks, Michael,” I say, and when he stands up I walk over to him and give him a big hug. It’s the first time I’ve hugged him. He is much shorter than I thought.