By Kala Séraphin
I looked up from the magazine I was mindlessly leafing through. The receptionist’s voice was like honey dripping on fresh, warm bread. Looking up at her reminded me how deceiving life could be. Her fat lips were pursed in an uptight scowl of disapproval. She wore gaudy make-up to hide something from the world. I cringed looking at her hair and wondered how long it had been since she last washed it.
I stood up and went over to her desk, smiling warmly. She was still unimpressed. She looked down at her computer screen and said:
“Dr. Geneva will see you now.”
Nodding, I walked through the green door that separated the waiting room from the treatment area.
It was my sister who suggested that I consult with Dr. Geneva. Once my little addiction to cocaine was discovered, all of my family tried to help me. They sent me to different rehab hospitals, changed my diet, forced me to read books and any other quick fix cures they could conjure up to feel like they were being helpful. My complacency convinced them that I was getting better. The moment they looked away, I was back to my old habits.
My dear sister, Annabelle, knew better. She simply gave me Dr. Geneva’s business card and told me to go when I was ready to live my life to my own full potential.
“Mr. Claringer, please have a seat.” Dr. Geneva was a tall man, even as he sat behind his desk, surrounded by all his papers. I was quick to notice that there wasn’t a computer in the room. There wasn’t a trace of personal attachment either. I saw no pictures or diplomas on the walls. There was his desk and chair and what looked like a massage table.
“You mean on the massage table?” I asked as I investigated the room.
Dr. Geneva nodded and I went to sit down. His face was smooth as a child’s. His dark blond hair, cut short in a conservative fashion. His blue eyes looked down neutrally as he took some notes on a blank piece of paper.
“Mr. Claringer, what brings you here today?” He asked, looking at me but not betraying any emotion or judgement.
“My feet,” was my automatic response.
He did not laugh or even twitch. The doctor kept looking at me. I realized he wasn’t willing to play along with any of my deflecting tactics.
“I’m addicted to drugs; cocaine to be specific. I let it take control of my life. I’m reckless and foolish but I don’t know why or care. I just keep doing it.” I explained, making light of the situation.
Dr. Geneva gave one curt nod, took notes and looked back at me with his empty eyes.
“What does it bring you, when you take this drug?” He carefully asked.
I thought about it for a moment. There were no patterns to my consumption. I would simply do it when I felt I had no room in my body. When life’s realities would feel too crowded for me, I would use cocaine to create the space to be. My days were filled with roles I had to abide by: son, brother, father, husband, employee, conscious consumer, tax payer and the list went on.
“Just…to be,” I finally answered.
“Do you really need such artificial means to do that?” Dr. Geneva asked as he wrote more about me on his paper.
“Do you really need to charge so much for your services?” I asked.
“Please lay down Mr. Claringer.” Dr. Geneva invited.
I complied, looking up at the ceiling, uncertain in my expectations. I thought of my sister, ever the positive soul in our family. From the beginning of my journey, she never once stopped smiling. Even after all the hospitalizations, she always greeted me with a smile.
“What are you thinking about Mr. Claringer?” The doctor stood at my feet, his neutral face intact.
“My sister and how she’s always smiling.” I explained.
“You want to be like her?” He asked.
I nodded. When Dr. Geneva’s hand pressed on the soles of my feet, my whole body jerked. I looked up and saw that he was just touching me, nothing else. After two minutes of quiet, he said:
“Let’s play a game Mr. Claringer. I’ll ask some questions and I want you to answer immediately, without thinking.”
He wrapped his hands around my toes now. They were strong hands with a firm grip. His skin was very soft, it reminded me of my wife’s hands when she use to rub my shoulders.
“Are you a man?” Dr. Geneva’s first question seemed obvious to me and a waste of time.
“Yes,” I answered automatically.
“Do you truly need to use drugs?”
His questions felt pointless. I answered easily, concentrating on the warmth of his hands on my feet.
“Are you trying to forget something?”
This time I hesitated for half a heartbeat. The answer came to my lips but I held it back by bitting down.
“Come now, Mr. Claringer. Filters are not needed here. Let me ask you this; how many lifetimes of mistakes are you trying to escape from?”
“More than 500.” The answer surprised me. I did not have it in my mind first and so I wasn’t certain where it came from.
Dr. Geneva looked thoughtful. He blinked once then moved his hands to my ankles. It was a very warm touch that I appreciated.
“Who are you running from?” He then asked.
“Annabelle.” Once more, the answer preceded the thoughts and confused me even more. I felt a strange prickle around my ankles.
“Tell me about Annabelle.”
“She’s my baby sister. She suggested I come see you. Annabelle always took a different approach to life. She’s a translator at a law firm. She works six months out of the year and travels the other six months.” I rambled on with a smile, not caring if my description made sense or not.
“The sister who always smiles? Do you think she’s more successful than you because of her lofty job?” The doctor asked, moving his hands to my shins.
“No, because she’s always smiling. No matter what mask she wears, she’s always so damn comfortable.” I replied.
The silence that followed my revelation was very uncomfortable for me. I squirmed a bit but found that Dr. Geneva’s grasp, now on my knees, was too strong. I wanted to get away from this conversation. It made the knots in my stomach turn and loosen.
“What is it about your sister that makes you so nervous?” He then asked.
I just bit my lips and shook my head. A flash of my sister came up. It was after my first heartbreak. I was thirteen and she was eight years old. I kept a calm and serious demeanor as my heart felt shattered by a girl I couldn’t even remember now. Annabelle came to me one night and hugged me, smiling that carefree smile of hers.
“She’s five years younger, so why it is that she’s wiser than me?” I blurted.
“Is your sister older than you in spirit?” Dr. Geneva calmly asked. He seemed undisturbed by the direction the conversation was taking.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t handle how strange it was. It was absurd how my sister’s spiritual maturity could drive me to use drugs and destroy my life. Once those thoughts floated by, I couldn’t help but hear an echo Oh, but it is.
“I was born first; it should be me guiding her and smiling for her. It’s how we meant it to be last time.” I complained, letting the knowledge I refused to acknowledge, surface.
By then, Dr. Geneva’s hands had traveled to my heart. Everywhere his hands had been felt warm and tingling. The knots in my stomach completely loosen, letting me feel lighter, my heart fluttered in agreement with the new feeling that was spreading through my limbs.
“Mr. Claringer, would you be willing to give up all those should haves and need to bes that you’re clinging to and just smile?” He asked me in a most natural, anticlimactic tone imaginable. Here I was, feeling great change in my body and finally facing some mental anguish and this man wanted me to simply let it go and smile.
That’s when I remembered what I’ve worked so hard to forget. The childhood memory I refused to keep. It was of Annabelle, of course, sweet and innocent as she could be at eight years old. I was a young boy of thirteen and foolish enough to think I was a man. When she hugged me, trying to console my broken heart, I took offense. As she wrapped her arms around me, I wrapped my hands around her small neck, shaking her head and hitting it on my bedroom wall. I swore at her and tore off her pink dress. I let out all of my confusion and rage on her with my fists. I abused her body and innocence in ways no brother should. Once my rage subsided, Annabelle simply picked herself up and smiled, always she smiled.
This memory, Dr. Geneva wanted me to let go. How could I when years of alcohol and drug abuse would not properly let me. I started to cry.
“She forgave you long ago. Don’t you think you should do the same?” Was his next question, this time asked in a whisper. “Some people come in our lives to help us in strange ways. Annabelle may have come to protect you from harming yourself or others. Would you have stopped had it not been for the guilt of molesting your younger sibling?”
I swallowed hard this twisted perspective. Still crying, I did not agree nor deny his suggestion. I did, however, understand the need to finally let go. Instead of moving on with my life, I had remained in that moment; though my mind would not let me be conscious of it. It was time for me to move on.
The doctor’s hands were on my head as I opened my eyes. All the physical discomforts that had once been my excuse to use drugs were gone. I felt ready to run a marathon.
Leaving the doctor’s office, I immediately called Annabelle. Her voice, as always, had a cheery disposition.
“Anna, I just called to say thank you. That’s the second time you saved my life.” I said. I was surprised to hear how light my voice sounded.
A giggle greeted my confession as she replied:
“I’d do anything for you, brother. It’s a promise I made a long time ago.”
I didn’t think I was ready to find out what she meant. We made plans for dinner. Maybe then I would ask her. Also, I might have enough courage to ask how Dr. Geneva knew of the memory when I never uttered a word about it, just had thoughts. At the moment, I was content with the lightness of my soul.
Are there any memories you need to let go?
What would it take for you to forgive and smile?