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.