Sunday, May 25, 2014

Short Story: Therapist (2013)

             April didn’t like doing volunteer work, but her boss decided their company was going to help and support victims of the recent hurricane. Many people in the city lost their homes and several had died. The company’s CEO Brian’s friend’s cousin’s home was partially destroyed. The friend was a business partner of the company. April saw people from a familiar neighborhood were crying and waiting for help. What should we do? Brian wanted to help the victims and called all employees for a meeting one day after the hurricane. Less than half the employees showed up. Let’s help others. It’s our company spirit. Robert, known as a good guy and a father of three girls, announced that he would like to do what he could. Amanda, an energetic salesperson, asked the executives to let her know if there was anything she could do. The CEO Brian was over 75 years old; he had a strong spirit but his physical energy was weak. After the meeting he directly asked April, who hadn’t said a word during the meeting, if she was too busy to do some volunteer work. April said, no. A few hours after the meeting the CEO called April’s cell phone. She didn’t have his number saved, so she took it suspiciously. The CEO wanted her and Robert to buy and deliver some supplies to evacuation centers around the city.
April and Robert went to K-mart, bought $500 worth of water bottles and $700 worth of blankets. April kept the receipt carefully to bring it to the office next day. Two of them loaded the items into Robert’s family van. He was trying not to make April carry heavy things. But, April wanted to carry them. She wanted to feel the heavy weight. She wanted to carry as much as, or more than Robert did.
Robert said he was sorry for the victims. He felt especially bad for children since he himself had daughters.
“Children are vulnerable,” Robert said. April nodded.
“I am not nice person. I feel bad that I don’t feel too much for the victims,” April suddenly said.
             “You worked hard,” he glanced at her.
             “I guess I do my best when I have to. Besides it is obviously good to help people,” There were several police around of the evacuation center and Robert told one of them that they were here to donate supplies. Next to where they parked the car one fat woman was talking on the cell phone passionately. They unloaded the stuff. April looked the inside the building through the entrance door. The man from the shelter and Robert were talking with serious expressions. The man was curling up his body to make a gesture of feeling cold. Robert was nodding. Most of children were wearing winter jackets. Crying, sleeping, or playing... Some adults looked like they were spending the time in their own living rooms, lying down, playing with their cell phones with dull expressions. Some looked just as depressed as homeless people on the streets. April felt so distanced from them and she felt sad and guilty about it. It is probably a way to cope with my life, to separate myself from the victims, April thought.  
             “Can I have those?” a woman with a small boy asked from April’s side.
             “Why not?” April opened up a bag of blankets and handed it[NK3]  to the boy. The mother broke the plastic sheet covering water bottles. She took as many as she could.
             Robert was somewhat in a bad mood on the way back. He clicked his tongue when a traffic light turned red.
             “I know people say they are busy and have no time to volunteer but it doesn’t mean that I am not busy. I have kids and I have million things to do,” he said. April nodded. She said he didn’t have to drive to her home and she could take a train or bus.
“No, No, No, No....That’s not what I am talking about. No....I am gonna take you home,” he sighed.
The CEO emailed all the employees, praising Robert and April for their volunteer work. The combination of Robert and April were repeated several times as if they were a couple. April felt uncomfortable by imagining dating Robert. She didn’t like a good and moody guy. “Thank you so much for doing this! I knew you were sweet but I didn’t know you were so kind,” Amanda from the sales department said to April when they encountered[NK4]  each other in the bathroom. April just smiled and didn’t say anything so she would not make this woman feel bad.
             April felt uncomfortable because some coworkers smiled at her more often than before. She felt guilty that she was not sympathetic to the victims and she was not serious about helping people. It was like doing a right thing for the wrong reasons. But, she was going to do more volunteering if Brian asked her. Not only could she not say no, she liked Brian. She liked gentle old people. Brian was old and kind and he had money and elegance. She wanted to materialize his will.
Robert also noticed the combination of him and April were mentioned often. But, he was not worried about people making up wrong ideas because his family, friends and co-workers knew him as a good and loyal guy. In fact, he thought April could be attractive to men. Her look was nothing extraordinary, but she had a well-balanced face with innocent eyes and plain skin.  However, Robert found lots to criticize about April. For him, she was naive. Like when she said she didn’t like volunteer work. What normal adult would say such a thing? For him, she was the kind of person, who could post a company’s secrets on the web when she felt like she should. She didn’t have common sense or social skills.
Soon Brian proposed a charity dinner party. April didn’t mind being in charge of it. Robert accepted the role pleasantly, also. But, soon Robert told April that his brother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and that he and his wife had been going through a difficult time.
“I will help you as much as I can,” he said. April nodded and started doing the planning for the party.  
April felt fully being herself when she was feeling hopelessness and disappointment. The destructive feelings freeze her life and sink her into the moment. She thought many people in her office were thinking the world was a happy place, where sometimes[NK5]  tragedy struck and made people suffer. To her though, the disaster would happen all the time. The world is dark and contradicted. The world sometimes punishes people to make fun out how they were thoughtlessly living. April felt the hurricane was making fun out of her, saying, “Look how emotional you are! Do you call this hurricane tragic while the entire world is suffering from many kinds of disasters? You, ignorant bitch, eating and sleeping like a pig!” People said something like “We are strong. We will rebuild. We will bring justice”. She felt like being a prostitute having sex because she did a caring thing when she was not caring. She felt like there were so many misunderstandings about her in her office.
Robert had many friends, who also[NK6]  had many friends. All the musicians and the guest speakers were either Robert’s friends or his friends’ friends.
“Look who’s here?” “Oh, my god!”  Robert and these friends greeted each other passionately. “Thank you for letting us be a part of this!” “Thank you,” They hugged each other. Robert introduced April to them as his wonderful assistant. Robert’s friends said, “Nice to meet you” vividly, shaking her hand hard like nice people do.
“Hey,” Robert said to April carrying chairs. “Can you email a party reminder to all the guests?”
“Sure. That’s a  good idea,” April said, grabbing her coat to go back to office.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going back to office and to a reminder.”
“Why don’t you do that here from your phone?”
April said she wanted to user her computer to arrange the message nicely since she was sending them to many people. Robert sighed.
 “I don’t want to use my phone for mass-email,” April explained.
 “Never mind.”
 “If you don’t want to do it, don’t even bother.”
             “I don’t mind doing it.”
             “I said never mind,” Robert said.
Robert could not help being overpowering and mean to April. It annoyed him that she was not cheerful like his other friends. She was an awkward freak. Who cares about the email format when the event is coming in an hour? He gave up on sharing ideas with her and became bossy to work things out. As he stepped away from her, his friends immediately started talking to him. Robert was loved so much, and there was always someone who couldn’t wait to talk to him. In meantime, April left for the office and emailed a polite reminder about the event to the guests. Robert received the reminder on his phone while his friends were rehashing the song “Never Surrender”. He was irritated. She is creepy.
The first person who came in was Brian and he was welcomed passionately by Robert’s friends. He was dressed the most elegantly among all of the guests. He said hello looking in each person’s eyes. April thought he had a wonderful CEO attitude. He cared for many things, including the hurricane victims. Soon more and more people came and April was busy offering drinks to them. She was behaving elegantly and compassionately, thinking of Brian.
“Thanks for coming to our charity party---- Yes, it is a part of our spirit, our corporate policy to give to people in need!” Robert spoke up with a microphone. April was next to Brian who was looking pleasantly at him.
“He is good with microphone,” Brian turned to April.
“Yes, he is,” she smiled. He put his hand on hers and said, “I cannot thank you two enough.” April murmured she was not doing much. Then, they listened to the band music. It wasn’t good. The singer was loud and off key, and the microphone was making squeaky sound. The drum was the loudest among all of the instruments. Brian was nodding to the music, probably out of courtesy. April felt everyone was faking that they liked the music. Probably because they were kind or because they wanted to fit in this situation.
“Here is another fantastic guest. She has been working so hard for the victims so they can stand up on their feet once again. She is also a great friend of mine. Everyone, please welcome Ms. Susan Hall,” Robert spoke out from the speaker. A woman stepped on the stage, smiling twitchingly. She had very simple fashion, wearing a whitish gray suit over a white shirt. She looked like a good and normal boring person. She had big shiny innocent eyes and a square face. Robert explained that she was a therapist, offering free counseling to those who were affected by the hurricane. She introduced herself humbly, saying that what she was doing was nothing compared to this charity dinner. April thought being a therapist must create lots of speculation. Does she have good understandings about people? Does she care about other people? Is she really kind, or does she just want to be a kind person? Will the world become a better place if the majority people are like this therapist?
             “I and other therapists went around the affected areas,” she said slowly, raising her eyes.
“We gave out booklets about anxiety, depression, grief, sleep, alcohol, drugs...about how to heal their wounds. I met an old man, who lost his wife a few years before this tragedy and now he lost his own house,” she added these victims must take counseling for a long time, for at least 2 or 3 years after the tragedy, and those people usually cannot afford so much counseling.
“Thank you very much,” she said clearly at the end and left the small stage. People clapped their hands and nodded. Some people touched her shoulders to show their support. Susan grabbed a cup of ginger ale, smiling and talking to people. Then, she put four pieces of sandwich on a plate and walked towards Brian and April.  
“Nice to meet you Susan, and thank you very much for your help,” Brian said warmly.
“Hey, Brian, have you met my friend before? Oh, Susan is doing so much, I mean so much and much,” Robert joined. The therapist started talking about stress and fear the children were feeling after the hurricane.  April tried to leave the place for a restroom.
“Wait,” Robert said to April with a loud voice. “You, two ladies, should get to know each other.”
“Yes,” April smiled. The therapist slowly turned her head and gazed at April’s face.
“Hello..., Hello, Hello, there!” she gave a bright smile.
             The rest of the night went well. People talked and laughed, occasionally mentioning the hurricane. Everyone has to move on. Accidents, terrorism, earthquakes, or famines... there are tragedies everywhere in the world. We can only help the people we choose to help.
             April felt relaxed when she finally took off her shoes at home. She finally allowed herself to feel that she was a real loser.
April looked almost the same as ten years ago. However, she threw out lots of clothes, shoes and bags a few years ago as she decided to keep only her favorite clothes. She used to feel guilty for the clothes she didn’t like much and wore them, so they could play some role in the world. What gave her the courage to throw them out were anti-depressant pills. A few months after she started taking them, she started feeling less guilt and sadness, even for her clothes.
Her first therapist, Maria, was an exotic woman. She often wore dark purple or green mysteriously wrinkled clothes and ethnic metal bracelets with gemstones could be seen around her wrists. And, she was the one, who sent April to a psychiatrist, finding she needed medical help.
             “Everyone is unhappy for his own reason,” April used to say ten years ago. She also said that she was very fortunate that she was not homeless or starving. Maria didn’t say much about April’s view of the world. Maria didn’t offer just a few tissues but offered the entire box whenever April started shedding her tears. She was gazing at April’s shaking fingers to look for signs of nervousness. April noticed Maria’s look and held both hands tight. April was not feeling any better by seeing Maria. She was still thinking only about pains and sorrows in human lives, hoping death would be everyone’s justice.
Thanks to Maria’s judgment that she should be on medication, April was, one day, surprised how calm she was feeling. Are most people feeling this much peace? April wondered. April was no longer in too much pain. She no longer wished to get away from this world. Now she was only feeling mild sadness. She was not thinking much why she was living. She was just going through days and days without much thought. Maria was no longer offering a box of tissue every time April talked. Unlike before, Maria deliberately asked April about her childhood and love affairs.
“One of the things I don’t like about myself...,” April said one day. “that I don’t feel other people’s pains much. Someone else’s divorce, break-up, death of family...., I feel sad that I don’t feel sad for them. Killings everywhere, tragedies everywhere, evil people everywhere, dying homeless people everywhere. I am hopeless that I don’t feel deeply for anyone.” Maria was nodding, looking further away at the window. April looked at the direction together.
“I am leaving this city, meaning quitting this clinic,” Maria said calmly as if she was finally leaving for her oriental land.
“What do you think about it? You told me a lot about yourself and we’ve been working together. I am afraid you would think you wasted time sharing lots about yourself as I am leaving.”
“No,” April replied quickly. “I only feel acceptable sadness recently. My depression is over, I think. I probably don’t need therapy anymore.” Maria replied that feeling less sadness was not the only purpose of therapy.
“It is a good time for you to know more about yourself,” Maria looked into April’s eyes. The next therapist taking over Maria’s position would help April to find a new aspect of herself.
“I wish you a wonderful, wonderful life,” Maria hugged her at the very end of the session.
“The same to you,” April closed the door. She is the person I told the most about myself and I will never see her again; this hopefulness was the reason Maria was asking how I felt about her leaving, April now realized. But, all relationships are like this, aren’t they? I only have myself, April thought. At night, April took another pill and went to bed.
             April used to greet adults politely when she was a child. The world was still new to her, and she believed she would be able to cast magic spells if she practiced. She loved greeting politely because most adults gave her compliments. Some adults would even say that they wished other children were as polite as she was. Life was simple.
However, within about five years since then, she stopped greeting. She answered everything in a low voice. She shut down everything shining inside her. The world became a dark, suffering place. She realized her parents lived lives full of regret and without hope. She was sloppy and she thought cleaning her room, wearing clean clothes, or keeping her hand germ-free didn’t mean anything. She didn’t know anyone who loved her. She thought about killing herself for the first time and it was the first step for her to think about life and its meaning.
Several years later since then, again, April gradually started greeting politely. She started thinking life was a sequence of intoxication. By romance, hobby, drama, disaster, illness, children, and love, people get drunk into a mood of their life. She gave up looking for meaning in anything. It was easy and comfortable to live as a polite person. When she smiled and talked to people as if her heart was open to them the relationships usually went smooth.  April knew she was faking herself to look nice. When being alone and thinking alone, she condemned herself for pretending to be a caring woman while she disbelieved in love. The depression often came to her life like a natural disaster. She could prepare an emergency bag and know where to escape, but when a hurricane attacked her she became breathless and her body was paralyzed to take the bag and go. Probably, I need some help, April thought and went to see a therapist. Soon, she threw out lots of old clothes. She started vacuuming twice a week, drinking wine at least a glass a day, and subscribed to some magazines.
It had been cloudy and rainy for days since April saw Maria for the last time, but all the clouds were cleared out on the day she went to see the new one. Behind the counseling room’s door there was an unknown woman sitting, smiling and looking at her. The outside light was surrounding this new therapist and her round face was shining like a smooth green frog.
“Hello, Hello, Hello,” she said and asked April to introduce herself. As April spoke, the therapist’s sunny smile suddenly turned into a grave expression.
“I liked my past sessions. I appreciate Maria has listened to my stories and feelings. But, I am afraid what made me feel better was antidepressant. I am not sure if I still need a therapist since I feel okay,” she looked down and held her hands together. April thought about the therapist’s shoes under the desk, white pumps standing side by side.
“Well, Maria wished you to stay here because you need me,” the therapist gazed at April with her marble eyes. There was silence between them for a while, standing like a thick wall.
“Do you know you have infinite possibilities? Having kids, building careers, etc, etc...?” The therapist broke the wall.
“I don’t know if I want that. In fact, I don’t know what I want,” April said coldly like a capricious child.  
“Don’t worry. You will find that out from our sessions. For example.... I am happy because I’ve found what I want to do and I am doing that. I found out that I want to help people, people who are suffering. So, I became a therapist. Yes, there are some struggles but I overcome them because I love this job,” she smiled. April nodded.
             April kept going to see this therapist for two more times. At the end of each session, the therapist said,
             “You don’t have to pay today. I can wait.”
             “I can pay today,” April said.
             “No, it’s okay. Pay next time,” the therapist insisted. April was not sure why. She hadn’t pay for three times. On the third session, the therapist advised April not to think too much about herself and to have more compassion towards other people. On the morning of the fourth session, April noticed that she really didn’t want to see the therapist anymore. Instead, she stayed home and cried. She was crying because once again she realized the darkness inside her belonged only to herself. People would never understand each other because they have two separate heads. April thought she would never meet a person or a therapist, who would tell her she could stay as she was. But, April was not desperate. She didn’t suffocate herself by crying. She didn’t try to kill herself. Because she had been on pills.
             About a month later, there was a voice message from this therapist.
             “Hello, this is Susan. Please pay your outstanding bills for your four sessions. You must learn that in the professional world you have to be responsible and pay your bills on time. Bye.”
April was shocked and she wanted to pay the bill as quickly as possible. She jumped on a train and paid in cash on the clinic counter. She wanted to finish this quickly. She could no longer stand cold and thoughtless misunderstandings.
             “Oh, my god,” Susan looked very happy when she saw April at the charity party. “You look much better and healthier than before and I almost couldn’t recognize you,” she said with a triumphant smile. April though she hadn’t gotten any better or worse since taking the pills.
             “And, look at you! What you are doing for our community is so important. So precious,” the therapist who wanted to help other people said. April made the most profound smile she could make. I am not a nice person who cares about other people, April murmured herself like a stubborn child.

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