"I'm worried," her beaked face studied me, much too close, "worried for what you might do to yourself."
"I'd never actually do it." Did I say that too fast?
"You never know." She adjusted her small glasses. "That's just it. When you're in that mindset, there's no way of telling what you will do."
Silence forced itself down my throat like an icicle. What I'd do to myself... Would I go through with it? Surely not. I'd been close and retreated before. I could cry and hate myself all I wanted, but I knew I'd never go that far.
Her eyes were too sharp, too dark brown, too wide. A harpy. Look anywhere else. I couldn't look at my mother beside me, can't risk that. Linoleum floor. Music poster. Hand sanitizer. Silver sink. Green blinds. Spotty ACT above our heads. My gaze ended on my left arm, hidden in a long blue sleeve. I knew what secrets lie there.
"...checked in. Alright, off you go, now." The harpy secured my attention, beady eyes stalking me again. Anxiety radiated off of her like a radio tower, or maybe it was actually reflecting off of me as if she were a mirror. "Good to meet you, Jenna. I hope to see you again soon. Please be safe."
She doubted me. This dark eyed, wiry doctor pediatrician that I was meeting for the first time doubted me. Her gaze lost its tension. And there was a sadness in her eyes, a sympathy, a pity. No one has ever looked at me with such pity before.
She absolutely believed I'd kill myself the second I closed her office door.
Maybe I would.
I followed the soft form of my mother, her body a wake through unending ocean. Sterile hallways, rubber chairs, colorful kids blocks, reception half-glass partition with the opening for your credit card, magazine stack, fake plant, exit doors.
The steps taken across the brick pavilion and down the vertigo staircase were both sharp and shuffling. I was stiff. I was numb. The sky was grey, the grass was grey, the brick was grey.
The car was cold. My mom was still silent. And I hadn't looked at her face yet. Would she be crying? Did she believe what the doctor had said? I was one of the worst cases they'd seen - I needed to be somewhere more equipped than a pediatric office. Somewhere more padded, apparently.
As if. The lady doubted me. Did mom doubt me, too? She'd seen a lot more than the doctor we just met. She'd held me in her bed as I sobbed myself to sleep. She hid books on her shelf about coping as a parent to teens in crisis, and she read my history worksheets aloud when tears blurred my vision. She came home from work to find me with a knife sitting on the carpet.
The doctor only saw the way I sat, curled in on myself. She only saw my sad smile and lowered eyes. She only saw all of the 3's circled on the laminated sheet I turned in to her:
She didn't know me, she knew the monster in my head. She must have known it better than I did, too, because I'd never thought to be so scared of it. It had never even crossed my mind. Maybe that was its plan all along.
Trick me into thinking I could control it. It would run wild and get out of hand, but in the end, surely I could reign it back in... She didn't think I could. She told me that I couldn't. That I shouldn't believe in myself.
' You could harm yourself. If you don't get help, you will harm yourself. '
The red ridges on my arm proved I'd already done that. But we all knew she wasn't talking about small potatoes.
My mom started the car and reversed out of her parking spot. I bit my tongue, snaring my mouth closed as my eyes welled up. I wasn't in control. I wouldn't be able to stop myself. Wouldn't be able to save myself. In the moment, I wouldn't have a choice. There wouldn't be free will.
Terror clawed tendrils up my back, raking my shoulder blades and digging into the flesh between by ribs. I couldn't trust myself. I'd hurt myself. I'd zone out or my mind would go blank and I'd end up dead. Unstoppable.
I was terrified of myself.
The car grew dark when it passed through the tunnel that led back onto the main highway. Mom's knuckles were white on the steering wheel. She still hadn't spoken. But to be fair, I guess neither had I.
Silent crying wasn't anything new to me. I barely moved as my chest spasmed and contracted in agony, whispering whines losing their power behind my sealed lips. I was going away. For my own good. Padded cells and Jell-O cups. Teal scrubs and white walls. Grippy socks.
Would I get to see my family? Or would I be alone?
I was a monster, I was dangerous. I needed to be locked up. The amount of pain I'd cause my mother if I ended everything... I suppose the harpy was right. Some primal uncaring sector of my brain would kick in at the wrong moment and I wouldn't mind. I wouldn't even know what I was doing.
What if I just opened the door and flung myself into traffic right now? How do I know that I won't do that? Even if I have all the conviction in the world that I don't want to die and even if I definitely don't want to experience the elusive sensation of becoming a skid mark, how can I trust myself when my brain is so sick and twisted? I guess I can't.
I reached out my hand to the left, and my mother's fingers gripped my upturned palm. She squeezed once, never averting her gaze from the road. Or at least, that's what I imagined. I never looked at her.
"We'll just go in and see how it feels, okay?" Her soft voice cut through blurred eyes and blurred time. The twenty minute drive had been quiet. I'd been watching the sky as if it were the last time I'd see the clouds.
The subtle jerk as the parking break engaged woke me from the stupor. Out the windshield, a long sidewalk wound through grey grass to a large white building. It felt like a video game as I slid out of the car and walked with my mother down that sidewalk. The blades of grass seemed to move in eerie unison with the trees - like they were all synced up to some inner matrix controlling me.
Impressive glass doors invited visitors through the vestibule. But when they closed behind us, another icicle crystalized in my stomach. They weren't locked, right? If the pediatrician's office had been sterile... I didn't even have a word for this place. It wasn't blindingly white like an underground lab in a sci-fi movie. It was dark. And grey. Sterile in a lifeless sort of way. There wasn't any saturation to the space, and the minimal contrasting shades of grey and white were blended by uneasy late-afternoon shadows. Everything mulled into a choking fog, a haze.
We sat in little waiting room chairs. They were grey. And they were fabric but they felt like plastic. They were stiff. I didn't know if my mother had spoken to the blank receptionist across the room or not. She didn't look like a harpy. She looked like a sphinx still cast in stone. Bland. Shapeless.
My mother squeezed my hand again. Every now and again we'd hear muffled conversation from down some unknown hallway. The longer we waited, the more anxious I became. A numb anxious. The longer we waited, it also felt more and more like those doors were locked the second we entered. Like we weren't allowed to leave.
The sphinx eyed me a few times. That same look, that pity. That fear and worry and distrust, as if at any moment I would climb up on the coffee table and shove my fingers into my eyes. As if I were broken enough to do something life-endingly awful to myself.
I guess I was. I was there, after all, wasn't I?
Mom shifted in her seat. The shadows grew darker, and the sun was beginning to set out the front windows. It had been a while. Was this it, then? Had I already been taken back to some padded cell, and I was simply hallucinating this waiting room purgatory in some jello-induced coma? Or if this was real, what if they never came to talk to us, to see me? What if the staff would just leave the room when night fell and lock us in. Maybe the doors really were already locked from the outside. Maybe nobody that entered got to leave.
"Jen?" Mom's voice moved something in my chest. I finally looked at her, her face was tired and her hair was worry-strewn. But her eyes were awake. And they were darting around. They mirrored my own internal panic. Did she feel trapped, too?
She leaned toward me and whispered, "I don't like this place."
A choice, a lifeline, a fish hook. I didn't know what she was throwing me, but I bit anyway, "Me neither."
She gripped my arm in both hands, one on my bicep and the other curling around my forearm. "Let's leave."
The hushed tone, the way she pulled me up from the chair and hunkered down a little bit, how she kept herself between me and the Sphinx receptionist... she guided us toward the doors fast. It felt like she was sneaking me out before they noticed. Should I have been more worried than I was about this place? What had she picked up on that I'd missed?
Would they have kept me there against my will? Against my mom's will?
Stolen me from her? It felt like she was preparing for someone to try and rip me out of her hands.
The Sphinx's face seemed to morph from boredom into a cruel, evil sneer. She wanted me in this soulless place. My skin squirmed.
Mom and I met the vestibule doors. I bit my cheek. Here it comes.
They clunked open, and we hurried through the second pair. On that same old sidewalk, Mom let out a big, gasping breath. She pulled me into a hug and I clung to her. Over her shoulder, the sun was a vibrant orange that danced across green grass. Even the sidewalk looked lively, weaving back and forth like a curious snake.
"My god, that place was weird," Mom huffed as we started down the path.
That place was a vacuum. We'd both felt it. Soul-sucking and life-hungry.
"I'm glad we left. Thank you for getting me out." I didn't quite recognize my voice. It was thin, shaken.
"I can't believe I even took you there, Jenna." She stopped, turning to me once the parking lot was in sight. "I didn't like that new doctor one bit, either." Her blue eyes welled up with tears. "She doesn't know you."
My own eyes mirrored hers. She understood. "Yeah," my voice broke, "I didn't think I was that bad. She really scared me, momma."
She hugged me to her again, "She was terrible. You're not that bad," she whispered. "You're not, honey, I promise. I'm so sorry you had to see her."
I nodded against her chest. The harpy had been wrong. I wasn't going to suddenly turn on myself or shut my own consciousness out of my head. I wasn't going to black out and hurt myself. And I wasn't going to die. I was broken, sure, but not too badly to be fixed. As long as my mom was happy to hold me and pick up my pieces, I knew I'd be okay.
So we climbed back into the car. And the whole way home, I watched the sunset paint the clouds.
About the Creator
What I lack in serotonin I more than make up for in self-deprecating humor.
Zoo designer who's eyeballs need a hobby unrelated to computer work... so she writes on her laptop.
Passionate about conservation and sustainability.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions