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Within just a few minutes I could usually size a person up pretty well: friend or foe, fun or boring—has serious issues. Almost everyone had serious issues as far as I was concerned, but maybe not as bad as mine.
I hadn’t made up my mind about Dr. Mayer, yet. So far, she seemed an alright lady, that is, for an adult.
“Hello Lora, I’m so glad to meet you. Your mother has told me a little about you. Perhaps we can have a seat in my office and get to know each other a little better?” She pasted on a big rosy, white smile and gestured toward her office with a click of her long, red acrylic nails.
A little flash of pain started in my right temple while painting on a smile of my own. Judging by Dr. Mayer’s fading smile, it may have come out as more of a scowl. I was too busy fighting the rising inner conflict that was doing back flips in my stomach to really care.
Her office was a mixture of delicacy and strength. On one wall, fragile angelic figurines ambled along mirrored shelving, and on the opposing wall, ranks of big important looking books marched across oak shelving. The window on the third wall faced an atrium where a small struggling garden was contained within the cold, stiff arms of the building.
A little furrow took up residence between Dr. Mayer’s eyebrows and her leather chair squeaked as she leaned across her grand oak desk. With a soothing tone, one that I assumed psychologists must practice during all those long years they must spend in college, she asked, “Lora, you know how worried your family is about you, right?”
“I guess.” Who cares what they think when my life is a complete disaster.
So far, I wasn’t impressed. I was kind of hoping this lady might be able to help me. To be honest, I needed someone’s help more than I was willing to admit to anyone, even myself. My grades had slipped from As to Ds and the only time I found any happiness was when I was drunk or smoking a doobie. So far all this shrink was doing was making me feel guilty for causing so much trouble to my family. I wasn’t so sure she was worth sharing my deepest darkest secrets with.
“That’s okay. They’re just worried about you. Sometimes high school, especially your freshman and sophomore years, can be tough. Or just life in general can suck, right?” she said, as though she knew how it was. We were buddies, right? She paused and offered another one of her shrinkly smiles, waiting for what, I didn’t know, because I had nothing to add to that. We weren’t buddies.
When I didn’t respond, she continued, “They said you ran away, so they are worried. You can understand that, right?”
“I guess.” It was getting a little uncomfortable just repeating myself.
“Parents can be annoying sometimes too, right? Your parents don’t have to know what we talk about here. Just know that by law, whatever we share here is confidential. Do you know what confidential means?” There went her clicking acrylic fingernails again as she punctuated her point.
“Yeah, sure. Whatever we talk about is private.”
“That’s right! You’re pretty smart.” She pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “Since this is a safe place, perhaps you can share some of what’s been bugging you. Has something been going on at home or school that caused you to want to run off?” She stopped and smiled at me again, hope dancing in her eyes.
“I...I...guess so.” I picked at the tweed that was sticking up in the couch I was sitting on. I knew what she was getting at. It was likely the same thing the police thought who picked me up at the convenience store gas station after surrounding us like a SWAT team. The poor guy whose handle bars I sat perched upon when they swarmed us, turned whiter than the whitey tighties he probably had on.
When the police confronted him, he threw me under the bus faster than a bus could travel. He disavowed any knowledge of me running away from home or who had been responsible for hiding me away, when in fact, he and his family were one of the two families responsible for helping me out. He claimed that he just met me at his friend’s house that very night and offered to take me to the convenience store for a pack of smokes. The police told him to get lost or they might reconsider looking into his real relationship with me.
The shrink was right. I was smart. Smart enough to know what the police that night, and the shrink I presently sat in front of, thought. They all assumed my parents were responsible for my behavior. My parents probably abused me in some sick, demented way, and that was why my grades were slipping, why I ran away, and why I had such a rotten attitude in general. It wasn’t true, though, and I was going to have to tell my secret so they wouldn’t be blamed. It made me angry that I was being forced to do something I didn’t want to do—again.
As a matter of fact, everything made me angry lately. Sometimes I was sure the anger and hate I felt would kill me or cause me to kill someone else. I wasn’t sure who I wanted dead more, me or everybody else. At times the war within was so intense, I learned to float above it all and stop feeling anything, which also meant that it made it harder to concentrate in school. In fact, it made it impossible.
I attempted to look up at her, but as the weight of what I was about to say settled on my shoulders, I looked back down at the tweed couch and went back to pulling at that loose thread. “I ran away because I didn’t want to move to the boat with the family in Long Beach.”
Now she adopted another look she probably mastered in psychology school: sympathy. “I understand living on a boat might be uncomfortable. Why did you think living on a boat would be so difficult?”
“It wasn’t living on a boat that was so difficult. It was who we were moving next to that was so difficult.” The war within me began fighting its battle in my chest with big black moths flickering around, trying to make an escape. I tried to shove them all back into their cocoons and went on explaining. “My uncle lives in a boat right by us. That’s why I didn’t want to move on the boat.” I took a deep breath and my final confession came out as a whisper, “He raped me last year right before Thanksgiving.”
The next look on the doctor’s face didn’t seem like something she practiced for years in shrink school. This time one of those clicking acrylics found its way between her teeth as she thought about what I just said. Was she worried about me or did she think I was lying?
“I see. Lora, do you know what the word rape means?”
As my neck and shoulders tightened up, I took out my aggression on that loose thread in her couch. “Of course I do.” I looked up to see if my answer satisfied her question. It didn’t. I tugged harder on the thread. “Uhm, it means I’m not a virgin anymore.”
She let out a long slow breath and arranged a sympathetic half smile on her face. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Lora, but I’m afraid I didn’t explain to you all the rules to confidentiality very well when we discussed it.”
“What do you mean?” The thread I was tugging on gave way and came out of the couch.
“Not everything is covered by confidentiality. By law I must report some things, and I’m afraid this is one of them. If a patient reports any kind of abuse, I have to report it.”
I looked for another thread to grab onto but was left empty handed. So I started chewing my knubby nails. “What do you mean you have to report it? You have to tell my parents?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Please don’t tell my mom. I’ll do it. Okay?” Large, hot tears soaked into my sweater. My worst fears were coming true. How was I supposed to tell my mother what her brother did to me? I couldn’t bear to see her face when I did.
Dr. Mayer studied me for a moment. She gave a cursory click of her nails on her desk and bit her lip. It felt like an eternity before she finally released her verdict. “I’m not really supposed to do this, but I’ll give you until the next time you see me to let your parents know.”
The verdict was not a complete relief since my parents would learn of the secret I’d been fiercely guarding for a whole year, but at least I would still have some control over the situation. Maintaining control over everything in my life was something I fought for on a daily basis. I knew what it was like for another person to force that away from me, and I trusted almost no one anymore.
“Okay, I’ll find a way to tell her.”
With that, my session was over, except that she requested two homework assignments from me. To tell my parents about what happened, and to write in a journal for a few minutes each day. She expected to see it in our next session. I didn’t think I would spend that much time on it. A year ago, I was an outstanding, straight A student, but these were likely the hardest homework assignments I’d ever been given in my life. I doubted I was going to pass the test.
As the old Cadillac came to a stop at the first stop sign on the way home, my mom glanced over at me and flashed a nervous but rosy smile. She always said she feels naked without her lipstick on. “So how did you like Dr. Mayer?”
“She was alright.” I flashed a similar smile back at her and then stared at my reflection in the passenger window as Downtown Long Beach began to speed by again. Please don’t ask me what we talked about.
“That’s good.” She tapped her nails on the steering wheel, painted the same color as her lipstick. She reached over and flipped on the radio. Christian music played softly in the background, but I wasn’t really able to listen to it. Instead, I was focused on the questions that were doing somersaults and crashing around in my stomach all the way home.
How should I tell her? Will she hate her brother forever after this? Will she break down and start crying? Will she hug me and feel sorry for me? Will this be the first time my mother actually raises her voice and starts yelling about something?
My mother wasn’t one to get overly emotional over anything. So I was at a loss for what her reaction over something like this might look like. Given the seriousness of the situation, I was certain it would be the first time I witnessed my mother fall apart.
I decided I didn’t want to witness that since I wouldn’t know how to respond back anyway. My father could be an emotional person. His go to emotion of choice was mostly anger—that is until he stopped drinking when I was 12—but his anger was usually directed at my mother. Now he was more interested in dragging the family into adventures we didn’t want to participate in, such as living on a boat, and throwing grown-up temper tantrums when he didn’t get his way, which included following my mother around and manipulating, finagling, and begging until he wore her down to near insanity.
On the other hand, my mother was a stalwart tower of strength. Unmovable, except when it came to my father. Which could be highly frustrating for my sister and I when trying to get her to change her mind about a thing. We got one shot at pleading our case, and if we didn’t litigate our side of things strongly enough, her answer would be no, and remain no, until the end of time.
I decided I would call her at work during her lunch hour and break the news. That way she wouldn’t necessarily be working, but I wouldn’t have to see her start crying or yelling or whatever it was she was going to do. Except for the anxiety over the shrink’s homework assignments doing battle in my stomach, the rest of the drive home was spent in relative silence. The Christian music was playing, it always was when we were in the car, but I didn’t have ears for it.