Amelia sighed. It seemed that she was always sighing these days. She rolled her eyes in frustration and cupped her head in her hands. Taking a deep breath she looked up with seeming indifference and glanced around the minimally decorated office. Her face had a nonchalant expression but her head felt like a lightning storm. She wished she could be anywhere but here right now but she still had 35 minutes left. How long could she be silent and stare at the ground before the shrink started to judge her? After all, therapists are just people and they must be judgmental from time to time, Amelia thought. Obviously, Grace, her therapist was no exception.
Grace was a boring dresser, light browns and tan polyester t-shirts always matched with some other earth-toned skirt, most of which looked itchy. Amelia wondered if she dressed like this purposely so patients like her wouldn’t get distracted or wrapped up in her clothes. Grace was a woman in her thirties and was attractive. She had dark brown curly hair that hung past her shoulders and a kind smile. She always looked like she was wearing lipstick, although Amelia guessed that was just her lip color. She had seen her take sips of coffee while she was speaking and there was never a mark on the cup, not even a trace of gloss. Grace’s eyes were dark and framed with long eyelashes. They were gentle eyes that always seemed to be looking at you with a deep sense of empathy. “Maybe she dresses so boringly because she doesn’t want people to flirt with her.” Amelia thought. It was easier to be petty and think about these frivolous things at the moment just to avoid answering Grace’s question.
Grace looked at Amelia expectantly. “Are you not ready to answer that question yet? It’s okay if you need some time.” Annoyed, Amelia sat back on the old leather love seat. She picked up one of the throw pillows and started playing with the dark blue fringe dripping down the side. She picked anxiously at the strings until one of them began to fray. “Sorry.” She said. “For what?” Grace asked. “For messing up your pillow, for not being able to answer that question, really for everything. You probably think I’m pretty messed up.” Amelia felt her eyes well up with tears. She looked up at the floor lamp hoping the light beams would dry her eyes. It didn’t work obviously and a reluctant tear fell down her face. She felt her pride crush like a paper ball. “There are parts of me that I don’t know because of the abuse,” Amelia said. “I was always told I was a bad person…a “bad girl”…and sometimes I feel like it must be true if my stepmom kept telling me that. Maybe she saw something in me that I deny to myself because it’s too painful to face.” Now that she started opening up it felt like the words came spilling from her lips. She just wanted to tell Grace everything and get it over with. Amelia’s pride wished she could sew her mouth shut but her heart ached.
She needed to tell someone how she really felt about the abuse. When her friends would come over to her dad’s house and see how her stepmother treated her Amelia would just brush it off. Her cheeks would redden but she would act as if she heard nothing, as if she were okay. But inside Amelia felt so small and every time that an insult was thrown her way she felt herself grow smaller, until there was nothing left. Eventually, her friends did not want to come to her house anymore. They felt too uncomfortable. They would invite Amelia to their homes, with their nice parents who loved them, and her heart would ache. She lost friends and eventually learned to tend to her own emotional wounds like a dog licking its paw, self-soothing, wild, and angry.
Even though she moved out of that dark place she still felt haunted. Her insecurities always seemed to be whispering in her ear, telling her how awful she was and how she would never amount to anything. And that’s how she ended up in this seat, trying to find herself, trying to find some semblance of inner peace but regurgitating the stories of her home life seemed to have opened a chasm of pain. She heard that it was supposed to hurt before you felt better, and she understood. She was used to the hurt part at least.
For a moment Amelia saw an emotion flutter across Grace’s eye. Was it a tear? As soon as it registered to Amelia it was gone. Grace’s eyes were looking at her with professionalism and understanding, a comforting combination. Amelia was afraid that if Grace showed any emotion she herself would lose it. She would start crying until she didn’t have any more tears left. “I want you to know that those feelings are a result of the abuse. Your stepmother may have seen you in a unidimensional way, and inaccurately I must say, but that is not the whole of who you are. Think about yourself in another situation, as a friend, as a coworker, and tell me what kind of person you know you are in those situations.” Amelia searched her mind. If Grace had asked this to her on any other day, in any other place, she would be able to rattle off some things that she guessed made her a “good person”, although she never really felt them to be true. She was a chronic people pleaser, the kind that did it in a stoic way, as if the depth of her care were infinite.
She loved doing kind things for others but was that because she always felt like she was bad or was it because she wanted to do it from the kindness of her heart? “I know I am a good friend. I have been there when my friends needed me. I have given people a place to stay, food from my table, volunteered my time, all of that, but part of me still feels her in the back of my mind. She’s always questioning me.” Amelia confessed. “Whenever I would try to help my dad around the house, just to be near him and away from her, she would say that she was surprised I was even helping at all. She would tell me that she was surprised I could do anything for anyone else, surprised that I even loved my father because I was such a “little monster”.” Amelia felt her cheeks get red. She never had opened up this much about her stepmother before. She always felt like if she said anything that an awakening would happen, one where she would speak the emotional curses her stepmother placed upon her into reality. For years she just buried it inside. She felt a crippling shame and put her head in her hands again. She shielded everything from view like a horse with blinders on. This always soothed her, made her focus on one thing. That one thing was usually the carpet or the floor but at least she could just forget about what was going on around her, just for a moment.
She used to do this when her stepmom would say cruel things to her, look at the ground and shield her eyes and try not to let the tears fall from them. Sometimes she would shiver trying to hold them back. Once her stepmother noticed this pattern she began to make fun of her for it, called her crazy. Quickly Amelia looked up, she didn’t want Grace to think she was crazy. She saw Grace jot something down on her notepad. Amelia’s head was swimming. “Do you think I’m crazy?” “I don’t think any of my clients are crazy and certainly not you. Do you think you’re crazy?” Grace asked as she readjusted her position and leaned into the arm of her chair. “I mean you must think some people are crazy. You probably see all kinds of nut jobs in here.” Amelia said exasperated as she looked around the room.
Amelia saw Grace exhale through her nose; she almost looked annoyed, almost. “I am going to be honest with you because I feel you will appreciate it. You’re deflecting and I understand why. These memories can be painful and learning who you are outside of the abusive situation can be difficult. Although I believe that you already know who it is that you are, you’re just not able to let go of the past and that’s okay.” Grace looked relieved. “I’m not sure if I really do know myself, deep down. I came here to figure that out. I came here looking for answers, not questions. Why can’t you just tell me I am a good person so I can get out of here?” Amelia asked frustrated. She began picking at her nails out of nervousness. She didn’t want to hurt Grace’s feelings but she was feeling trapped. She just wanted to run away. If Grace would just tell Amelia that she was a good person, maybe she could just forget about her past, maybe that one opinion would outweigh the years of vicious comments her stepmother made.
Grace gave her head a slight nod in recognition of Amelia’s feelings and continued, “A lot of people think that therapists do that. That we can just tell you something to take the hurt out but in reality, it is a process that you must complete on your own. I am just here to guide you to it and I really do feel that you are on the right path. You have stable work, friends, and housing. Plus, you’re here, which tells me that you are mentally aware of the issue.” She pressed on and jotted down some notes again. Amelia’s heart dropped, “What is she writing down?” She thought. “It can take years of soul searching to find out who you “truly are”. I ask the question not because I expect a straightforward answer but because I want to see that you have a sense of self and I want you to see that too. I’d like you to think on that this week, who are you outside of this experience you had as a child and come back to me with some qualities you know to be true about yourself. I’ll see you next week.” She said with a calming smile. Amelia stood up, “Sounds good and thanks….for listening. “Grace nodded at her in acknowledgment.
Amelia left the office feeling pulled apart and raw. She was glad that she had opened up to Grace even though she still felt like there was a small hole in her heart. She walked down the street to her car, pensive, the clicking of her shoes attempting to keep her thoughts at bay, to a certain tempo. She didn’t want her mind racing. It never ended well. How could she possibly have an answer for Grace by next week? Didn’t she just say that this process can take years? She felt like discovering a new part of herself would mean letting her old self go completely. This scared Amelia. Even though the situation she grew up in was terrible she still held on to that little girl. She was still trying to save her. If she changed her path, discovering herself now, she may never be able to save her. Deep down Amelia knew that she could never save her past self from the events that took place. She could never forget what happened or have it not alter the way that she looked at herself now but she still felt, in that moment, however irrational, that all she wanted to do was hold on. She didn’t want to lose any more of herself and the road to self-discovery was always met with uncertainty, something Amelia never liked. Her pessimism felt like a comfort blanket, protecting her from uncertainty by expecting the worst and being able to pull through it. She felt in control that way.
She hopped into her old Jeep Cherokee and rolled down the windows letting the late spring air blow through her hair. The air felt warm and smelled sweet. “I think I’ll go for a walk in the park.” She thought to herself. Amelia always loved nature and when she felt at her worst she would often retreat to places where flowers and trees bloomed, where she could feel alone, where even the insects paid her no mind. She loved to watch nature work. It always fascinated her how plants and insects lived in their own little worlds beside the messy world of human beings. Sometimes she wished she could live in her own world. There was a park on the outskirts of town with blooming dogwoods and magnolias. Where you could relax under the shade of the maple trees and just think for a while, a park that she visited countless times. It felt like her special place to escape.
Amelia pulled into the desolate dirt parking lot near the old overgrown trail. She knew this area like the back of her hand. She had walked this trail so many times on days when she just felt empty and needed something to fill her up. She kept a spare pair of old dusty sneakers in her trunk for such occasions. She slipped them on and walked to the trailhead. The familiar smell of greenery and earth soothed her. As she headed through the ferns and the maples she made her way to an area where there was a small clearing. In that clearing dogwoods and magnolias bloomed. This is where she usually went when she came here to collect her thoughts and she needed that now. As much as she felt proud that she shared a part of herself today she also felt like she needed to be guarded as a result. She needed to feel at peace before she could even think about an answer for Grace, for herself. The scenery was beautiful like always during this time of year. To Amelia, it looked like something from a fairytale. That’s why she always loved it here. It was the closest she could get to being in her own world.
Walking across the grass she came to the magnolia tree. Every year without fail it bloomed. It would be bare one day and in a flash, at least it felt that way to Amelia, it would be bright pink and vivacious. The unfortunate thing about m magnolias is that the flowers seem to die as quickly as they bloom. Because of this, she had to enjoy this moment soaking in the bright pinks that danced across the petals to white tips. She had to soak in the soft satin-like petals that smelled like citrus. All of them were exceptional aside from one withering flower on one of the lower branches of the tree. As she approached the unfortunate bloom she felt a sense of pity. Her fingers graced the browning petals and as she pulled them back she discovered snuggled up next to the stamen was a weevil beetle making itself comfortable. It seemed perfectly unaware of the damage that it was doing to the tree and to this particular flower.
Amelia felt annoyed with the creature. How dare this organism eat away holes in this tree’s flowers, leaving them punctured, leaving them disfigured? She felt so annoyed, in fact, that she picked up the creature with a delicate pinch and threw it straight across the clearing. She felt her eyes well up with tears. Her reaction surprised her and she briskly wiped away a straggler tear that managed to drop from her tear duct. Amelia stepped back and looked at the tree in its entirety. While all of the flowers were in peak bloom she felt hyperaware of the dying one. Why was she so focused on the unfortunate flower when all of the rest were thriving? She wondered. Why was this one flower so important? She sat down in front of the tree and crossed her legs. Sometimes Amelia felt like that withering bloom. She felt like while others were growing and prospering, she was barely able to stay alive. Her childhood, the weevil, was holding her back from really being who she truly was, making her doubt every part of herself, not allowing her to remain vivacious.
At that moment she realized something; maybe she wasn’t just the bloom but the tree itself. Her childhood was the one withering flower but that didn’t mean that there weren’t more blooms in her life. A sense of hope fell over Amelia. She would have something to tell Grace next week. She may not have discovered all of herself yet, may not have unearthed all of the hurt but this was a start. For the first time in her life, she felt hope that things would turn out okay. Not just because she could trudge through. They were going to be okay because she had the confidence to alter the course of her own story. She wouldn’t need the story her childhood had painted for her so long ago. It was time for a new chapter. She stood up, dusted herself off, and headed back to her car.