I was still hitting myself ten years later, when I sat down with Sarah one night and I told her everything about my life. I needed to see a psychiatrist. That’s what she said after we talked. I knew I needed to see a psychiatrist, but before I agreed I wanted her to hear a few things.
She sat and listened to me tell her, “1) I don’t want to have to get on any medicines, because as far as I’m concerned all shrinks are good for is getting you high. If people in the twelfth century heard voices, they were called saints. If it happens today they call you crazy. And 2) I don’t want to have to talk to someone who wears turquoise jewelry.”
Who in the hell would take the time to complete worksheets if they felt like they were getting ready to have a panic attack?
I told her that I didn’t even want to talk to anyone who had even thought about wearing turquoise jewelry, and beyond that someone who even thought it OK to associate with someone who wore turquoise jewelry. That went for people who went on and on about chakras and organic-fucking-food and the healing powers of the crystal shit. She giggled and agreed that it was fine and she would find someone for me to go see about the things I was doing to myself. Hopefully it would be someone who wouldn’t want to get me high and wear turquoise jewelry as they did it.
The next morning when I got to work I went through some books Sarah had given me to help with my panic attacks. There were a couple of books about inner light, or finding your inner light, or wisdom, or finding your true path to wisdom, all written by people who from their pictures looked like they’d never even gone to the bathroom before. This is how fucking spiritual they looked. She also gave me this book called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, complete with worksheets to complete if you were experiencing panic attacks and anxiety.
Who in the hell would take the time to complete worksheets if they felt like they were getting ready to have a panic attack? The next day at work I took the book and threw it in the corner. But it wasn’t fifteen minutes later when I started feeling anxious that I picked it back up and started flipping through the pages and looking for a chapter that dealt with tightness in the shoulders and having a feeling in your stomach like you’re going to puke on yourself.
I couldn’t find any with a chapter heading like that.
I flipped through the book some more and then one of my co-workers peeked her head through the door, and I threw a newspaper over the book so no one could tell that I was reading a book entitled The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. My phone rang and I picked it up. It was Sarah, so my coworker left. She said she had talked with her brother and had the name of a Christian counselor to talk with.
I laughed, “What the hell is he going to do, baptize me? And what are you doing talking to your brother about my depression?”
She told me she didn’t say it was me and said that the name of the counselor was Hamlet. I said “Hamlet? Is that not the worst name for a counselor there could be? I sure as hell know someone named Hamlet can’t help me. For fuck’s sake, Sarah!”
We both hung up.
She called back fifteen minutes later with the name of someone who didn’t believe in medication and specialized in child trauma and PTSD. I called up the number and set up an appointment, took a half day off work, and drove over to her office the next week saying to myself the whole way over there, “Everything is going to be better. Everything is going to be better?”
When I got there it was all different. I felt different sitting down in the waiting room of her office, in a child welfare center surrounded by toys and little dolls.
They were the kinds of dolls you see on 20/20 television investigations. It was the kind where the condescending therapist asks, “And where did he touch you? Can you show me on our little doll here?”
I waited for a few minutes, and then a woman’s voice said, “Okay. Come on in.”
When I went in I could feel this tightening in my shoulders and this pukey feeling in my stomach because there was mood music playing in the backyard. There was a tiny waterfall in the corner going trickle-dickle. She was wearing turquoise jewelry.
But still I sat down and told her all of my stories. I told her about Western Greenbrier county and throwing turtles and the deer Frank skinned and how I didn’t want her to confuse Rainelle with these artsy-fartsy Lewisburg people. I told her about the street I grew up on, and playing football. I told her about how it happened. And then I said—”penis”—to a complete stranger. What a strange world. She sat as I was telling her all these things and smiled when she was supposed to smile and was serious when she was supposed to be serious. She asked me how I felt about telling someone, now that I had told her. I took a deep breath and I told her that I felt fine.
At the end of that session I asked her, “Well how do I pay you?”
She said in a calm and detached voice. “Well, I typically charge my patients 120 dollars an hour, but I also offer a discount rate of ninety dollars a session for those unable to pay the higher rate.”
I whipped out my checkbook from my back pocket and I told her in my thick accent. “Well, if that’s the case I’ll take the ninety dollar rate then.”
She had me do this role-playing exercise where I pretended that all of my psychic pain was sitting on top of my shoulder.
I wrote her out a check and spelled her name all careful—S-A-N-D-Y and she sat quiet and uncomfortable as I wrote out the last name. BLAKE.
Then I made a little literary joke, Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright, but she didn’t get it. I ripped the check out and handed it to her and she took it. She took a ninety dollar check for listening to my story and all my pain. I’d really told no one except a few people. She took my ninety dollars for listening to the types of stories she hears every single day. Penis!
The next time I went to see her she did something that was strange for me. She had me do this role-playing exercise where I pretended that all of my psychic pain was sitting on top of my shoulder. She asked me to visualize my pain as a ball. She repeated, imagine that it’s a ball sitting on your shoulder.
She told me that she wanted me to take the ball and hold it in my hands. I pretended that I was holding the ball in my hands.
I took the ball, and she asked, “What do you want to do with it? What do you want to do to your pain?”
I held the ball and I said melodramatically, like I was on a TV show, “I want to shape it. I want to shape it into a sword.” I meant what I said.
I laughed at how ridiculous I sounded. I laughed at how ridiculous I sounded telling this to a complete stranger.
Then I felt something else. I felt myself crying just a simple tear so small that she couldn’t even see it. She sat in her turquoise jewelry and her hippy-dippy sandals and in her calm and detached voice she told me how hard it was for her, how hard it was to hear about people telling the stories of their fucked up lives, day after day, and how most people came in and told how they’re broken and expected to be fixed, how after she’d done this exercise, the women always told her they wanted her to heal them. Then she told me she was glad that I was different and felt there was room for a breakthrough because I was someone who could imagine his pain as a big red ball, hold it in his hands and shape it.
We had about half an hour left so I told her how uncomfortable I became around large groups of people, even when they were people at my house, and she told me, “Well, obviously your house is being penetrated. It’s like your house is being penetrated all over again.”
After that, whenever I was kicking shit or raising hell and Sarah was yelling at me, I’d tell her, “My house is being penetrated, Sarah. Don’t you understand? My goddamn house is being penetrated. Give me a break.”
Even if I was having a bad day and not saying anything but being quiet, Sarah might say in her baby-talk-girlfriend voice, “Bubbies is your house being penetrated?”
And I’d shake my head yes and look all pitiful.
Then I told her about Sissy. I told her about when I was nine years old.
We were all sitting around in Derrick’s bedroom when he said, “We should all get under the covers.”
Derrick was on the one side of the bed, and I was on the other side, and Sissy was in the middle. Derrick was being nice to her and telling her just to lay still. I knew why he wanted her to stay put, but I didn’t say anything. Derrick was rubbing and moving against her, and Sissy giggled not knowing what was happening. She wondered if he was trying to tickle her or something, but then she knew.
“Derrick,” she said scared and tried to wiggle away, but Derrick was holding her with his hands. She tried to kick once more but Derrick was bigger than she was. I sat next to them and watched Sissy trying to kick away.
He asked me if I wanted to get on her. I thought about it for a second and then I did. I tried to move up and down like I saw Derrick doing, but I didn’t understand how any of it worked. Nothing was happening for me. I looked at Sissy and I thought she smelled funny.
She might squeeze an arm free here, or a leg free there, but he grabbed it and put it back beneath him. She might squirm a leg free, but Derrick laughed like we were playing a game and held the leg beneath him too. She squirmed more and kicked and punched. Finally she stopped fighting. She was tuckered out by now, and there wasn’t anymore fight in her. She wasn’t crying either, just growling soft like this had happened before. Derrick tugged at her shorts, pulling at them until they were all wadded around her. He put his weight back down on her and he was groaning. I watched the sheets go up and down. His butt was bobbing.
After Derrick was done fighting with her, he asked me if I wanted to try. I looked at Sissy but she wasn’t saying anything. She was just flopped there. She didn’t have any tears in her eyes.
He asked me again. He asked me if I wanted to get on her. I thought about it for a second and then I did. I tried to move up and down like I saw Derrick doing, but I didn’t understand how any of it worked. Nothing was happening for me. I looked at Sissy and I thought she smelled funny. Not bad. She just smelled funny. She smelled like a little girl who liked to walk around barefoot even in the winter time, eating willy worms and playing in the dirt.
She smelled like my friend Sissy smelled. I humped some more. I stopped and got off of her. I started talking about how we were going to watch Poltergeist on the free HBO preview that afternoon. I told her how I wished the free HBO weekend preview would last forever.
She didn’t say anything.
She wasn’t crying, but I took my hand and wiped away her tears.
Even now I still reach across the years with my giant hand and wipe them away.
After I was done telling this to the woman I listened to the waterfall going trickle-dickle. I watched her look down at her watch and I could tell she was bored. It was like she didn’t want to listen anymore to sad stories and I didn’t blame her. But before I left she gave me an assignment for the next week. She wanted me to spend a day in isolation—to do nothing for the whole day and see how I felt.
She said, “A day of isolation is exactly what you need. I really think a day of isolation would work well for you.”
She told me the day of isolation would make everything okay.
Scott McClanahan is the author of Stories, Stories II, Stories V!, The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan Vol. 1 and Crapalachia: A Biography of Place. His forthcoming novel, Hill William, is coming soon from Tyrant Books. He lives in West Virginia, where he is co-founder of Holler Presents, and would love to eat chicken wings with you.