They sat in the office listening to the clock tick away the hour. She sat on the plush couch by the door, gently tapping her foot and fidgeting with her hands. He sat across from her with his right leg crossed over his left at the knee, casually leaning back into the armchair he sat in. He studied her over the tops of his eyeglasses. Her eyes were downcast so she could stare at the floor. There wasn’t a speck of dust or dirt, and she found this fascinating, but maybe that was only because she was supposed to be talking.
“We can spend the hour in silence, but the only way therapy helps is if you’re willing to talk,” he said.
She looked up at him slowly, her jaw tense against whatever she really wanted to say. He noticed this, noted it on the pad in his lap, but waited patiently. They looked at one another for a tense, silent moment—he knew she was weighing his words against everything life had taught her, especially about the usefulness of therapy. She looked back down at the floor and her feet before speaking.
“I don’t know where to begin,” she said.
“How about answering the question I asked you,” he said, pencil poised and ready to take notes. He was hopeful.
She glanced at him again, “that’s the problem; I don’t know where to begin with the question you asked.”
“It’s a simple question,” he said.
She shook her head as she looked back at the floor. “No, it isn’t.”
“I asked you to tell me about yourself,” he said, a little exasperated. He didn’t want to be, and he hated that he heard it in his voice, but he couldn’t help himself. Unlike his other patients she frustrated him. That was new.
She laughed, it was cynical and jaded, there was no real humor in it. “It should be simple, yes,” she said, and he could see her building steam. Maybe this wouldn’t be exactly what she needed, but it would be a start. “but it’s not simple; it’s never simple. Do you have any idea how many people, after twenty-five years, have asked me that question? That’s the basis of every first date; ‘tell me who you are’, and do you have any idea how difficult that is? I should know myself better than anyone else, but I’m the one who struggles with introducing myself. I can’t write an “about me” section on a dating or social website without agonizing over it first, and usually I settle for something basic: ‘I’m 5’3”, brunette, and I enjoy writing’ or something along those lines. And that only covers a few aspects of who I really am, but that’s the trouble isn’t it? That we can never succinctly describe ourselves, and we try so hard…” she said trailing off.
After a moment of silence where he studied her studying the floor, he said: “What do you think makes it so difficult?”
She pulled herself from her reverie and looked at him incredulously. A sad, humorless smile cracked her lips. “The most important things are the hardest to say…for want of an understanding ear,” she said, “I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of what he said.”
“What who said?” he asked.
“Stephen King,” she said.
“You’re a writer, so of course you read a lot,” he said, “how do you think that affects you?” he asked.
Her face broke into another humorless grin. She was keeping eye contact with him now. “How should I know? You’re the therapist. You tell me,” she said.
He faltered at that. It wasn’t the first time a patient had been difficult, or turned on him. That was par for the course, but he found it difficult to find his usual response under her gaze.
“It’s only your first session, part of therapy is first getting to know one another, and learning that we can trust one another,” he said.
She barked laughter to the ceiling at that; it was as cynical and jaded and humorless as her smile. “I’ll never trust you,” she said.
Her laughter and her dead-pan response angered him. How was she getting such a rise from him when other patients couldn’t? “Then therapy will never work for you,” he heard himself say before he was even aware he meant to say it.
She smiled her humorless grin again. “That’s all I needed to hear, doc,” she said as she rose to leave.
“I didn’t mean that,” he said rising in response, absently casting aside his notepad (there weren’t many notes on it, she absorbed his attention and made him forget to write anything down), and reaching for her.
Her grin attached to her face like a lioness attaches to a gazelle that’s going to be dinner. “No, you did. It’s the first honest word you’ve spoken since I walked through that door, shook your hand, and you told me your name,” she said and walked out the door.
He stayed where he was listening to her discuss payment with his secretary. His knees felt weak, but also locked in place. He felt dizzy. It was odd. He couldn’t move until he heard the front door close behind her. Slowly, like a man waking from a dream, he went out into the lobby. His receptionist turned to him, expecting him to speak. When he didn’t she returned to her computer. He stood in the doorway of his office and stared at the glass front door through which she’d left.
“Did she set up another appointment?” he asked after a moment of silence.
His assistant turned to him, “No, she didn’t. She left early, as well. Is everything okay?”
“Fine,” he said automatically, and turned back to his office and shut the door.
Author’s Note: Maybe I need to write about not writing in order to write. Hmm.