Sunday, April 27, 2008

Season 1 - Episode 7

Scene 1 - Therapist’s Office

I refused to live in fear. It went against everything I believed in and I vowed to never be part of any effort to control anyone else through fear.

Those in power seemed to be using the fear tactic a lot lately, creating a tension that permeated every part of society and our once quite campus was not as immune as I had hoped. We were all working hard at the health center to reduce the stress and return the student body and faculty to a level of functional normalcy.

The threat to our campus turned out to be a student who didn’t want to take her midterms and saw this as an opportunity to delay that. I had the pleasure and displeasure of talking to the student in question during a session that I thought was to address her as a potential victim. To my horror she broke down in tears and admitted to planting the letter with the threat to “spray the campus with bullets” worse than anything witnessed so far in previous school shootings.

Another passage from the Bible leaped into my brain - Do unto others, etc, etc. Don’t know why I was fixated on the Bible lately but when it was taken straightforwardly and not through the lens of power and fear mongers, it had some very simple and straightforward lessons for all of us. Too bad its power was frequently misused and abused.

I never did like zealots of any kind. They worked so hard to make sure we interpreted lessons like those in the Bible to their way of thinking - and only their way. The phrase, “My way or the highway,” was bantered around like a bat to a hornet’s nest lately and there seemed to be plenty of zealots on the other end of the spectrum who were eager to respond in kind.

The week went by quickly due to the overwhelming workload but when Thursday came I dreaded going to work. It was the day of Jason’s next appointment and I still shuddered at how the previous one concluded.

To my surprise - and relief - Coach Daniels personally escorted Jason to my office. An apology was promptly made - although under slight duress as the coach gave my young and reluctant client a look that brokered no room for resistance.

Coach Daniels took a seat outside my office as Jason passed by me and sat in my comfortable chair which last session seemed to make him so uncomfortable - although he was less so today.

Jason still didn’t reveal much about the incident but he did talk this time. I finally got him to open up about how he felt being in a therapy session. As long as I didn’t talk about the beating he was responsive, but not as much as I had hoped. It was clear that Jason’s therapy would progress in baby steps unless I could somehow convince him that the sooner he talked about the reason he was here, the sooner he’d be back in class and on the team.

When Jason left my office Coach Daniels stood, made eye contact with my still reluctant client and then addressed me.

“I expect that Jason was a proper and respectful student today.” His voice was even sexier than on the phone and I had to remind myself that this was serious business not an opportunity to meet eligible men. Of course, I didn’t know if he really was eligible and I found myself trying to sneak a look at his ring finger. Of course, not all married men wore their rings.

“Yes he was.” I really couldn’t say more than that due to patient/therapist confidentiality rules.

“Jason, wait for me outside.”

“Yes sir.” The younger man almost snapped to attention. I watched as Jason almost marched from the outer office area and into the sunny day outside.

Turning my head back to the coach my eyes locked with his as I blushed at his intense stare, his blue eyes studying me with great interest. Words escaped me as I tried not to respond to his overwhelming masculine presence. I hadn’t felt this speechless since I was a teenager with my first crush.

“Here’s my card with my cell phone number. If you have any further problems with Jason cooperating, don’t hesitate to call.” His fingers brushed my hand as I reached to take the card from him. It was electrifying and I struggled to get even the simplest thank you out.

“Call anytime.” His voice was soothing. “And I mean that.”

I thanked him again as he turned to leave. I couldn’t help but watch his athletic figure as he headed out the same door Jason left through not long before. My heart did a back flip and a part of me that I thought was dead suddenly showed that it was still alive.

Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home

Light poured into the house and I saw my surroundings in a new and carefree way. Dana and I had finished redecorating the windows throughout the house and I sat back on the couch and relished the fruits of our labor.

Dana was out with friends celebrating the end to a greulling week of exams. They were coming back to the house for a sleep over and I was excited about having so many young people in the house again.

Reflecting on my encounter with Coach Daniels earlier that day I wondered if he was indeed an eligible man, something that became more and more rare as I grew older. Even though I felt giddy at the prospect of having male attention in my life again, a sense of fear and reluctance about being hurt held me back. Did I really want the complication of a man in my life right now, especially as I was just beginning to open up to my daughter again?

I chastised myself for worrying about something that wasn’t even a clear possibility. I probably would have agonized further but was interrupted by the slamming of a car door and laughter as Dana and her friends arrived. I got up to greet them and a sense of pure joy washed over me as I was caught up in their happy and light-hearted mood.

Tears of joy welled up in my eyes as I realized just how lucky I was to have this second chance at life.

Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office

Regina canceled our weekly appointments until further notice and I grew more and more concerned about her. I left a message on her machine that we needed to have a girls night out and that I wouldn’t take no for an answer.

A few days later when she still hadn’t returned my call I went to her office and sat outside to catch her after her last patient. When she emerged I grew even more concerned. She looked tired and drawn. I hadn’t see her look like this in years.

When she saw me her face showed a mixture of relief and anxiety. I waited for her patient to leave then quickly entered her office.

“Grab your coat,” I almost ordered her to do so. “I’m taking you out to dinner.”

She hesitated then thought better of it. I quickly hugged her before she could object.

“You are the best friend I’ve ever had in my entire life.” My words were gentle and sincere. “You’ve always been there for me.” I hugged her even harder. “Turnabout is fair play.”

I felt her hug me back as if her life depended on it and maybe it did.

Relief washed over me that I visited her just in time.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Season 1 - Episode 6

Scene 1 - Therapist’s Office

A reluctant young man sat across from me today. I don’t usually see male students for a number of reasons. They’re less likely to seek help, even in today’s alleged enlightenment about mental health. Besides, my therapeutic specialties centered around young women and eating disorders, something that was rampant in a school setting, especially those who most recently left high school.

But there had been a school shooting. Not on our campus but one nearby and a number of our students knew some of those whose lives had been taken so prematurely. A series of copycat threats followed and what was once a free and open environment was now locked down for our own protection until the authorities could figure out if the threats were real and immediate. The need for reassurance - for both students and parents - was overwhelming and extra therapists were brought in. We were all working overtime and taking all the cases that came our way.

The passage from the Bible, violence begets violence, resonated lately given the marked increase of hostilities on our once peaceful campus. We had enjoyed a rather crime-free existence until now despite being entrenched in the heart of inner city Chicago. Our campus has a diverse student body in all ways imaginable, which is why I choose to work here.

Jason sat almost motionless across from me, desperate to display anything but fear, uncomfortable in my overly comfortable chair, his expression stoic as he resisted talking about the reason he was here today.

It wasn’t his choice. He was ordered to come or be expelled and his parents were irate and making sure everyone knew it. I had spent the better part of an hour on the phone discouraging them from flying in to “handle” the matter themselves.

An attack on another student led to his arrest and that of three other football players. They were charged with a hate crime and the university was eager to keep the federal authorities out of it, not wanting any more negative press, hoping this story would get lost in the coverage of the shootings. The sadness of using one tragedy to bury another wasn’t lost on me.

“Jason, why did you participate in the beating of the other student?” He didn’t flinch. “Was it really because he’s gay?” No response.

I decided to try another tactic. “We can sit here session after session - I get paid either way, but you will not be released back to your classes and the team until you start talking.” My voice was firm and authoritative.

We sat silent for the rest of the session. When he got up to leave I reminded him when his next appointment was and that he’d be automatically expelled if he didn’t show - and on time.

He gave me a look that was chilling. I stood and locked eyes with him, setting as healthy a boundary as I could, given the situation. As soon as the door closed I picked up the phone and called security and reported my concerns. Then I placed a call to someone who owed me a huge favor and didn’t even know it yet.

The call went to voice mail and Coach Daniel’s voice encouraged me to leave a message adding that he’d get back to me as soon as possible. I left my message and said it was urgent that we talk about Jason before his next appointment.

When I left the building that evening I was overly vigilant, regarding everyone and everything with suspicion - my nerves still a bit frayed from my earlier encounter with Jason’s hostility. I had security’s number on speed dial just in case, my phone in one hand, mace in the other. I hated feeling this way, but I’d hate it even more if I wasn’t prepared to protect myself and didn’t make it home.

Reaching my car safely I quickly threw my belongings in the passenger seat and locked the doors as fast as I could. I leaned back in my seat, taking a deep breath, trying to calm myself before facing the overly congested expressways heading to the suburbs, complicated by the never-ending construction. I was told when I moved here that there were two seasons in Chicago - winter and construction. Lately it was a mix of both.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when the sound of knuckles hit my window.

“You okay Ma’am?” I recognized the campus security guard and rolled the window down - just a little.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

He gave me a look that said he didn’t believe me. “I’ll look around just to make sure.” After checking around and under my car he was finally convinced it was safe for me to start the engine and leave. He continued to watch me as I pulled towards the exit, his military-like figure growing smaller and smaller in my rear view mirror.

Punching the buttons to turn my CD player on, I cranked up the volume trying to forget the day and detox before arriving home. The lyrics, “You can still be free,” from a Savage Garden CD blocked the outside noise of traffic and horns blaring and I thought that it was the most appropriate song to play right now.

I could still be free.

Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home

Dana seemed happier lately, more complete. She was talking with her father nearly every day now. I felt a little jealous but quickly dismissed it as a place I didn’t want or need to go.

This was good for her. Good for me. I just needed to keep telling myself that.

I didn’t see the elusive boyfriend again and wondered if he was still in the picture, and, if so would she introduce him to me? I decided to go to the deep end of the pool step up on the diving board and face my fears.

“Dana, how would you like to have some friends over for a barbeque in a few weeks?”

We were having dinner, something I relished. She looked up at me - startled.

I hadn’t really been receptive to anyone coming into the house over the past few years as it went from bright and welcoming to dark and cluttered, reflecting my inner turmoil. Lately, I had made real progress and as I cleaned and cleared things out of my house and my life my mood lifted - or maybe it was the other way around. I suppose it didn’t really matter since I had the results I needed. Talk about the ends justifying the means or vise versa. Stopping myself before my head started spinning I looked back at Dana and saw her confused expression.

“Well?” I prodded gently.

“But you don’t like people coming into the house.” Her voice nearly broke and I felt loss and sadness sweep over me at the cost of my loneliness all these years - especially the cost to my daughter. No wonder she was reaching out to other people.

“I do now.” My voice sounded lighter - even to me. “And, I was wondering if you could help me pick out some new curtains and window treatments for the downstairs.” My child looked at me as if I was a stranger, but I forged on. “I want to let more light into the house.”

“Who are you and what have you done with my mother!”

We both laughed - together. It was music to my ears.

Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office

Regina was working overtime as well so we postponed our weekly session. I was more worried about her than myself at this point and hoped that the recent shootings hadn’t stirred up an old loss. She had survived so much and was such a strong person that it felt awkward to be worried about her. She usually worried about me and was the one to keep me from jumping off my emotional cliffs.

Except for that one time - so many years ago.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Season 1 - Episode 5

Scene 1 - Therapist’s Office

My session with Laura went quite well. She was a straight-A student and appeared to be more aware of herself than most young women her age. The way she dressed appeared to be more of a boundary setting issue with her mother than anything else. Although, she did possess a definite artistic streak that I found rather interesting. Still, her appearance screamed for a separate identity than the one her mother wanted her to assume.

“Does it hurt?” I had to ask. “The one on your tongue.”

“Not really. Sometimes when I chew - food pushes on it, but you learn to work around it.”

I just couldn’t imagine anything being worth this kind of disruption to my body - but then again every generation endured something their parents found questionable from corsets to beehive hairdos to stiletto heels.

We talked for the rest of the session about all sorts of topics and it was clear that Laura knew who she was, what she wanted and how to get it. She didn’t need therapy - she needed to be treated like the responsible adult that she clearly had become.

I flashed to what Dana would look like in five years and wondered if she would be sitting across from a therapist, trying to separate from an overbearing mother.

Reality check - can’t let this happen!

I suddenly had a stark insight into how I should deal with my daughter from now on and made a mental note to start doing so immediately.

Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home

Dana and her father talked for more than an hour the other night and she stayed in her room after that. I heard her go to the bathroom later on but left her alone. I didn’t see her again until after work the next day.

To my surprise she had dinner waiting when I arrived home. Store-bought pizza and ready-to-eat salad never looked so good.

“Wow! This is really nice,” my response was genuine. It was the first time we had sat down to eat together in more than a week. Something I missed - dreadfully so.

I reached for my water as Dana sat down across from me.

“I talked with Dad last night.” She kept her eyes on her plate.

“How did that go?” I tried to keep my tone neutral.

She looked up to measure my response. “Great.” She took a generous bite of pizza. “Really great.”

I felt she was holding something back.

“He asked me to come visit this summer.”

“Is that something you want to do?” I reminded myself this was for her and not for me. My stomach still turned upside down, the pizza I had swallowed threatening to come back the way it went in.

“I think so.” Her stare locked with mine, her eyes pleading with me to understand, not be mad and still love her.

“That’s great, honey.” I mustered as much enthusiasm as I genuinely could, grabbing my water and swallowing to force the pizza in the right direction.

“You mean that, mom?” I flashed back to when she was much younger and shared her love with me so easily.

“I really mean that.” And, I really did.

I finally did.

Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office

“I did it.”

I looked up to see Regina raise an eyebrow. She knew what I meant. She just wanted to make me to say it out loud - to own it.

“I called Dana’s father –“

”Ahem!” Regina’s interjection made me pause.

“Okay, my ex –“

”Ahem!” She wasn’t going to cut me any slack. None at all.

“Okay, Richard! Are you happy now?” I knew she was my friend and was doing the right thing by me, but boy was it pissing me off right now.

“I’m happy - are you?” Regina’s southern drawl always made everything sound so innocent.

“No damn it, I’m not!”

“Why not?”

I didn’t have an answer. I nearly jumped up from the chair as I escaped to the other side of the room and fled to the window - my sanctuary.

“Center, Georgia. Center.”

Regina’s voice was calm as she talked me down off the ledge I had perched on. She was right, as usual. I needed to center. I needed to get back to my authentic self and not respond from the negative energy that was now consuming me. Fear and anger were such powerful emotions and usually worked against me.

“So, when are you going to start living your life?” Her voice cut through my silence and inner turmoil.

I took a deep breath and turned towards my mentor and current tormentor.

“Who says I haven’t.”