You’d walk with me to therapy. I’d constantly reassure you that I was capable of getting there alone. After all, the lady was kind. Her office, a couple blocks from campus, was decorated in comforting shades of purple. She diffused delicious essential oils (usually lemongrass, sometimes lavender), and the entire practice was situated at the top of a pillared mansion, up the cascading staircase and to the right. I knew I’d manage without you. But you didn’t care, you knew I secretly preferred it, having a companion to fool around with before pouring my trauma out on a silver platter for her to examine and dissect. On the way there, we’d stop for spicy Chinese noodles, burn our tongues trying to shove it all down quickly enough to make it to the appointment on time, and then jaywalk (more like jaysprint) across the busy street to beat the idle traffic light.
We were usually alone in the waiting room, watching the sun burn the telephone wires of our small town the color of a ripe apricot. I’d schedule my appointments late to avoid the rush hour of other college students waiting to get their respective brains “fixed.” I’d make faces at you from behind whatever dog-eared, ragged copy of Good Housekeeping I could find, feigning pornographic bedroom eyes just to make you laugh. You’re a temptress, you’d say half-jokingly. But that’s exactly what I was doing, tempting you to need me.
My therapist had a name for you: your friend in the waiting room. She’d pop her head out to call my name and wave to you, knowing you’d be there, one leg coolly folded on your knee, working on homework balanced like a trapeze artist. Inside the room with the door shut, I’d bombard her with the usual pain: my characteristic loss of friends (inevitable, and always my fault), my abandonment issues, and my unforgiving hostility toward my family for cursing me with the genetics that made me want to kill myself. She’d listen and offer empathy. One night, after our session ended, I had one hand on the doorknob before she stopped me. Is that sweet boy in the waiting room your boyfriend? I wanted to say, He used to be. I wanted to say, Kind of. But instead I said, No, he’s just my friend— which wasn’t a lie, but wasn’t a full truth either. Well, she replied with a scarecrow-like smile pasted on her face, You’re lucky to have someone like him.
And I was.
I break out in cold sweat thinking about walking to see her again. I’ve been putting it off, cancelling appointments, faking soundness of mind just to avoid walking past our token Chinese restaurant with the sticky booths and the chain of mom-and-pop stores perfect for mindless window shopping and the pedestrian light that never turns and Church Street– fittingly named for the Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, and Lutheran churches standing stoically one after another like dominoes– where we’d test the door handles of each building hoping one would let us in. It was stupid fun. But you’ve grown tired of me, and you despise me now, which just means that no one’s gonna walk me there if I ever muster enough courage to walk back. No one’s gonna sit for a full hour in the waiting room just to take the transit bus with me after sunset so I wouldn’t have to ride alone. No one’s gonna ask me how it went– Did you tell her about your parents? How do you feel?— or squeeze my hand in the dark when it went terribly, the nights I’d dive a little too deeply into my hurt. You were my friend. You held my hand. I didn’t know it then, but I needed you.
She’ll ask me, Where’s your friend? And I’ll shrug my head and say something like Not here, or Probably just busy, because I’ll talk about anything to anyone– my twisted history, my constant suffering, my wounds that won’t heal– but I won’t talk about Church Street, or how all of the church doors were bolted shut, or how I wanted to kiss you on the way back, like old times, but didn’t.