When I woke up on Saturday, around noon, I walked down to our kitchen and rifled through the phone book, checking an address.  Once I found it, I got dressed and headed out the door. 

            I waited in the crisp winter air on a porch a few blocks away, wondering if I should knock.  I fidgeted, my hands balling up into fists and then opening.  Opening and closing.  I looked from side to side down the street.  Just as I lifted my hand to knock, the door opened.

            “Ethan, hello.”  The portly, older figure was familiar, even after almost six years.

            “Dr. Moss.  I didn’t want to disturb you at home, but I’m not here during the week to make an appointment.”

            “It’s no trouble at all,” he smiled, opening his screen door.  “Come in out of the cold, I’ll see if I have any cocoa.”

            I followed him inside and stood in the doorway while he shuffled towards the kitchen.  I stole glances towards the door, and then looked at him as he went through cupboards.

            “Ethan, take off your coat and boots.  Come sit with an old man and tell me what’s troubling you.”

            I sighed, stuffing my hat in my coat pocket before grabbing a coat hanger.  I followed him into the living room as soon as the coat was hung up.  He took an old ragged armchair that looked like it was well loved, so I sank into the couch.

            “What makes you think I’m troubled?” I asked as he passed me a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

            “Well, when you haven’t seen a patient in six years, it’s easy to guess that they come back when something’s bothering them.”

            I stared at my toes.  “I’m sorry to bother you…”

            He smiled.  “I’m not bothered, just curious.  Please, tell me what’s going on.”

            I shuffled my feet and stared at the coffee table and then out the window.

            “It’s been a really weird year.  I mean, really weird.  There was a strike at school, and the arson at church, and one of my friends is on drugs and cheated on his girlfriend, and it’s all really kind of just up and down…” I rambled.  “Everything is so chaotic and confusing, I don’t know what to do all the time.”

            Dr. Moss just sat there, waiting with that small smile on his face.  The smile that said he was listening, but waiting for me to tell him something important.

            “I hardly sleep because my thoughts are so loud, rolling around in my head like a hamster on a wheel.  And when I do sleep, I keep having weird dreams.  I’ve been dreaming of the snow again, and also other dreams, weird ones.  I get dizzy spells, and sometimes this weird giddy euphoria.  I feel like I’m going crazy.”

            “It’s common after trauma that sometimes we bury our feelings, and then they emerge later in life.  You nearly died in that blizzard.  Dreaming about it, processing your experience, is quite normal.”  He sipped his own cup of cocoa.

            “But why now?  I never really worried about it before.”

            “You’re in your first year of university now, aren’t you?”  I nodded, so he continued.  “Your whole life is changing.  Sometimes change can unsettle us, and the stress reminds us of past experiences.  It sounds like your life has been busy lately, and stressful.  Your mind is recalling the other great trauma of your life, attempting to process the emotion of both events.  You just need to give yourself time.”

            I watched my fingers play along the edges of my cup, tapping out cadences.  I tilted my head, glancing at him and then staring at the window again.

            “Some people respond to trauma with anger, or fear.  Some develop anxiety and sleeplessness.  Others experience denial, and even retreat into fantasy.  How have you been feeling lately?”

            I bit my lip, chewing on it.  “I haven’t slept well, that’s for sure.  The weird dreams don’t help.  I’ve been writing and drawing a lot.”

            “You did that after the snowstorm, didn’t you?”  He asked.  “I remember you telling me that you started writing stories.  Comic books, if I recall.”

            I smiled.  “Yes, I’ve been putting new drawings on my wall at school.  I’m working on stories again, and some poetry too.  I’m taking a creative writing class.”

            “Do you still find it easier to live in your imagination than with your friends?” He asked me bluntly. 

            “I didn’t really have friends back when I knew you.  It was nice to invent them.  But high school changed that, I was more popular there.  I was special.”

            “Special how?”

            “I was popular.  I was reunited with some of my childhood friends, and then we got involved in school plays and student government.  Pretty soon everyone knew me.  Teachers respected my abilities in the classroom, and that I balanced that with my extra-curriculars.”

            “What did you like about being in theatre?”  Dr. Moss asked.

            “It was fun.  I could be anyone I wanted, let my imagination take over.  It was nice to know what to do and what to say.  I knew how to use that to get the crowd to react.”

            Dr. Moss nodded.  “Ethan, do you ever find yourself planning what you’ll say to people?  Scripting conversations?”

            “Sure, all the time.  I mean, it’s always good to have a plan.”

            “What about in university?”

            “I don’t know very many people.  It’s harder.  I can’t always think of the right thing to say.”

            Dr. Moss put his cup down on the table.  “It sounds to me like you’re reliving the loneliness of your childhood and the trauma of your attack.”

            “What do I do about it?”

            “I would suggest time, and patience.  Get out and meet people, join clubs at school, get involved like you did in high school.  I’m sure you’ll find ways to enjoy your time there, the same as in high school.  It’s nothing to worry about.”

            “Thank you.”  I stood up to go.

            He leaned back in his chair, his eyes widening.  He almost laughed.

            “That’s all?  Just like that, and you’re going?”

            “Well, you gave me your advice.”

            “Ethan, my boy, no one’s kicking you out.  You can stay, finish your cocoa.  Talk about life.  I haven’t seen you in six years.  You can tell me about how things are going, you can ask me what my life is like.”

            I stared at him.  “Why would I do that?”

            He nodded, as if to himself.  “I wondered.  I wondered.” 

            Dr. Moss pushed himself to his feet, straightening his sweater over his tummy.  He shuffled down the hall to a room and came back with a file.

            “I always found your case interesting, even after you were discharged.  You were such a serious child.  One would have expected anger and sadness after the attack, and yet you were always courteous and insightful.  But I took a great many notes, and after reviewing them, I noticed something.  A pattern.”

            “A pattern,” I repeated.

            “Yes.  You didn’t ever say hello or goodbye unless I said it first.  You never asked how I was, unless I asked you first.  Once or twice it would have been nothing, but it was every conversation.”

            “I saw you every day.  Why would I need to say hello all the time?”

            “Why indeed.”  Dr. Moss sat back down, and gestured for me to do the same.  I followed his direction, and plunked back down into the couch.

            “Ethan, why do people say hello?  Why do they ask how others are doing?”

            “Because it’s customary?”  I answered, wrinkling my forehead.  “Everyone expects it.”

            “Did you ever think that perhaps it’s an invitation for sharing?  To relate to others about ourselves?”  He paused.  “How many people have read your stories?  Seen your drawings?”

            I shrugged.  “I show my creative writing professor.  I haven’t really finished any stories yet.  People see my art when they visit my room, I suppose.”

            “Do you ever talk about what you’re working on?  Show them a work in progress?”

            “No,” I said, “What would be the point?”

            He nodded to himself again.  Dr. Moss held out the file.

            “My boy, I’m afraid I did you a grave disservice when you were younger.  I assumed your polite serenity was a maturity beyond your years, coupled with trauma-management.  I thought you had dissociation from emotion to remain calm and heal.  But that was six years ago, and you still seem the same.  And it’s not about withdrawal, it seems to be a part of your thought process.”

            “What are you trying to say?”

            “Perhaps I had better explain.  I hope you don’t have any plans this afternoon.”

            “I don’t now,” I told him.  I wanted this explained.

<<Previous   Next>>