Trigger warning: description of sexual assault
I press the buzzer, hoping that the light outside the door works.
Thankfully, it appears that it does still work, as my next patient walks in, his eyes looking down. Wearing a black hoodie with the hood up, covering most of his face, he shuffles slowly towards me and stops awkwardly.
“Hey,” I say, smiling at him kindly, although his eyes are focused on the tips of his sneakers.
“I’m Dr Ellman. What’s your name, honey?"
“Don’t ‘honey’ me. I know you don’t even give a crap about me, so don’t pretend like you do. You just want money, like everyone else.”
“Okay, it’s true. I want money, just like everyone else,” I say, trying to get a reaction from him.
He looks up at me, his eyes a shocking blue colour. He appears mildly astonished at my reply.
“But,” I continue, “I also love helping people out, whatever they may need help for. And if you sit down, I can help you too.”
“No, you can’t. No one can help me.”
“Can you give me a chance to try?” I say, hopefully.
He hesitates and then sits down on the sofa opposite to my desk.
“So, I still don’t know your name,” I say, even though I do know. I need to hear it from him. He needs to confirm that he wants to start a conversation with me.
“I’m Malcolm,” he says, unwilling to lend more information about himself.
“I have a brother named Malcolm,” I say, reaching for my notebook and my favourite pencil.
“So, Malcolm, why are you here today?” I ask, flipping through the notes of my previous patients.
“I don’t know, you tell me. My parents said that I needed to, that I was acting strange and ‘needed some therapy’.”
“Do you think you’re acting ‘strange’?” I ask, putting air quotes around the word ‘strange’ as he had done.
“No, I think I’m completely normal. My parents are the ones who need therapy, with how weird they’ve been acting.”
I laugh in surprise, not having expected that sort of reply.
“I agree. Our generation is a bit weird for sure. If it were up to me, I’d make sure every one of them got therapy.”
I manage to get a light chuckle out of him, and I mentally cheer myself on.
“You seem pretty normal to me too, so why do you think your parents wanted you to come to me?”
“I don’t know,” he says, shrugging.
“Alright then, our work is done here. If there isn’t anything, then you don’t need to come at all,” I say, getting up to water the plants.
I’m hoping that this works.
As I pick up the blue watering can, and move towards the plant closest to my desk, I see that Malcolm hasn’t moved to get up at all.
I decide to give him some time, and water the plant carefully, the sound of flowing water simultaneously calming me and increasing my need to use the washroom.
Later, I tell my bladder. There are more important things to handle right now.
“It was a year ago.”
I turn around in surprise, not expecting him to open up so fast. It usually took longer, enough time for me to water the plants, get some food from the cafeteria and make myself some coffee. And sometimes longer. I remember one of my patients, the only survivor of a plane crash which took the lives of her family. She sat there for almost an hour before she started talking.
I look at Malcolm, waiting in anticipation for his next words. I notice that he’s slightly shaking, and his gaze has returned to the floor.
He doesn’t blink as he says, “It was my uncle, my mother’s brother.”
Not this poor boy.
Why God? Why did you let this child go through this?
“He had come over to visit. I loved him. Thought he was the coolest person, with his leather jackets and sunglasses,” he says, in an expressionless tone.
I sit down on a chair, my legs unable to bear the weight of my body.
“My parents were in the living room. We were playing video games. He just paused the game and took off his pants, asking me to take mine off too. I was confused, but I did as he asked. Then he – then he – he –”
I want to ask him to stop.
But I don’t.
He needs to open up about his past to leave it behind.
I control my urge to hug him. He can’t possibly be able to trust another adult again.
“He put himself inside of me. When I tried to scream for help, he shut my mouth with his hand and said that we were just having a bit of fun, that it was our secret.”
Tears run down my cheeks.
No one should have to go through this.
“I didn’t tell anyone. I knew that no one would believe me. And even if they did, they would ask me to keep quiet about it because – because –”
“Because he was family,” I complete.
“I’ve been having regular nightmares ever since it happened. My parents just put it down to stress. Last night’s nightmare was different. It was the worst one yet. I woke up screaming, feeling like it was happening again. Feeling his weight on top of me, the pain, the feeling of wanting to do something but not being strong enough.”
“And I hate it. It hurts, so much. And it doesn’t ever stop,” he says, burying his face in his hands, his body shaking, having carried this memory for so long.
I go over to the sofa, and sit next to him, not too close, but not too far either.
“May I – may I hug you?” I ask, expecting a hesitation.
He just wraps his arms around my middle and cries on my shoulder.
I pull him close to me and let him cry it out, knowing that it is the only way to let out those emotions that have been buried for so long.
He cries out painfully, and I hold him tighter.
After almost ten minutes, he pulls away and wipes his tears off.
I gently rub his back, allowing him to compose himself.
He looks at me, a slight smile tugging on his lips.
“Thank you, Dr Ellman.”
“Oh no, don’t thank me,” I say, getting up and walking back to my desk.
“And call me Julietta, please.”
“Thank you, Julietta.”
“It was all you Malcolm, I was just there to help. And after all, it’s my job.”
I start writing out notes in my book, detailing all that he said, as well as his first step towards recovery.
“Maybe therapy isn’t such a bad idea after all,” he grudgingly admits.
I look up from writing and smile at him.
And this time, his eyes rise from the carpet and meet mine, smiling back.
He comes in for a session every alternate Thursday.
After a month, I convince him to tell his parents.
As they have it out in my room, I interject whenever necessary, but it is just mostly Malcolm. He handles the situation maturely, expecting the worst reaction.
So, when his parents hug him in tears, he hugs them back in shock, as I look at him, my face having ‘told you so’ written all over it.
All my patients have had similar lives, but they’ve gotten through it.
They’ve come out the other side, changed and scarred forever, but stronger.
And it is my pride and joy to be able to play a part in their journey.