The GPS directed Jodie and Mitch to a large purple Victorian house with yellow trim in Wickburg, which overlooked the city on a steep hill. Jodie double checked the address to make sure that they were at the right location, muttering something about being in a residential neighborhood.
“There’s a sign out front with a bunch of doctor names. This is definitely the place,” Mitch pointed out.
“This is a therapist’s office?” Craning her neck, Jodie looked in the direction that Mitch gestured toward. “Wild.”
“Y’know, if my next follow up goes well, I won’t need you for rides anymore.” He wiggled the fingers of his right hand, ready to be free of the sling once and for all. The minor bits of freedom he experienced when Avi worked on his shoulder was the only thing keeping him sane.
“Regardless, I would have wanted to be here for you today. At the very least.” Jodie touched his forearm and squeezed. “The first therapy session is rough.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“You usually talk about your parents. And cry a bunch.”
“Don’t know how many tears I have left at this point. Maybe that’s why I’m doing it now.” The back of Mitch’s head made contact with the headrest. “Feels safe. Like I got nothing else to lose.”
“Oh, you’ve got more tears. Trust me.” She patted him, then let go altogether. “Ready?”
“No man, but-” He sighed. “Also, yeah.”
“Love you, broski. Get that brain meat calibrated. I’ll be back to pick you up in an hour.” He unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the door while she talked.
“Love you, too.” Slamming the door shut behind him, Mitch scrambled away from the car. All of that was exactly why he wanted to do this on his own, but Jodie insisted on tagging along. Yes, he appreciated the ride, and her support, and everything else for that matter, because goddamn if she wasn’t the best friend and moral compass that a walking disaster could ask for.
But their fight from a few nights back still went unaddressed, and he wanted to be alone on the way over to devise a gameplan for this introductory session. Despite incessantly thinking about this appointment for the last week, a thick layer of fog blanketed his brain and permeated all of its crevices. And as his hand made contact with the front door’s handle, he could barely recall why he was even here.
Still, he pushed forward, only pausing to examine a piece of paper that was taped to the window of the front door. On it was a list of names and corresponding numbers, which included Dr. Ann Moirow, his new therapist. The foyer that he stepped foot into smelled of old wood and varnish, with a large staircase and a long narrow hall behind that.
“Hello?” Someone to his left spoke up, and his head swiveled in their direction. Towards the back of a large room, a person sitting behind a desk flashed a polite smile. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes.” Mitch cleared his throat and walked over, introducing himself. A clipboard was handed over, and the receptionist explained what to fill out on the new patient check-in form, then requested his driver’s license and health insurance card. He handed the IDs over, sat on a shabby velvet sofa and jotted down the pertinent info, took back his cards while handing back the clipboard, then alternated between staring vacantly at the fishtank in the corner and some generic art prints of abstract shapes and colors.
The topics he prepared for this still remained elusive, much to his chagrin.
“Mitchell?” A new voice cut through the enveloping haze.
“Huh?” He stood up out of instinct, and immediately felt ridiculous for doing so. On the bottom of the stairwell stood an older woman, thin with loose curly auburn hair, large glasses, and a gingham jumper dress that would have been at home in the 1970s. She reminded him of his favorite literature teacher in high school. “Uh, Mitch is fine,” he clarified.
“I’m Ann.” She extended her hand, and he moved forward to shake it. So far, he remained in uncharted waters; addressing a doctor by their first name was an unexpected wrench in his already shaky plans. “Are you ready to start?” asked Ann.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” he weakly smiled, then followed her up the stairs and into a small room at the top of them. She offered an overstuffed blue wingback chair to him, but he waited until Ann was in her office chair before he took it. Taking a legal pad and pen from off of the desk, she explained that she’d be taking notes. Mitch’s eyes drifted to the cream and tan antique wallpaper, visually tracing the patterns on them while she thought out loud and continued to jot.
“So.” She placed the pad on her lap and lightly tapped the top of it with her palm. Mitch’s leg bounced as he waited for the next words out of her mouth. “Let’s go over you a little bit. What brings you in here?” Her words were steady: sounding carefully curated, yet natural. He anticipated someone much more neutral, clinical, but she had a kind smile and warm eyes and smelled faintly like cinnamon. Or maybe it was whatever was wafting from the chipped teacup on her desk.
“Uh, well,” Mitch readjusted in his seat. “I’m- I’m 29,” he stuttered. “I just got out of a 5 year relationship that was…” His cheeks puffed up, and then he exhaled. “Bad? Really bad? And my life’s…” he trailed off, grasping for words. “I’m in a weird place. Awful place? Like it’s not awful, OK? I’m safe, I have a roof over my head.” She nodded along thoughtfully, already starting to write. And although he thought that the well of tears was tapped dry, his eyes watered and his chest ached so badly that the pain bled into his ribcage, seeping into his organs. “I’m actually so lucky, y’know? But this has all been a really, really long time coming.”