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Trigger Warnings

by Mickey J. Corrigan

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Chapter 6: The Good Doctor

They had already scheduled an appointment for me. I would miss Professor Ivaniloff’s lecture on symbolism in The Painted Bird. Fine with me. Halfway through the book I’d tossed it aside. Way too grim. I wasn’t going down that dark path to feeling bad about the world’s sad history. Besides, the author had committed suicide. I had already decided I wasn’t reading any more novels by depressed writers.

The clouds were thick, the air heavy with the threat of snow. I took the T into Cambridge and walked up Brattle to the address on my phone, a two-story brick house with royal-blue shutters and a perfectly square lawn. Very Harvard-looking. I had to open a gate in the white picket fence to let myself into the yard. Then up two steps onto the front porch. The brass plate above the doorbell said Dr. Parnassus Louder.

I rang the bell and waited. No response. I knocked on the glass window part of the door, which was curtained on the inside. Then I waited, shivering. Standing there for so long, the damp air had moved through my coat and chilled my bones.

Finally, I tried the door handle and found it unlocked. I let myself in.

The entryway was dimly lit, and a steep staircase led up to the second floor. Was I supposed to go up there? I called out, “Hello?”

Nobody answered.

I passed by the staircase and followed the hall toward the rear of the house. At the first set of double doors, I knocked softly, then more firmly. Nobody answered. I continued down the hall past several other sets of doors until I ended up in a sunny, high-ceilinged kitchen. A small woman was sitting at a table, drinking coffee. Her back was to me, her head bowed.

I walked over and stood before her. She looked up at me with the expression of a startled sparrow. “Oh,” she said. “Ms. Andrisson?”

I nodded. Her face flushed and she stood quickly. She barely reached my chin, and I am by no means tall. “Follow me, please.”

She led me back down the hall, stopping at the first set of doors I’d knocked on. “This is the patient waiting area,” she explained, as we entered. “You let yourself in. Wait here. When the doctor is ready for you, I will bring you to him.”

She spoke in a hurried whisper, as if we were in church. Then she took a seat at a computer desk in the far corner, next to a row of closed doors. She put on a headset and began typing on her keyboard.

The windowless waiting room was warm and comfortable. It was also quite lush, expensively decorated and full of interesting things to look at. The rug was a thick, dusty rose pile. I padded around, examining everything. African masks hanging on the wall. Framed photographs of mountainsides in bloom, palm-tree lined beaches, exotic-looking gardens. A glass case with miniature porcelain curios from other lands. Japanese monks. Peasants on donkeys. Brown women playing little bamboo flutes.

After browsing, I sat down on the velveteen couch and sank into the plump cushions. The secretary tapped in a steady rhythm. Otherwise, the room was perfectly silent. Dark, comfortable, warm. Like a womb.

I think I might have dozed off. Suddenly, the secretary stood over me. “Please, follow me, Ms. Andrisson.”

I followed her past her cluttered desk and into an adjoining room. I blinked in the sunlight streaming in the two bay windows.

She said in her whispery voice, “He’ll be with you in a moment.” Then she left, closing the door behind her.

I stood there for a moment, looking around. Then I walked past the black leather couch, the matching easy chairs and the large glass desk to stand before the windows. A sudden sun shower had the pedestrians rushing down the sidewalk, hoods on and collars turned up.

Behind me, the door opened again. I turned from the window.

“Good afternoon, Springfield.” His voice was so loud that I jumped. “I’m glad you’ve come in for a visit.”

He walked toward me, arm outstretched. He was big and handsome with thick, dark hair, and he looked tightly fit. Like a bicyclist, a weekend warrior.

Nervously, I shook his tanned, manicured hand. He held on for a few extra seconds, staring into my face. My heart raced. His energy was strong and uplifting. His touch electrified me. I couldn’t help smiling.

“Please, sit down,” he said, letting go of my hand. “Sit wherever you feel most comfortable.”

I selected one of the chairs, assuming he would sit across from me in the other. He didn’t. Instead, he took a seat at his desk. I watched as he eased a leather notebook from the top drawer and withdrew a quill pen from its ornate gold holder.

His dark eyes lifted mine and held them gently. “So. Your parents have asked me to find out if you are troubled. Are you troubled, Springfield?”

I shrugged. “I’m eighteen, living away from home for the first time. I’d be a liar if I said my life was perfect.”

He laughed. A big boom of a laugh. Everything about him was oversized. His muscular body, his glossy head of hair, his laugh.

“Good, honest answer. I like that.” He paused, jotting a note, then looking at me again. “So let’s make this simple. Why don’t you tell me what you think is bothering your parents. Then we can figure out if it’s something you might need to change, or something they’ll need to accept about you.”

I liked his approach. So I told him as succinctly as I could about the way I was reacting to my schoolwork. What I had decided I was willing to do for class and what I wasn’t. He watched me steadily with his black olive eyes, except when he wrote in his notebook. Here and there, he nodded encouragingly. His matter-of-fact demeanor made me feel more open than I usually felt with strangers, and I didn’t feel judged on what I was saying.

Finishing up, I said, “Can you see what I’m trying to do? Or do you think I’m acting like a crazy person?”

He tilted his head. “What do you think, Springfield?”

Actually, what I was thinking was how much I wanted his approval. I said, “I know what I think. I want to know what you think.”

He smiled at that. His dark eyes took all of me in, held me there, suspended. “I like the directness you are exhibiting with me. In here. But I don’t think you are being direct...” He swept his arm out, as if to include the entire city outside the windows behind him. “Out there.”

I nodded. He was right. “I’m not very brave. I’m introverted and shy. In fact, coming to Boston and standing up for myself at school might be like the bravest thing I ever did. In my whole life.”

He smiled at me again, and this immense humane warmth came from him in waves. It enveloped me, and I couldn’t help myself, I basked in it. I could tell he accepted me, he approved of me. I felt supported, and deeply understood.

He leaned forward. “Springfield, I want to propose something to you. Your parents asked me to see you once for a general evaluation. To inform them about what I think. They’re concerned about your situation. They want to know whether I believe you are adjusting to school, to being on your own. Or whether you might need some sort of medication to help you function more successfully.”

What? I started to protest, but he held up a hand. “Please, let me finish.”

I fumed a little. Now they wanted me to take drugs? When it was their idea, rather than my own desperate plea for help? I’d begged them back in high school. That’s when I needed a chemical assist. Now I felt differently. Why should I go on meds just because they didn’t approve of my behavior?

Dr. Louder tapped his shiny pen on his notepad. “Here’s where I think we should go from here. I will tell your parents that I don’t recommend medication at this time. Because I don’t. You seem reasonably calm, rational, and in control of your faculties.” He gave me an approving nod. “However, I would like to see you on a regular basis. Once a week, to start. I very recently launched a pilot study I think you might benefit from. I’m allowing only a limited number of my patients to participate in the program. You, if you so choose, can be one of them.”

“Does it involve hypnosis?” I asked. I wasn’t gonna let him put me to sleep, plant ideas in my brain.

“No. It’s purely cognitive. Behavioral.” He slid his pen back into the gold holder. “Why don’t you think about whether you want to become my patient. Discuss it with your parents. If you do decide to commit, schedule another appointment. When you come next time, we can discuss the program I have in mind for you. See if you want to give it a whirl. Okay?”

I said okay.

With that, he stood up and came over to me. His body heat was warm, and he smelled faintly of sage. Like he’d been lying outdoors in a field in the sun. I stood up, and he ushered me to the door.

Proceed to Chapter 7...

Copyright © 2020 by Mickey J. Corrigan

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