Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: bad advice.
The door clicks closed behind me but considering how hard my heart is racing, it’s as if it was slammed. I’ve been in this room before but never by myself. Never really on purpose. I’m not alone, of course, one of the school psychologists is sitting across the desk, his glasses perched at the edge of the his nose, his hands gliding over the keyboard, but there’s no one else in between us.
Everyone likes the school psychologist. He is a tall, thin man with thinning hair and bird bones. He has a soft face and an even voice. He wears Mr.Rodger’s style sweaters, he lets you sit in any of the half dozen chairs in his closet of an office that feels more homey than cage due to the colorful decorations from students lining his walls. He is a jovial man who is even tempered and kind. I’m not a fan. It’s not that there is anything wrong with him per se, but I blame him the way I blame myself. It’s not fair but I know he’s spent plenty of time around my friends, there must have been signs he missed. There must have been something he could have done even if I was powerless.
I try to brush that aside. It’s too fresh. It’s been two weeks since the funeral and all I want now is to run, which is why I sit down in the soft chair on the other side of his desk and my spine straightens as if held up by tent poles. He starts by asking me a few questions and instead of answering, I’m watching his hand, tapping out an absent minded staccato on the desk. He doesn’t seem like he recognizes me but I’ve been in here a handful of times before, usually sitting on the floor, leaning against my backpack surrounded by my friends who are talking about tattoos and art and their parents. He probably didn’t worry too much about the quiet stowaway who was just waiting for time to pass before school ended.
He flips through my folder and frowns a bit. “I assume you’re applying to college,” he continues and I numbly nod, “then I can’t see why you’d want to change your classes. Especially this late into the year.” He licks the edge of his thumb, the pages sticking minutely at the corners. I can feel it creeping up through my skin now. I can feel it strangling me again. I want to run out of the room screaming, find the nearest body of water, deposit myself under it, and never come back out. It’s only been a few weeks and I am starting to forget what his voice sounds like. It’s only been a few weeks and I don’t know what his hands on my cheek felt like. It’s only been a few weeks and then it will be a few months and then he’ll have been a footnote. Nothing. No one. A mistake. Just like me. Just like –
“Your grades seems good though, you don’t seem to be having any problems”
I scoff. I nearly vomit with the force of the laughter I have to keep inside but I realize the psychologist has been talking this entire time. Worse yet, I realize I have been replying. He looks at me curiously for a second and then back to the papers.
“Has anything changed at home?”
It comes again. The bile from my stomach. I cough and place my hand over my mouth, sheepishly.
“It’s been…” awful, the worst, terrifying, lonely, like someone took everything good in this world and crushed it between their hands and then they tried to hand me back the dust, “a difficult time. I just wanted to…” give up, leave, escape, kill myself, change, “lighten my load a little. Since Isaac died.” I manage the words eventually.
Since you let him down. Since you failed to help. Since you failed him. My eyes start to water but I pull my hands in my lap and wait patiently.
The psychologist takes his glasses off and places them in a case my the clock on his desk.
“You’re too smart for this”
I nod absently as he says it because I know. I’m too smart to blame myself and I’m too smart to still be here and I’m too smart to keep driving the knife in, to really lay it on thick because even if some people blame me, it wasn’t me. I’m too smart to –
“You can’t just get out of your classes by saying something like that” and now I am crying. Quiet wet streaks of tears.
“I’m sorry I-” my grief is a swirling mass inside of my chest and I worry I’m not allowed to even have it.
“I’m not sure if you and him were close, he never mentioned you but…”
It’s every dark fear I have. I was some secret or some mistake or some embrassment. All the days and hours he spent in this room not talking about the days and hours he spent with me. Like it was all a dream I made up. Like it was all one sided and fake. But all those letters I have, all those presents, all those pictures, all those recordings…I start openly weeping, sobs filling up my airway, choked words caught between my lips. Trying to tell him I’m sorry and I’m no one in equal measure.
“Frankly XXXXXXX, I hope you can be truthful with me so we can get to the bottom of this”
And in his mouth, my legal name isn’t a curse word but a question. It’s a joke. It’s the laughter gurgling up out of my mouth.
Before he can even ask me what’s so funny I realize he has no idea who I am. Everyone knows who I am. Random strangers know who I am.
“No. That’s not – well it is me but that’s just my legal name,” no doubt my face is red now, but instead I feel like his face should be as I tell him my real name. It has the exact effect I want it to. His face changes but just for a second before he stares at his computer screen and tries to look blank and neutral again. He clicks around a few boxes and then mutters something under his breath.
“I see” he finally settles on. “I changed the courses to the ones you requested, you can make an appointment if you need it.”
The scrape of my chair is too loud. The space so small the sounds are less echo and more rubberband. I keep my eyes trained on the floor as I pull my backpack over my shoulder and place my hand on the handle. I don’t want to see whatever his eyes are going to show me. Some type of pity or hope or curiosity or even sadness but even in the many ways he’s wrong, it was only that one way that he was right. I’m too smart for this.