Thursday, May 6, 2010

Voices, Part I

Anne Hayworth knew that once she became a therapist some patients would change her life and others might hand her theirs for saving. But in her first two years in practice, her cases remained mild – people with basal-level depression, frustrated with work, wanting out of bad relationships. Disappointing? Somewhat. But years had passed and a lot had changed, including her expectations. When Sarah S. first entered her office, the striking young woman with sadness drawing rings under her eyes, she had no inclination that she’d soon have that life-saving chance; or that once it arose, she’d feel utterly incapable of saving her.

“Good morning, Sarah. How are you?” Anne asked.

“Fine, thank you.” She placed her hands atop her pant legs and smoothed a wrinkle that, from Anne’s perspective, didn’t exist. Anne noted the precision of her makeup, so consistent it had to have been tattooed on. Her coiffed auburn hair and sheik wardrobe matched her make-up in flawlessness. With any progress Anne hoped she might one day appear in jeans.

Sarah always answered her ‘how are you’ questions the same. She knew that for Sarah ‘fine’ could translate to ‘not worse,’ ‘uninjured,’ ‘still breathing.’ In their last two sessions of an accumulative twenty, Sarah had begun to open up, allowing a tiny gap in her snugly wrapped cocoon. She felt purposeless and devoid of passion. And an elusive woman – her mother, Anne gathered– judged her harshly. Nothing Sarah did or said ever seemed good enough.

“She got mad at me again,” Sarah began with her eyes planted on the floor.

“The woman you told me about last time?”

Sarah nodded.

“Want to tell me about it?”

“We had a fight. She doesn't like my clothes. Or how I wear them. She said I look foolish and I could at least try. She made me change outfits a bunch of times before I came here. It almost made me late.”

Anne noted the irony in her words. Sarah would radiate surreal beauty, if not for the melancholy cloud that cast shadows over most of it.
“Why would she do that?”

“I don’t know." She paused. "Do you think she’s right?” Tears fell from her eyes, revealing the authenticity of her eye liner. It streamed down her cheeks like offshoots of muddied rain puddles.

“It’s okay. Let it out.” Anne handed her tissues. Tears were good. They meant progress. “And no, I don’t think she’s right. What do you think?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even know why I even care.”

“Do you have any guesses? Why you care?”

“No, not really.”

“Maybe that’s something you can think about.” Anne jotted a note in Sarah’s file. “Do you live with this woman?”


“Can you tell me who she is?”

“I’d rather not.”

During the week that followed Anne found it difficult to move Sarah from her thoughts. Was the woman a pseudonym for Sarah herself? An abusive family member? Fictitious? For once Anne couldn’t limit her musings to office hours. Sarah crept into her thoughts at the grocery store, ran beside her on the treadmill at the gym, pressed creases in her shirts she attempted to iron. Anne had seen major depression before. Hell, she’d felt it. But there was something unique and far more troubling about Sarah. And for reasons she couldn’t explain she feared that one day Sarah would vanish—disappear like raindrops into the ocean.

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