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Trigger Warnings

by Mickey J. Corrigan

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Chapter 8: Three Weeks Later

I attended my bi-weekly sessions with Dr. Louder religiously and began to notice changes in myself. I had more energy, and I felt hyped. My fears were subsiding, my self-confidence expanding.

One gray afternoon, I waited in his office by the windows. This time I had news for him. I’d been taking risks, and I was proud of myself. I stood on the Persian rug and looked around. The room was quiet and dignified, lined with crowded bookshelves and oil paintings of the shiny Capitol dome and Beacon Hill. So Brahmin. As always, everything was in order, each item in its place. This made me itch to mess it all up.

I lit a cigarette, one I had stolen from my roommate, and took a seat in his desk chair. The black leather felt cool against my hot skin. I was feverish, but that was how I always felt now. I always felt as if I were about to explode.

Dr. Louder chose that moment to enter the room. I stared at him and exhaled slowly, causing the smoke to hang in the air between us.

His voice was low, demanding. “Put the cigarette out. And get out of my chair.” He approached and loomed over me. “I don’t want to have to punish you, but I will.”

I allowed the trigger words to wash over me, recalling all I had learned from our previous work. Fight back, Springfield. Don’t let anyone push you around. Authority means nothing. Use your inner power. Take control.

Swallowing the sour bile that rose up my throat, I stood up to face him. He towered over me. I stood my ground.

In a soft voice, I said, “Whatevs.” Meeting his piercing stare, I sucked on the cigarette again, then sent a grey cloud up toward his gorgeous face.

He blinked twice, his eyes tearing slightly. Waving away the smoke, he nodded carefully. “Very nice, Ms. Andrisson,” he said with a little smile. “Looks like we are making progress here.”

I blew a smoke ring. “I guess we are, Dr. Louder. I guess we are.”

I put out my cigarette. Tamped it down and ground it into the smooth top of his pristine glass desk.

“Springfield!” he boomed. “You are surpassing all expectations!”

My heart soared. Feeling high on his praise, I floated over to my usual chair and perched on the edge, awaiting more. I stared at him expectantly.

His gaze was out the window. “Tell me about your weekend,” he said in a flat voice. Was he acting bored on purpose, just to goad me?

Crossing my arms, I said, “I was so active this weekend. I had sex with three different boys. I got drunk. Very drunk. And I smoked a lot of weed.”

Actually, I’d slept with one boy, not three. I did shots and toked a little kush in this guy Justin’s room. A cute geek from my CS class. Unfortunately, after the whirlies and the fast sex in his messy bedroom, which smelled like sweat and tequila, I vomited on his floor. Justin walked me back to my dorm and I was in bed, alone, by midnight. Not that exciting, but I was proud of my choices. I’d been fearless, taken risks.

Dr. Louder only shrugged. “Sounds like normal college coed behavior. What else did you do this weekend?” His voice was toneless. Like my story bored him.

I amped it up a bit. “What if I told you I had sex with all three boys on the same night? That they were friends? That they convinced me to do some things? Weird, crazy stuff?”

He didn’t change expression, he just shrugged. “You tell me, Springfield. What would I say to that?”

I looked at the floor. “You’d say ‘normal coed behavior’.”

He snorted. “No, but I wouldn’t be shocked and awed. We’re working on abrasive action here. Your abrasive action, not some low-IQ fraternity hoodlums’.” His voice deepened. “This is about your choices. Are you being abrasive? Rubbing the world the wrong way? What have you done that falls under this heading?” His voice boomed in my ear. “And I don’t mean silly sexcapades with spoiled juveniles.”

I reverted to honesty. “I’m still having trouble balancing action with staying in college. When I do take action and refuse to do schoolwork, nothing happens. The professors just give me an incomplete. Nothing I do or say seems to change the situation. It’s all just... talk.”

He nodded. “Right. And talk is—”

“Not action,” I finished. “I know. But I’m stymied. If I take action and the world doesn’t take notice, what difference will it make?”

“None. Choosing to become a college dropout is abrasive action. But it will not make a ripple on anyone’s pond but your own. And your parents’.”

I nodded. “I know. And, like you say, abrasive action that changes the world has to make a splash.”

He was still solemn, but there was a gleam in his dark eyes. I could tell he was pleased I’d memorized the tenets of his program. I felt good for a few seconds. Then my mood slumped again. I still didn’t know what I could do to make that splash.

He must have seen the change in my face. He leaned forward, his arms on his desk top. “Springfield, you need to realize something. You are only doing battle with your words. You are keeping yourself safe behind the buttress of your computer screen. Whatever ripples you may make with your words, your digital battle cries will reach only so far. You need to step into the arena and toss—”

“A poison boulder into the well. I know. I totally understand the program. But like what does that translate to? I mean for a girl like me? I’m just—”

No!” he bellowed, shooting up out of his chair with such force that I let out a little scream. “No, you are not just anything! This is the kind of thinking we are working so hard to obliterate! You have a voice, you have intelligence, you have all sorts of options. Use the power you have to seek your own ends. Make a decision to take the action that will make the difference you seek.”

He stood over me. His black eyes pulled at me like suction cups. I didn’t dare look away.

“You are brave only in this office, Springfield. Out in the world, you are still a shy little mouse. Like Miss Snothers.”

Whoa. Ouch!

I reared back. The bastard! He knew I worried that I would turn out just like her. Old, alone, scared of everything in life. I, too, could end up stuck in a small gilded cage, and glad of it.

“Screw that!” I said.

He ignored me, returning to the seat behind his desk.

My thoughts raced. Therapy was doing me no good. I was still failing three out of five subjects and, if things didn’t improve, soon enough I would be bounced out of college. And what good had my protests done? Dr. Louder was right. My progress on achieving a stronger self, an individualized self, and of approaching authenticity, had been accomplished only in the safety of a shrink’s office.

Dr. Louder’s office was just another womb.

I stood up and headed for the door. Screw this.

He called after me. “Springfield, wait. I know you’re discouraged. Don’t be. What we are talking about here is changing the self you know into a self you don’t. This challenges everything you’ve ever thought about yourself. You are brave to attempt it.”

I flashed my middle finger over my head and slammed out of the room. I cut through the waiting room, a definite no-no. As I stormed past the hunched form of Miss Snothers, I muttered, “Screw you, too, lady.”

While I pulled on my boots and coat out in the front hall, I tried not to cry. Crying was weak.

Out in the cold again, I sloshed down the sidewalk. We were in the middle of a winter thaw, and the streets were running with melted snow. You could hear the icicles crashing off roofs, clumps of snow dripping onto metal and cement. I wiped my face a few times, angry with myself for being such a weakling.

I wasn’t used to so much failure. Or maybe I wasn’t used to failing without my parents there to turn it into a success of some kind. Like when I dropped out of acting class in high school and my dad said, “That teacher didn’t know how to encourage the best in you.” Or when I sucked at sports and Mom told me, “After high school, you won’t need to play silly games anymore. Your focus can be on your strengths, on your intellectual pursuits.”

By the time I reached the T stop, it had begun to snow. Want to know what the weather’s like in Boston? Wait a minute and it will change. I was changing too. I mean, I knew I had to. And that meant I had to take an abrasive action that would make Dr. Louder eat his words. No way would I let him continue to compare me to Miss Snothers. No way!

I had to come up with something really active and really abrasive I could do. But what?

On the T, I checked my phone. A text from Professor Ivaniloff: Come see me in my office this afternoon.

I went online and grabbed the next available slot in his posted visiting hours. I had just enough time to go home and change into dry shoes.

The train was overheated, and the slow movement rocked me into a semi-dreamy state. I thought about my professors and their demands, their fascistic insistence on specific rules and behaviors. How random. How pointless it all was. Here Professor Ivaniloff taught the subject which most interested me, yet his subjective approach to literature was repeatedly offensive to me. There were so many great books in the world. Why did he make us read the disgusting ones?

Suddenly, I had an idea. Why not take an abrasive action with my lit prof?

Proceed to Chapter 9...

Copyright © 2020 by Mickey J. Corrigan

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