I know you deceived me, couldn’t sleep last night
Now my tear stains on the wall reflect an ugly sight
I can see your secrets
No need to confess
Everyone looks naked when you know the world’s address
Excerpt from “The World’s Address” by TMBG
Was I Medusa?
I dodged chairs and tables, making my way to the refrigerator to get my sandwich. I normally avoided this room at lunchtime, but today…I just didn’t fucking care.
I always thought that the worst thing to ever happen would be to have an entire room full of people staring at me. Judging me.
I was wrong. This was much worse.
Hm. Perhaps time stood still…
This was unrelenting embarrassment. I moved and people immediately looked anywhere but my face. They froze as I approached and I heard whispering as I walked away…
They were talking about what I did, or what I caused when I brought Edward in here.
I supposed. I wasn’t actually sure, because no one was talking to me.
I wanted to ask Alice, but I couldn’t even think her name without getting red-faced and furious.
I took my sandwich and headed to the roof terrace. I had snagged Alice’s keys this morning while she was in a meeting. I knew I could be up there and no one would bother me.
Dr. Cullen said that Edward would be allowed to make a phone call around noon, today.
I still had his cell phone. He was supposed to call it.
I sat on the bench next to the door and looked out. This wasn’t nearly the tallest building in the area, so I was mostly looking at other buildings. They were shiny and glass-covered. It was too bright to be able to see inside any of the offices.
I shoved a big bite of sandwich in my mouth and chewed. I looked at the clock on the phone. 12:07.
I set it down, and decided not to think about it.
I mean, he wasn’t the only one who’d want to use the phone. Perhaps there was a line, right?
I finished most of my sandwich before it rang.
“Hello?” I said.
Shit! What if it’s not him!
I expelled a held breath and immediately sucked in another so I could respond in a rush: “I’m so sorry, Edward.”
“No, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to…” he didn’t finish his thought.
And he sounded…odd—his voice, that is. It was quiet, even more monotone than usual, and seemed far away, even for being actually far away.
Much different than he’d sounded on the floor of the restroom last Friday.
“Hey, it’s OK. You’re going to be OK.”
I wasn’t sure why I said that…
“I’m glad to hear you say that, Bella. It’s really hard to be here.”
“I can’t imagine what it must be like,” I said. “Dr. Cullen said you might be there a while because you want to leave off meds. Why is that? Just get some meds and come home.”
OK, where did this selfishness come from? I wasn’t sure…I was sure that I hated the idea of him in that place.
“I don’t know. It’s a possibility. But I’m already doing better. I’m learning to adapt. There are a lot of rules here. I think…if I can learn and continue to follow them, I’ll be able to get out…soon.”
“Will they let me visit you?”
Hm. That wasn’t very forthcoming. Not at all like Edward.
“I actually don’t know exactly when. When I ask, they don’t respond with anything conclusive or definite. I think they know what they want me to do, but they aren’t telling me.”
“Do you get to see Dr. Cullen? Can’t he tell you?”
“I’ve only had two brief sessions with him since I got here. He promised me an hour twice this week. I haven’t asked him about that, actually. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get out of here.”
I thought about what I just said. Didn’t it occur to him to just play along? That’s certainly what I would do, especially if I didn’t want to be there.
And he clearly didn’t want to be there. Did he?
Suddenly the thoughts rushed out again: “I miss you. It’s really hard without you. I think of fifty things I want to tell you…and, I can’t call you, and—”
“I know this…all of this has been hard for you. I know that I’m not an easy person to…spend time with. I know it’s hard, but if you can just give me some time…”
“Yes, I was hoping that I could convince you that—”
“I mean, yes, I’ll give you as much time as you need, but…um, I’m not…that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to end this.”
His sigh was loud and full of relief; seemed I wasn’t the only one holding my breath.
“Edward, I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at several people, but not you. I’m even mad at myself for not doing…something. I don’t know…”
He waited for me to finish.
“I wish that I…I knew Marcus wasn’t feeling well…I saw him…I just…I really thought he’d keep his distance, but he’d been out all week. And he rarely reads his email anyway. I should have known.”
“No, Bella, I don’t need for you to enable me. That’s not your responsibility. I need to take care of things myself. I need to learn how.”
I sat there, wind blowing my hair all over the place, the sky seeming a bit grayer than it was moments before. Was it?
“There is something I do need right now, though.”
His voice was quiet.
My mind automatically went there. I stuck my hands in my jacket pocket, finding the latex glove I carried with me everywhere I went.
“OK. I mean…can you do that where you are?”
“Do what? Talk to you? I don’t understand.”
“Um…are you gonna,” I cleared my suddenly dry throat, “talk about…sex…over the phone?”
“Bella, I’m so sorry. Um, do you need that from me, right now? I will happily talk you to orgasm, if that’s what you need, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Shit. I feel like a pile of useless shit.
“No…I just…I misunderstood you.”
That was a first.
“Bella. I’m so…I don’t have…It’s odd, but I just don’t feel…well, anything, right now. I feel remorse, somewhat, and desperate to leave, but I don’t feel sexual, or happy, or scared or hungry or anxious or anything, anymore.”
What. The. Fuck.
“I don’t understand, you don’t have feelings?”
“No. I never thought I would miss them…and I don’t know that I do, necessarily, but I feel…empty. It’s uncomfortable, but I’m not scared about germs and I don’t feel the need to measure, so…I guess that’s the trade.”
Did Edward getting better mean no more sex?
Was I OK with that?
What did it mean if I wasn’t?
My stomach twisted into evil knots as it threatened to expel my recently consumed sandwich.
I covered my mouth, in anticipation.
He needed something. I could worry about me later. Right now, I had limited time with him.
“Please tell me what you need. I want to help.”
“I was afraid you…that you might change your mind, once you understood.”
“No…just…please tell me, Edward.”
“I need you to know that whatever happens…I’m going to make it better.”
I remembered Esme.
“OK. It’s OK, Edward.”
The lie came out so easily, I wondered later if I actually said it, “Everything’s going to be fine. You’ll see.”
Dr. Cullen’s office loomed intimidatingly in front of me like a giant tower built by crazy people.
It was my idea to meet him while Edward was in the hospital. Not to check on Edward, but to get help dealing with my own issues.
Now that I was here, I was considering letting the apocalypse just come right on in.
The waiting room reminded me of this conservatory I saw once in a turn-of-the-century mansion: tall windows with ornate Art Nouveau details, plants everywhere. The faint smell of mustiness permeated the air.
I wondered how Edward tolerated this. Wouldn’t he worry about mold?
But then I remembered that when Edward came here, he waited in the hallway, next to Dr. Cullen’s office door. We never even sat in the waiting room.
I looked around the room.
These people looked a lot different from the ones at the clinic.
I sighed with relief. This would be much easier than that had been. On so many levels, I knew I couldn’t imagine them all.
All of Dr. Cullen’s patients (clients? I wasn’t sure how that worked, exactly) were well-dressed and groomed. Even the emo teenager with spiky bright red hair and three lip rings.
His…mother?…ignored him and perused Oprah Magazine, while he stared at me.
I think. I checked the patient sitting next to me. He was reading National Geographic and periodically fiddling with his long limp hair.
He seemed too young to be mostly bald, but then I watched in horror as he pulled a strand free from his scalp.
I looked back at Tickle-Me-Emo, and he seemed to be as shocked as I.
We shared a moment of “we’re more normal than him” solidarity, and then ignored each other.
Dr. Cullen called Mr. Hair-plucker to his office for a brief chat, then Nightmare on Sesame Street and his mother.
Then it was my turn.
I wasn’t sure how anyone who seriously needed his help could benefit from ten minutes of his time, but…was it rude to ask?
I decided I would ask Edward next time I talked to him.
“So, Bella…” he sighed and touched a new, thin folder sitting on the table next to him.
My heart raced. I have a file.
He saw my nervousness and left it lying there.
He set the pen in his hand on top of it. He knew it made me nervous. It was just like last time with Edward.
Was he trying to get me used to the idea?
I took a breath and chose not to focus on the fact that we weren’t just here to shoot the shit.
Or anything else for that matter.
I smiled at him and relaxed into the couch.
“Would you mind telling me how you’re coping with all of this…with Edward’s going to the hospital?”
“Um…I don’t know.”
He watched me and smiled with sympathy. He was giving me time.
But no “yes or no” grapefruits? What the fuck was up with that?
I decided to let that go and move on. If we just sat here and didn’t speak for an hour, it would only be a waste of my time.
I thought about the glove in my pocket, the wine in my fridge and the DVDs scattered across my living room.
Other than the glove it was another day in paradise.
“I have a glove.”
I peered up at his face long enough to see him look down and pursed his lips together in a subtle attempt to keep from smiling.
When he looked over my shoulder and scratched his chin, I looked away.
“Does it help you to feel closer to him?” He finally said.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s not just about…um, sex with him, though…you know?”
“I know,” he said, simply. “You miss him. You still have his phone, too, right?”
Fucking lot of good it does me.
“Well, doesn’t it make you feel good that he can call you at anytime?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“So, I know it makes you uncomfortable, but could you give it a try, as an experiment? Just…look at me. I’ve asked you to do it, and when you’re done, you don’t have to look at me again today, but I just want you to try it out, and then we’ll talk, OK?”
Then, I looked at Dr. Cullen, studying him carefully for the first time.
I don’t normally do that. I generally look anywhere but at a person’s face. I mean, if I looked at their face, they might look back, and then I’d have to acknowledge that I looked at them, and they might talk to me, or ask me questions.
No, it was much better to come across as aloof, snobby or elitist, than to risk having to talk to people.
Of course, that’s my problem.
Right, I’m looking at the man in front of me.
He stared back out of sharp blue eyes. He had the wrinkles that proved that he laughed a lot. There were very few creases between his brows and on his forehead. I guess he wasn’t much of a worrier…or if he was, he kept it inside.
No, there was the worry, creasing his face.
So, perhaps not like me.
Hm. I’d say…he looked like a surfer dude who was forced to wear a collared shirt to work.
Linen instead of crisp cotton button-down.
Cords instead of khakis.
Loafers instead of lace-ups.
Yep. OK. And now I was really uncomfortable looking at him.
Was he judging me? What did he see when he looked?
Did he see me fidget? Did he wonder why I did it?
I found myself avoiding his eyes after the initial glance, and looking at his hair or shoulder instead.
“Bella?” he said, needing to speak to get my attention, as I failed my first assignment within moments.
“Yeah,” I said, looking away in defeat.
“That was great work. I know it was hard. I needed you to do that so you could tell me how you felt.”
“I don’t know.”
I glanced back at him.
I don’t know was not going to cut it.
“Nervous…I’m sweaty. It makes me uncomfortable to see you looking at me when I’m looking at you…It feels too intense…like, um…” shit.
How can I say that I feel judged?
“I guess…I, um…feel like you might have been…um…judging me…er…just a little.”
“I am,” he said.
Wow, doc. Way to make me feel better.
I started hiding in my hair.
“I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that people don’t judge you when they look at you. Making judgments is what people do. Sometimes they find things they like and sometimes they don’t. You can’t control that. Does that bother you?”
“Fuck yeah!” I said, surprised at myself. I covered my mouth, and then cleared my throat. “I mean…doesn’t it bother you?”
“I don’t think about it much.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Why do you think you think about it?”
Shit. This is why I never went to therapy.
I sighed again.
“You do that a lot. Sigh. It’s coping mechanism. You sigh to show your distaste with something, rather than deal with the problem. You think you communicate everything you need to with that gesture. How is that working for you?”
I hate this man.
I sighed again.
He stared at me, while I watched the ceiling.
This time, neither of us filled the silence.
A clock was ticking.
People were chatting in the hall.
The heat came on.
I sighed again.
I glanced up at Dr. Cullen.
He smiled, but didn’t speak.
Fuck. I know what he’s doing.
I cleared my throat.
“I know what you’re doing,” I said.
“OK,” he said.
Fine. He wants a verbal response.
“It’s working out great,” I said.
“Tell me some things you do to avoid speaking. Tell me about how you cope.”
“I sigh,” I said.
“Oh,” he said, tapping his temple with a knobby finger, “I got that one.”
Then he winked at me.
So, he’s cute. Sue me.
“I don’t look at people,” I said, sticking with the obvious.
“What about when you go to the bank, to open an account, and they ask you a lot of questions?”
“I’ve never done that,” I said.
“Really? So, how do you deal with your paychecks?”
“I have an account,” I said.
“How did you—”
“—my sister, OK?”
“Your sister, the one I met, Alice? She set up the account?”
“Yeah. And she’s my only sister.”
“How often do you depend on other people to deal with situations that make you uncomfortable?”
“Could you give me a percentage?”
“But that can’t be true, can it?” he had this incredulous look on his face, but his tone suggested he found this situation funny. I expected him to laugh any minute.
Crows feet. Laugh lines. It was bound to happen.
“Bella, you made this appointment on your own. You spoke with the receptionist when you came in, I checked. You’ve been talking with me…most importantly, you called my emergency line when Edward needed you.”
“Fine. Eighty percent.”
“You know what?”
He waited for me to respond.
I sighed. Was he was going to make me respond to every question?
“What?” I said.
“It’s OK for you to depend on people. Sometimes. We all do that. What’s wrong here, is you are avoiding situations, doing things that actually take a lot more effort on your part to avoid than to just do. Do you see the difference?”
Now he’s talking to me like I’m an idiot. Of course I understand this.
“Yeah, I get it,” I said.
“Thanks for that, by the way.”
“What?” I asked.
“Answering with a complete sentence,” he said.
“You are welcome,” I said, speaking the words loudly and slowly as if to a non-English speaker or old person.
Dr. Cullen picked up my file and started writing. Without looking up, he said, “Shelly will give you an appointment card for next week if you decide you want to come back.”
I took that as my cue, picked up my jacket and left.
No “bye” ritual, then.
Maybe I can do this.