“I never expected it to happen. I mean, who does? Expect it, I mean.” I pause for a moment, swallowing hard. I risk a glance at her face. She is still listening intently, her judgmental eyes focused on mine. I quickly look away, choosing to study the intricate metalwork of the golden lamp on the small side table. The layer of dust that coats the lampshade makes me wonder just how attentive this woman truly is. A box of tissues sits untouched by the base of the lamp, and I use the object as motivation to control myself. I refuse to cry in front of a woman, or in the face of this situation. I know I have good reason to cry, especially at the idea of what I might become given the circumstances, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to cry now.
“It started out like any other night, you know? Just the two of us, sitting there on the porch, just relaxing with a thirty pack—”
“Who were you with?” she interrupts. Her tone is curious, innocently seeking the facts, but her eyes are begging me to lie. She wants me to name a woman, even if it’s not my wife, anything but the truth. I never take my eyes off the lamp. The yellow–gold is inlaid with rose–gold flowers and silver leaves. I’m sure that when it was made, it was certainly a stunning piece. But now, tarnished with age, it’s just another junk lamp in a half-rate therapist’s office. Much like myself, the once-shining lamp is cut deep and stained with grime, sitting awkwardly, forced to endure unfair prejudice and glaring judgement, one after the other.
“My buddy, Alan,” I answer. I can’t bring myself to look at her, to witness the disgust that I know sits on her face. I don’t blame her; I had that look on my face when it happened, too. I’m sure that if I look in a mirror I’ll find that I’m still wearing the down-turned grimace, the upturned nose, and the incredulous expression that I had forced my features to display ever since that night. My unwillingness to continue speaks volumes of my original thought, the one that had crossed my mind as I had stepped up to the building just an hour earlier: I’m not ready to do this. I’m not ready to be here. I’m not ready to face this. “It was just a confusing night,” I concede with a sigh.
I look to the wall for the umpteenth time at the white face of the analog clock that hangs by the door. I watch as the thin red needle slowly ticks the seconds as they creep past. I had looked at the clock that night, too. Thirty-five long, empty, hungover days had passed since then. Thirty-five sleepless, drunken, angry nights. I’m still not sure with whom I am the most angry; myself, for letting it happen; my wife, for going out that night; or my best friend of ten years, for doing what he did.
Over a month ago, I had looked up at the clock on my wall, debating whether or not it was too late on a Friday night to run to the gas station for another thirty pack. Beer was the most important factor when having a friendly competition to see who could drink the most. Neither Alan nor I had thrown up yet, and since neither of us had passed out, either, we knew that a beer run was our next plan of action. Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately for anyone who had been on the road—I couldn’t find my keys. Instead, Alan had reached into the depths of my freezer and come out with a chilled bottle of vodka. “Let’s just use this,” he had said. “What’s the worst that can happen?” he had said. I now knew exactly the worst that could happen—because it had all happened within two hours of that fateful sentence.
Had it really been so bad? It had been unexpected, for sure. Looking back, my initial outburst was probably a bit harsh, given the thoughts that had arisen in the following weeks. How was I to know it would evolve into this? It had never crossed my mind, not in my twenty-eight years of life.
“Ahem.” The woman clears her throat, and I’m jolted out of my thoughts. The red needle had gone full circle, but only once. I force myself to look at her.
“John,” she begins. Her tone is gentle but I can practically see the condescension as it escapes her lips. “I appreciate that you came here today, and that you have been actively speaking for the majority of the hour. Most people struggle just with that. I’ve heard about your wife and daughter, and they sound lovely. You are very lucky to have such a loving family. I’ve heard about your job and your promotion, and I think it’s just fantastic. You seem to have all the amenities of a comfortable life. You are truly blessed to have the opportunities that you’ve had. And I’m glad that you have shared so much with me today. But you didn’t come here just to make small talk. There’s something bothering you. I can tell by the way you keep staring at that clock as if it’s about to burst into flames. Everything you say here is in complete confidence, John. There are no judgments here.”
As if I could say anything now that she had said that. Her entire existence was screaming that she wanted me to lie, to smile, to keep hidden my silent battle with my confusing, newfound identity. Her tone of voice danced with hate, cleverly hidden beneath an understanding smile. Her words were alight with hypocrisy, and how those words toyed with me! Such things like “burst into flames.” She couldn’t have expressed her true opinion more clearly. The silver cross that hung around her neck accused me of having a choice in the matter. Her stabbing lines about being “blessed” and “lucky” for what I had. As if she thought admitting to my fears and emotions might cause me to instantly throw it all away. It just reaffirmed that I wasn’t ready for this, or at the very least, that this was the wrong place for me to entertain my unwanted epiphany.
“You know what, I’m sorry,” I say as I lift myself off the couch. “I made a mistake. I’m really sorry for wasting your time.” I step toward the door, but she is faster than I am. Before I manage two strides, she is blocking the handle, hindering my escape from this uncomfortable hell.
“It’s okay to admit the truth, John. Even when it seems hard or even impossible, your happiness is more important than avoiding a life change. You can’t spend the rest of your life in denial. It will ease your stress in the long run to be honest with yourself. You don’t have to do anything different, or make any major decisions if you don’t want to. But you do need to be honest with yourself. If you take anything away from this session today, I hope it’s that.”
She steps aside, and my sweating hand slips on the handle as I wrap my fingers around it. I wipe my hand against my shirt to dry it off, and I’m able to turn the handle this time. The first step into the hallway is the most relieving, and I feel like I can breathe again.
Perhaps I had been too quick to judge her. In all fairness, I didn’t make eye contact enough to know what her eyes truly revealed. She had never actually referred to me as an abomination—it had been my own mind screaming that word on repeat. I had been in the presence of Christ—or at least, his likeness—and I hadn’t been struck down. It all just added up to my own cowardice.
I reach my car and slide into the driver’s seat. I am already regretting the day’s session. Nothing had gone the way I thought it would. I am no closer to absolution than I had been when I walked into the therapist’s room. Starting the engine, I tell myself that I will return. I failed miserably today, but I am determined to try again. Because she was right: no matter what happens, I need to be honest with myself.
This short story was inspired by a writing prompt. The prompt was:
Destroy a vital piece of your character’s reality that causes them to question their identity.
If this story or prompt inspired you, let me know in the comments!