Muffled pleasantries from outside the Therapist's closed office doors let her know the next appointment had arrived. The Therapist recognized the patient's voice exchanging niceties with the secretary on the other side of the doors.
"Tsk," said the Therapist, quietly reprimanding herself for using the term patient rather than client. The Therapist did not need to look at her calendar to remember who the next client was or her notes concerning the details of the previous appointments.
She couldn't forget such an intriguing case.
"Are you ready for Ms. Gilina Deckard?" the secretary asked as she opened the office doors. The Therapist nodded, and the secretary replied, "I will let the client know." The Therapist smiled at the secretary, and the secretary, who had difficulty using the term client at first, felt a bit of pride in reciting the appropriate terminology.
The distinction between the term patient and client was critical to the Therapist's endeavor to establish a clinic free of the modern atrocities associated with mental health practices. The Therapist thought of the groundbreaking ceremony of the Palms Clinic last year in 1956. It was the first of its kind. Many people, some of whom she considered colleagues, thought a woman running a mental health facility was not natural. They thought her methods of having patients acknowledge their psychological narratives were foolish. The Therapist smiled as she remembered how cutting the red tape to the clinic a year ago felt like cutting ties with institutionalized mental health administrators that chose abhorrent practices like electroshock and lobotomy.
If Gilina had gone to one of those other clinics, she would have been diagnosed with hysteria. The "doctors" would try to cure her with all sorts of heinous methods like placing bad smells under her nose and good smells near her genitals, or a cannon of water fired at her inner thighs, or raping her with their fingers because they believed female semen turned venomous if not released. Then the “doctors” would have locked Gilina in a room at night and do it again the next day. The thought made the Therapist shudder.
That was the nature of the therapist-patient relationship, one person in power with all the answers and one person who knows nothing except that they are sick. The therapist-client relationship took another approach in which the therapist guides the client in finding their truths. For Gilina, the most crucial difference between status quo methods and what was practiced at the Palms Clinic was that she could go home to her family instead of being locked in a room overnight.
The doors to the Therapist's office opened again, and Gilina walked into the room. Gilina's unique appearance was a contrast to the Therapist. The Therapist was of petite stature with cropped and curly grey hair—she kept it short because she hated it falling into her eyes—and wore a modest, blue workwear dress and white blouse. Gilina was tall with long flowing black hair like a model in a magazine ad hocking shampoo. Her face had a unique narrowness that was exotic and unusual but not gaunt. She accentuated her beauty with cosmetics, making her cheeks rosy and full lips scarlet in color. Gilina wore a long dress with a flower pattern that seemed to tell the world she was a happy homemaker.
But Gilina wasn’t the happy homemaker she wanted to be.
After exchanging salutations, the Therapist asked, “Are you ready to begin?”
Gilina nodded, then said, “I am the Mother, but I don’t have to be in this room. I can be the person I am, not the one I want to be.”
“Good,” the Therapist said and wrote in her notebook that the mantra was said. “Have you felt any paralyzing decisions this week?”
“I went to the grocery store, like you asked, before coming to my session today,” Gilina replied.
“Did you have a moment of indecision?”
“Yes,” Gilina replied.
“Tell me about it,” the Therapist asked.
“Well, I was worried about my son’s birthday party. See, he’s turning eight and asked me to bake him a cake. Of course, I was excited to do so, but I started to get nervous at the grocery store.”
“What made you nervous?” the Therapist asked.
“He asked for a peanut butter cake instead of a chocolate cake. All the ingredients were in my basket except for the peanut butter, but when I was standing in front of the jar, I couldn’t make myself put it in my basket. So, I started looking at the cocoa powder for a chocolate cake instead. Then I thought of my son being disappointed with the cake being chocolate instead of peanut butter.”
“Why did you find it difficult to grab the peanut butter off the shelf?” the Therapist asked.
Gilina was quiet for a minute and gazed through the window at the pleasant spring weather. It always took some time for Gilina to adjust to her discomfort in not acting like the perfect mother she wanted everyone to see. The Therapist waited and passed the time by flipping through her previous notes.
Gilina was an exceptional artist and photographer. Her favorite hobby was drawing three-dimensional shapes on exposure film and developing the images in a dark room. Then by splicing the film together, she created a moving picture of magnificent topological objects that morphed and inverted their shapes in a bewildering display. Gilina’s talent was different because it was nothing anyone had ever seen. She called the art projects of morphing shapes of spliced film Tori. The Therapist’s notes told the details in terse statements.
Gilina says that her Tori are derived from mathematical equations of symmetry.
Client has no mathematics degree. When asked, she says that the equations come to her when she focuses on what she wants the Tori to look like. Says the shapes need to move.
The Therapist looked at Gilina to see she was still gazing out the window at the trees blowing in the wind. Perhaps it would storm later. The Therapist returned to her notes, but in her mind’s eye, she remembered how Gilina’s Tori enthralled her. The day Gilina showed the Therapist her Tori, the blinds were drawn, and the film’s shapes were projected onto the Therapist’s office wall. Further down the notepad, the Therapist tried to describe how impressive the Tori were.
Her creations are more artistic than mathematical. The beauty of the moving shapes is like a dance that tells stories, like how individual instruments of an orchestra can evoke emotions dissimilar to the ensemble. Like a story within a story but in opposition to each other. By looking at the shapes morph into others, you knew how you should feel by how the shapes twisted or rippled. Words can’t describe it, but for the sake of my notes...
There was a donut that turned itself inside out, then formed lines that split into spaces that became squares that unhinged into a flat sheet to wrap itself back into the simple donut shape again.
It was intuitive and emotional. To me, that’s an art more than math.
“Dr. Silveria?” Gilina asked.
“Yes, please continue if you feel comfortable. Why didn’t you put the peanut butter into your grocery basket?”
“Yes, well, that’s because of that sixth sense I have; that’s what you called it last time,” Gilina responded. “I knew, I just knew, that if I put that peanut butter jar in the basket, it would lead to the end of Earth. I didn’t want that to happen, so I stood in the aisle with other customers passing by me. I stood there so long, maybe an hour, walking back and forth between the cocoa powder and the peanut butter.”
“You stated before that you wish your pathological ambivalence to be cured. Is that your wish still?” the Therapist asked.
“Yes, oh yes. It is a debilitating malady,” Gilina said.
“Do you remember we spoke about how your ambivalence is tied to your self-narrative? For example, you say you want to be the Mother, even said being the best Mother would be something you wanted.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“And do you remember acknowledging that the indecisions that plague you might be related to your sense of self, your own portrayal of being a mother?”
“Yes, but that isn’t everything.”
“I know it isn’t,” the Therapist replied. “So why did you think you have this sixth sense to know that buying peanut butter leads to the end of the world.”
“Like I said, it is because of that sixth sense I have. That’s what you called it anyway,” Gilina said.
“I said there are people that claim to have a sixth sense, but this is not a scientific claim, more fiction than anything, but it seemed the best way to articulate what you have described in the past. This ‘knowing’ that you have.”
“Feel,” Gilina said. “I feel it more than I know it. I felt that getting the peanut butter would kill Paul’s friend. That’s where my thoughts started.”
“Why did you feel it would kill your son’s friend? Do you mean at the birthday party?”
“Yes, at the birthday party, Paul’s friend, Sammy Miller, would have a piece of the peanut butter cake and then die.”
“Why do you think it would kill him?” the Therapist asked.
“Because one time, after a ball game, oh Paul looked so strong that day, anyway, I happened to put my hand on Sammy’s back as I escorted him off the field. When I touched him, I felt something like an itch that I couldn’t scratch. I just knew that peanuts were dangerous for him.”
“Does Sammy have a peanut allergy?”
“I don’t know,” Gilina replied. “I get that feeling about myself sometimes too. Sometimes it happens when I look a food like lettuce or chicken, but other times it happens when my hand brushes against rusty metal. I get this feeling of repulsive forces, like two like-pole magnets pushing each other away. Not like an allergy, no, that’s not it, more like a dissonance.”
The Therapist took a few notes and then asked, “Do you think you might have heard Sammy has a peanut allergy from Paul’s teachers or some other way?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember someone telling me that. Paul and Sammy are on the same ball team but go to different schools. So, it’s possible I overheard it, yeah. And I guess you would say it is more possible for me to have heard something than sensed it.”
The Therapist looked Gilina in the eyes and said, “Perhaps I should say that, but I will not. I don’t want to influence your reality with my own. I want to hear what you think.”
“I think if I bought the peanut butter, then Paul would see it, then I would have to bake the cake, then Sammy would die when he ate it, then Paul would blame me for killing his friend.”
“So why not just be safe and choose the cocoa powder and make the chocolate cake?” asked the Therapist.
“Because then Paul would be upset that he did not have the peanut butter cake, and I wouldn’t be a good Mother.”
“If disappointing your children makes you a bad mother, I think there are no good mothers,” the Therapist stated.
“But as you just said,” Gilina replied, “your opinion shouldn’t influence me. So where does that leave us?”
The Therapist nodded in concession and said, “You are correct. Please continue. Tell me how this would lead to the end of the world. I have only heard of Sammy and Paul’s plight; how does that propagate to the world?”
Gilina winced but forced herself to say what was on her mind.
“It happens years later when Paul is a man. His teenage years will be awful. He blames me for killing his friend if I get the peanut butter, and if I get the cocoa powder, he doesn’t trust me as his mother. Either way, Paul doesn’t graduate high school because he refuses to let me support him. He starts working a job at the same grocery store I was at, then he drops out. But if I get the peanut butter, it’s even worse.”
“I’m not trying to influence you, but do you feel those are a lot of ‘if’s’?” the Therapist asked.
“I can acknowledge that,” Gilina said, “but it doesn’t make the feeling go away. See, Paul then joins a cult, and they make him feel more at home than I ever could. The cult believes that aliens are on Earth and—”
“Aliens?” the Therapist asked. “I thought we discussed that the alien fears were unfounded. You admitted that a few sessions ago.”
“I did,” Gilina responded, then bit her lip. A smudge of red lipstick stained her front tooth. “But you asked me to answer why I thought the decision of peanut butter would end the world, so that’s what I’m doing.”
The Therapist made a few more notes:
Patient Client seems hostile when discussing aliens again. What is the link between the Mother and the Alien? Discuss next session!!!
“Please, don’t let me stop you,” said the Therapist. “What happens next?”
“The cult convinces Paul that I am an alien, and that’s why I killed his friend Sammy. The cult preaches that all aliens are bad. I don’t think all aliens are bad, especially if I’m one of them, but if I kill Sammy, then—”
“It’s okay; remember you are in a safe place to speak your mind,” the Therapist says.
Gilina has a few tears fall over her rosy cheeks, but she wipes them away and cocks her head to throw her gorgeous black hair over one shoulder. She then collects herself and continues.
“Many years from now, Paul confronts me about being an alien. The conversation becomes heated. Paul is strong, a grown man, and my husband isn’t there; I don’t know where he is, but he isn’t there, and then Paul hits me. He hits me, and my skin breaks, but I don’t bleed. He sees that there are scales under my skin, and he screams. He then beats me, my own child. He hits me over and over. Then there’s a flash of light, and Paul is gone, vaporized, just a dirty ashen spot in the same kitchen I had made the peanut butter cake in years ago.”
Gilina’s eyes glazed over, not from tears, but as if she was in a trance. The Therapist had seen Gilina’s outburst before, but it had been close to a year since one like this. The Therapist took notes concerning the back peddling of Gilina’s progress and questions to ask for future sessions. Still, the Therapist also knew it was essential to finish Gilina’s delusion of future consequences and then have time to reflect on it. The Therapist focused on Gilina and asked,
“What happens after Paul disappears?”
“That’s when I give up on Earth. I’m no longer the Mother and have no purpose here anymore. I get another of those feelings, that sixth sense, and know that Paul contacted the CIA. He told them I was an alien. The CIA comes after me and I feel like I’m being squeezed like a lemon to make lemonade, except the lemonade is more than sour; it's caustic, and it burns your throat going down, and you know you have to vomit, but the vomit will make it burn even more so you swallow it. So, you swallow it and live with it. That’s when I realized that I am the Alien and that I was sent here not to be the Mother but the Destroyer. I realize that I must contact my home planet, so they know the location of Earth. My home planet is dying, and my children there will die too if I can’t save them. That’s what happens if I buy the peanut butter instead of cocoa.”
The Therapist’s mouth is open but closes it before Gilina notices. The Therapist writes notes furiously, then meets Gilina’s eyes and says, “So you couldn’t decide between peanut butter and cocoa because in either case, you would lose your motherhood. Which means you would lose your identity. What do you think of that analysis?”
“I guess that is an interpretation,” Gilina replied half-heartedly. She looked emotionally drained, and the Therapist knew their session was ending even though time was not expired.
“Gilina, I know you feel these small actions have big consequences, but even if they do, you can’t be stuck with such indecision, or life will pass you by. You said that yourself a few weeks ago.”
“I know,” Gilina said, and the acknowledgment seemed forced and void. As if she knew that as she said it, she quickly added, “I do want to get better and know what people would do to me if I expressed myself to anyone else. They would think I’m crazy.”
Or an alien, the Therapist thought, but then reprimanded herself worse than mixing up patient and client. So instead, she just said, “We don’t use that word. You seem tired. Do you feel like continuing, or should we stop here?”
“I think that’s enough for today,” Gilina said. “I want to return to being Mom, not this person.”
With that said, the Therapist and Gilina scheduled their next session and said their goodbyes. On her walk home, Gilina passed by the grocery store. She stood outside it for a while and thought about how kind humans could be and how much they cared about their families. She felt that caring for one’s family should be one of the most essential things in someone’s life. She went inside the grocery store and walked back outside within a few minutes to continue walking home. Gilina carried a brown paper bag. She opened it, and inside there was only a single item, a jar of peanut butter.