“I’m lying there wondering what happens next and I hear a voice. It says, ‘Man, this is not a way to live. This is a way to die.'” -Cornell, “28 Days”
Today was the day. As the alarm blared, and a hand reached from under the covers to slam it off.
She shrugged off the echoing words, well-used to strange thoughts and ringing words she didn’t remember thinking. It matched well with scrawled notes she didn’t remember writing and stacks of books earmarked at pages she didn’t remember reading.
The strange bruises and cuts on the canvas of her body. A quick glance in the bathroom before dressing showed there weren’t any new ones today.
Her stomach felt strangely hollow, but she ignored it. Breakfast wasn’t happening anyway. Running too late. She shoved a wad of cash into her hip pocket. She’d get food at lunch. The worshipful caress of her sharp hipbone said otherwise, but it wasn’t noticed.
Time hop-skipped and she was at her locker. The hopscotch jump of lost time didn’t faze her. Thankfully it was a routine school day and she could easily see by the clock on the wall that all she missed was the trip to school and maybe a bit of pre-homeroom socializing. Nothing she would be required to recall at a moment’s notice. But then a post-it on the inside of her locker caught her eye.
Meeting with the counselor today- after lunch
Panic rose. She would have to discuss “things” with this woman. Explain why her schoolwork was slipping and why her friends never saw her eat.
“Hey. Today’s the day.” said a voice to her left. She jerked silently before noticing it was a real person standing next to her. Katherine.
“Yeah. Today.” She replied.
“Are you still mad at me for telling your mom?” Katherine’s bright blue eyes were concerned and Kit momentarily wondered why she wasn’t mad. Normally she would be. She had been furious at Sarah back in middle school. Telling the school guidance counselor about having to prevent her from drinking bleach at a party. That anger seemed to bubble and overflow for weeks. Months.
But Katherine telling her mom about not eating? Nothing. Even though it was the missing piece in the mystery of “Kit’s mental status” that her mother was trying to untangle.
“I’m not mad.” She replied honestly. She had a sudden flirty urge to play with her hair. She squinted for a moment, trying to place the urge. It didn’t feel like hers. Katherine raised an eyebrow.
“What are you planning to talk about? Josh? Texas? Your dad?”
“I dunno. Maybe. Depends on the person.” She shoved the locker closed and twirled the lock compulsively.
“I think you should tell them about everything.” Katherine pushed. Kit’s eyes cut away, fluttering.
Another pair looked up.
“Everything?” came the sharp reply. The eyes accompanying the harsh word seemed in contrast. They were a bit shy, but also warm. Katherine turned a bit pink. Her turn to glance away.
“Well. That’s up to you.”
The sharper eyes fiddled with her small green purse, pawing through it with purpose. Suddenly a rattling sound announced success and she pulled out a small bottle of painkillers. Katherine frowned. “More headaches?”
“There’s always more headaches.” Midori replied. “Today’s upcoming party isn’t exactly a help.”
“So you are mad.”
“Jesus Katherine. I said I wasn’t.” Midori huffed, tipping the bottle expertly and dry-swallowing a couple of the oblong white pills. “I’m going to be late.” She shoved the bottle back into the purse and looked expectedly at the dark haired girl in front of her. Katherine glanced at the clock.
“Oh. You’re right. I’ll walk you?”
“Whatever. Your tardy record.”
“Media doesn’t care. As long as we turn in projects, we can pretty much be wherever.”
“Should have gone the media track.” Midori replied, automatically falling into step next to Katherine. Sometimes their arms brushed. It was one of Midori’s favorite parts of the day and she hoarded the feelings jealously.
It was lunchtime by the time Kit was aware and she automatically headed to the table she shared with Germany and a couple other friends. She avoided glancing where Josh and Texas would be sitting, half in each other’s lap.
Charlotte peeked out and saw. She rolled her eyes, knowing she was better at pleasing Josh anyhow. Not her fault he preferred the sane.
Germany never asked why she just drank a diet coke. The excuse of headaches and migraines worked well for Kit’s supposed closest friend.
Lunch didn’t last as long as Kit hoped. As her other friends threw the remnants of their lunches away and headed towards the classrooms, Kit clutched her half finished diet coke and walked towards the faculty side of the building.
It felt like a death march.
The kids all knew where “special meetings” were held at the school. Whether it was tutoring, discipline discussions, or counseling, there was only one area it happened. Kit opened the door to the lobby and tried to dodge the eyes of a secretary she’d never met before.
It was Roms who surfaced this time and timidly walked up to the counter. She recognized the sign-in sheet, similar to the one for when she arrived after third bell. She filled out the body’s name, then finally met the eyes of the secretary. The woman was obviously judging her, but Roms tried not to think about that. Someone important needed to attend this meeting. This meeting could not be lost entirely. That’s something a crazy person would do. Sane people remember. The primary goal was to appear sane.
The secretary glanced at the sheet, then at something on her computer screen.
“Room three. It’s the last one.” She pointed down a short hallway. Roms gave a brief nod and headed towards Room Three.
She opened the door and saw a woman already in there. She paused.
“Are you K____? You’re in the right place.” The woman said, a smile on her face. She was younger than Roms expected. Barely out of college. She entered tentatively, the diet coke held in front like a shield.
“Is this all right?” She asked. The woman nodded with a smile.
“Sure. I’m Joy.”
A derisive snort exploded in the back of Roms’ mind, but she ignored it. Fought to not let the offensive sound reach the air verbally.
“K____.” She lied automatically. Joy nodded.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“Because my father won’t pay for a real psychologist and doing it through the school is free.” Midori interjected bluntly.
Roms pushed back the sensation of a blush but wasn’t positive if her face remained passive. Lately, her and Midori had less of a wall. They synced in many of their goals for the body, so perhaps that was why.
Joy had about as good a poker face as Roms herself so there was no way to tell if the blush avoidance was successful.
“What are you hoping to get out of these meetings?” Joy asked
Roms paused, considering.
“You can be honest. It stays between us.” Joy encouraged.
“I suppose it would be whatever is needed to reassure my parents and friends that I’m fine.” Roms answered truthfully.
“Are you fine?” Joy asked.
“Do you want to elaborate on that right now?” Her tone seemed hopeful. Rom felt the immediate upheaval and internal lip curl.
“Probably not.” She said quietly. Joy nodded easily.
“That’s fine. We don’t know much about each other yet. Please do sit.” She offered the open seats at the round table she was at. Roms chose one diagonal from the therapist. Not across, not next to. That seemed the most comfortable. Joy made a note in her pad.
“Let’s start with some easy stuff. Any pets?” She asked, her tone disarming. The buzzing bees of Roms’ head increased. Suspicion was high. Roms pushed back as much as she could, trying to focus on the fact that getting through this meant parents backing the fuck off. That thought decreased the buzzing.
“Two cats. Girls. Velvet and Ashes.” She went ahead and supplied the names. Knowing that was the logical next question. She’d handled enough guidance counselors to know the line of questioning.
“Do you take care of them mostly? Or your parents?”
“They’re only at my father’s house. But I mostly take care of them. He will on the weekends I’m at Mom’s.” This commentary caused another note made to Joy’s pad.
“Do you see your parents equally?”
“That’s the technical deal. But since school is here, I’m at my father’s more. Most of my friends live here.”
“Understandable. And your parents are okay with that arrangement?”
“Yep. Friendliest divorced parents you’ll ever meet.” Roms’ tone edged on facetious as Midori crept out slightly, “Their separation was a business arrangement. Neat, organized, timely, and emotionless.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.” Joy said, her expression remaining fixed. Midori rolled her eyes.
“Okay.” She replied without argument. Joy seemed to react to this, and made another note.
“Why do you say it’s like a business arrangement?”
Midori slumped slightly in the chair. She definitely hadn’t taken enough painkillers for this woman. It was ridiculous that Roms thought to go along easily with this bullshit.
Midori debated a moment on letting Rika out to just end the session bluntly. But that could end with further counseling and possibly school faculty involved. Rika was not good at censoring her language.
Last time in Geography when the boy had made a crude pass at Kit, Rika’s response got her kept after the bell. Thankfully the teacher liked Kit, and had heard part of what the boy said. So the discussion was mostly for show. Not a true disciplinary action.
Rika in this situation would end differently, Midori was pretty sure. She sighed heavily.
“Look. I get that I’m here to ‘sort things out’ or whatever. But I really hate the constant ‘why’ follow up questions to things I say. Can we do this a different way?”
“I appreciate the honesty, K____.” Joy replied matter-of-factly. She did not make a note on her pad. Midori wasn’t sure what that meant. “Any suggestions on the best way to do this?”
“The way that gets me out of here and my parents no longer pissed.” Midori answered.
“Well I’m going to be honest with you then, K____. That’s going to have to involve some whys. I have to be able to see why things are not fine. Eventually. Or the parents probably won’t be cool.”
Midori picked up on Joy trying to make her speech more high school causual in its rhythm and some word choices, but it mostly sounded odd. It put the whole head on edge. Even distant parts of the pieces who were truly unaware of there being a system.
“I’m not sure what to tell you.” Midori said stubbornly.
Then there was a push and Roms gave way. “I guess I should say I just got out of a long relationship. For high school. Almost a whole year. I was dumped a couple weeks ago. He’s going out with one of my former best friends now. Found out they were already doing stuff behind my back for months. My other best friend that I sit with at lunch hasn’t noticed I haven’t eaten at school in three weeks.” Roms paused, hesitant with the last big tidbit. Then she focused again on the goals of just getting through this as honestly as they could without getting committed.
“And my third best friend…she’s the only one who’s noticed anything different about me. But I think I have a crush on her. I don’t know how to feel about that. I’ve only liked boys. I still like boys. I’m not a lesbian.” Roms’ tone became desperate at the end as pieces of emotions breathed in from other corners of the system.
Being more abnormal was a fucking disaster.
Why couldn’t they just be normal.
Joy was silent for a long time. It felt like forever. Roms was resisting the urge to give way to The Compulsives, who would pick or scratch, or toy with something and make the abnormal even more obvious. She remained rigid, in body and head. The headache increased.
“Thank you. That’s very helpful.” Joy said, finally starting to make some notes on her pad. “I think having feelings for people who care for you can be good, healthy, even if they seem confusing. I think we really got through a lot of stuff today for a first session. Is it okay with you if we stop early today? I think you need to pause after telling me all that. And I need to pause too before talking to you about all that. But I’m glad we were able to open a little bit of this box you keep.”
Roms stared, resisting the urge to drop her jaw in open-mouthed surprise. Joy knew about the box. Joy carefully didn’t meet her eyes while she finished writing and Roms composed herself, mentally running through all that had happened in this room. With Joy.
It was vital that Kit be aware of this whole first session.
Roms had a feeling these sessions with Joy would determine some important direction for the future. Others were more skeptical, but Roms was the one who was usually right about those sort of predictions.
Something important was at work here.