This compelling story was submitted by a gifted college student, who has been coping with mental illness in her family since childhood. Tarani is a compassionate and gifted young woman who has seen both her father and sister afflicted with symptoms of bipolar disorder. In this true fiction piece, she relates how easily lines between bipolar people and their family members can become blurred...
The dim room smelled funny, and I laughed because the scent was both familiar and unexpected: It was latex. The clay bowl next to me was the culprit. It was filled to the brim with condoms and--- God, who would've guessed ---the same potpourri Mammaw keeps in a jar by her bathtub. I knew places like this well, and after they locked my sister away, I stopped going as often. Besides, I don’t go here for myself so much as I maintain these visits to keep my mother worry-free.
I don't mind them. It's just that, somewhere between latex-apple-cinnamon potpourri concoctions and armchairs that sigh louder than the patients, we are supposed to feel comfort. It’s impossible. The only feelings I can muster are cousins of indifference. So, I even feel apathetic when the receptionist smiles at me a little more sincerely than she smiles at people like my sister. I think she smiles because I'm not anything like Hayley or most of the people I've seen walk out of here. Maybe receptionists have an eye for crazy, and I don’t fit the mold. Still, I have a feeling everyone that sits in this chair fears they might be perceived as mental, kind of like the girl who was opening the glass doors as I walked in. She looked normal enough. She had hair like a firework that swirled around her face in a highlighted jungle of bobby pins and cigarette smoke. Under different circumstances I imagine she would have smiled
at me, but just as I was expecting to catch her eye, shame grabbed her by the ears and pulled her head down.
People like this walk staring at the ground, and they pretend to count their steps. Well, I know what they’re thinking. They’re muttering, "She'll think I'm busy thinking. I don't want to make eye contact and know she saw me leave this place. I have friends I'm going to see right now. I'm normal. Stranger, don‘t assume I‘m insane." Then they count their steps "1-2-3--". For the record, I don‘t look down on them. I understand why these people watch the pavement and skip over cracks. They've got a scar on their pride from Amelia, the receptionist that scoffs, just as simply as I have a scar on my lip from Zach, the Australian Sheppard that bites. Where our scars rest proves to be the only definite difference between Client 2 and I as we shrug in these chairs. Confidentiality forbids Client 1, Client 2, and even Amelia from assuming too much of anything else. This is fine because Amelia doesn’t seem like she would understand my file even if I sang it to her.
I thought of starting a conversation with her, but there was a stack of paper teetering next to her coffee mug. Beyond the calm ocean scene occupying her mouse pad, I observed the soft skin of her hands at war. The skin had obviously lost ground to an army of band-aids, but she ignored them. Paper cuts illustrate Amelia’s obvious dedication. So, I decided not to disturb her work. She would consider conversation unproductive; I would stress her out. I was almost too tired to hold my head up anyway. The clock on the wall gasped 1:45, and I sympathized with it because I know how hard it is keeping track of time.
At this point, Client 2 or Tim, as I read from his nametag, had been gone for ten minutes. Before he went upstairs he reached into the bowl and grabbed a handful of condoms and--are you serious?--potpourri. I wouldn’t have noticed how awkward this was had he not topped it off with a wink. I feel sorry for any girl that has sex with Tim, not only because I don’t understand how the potpourri will come into play, but mostly because I can’t understand the logic behind picking up girls who need therapy.
The clock showed 2:00. I was listening to Amelia’s papers shuffle when I heard a moan. The louder it got, the harder it was to identify. A dog whimpering? A TV? A portable radio that’s making its way towards the door? Judging from Amelia’s expression, she was clueless too. So, I laughed a little and caught her attention “Jesus, that sounds awful…” In an instant, the sound came stumbling through the door. Immediately mine and Amelia’s raised eyebrows and shoulder shrugs turned into an explosion of paperwork followed by Amelia-like paralysis and Tarani-like jumps. The girl with highlighted hair was ripping through the room. Before I knew what I had done, she was on her back. My knees were pressed into her shoulders, and I was shaking with anger. “Hit me!” she screams. “Hit me!” My face is red. My knees are pushing so hard into her shoulders that I can feel the stranger’s back cracking on the floor. I hate this girl, and I hate this place. I hate this girl because she doesn’t look me in the eye. And I hate her because she stares at the ground like a coward, but I hate her most because she haunts my dreams.
“My sister lives behind my eyelids.” I sighed. “I can’t close them without having nightmares about her.” The short woman’s eyes frowned at me through square glasses as she helped me from the couch. Water played against the glass cup as my hands shook.
“Why do you think that is?“ She asked while observing my obvious angst.
“She gets the best of me. I hate waking up to a house that feels like a waiting room in a therapist’s office.”
I walked downstairs to breakfast the next day. I felt my mother’s eyes follow me to the table as my hand glided the old mahogany chair over the kitchen’s wooden floor. I took my seat and, for the first time, noticed the matching table was scarred. The light from the blinds danced over my plate and spread to the wood revealing cracks in its finish.
“So,” she sighed as I massaged my temples sensing the hesitation in her voice, “How did your first hypno-therapy session go?”
“It was alright.” I shifted in my seat as I continued, “It confused me.”
Mom grabbed the crackling bacon skillet from the stove and turned for the cabinets. Her shaking hands reached for our plates; her eyes saw everything in the kitchen but me.
“How did it confuse you?”
“I felt foggy. It’s almost like one of my dreams was blending in with reality.” My heart dropped as I watched her expression transform from anxious to what my friends and I refer to as the “I really wish I understood” look. The plates clanked against the blemished table top.
“Well,” she said marking the beginning of another failed attempt to comprehend, “what was the dream this time?”
“The girl I saw leaving the office turned into Hayley. The guy who was waiting with me in the lobby was Tim. You were the receptionist somehow. Tim left the office early, I can only guess to fuck Hayley again, and you were busy. So, we didn’t talk. I heard Hayley sobbing in the hallway. When she walked in I pinned her to the floor. She was begging me to hit her, and I froze like I always do.” There was an awkward silence, but what more could be expected? “I never felt like I went to sleep. There was no transition from the waiting room to Dr. Tillery’s couch.”
She hugged me before I drove away with frail arms and warm hopes that Spring semester on the coast would bring me flowers.
Carl Jung saw dreams as a way of the unconscious communicating with the conscious part of ourselves in order to bring something to our notice and restore our equilibrium. So, maybe these appointments are meant to make me see something I’ve been ignoring. Maybe it’s the same concept as the kitchen table. I sat next to the wooden surface every morning for nineteen years being so preoccupied with my bacon that I never noticed the scars--at least not until the sun crept its way through the blinds.
A few Mondays into Spring semester, I found myself walking across Santee field glowing in the same sunlight that graced the table’s surface. The girl hitting the volleyball threw herself on the grass in a desperate attempt to stop it from hitting the ground. I laughed, “It’s not glass, Caitlin. You can let it hit the ground every now and then.” But I adored her for her dedication just like I admire the receptionist for her band-aid hands and the stranger for her guilt. In the end, we all relate. I’ve been throwing myself on the ground, diving through the prickly bushes of hypnosis and therapist offices in order to stay in the air--to find a little peace and awareness.
Last week the dreams stopped. The counseling started foggy and left me feeling really confused and empty, but leaving the post office I felt l finally understood. “Dear Mom,” I wrote, “I got your flowers. Thanks for everything.”