“Have you ever tried to remember how someone looked to you before you knew them and just… not quite been able to remember it? That’s…. I don’t know. If I try, if I close my eyes really tight and I concentrate really hard I can almost picture him in a pair of red shorts, brown leather flip flops standing at the service desk talking about how he had to wear a shirt at the pool because of his tattoos. But it’s like, I can’t actually picture it, I mean I can, but all I can picture are the facts, you know? Like, I can’t really remember what he looked like. I remember flashes, like extreme close up shots of his teeth or the tattoo on his left hand; the black and purple spade with flames on the fleshy part between his thumb and forefinger. I remember the piece but I just can’t picture the whole…” She bent her head and twisted the tip of her right sneaker into the bodiless commercial carpet. “I just… there are so many reasons I’m here. How do I know where to start?”
“Well, you could start at the beginning.” In stark contrast to the slouching demeanor of the girl sitting across from her, the woman in a tailored grey pants suit was polished, stone-faced and clearly trying her best to maintain what she thought was a gentle and understanding tone.
“Yeah, but what the hell would the beginning be? You want to know how when I was like two and a half I let myself and my uncle’s dog out of the back yard and took him for a walk? I hardly see how that’s relevant, or would you like to know how when I was 14 I was living on a diet of Chipwiches and Snapple from the vending machine and how I quit cheerleading because I couldn’t hold my flyer anymore because I just didn’t have the strength due to malnutrition and the whole time all my family noticed was that I was looking so great because I was thin? “
“What’s a ‘Chipwhich’?”
The girl’s expression changed. Clearly amused, she said, “It’s this really awesome ice cream sandwich thing that has soft chocolate chip cookies for the outside and vanilla ice cream in the center and then the ice cream is coated in chocolate chips. I don’t think they make them anymore, which really sucks because the shit they do make is nowhere near is good. I mean, the cookies aren’t as big and no chips on the cream is just plain lazy in my opinion. I used to love how the solid frozenness of it used to pull the top wire of my braces out a little bit. I don’t know why but that was just a really satisfying feeling – rearranging the wire of my braces so that the pressure on my teeth changed. I mean, I used to just pull forward on the center of the top wire and I could just move it that way, you see the wire was cut wrong on the right side of my mouth so that it totally used to just stab me in the cheek like all of the time. Apparently seeing that a wire is sticking out like forty million inches from the back of the bracket is hard or something. It must be nice to be able to go to school for something, charge tons of money to render a service and just be absolutely awful at it but no one really cares because hey, you’re licensed.”
“So why are you here?”
“You know, when my parents got divorced their lawyers or something decided that I should go to therapy. Apparently they were trying to like figure out who screwed me up worse or whatever. But I got sent to this really fat black woman who just kept informing me that I looked sad and I only went once because that really pissed me off. So many people felt the need to comment on how sad I looked or kept ordering me to smile. When I got my job at Stop and Shop customers used to tell me all the time ‘You’re such a pretty girl, you should smile more’. Apparently beauty equals joy or something. Like, hey, my life is shit but at least I’m pretty! What the hell is wrong with people? I mean, really. Maybe I’m just not retarded enough to walk around with a massive smile on my face for absolutely no reason. Nobody is that happy. I don’t fucking buy it.”
“So you need a reason to be happy?”
“Do you also need a reason to be sad?”
“What are you feeling if you don’t have a reason to be happy and you don’t have a reason to be sad?”
“Did I ever tell you about how when I was little my grandparents used to go visit my grandmother’s parents and they usually took me with them? It’s weird, there are so many things I can’t remember, like I couldn’t begin to tell you what I had to eat yesterday and I forget words all the time, but I can remember almost every detail of that trailer. The apple trees out front, the out-of-date brown carpet in their living room, the closet behind Pop’s chair where they kept all the toys… I can tell you the layout of that entire trailer. They died when I was eight, so I feel like remember someplace I haven’t seen in an amount of time equivalent to three quarters of my life is kind of impressive.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“You know, the last time I saw my great-grandmother before she broke her hip and entered the hospital for what turned out to be the rest of her life, she took the seven year old me around that trailer and let me have anything I wanted. It’s like she fucking knew, you know?” She wiped a stray tear from her left cheek and looked up at the ceiling. “Is something like that supposed to be traumatic? I mean, not the getting free shit part; I mean, obviously being given stuff isn’t traumatic. But like, are you supposed to be, I don’t know, scarred by great-grandparents dying when you’re eight years old?”
The therapist paused for a moment, studying the girl’s face. “Do you think you’re ‘traumatized’?”
“Is that all you’re going to do? Repeat what I say in the form of a question? Because I’m pretty sure I could just like…. have a kid and wait a few years for them to learn the shadow game and that’s like, free.”
As she opened the door to her car which was littered with trash, its back seat buried under a pile of forgotten belongings, the girl couldn’t help but let her mind wander to the things she couldn’t say; the things that found their way into her thoughts almost daily. As she dropped herself into the driver’s seat, she exhaled a large sigh and braced herself to face the drive home. As she pulled her door shut, she let the silent heat wash over her. There were so many things she wished she could say – so many things sitting at the back of her throat begging to be purged. She sniffled, took a deep breath, twisted her body using the back of her seat as leverage to crack her back and turned the key in the ignition. Before putting the car in reverse she made eye contact with herself in the rear-view mirror. The eyes staring back at her, they looked nothing like the eyes she’d stared into as a teenager which had been her favorite feature. I used to be strong. Tired and bloodshot, these eyes were flooded with tragedy and self-pity.