The waiting room is small with simple chairs and a plant I think might be fake. I sit there, waiting, nervous for the next 45 minutes. I don’t know why I’m nervous; I do this every week. But without fail, every week I am nervous.
The second hand on my watch keeps ticking. It’s 6:14 p.m. One more minute and she’ll come and get me. Just 60 more seconds. One more minute. Finally the clock strikes 6:15, and all my senses are heightened. Do I hear the creak of the door as she opens it, or is that my imagination? Is the scent of the hand soap from her bathroom really that strong, or am I just overthinking it? Is my heart actually pounding so hard I hear it, or is that just a sound from the next room over?
The door opens. She pokes her head out and tells me to come in. Sometimes it’s awkward because there may be others waiting as well, but it’s OK. I walk into the room and throw my coat on the floor because I’m just so classy. I plug my phone into the outlet next to the big chair, and with a sigh, I finally sit down. I proceed to complain about how terrible public transportation is — that the subway was delayed and I panicked thinking I’d be late. She chuckles. She asks me how I am. I say something like, “delightful” or “wonderful” because how else am I supposed to answer such a big question?
Then we get into the important stuff. The reason I’m there. It’s hard — digging so deep into your mind that even you aren’t sure who you’re talking about. I stare at the floor. Usually I stare at this treasure chest kind of thing that sits next to my chair. It has elephants on it, and I used to stare at a specific elephant, one with its trunk way up in the air. A few weeks ago she got rid of that treasure chest. I don’t know why, but now instead of the elephant I’ve come to know, I stare at the fading carpet. After all, looking people straight in the eye while discussing these kinds of things just makes it all even more real.
Every few minutes I look at my watch. I think I do it secretly, pretending to play with the ponytail holder that sits on my wrist. But really I’m checking how much time we have left. It’s 6:30. OK, I still have a good half hour. But then slowly but surely, the clock creeps closer and closer to the time I dread — 7:00 p.m. At 6:55 she starts to wrap things up. She knows it’s hard for me to leave, so we don’t wait until the last second to end things. She eases towards the edge of her chair and says something like, “This is a much larger conversation, and we’ll have to continue talking about it next week. Same time?” Those words make my heart drop. It means I have to go back out into the real world — one where I pretend my emotions do not exist.
My whole body feels heavy. My legs feel glued to the floor, and the pounding of my heart is so loud that I just want to scream at it and tell it to shut up so I can pay attention to what I’m doing. At this point she is standing next to me, telling me to have a good night and to get home safely. But I can’t move. I try, but I can’t. I cover my face and keep repeating, out loud, “Get up. You need to go now. Don’t do this.” I stand up slowly. I know I need to go. Staying there will not only reinforce the dependence I have on her, but it also may hinder our relationship because it would be pushing boundaries, as I have done so often in the past. Walking to the door feels like a chore, even though it’s pretty much right next to me.
Before I leave I look at her and she says, “Take care of yourself.” Then I walk out. I don’t go straight back to the subway. I go to her bathroom first. I stare at myself in the mirror, at the girl who just went through an emotionally draining 45 minutes. My whole chest has broken out in a rash because that happens when I’m anxious. I wash my face then wash my hands and smell the soap that reminds me so much of this office.
This office. My safe haven. My therapy.
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