Dr. X is pretty in a very clean looking way. Her brown skin glows with a copper tint. She has long, shiny cornrows tied back with a sky blue ribbon, perfect teeth, and slender, feminine hands. My mottled genes roil as I sit on the other side of her desk. I can feel my mother’s fat cells plump my thighs and tease my chin. My square, chapped hands rest on my lap, and I resist the urge to draw them up to mouth, where I can suddenly feel every punch and every cavity I’ve ever had.
Dr. X smiles, but I don’t smile back. Not just because I think she has it too easy, which I do, but because there is a steel hook digging into my chest and it’s making me want to cry. I won’t cry, though, because crying makes me even uglier. My face squishes up, my lips get twisted, and my tiny brown eyes disappear. I don’t like to cry, but when I do, I want to be alone, where there’s no one around to ask questions, and I can bury my face into a pillow.
It’s stupid, anyway, the things that make the hook appear. Today it’s yellow skin. I hate my yellow skin. I hate that I am the color of jaundice, and dry leaves, and bile and piss. I hate that I don’t know the man who screwed my mother and left. I hate that my mother won’t tell me who he is – I want someone to blame. I want someone whose eyes look like mine to stare back at me and tell me that I am loved. I want someone to say that they are sorry and really mean it. I want to scream at someone and then be forgiven.
Dr. X leans forward, her sterling silver Cross pen suspended over a manila folder. One day, I want a pen like that, something heavy and opulent, maybe as a gift from someone who thinks my words are that important.
“Here’s what I think we should do,” Dr. X says. I look up from staring at my rough hands and yellow arms and see that she is still smiling. There’s a hint of white lace visible over the buttons of her freshly ironed blouse. Her breasts rise and fall like a metronome. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. When she blinks, her lashes almost meet the arch of her brow. The hook digs and digs.
“Since you’re not that comfortable talking, I think you should journal your history for me. You’re a writer, so that should be easy for you, shouldn’t it?” All the sudden, I get a sensation like lead in my veins. I feel heavy and stuck and halfway dead. Writing is the only thing I have left. It’s MINE – please don’t take it – it is mine, and it is untouched, and sometimes it is even beautiful. And when it’s not beautiful, it’s terrible in the way I need it to be, like a madness that keeps itself contained.
Dr. X’s silver pen taps the folder. My last name and first and middle initials are typed in crisp black letters on a white label with a blue stripe. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want pieces of my life split off and typed up in forms, or scribbled in shorthand.
My breaths feel ragged and there’s a sour taste in my throat. Still, she called me a writer, and I don’t know why her recognition stirs me in a way that feels hopeful, but it does, even if she didn’t mean it in the real, adult sense of the word. She only meant that she knew I wrote, not that I was any good at it, or that I might stand a chance in hell of actually ever becoming a real writer someday.
I feel stupid for realizing how much even Dr. X’s faint praise means to me, but under the lead and behind the hook, my nerves are tingling, and words begin to fly in my head, colliding and embracing and looking for a story. Beautiful words, like wild and oeillade, amethyst and bell. Burning words like love and anguish, hunger and fear.
Dr. X interrupts my thoughts. “Listen,” she says, “I don’t want you to worry about things like grammar or spelling, this is just between you and me – no grades, no judgments.”
Everything inside me freezes. Dr. X thinks I’m a moron. A dropout punk with dirty sneakers, a GED, and no future. I didn’t drop out of school because I was an idiot, but because I needed to live. I needed to be safe, I needed work, a roof over my head, and something healthy to eat. She should know that – I told her that already – but apparently she didn’t listen. Or she thought I was lying. The cold hook digs deeper, and in an instant I find myself hating Dr. X, and despising myself for liking her.
* * *
At home in my studio apartment with its dirty, threadbare carpet and faded sleeper bed, I sit at a Formica table and pound wire sharp letters down the throat of my Royal typewriter. At 3:00 a.m., I am sweating and the ashtray is overflowing, but the hook is still and the anger is gone. I open my windows and let the salty, chilled air of Santa Cruz wash over me. The 40 pages I have partially tucked under the typewriter rustle. I have no desire to re-read them. They already feel foreign to me, like some abstract theory or punishing science, but mostly I am afraid that I broke every rule and proved myself to be inept and unpolished. A common trait of the amateur, I once read, is the overuse of bruised adjectives and bloody metaphors, and I used both, too many times.
After a few hours of sleep, I spend two of my last three dollars on a black calligraphy pen from the drugstore, and I draw Dr. X’s full name, Lyndal Xavier, in Roman script across a white linen envelope. My history is not a gift, at least not one that’s worth much, but it feels like I’m giving something away, and I want it to look nice even if the inside is ugly. I drop the envelope off with Dr. X’s receptionist before I head to the plant where I work swing shift, counting out diodes and capacitors for the assembly line. It’s a mind-numbing job, but I’ve learned how to split my focus. While one side of me counts in sets of ten, the other imagines that the phone will ring and Dr. X won’t want to wait another four days to see me – she’ll want to see me in the morning – she’ll want to help me plan my future. She’ll tell me how to get out of this paper hair net and blue cotton smock and into college.
* * *
Dr. X doesn’t call, of course, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining all sorts of things, from an unopened envelope to a derisive laugh to a shrugged shoulder. By the time our appointment comes, I am high-strung and anxious, overflowing with hope and resentment although neither of these things make any sense. Dr. X isn’t a savior, she can’t rescue me, but I can’t help but think she knows the secret to things I don’t know. Like how to get out of a hole, not be nervous, and how to be the kind of person other people want to get to know.
Sandi, one of the ladies at work, called me book smart and life stupid, and I know she’s right. I had more books than I ever had family, and I loved my books. They never screamed, or punched, or called me names. Still, they didn’t teach me anything practical, like how to hem a pair of pants, balance a checkbook, or make a dinner that didn’t come out of a box. I taught myself all those things when I left home, but there are other things I just haven’t grasped, and it makes me feel stupid and inferior and set-apart.
I don’t think Dr. X – I don’t think a lot of people – know what that’s like, and it makes me feel resentful, even though it’s not their fault. That’s just the way it is, and sometimes I rub that feeling in on purpose for no good reason. I’ll go to a park or a mall and I’ll watch the mothers with the babies on their hips, or I’ll watch the giggling teenagers shopping at stores I could never afford. I’ll watch and let the hook dig into my heart until my eyes water. And then I’ll hate myself even more for never being the kind of child someone wanted to hold, or the kind of carefree, laughing girl with lots of friends.
Sometimes I walk through the suburbs in the evening just to see the bicycles abandoned in driveways, the lacy curtains pulled back from windows, and the girls in ponytails sitting on the sidewalks with buckets of chalk. I do it even though I know it will hurt. Some kids cut themselves, some do drugs, or drink. I just watch, and it’s a pain I give myself, except that I know that one day I want to be in one of those pictures, and not outside. I want to be in one of those yards with the green grass and yellow roses — in the house with the real beds and the fingerpaintings on the refrigerator. I think Dr. X must know how I can get there, and more than anything this is what I want from her. The secret about how to go from the outside in.
Dr. X holds my pages in her hand, and there’s a big silver clip that leaves them open to the middle. The middle is where most of the Big Ugly is, and I can see that she’s underlined sentences and written notes in the margin.
The questions come at me in rapid fire succession. Tell me when, Dr. X says, tell me how, how did you feel about it? (I told you, can’t you read?).
Were you angry, were you sad, you know it’s not your fault, don’t you? (Yesyesyes).
Your time is almost up, we’ve got a lot of issues to deal with, but first I think we have to deal with your depression.
I’m not depressed, I tell her. I’ve just become too aware of the world, and everything hurts. I thought I’d find peace out here but people hurt, and loss hurts, and not being liked hurts, and being alone every day and not knowing what to do or how to do it hurts. You can’t fix that with a pill.
Dr. X stands her ground, and hands me the slip. “It will take a couple of weeks to feel a difference, but take these twice a day, and Mila,” (she pauses, looks me deep in the eyes, as if speaking to an imbecile), “be-careful-not- to-skip-a-dose.” I watch her Laurel Birch earrings dangle as she waits for me to answer. Cloisonné and silver, a glittering bird amidst cheerless blue flowers. Dr. X’s eyebrows are arched like question marks as she waits for me to answer.
I feel pale and lost and angry and frustrated and broken and beaten and the hook digs and digs and digs and digs. I take the slip, but I already know I’ll be a no-call, no-show for my next appointment with Dr. X.
It’s a humble revenge, but I think – I really believe – necessary.