I couldn’t stop fidgeting with my pants as I waited in the therapist’s office for my name to be called. The receptionist was a young woman with fiery red hair and fierce green eyes. She seemed friendly enough, but there was something about the way that she looked at me that sent chills up my spine. It was as if I was part of a giant conspiracy or something.
It had been my mother’s idea for me to start going to therapy. She decided that since it was working for her, that it would probably work for me as well. No, the only thing I wanted was for my brother to be alive.
I glanced up to see a woman with brown hair and brown eyes standing next to an open door. She had on a black pantsuit that fit her narrow frame like a glove and there was a set of wire-framed glasses perched on her narrow nose. The woman smiled at me.
“Would you like to come with me?”
I shrugged my shoulders in defeat before I followed the woman down through a short hallway. There were two doors on the left side of the carpeted hallway that were closed. The two doors on the right stood open and I saw that one led into the receptionist’s office where she was busily typing away on her keyboard. The therapist led me to the second door on the right and motioned for me to enter the room ahead of her.
“Relax, Ethan.” She reassured me in a calm voice. “Nobody is going to hurt you or judge you here.”
“Isn’t that what you do?” I asked without even thinking about it first. “You judge people right?”
“Not at all, Ethan.” She told me with a smile and motioned for me to sit over on a leather sofa while she sat in a cushioned chair. “Make yourself comfortable, Ethan.”
I sat down on the sofa and waited for the doctor to begin.
“First, let me introduce myself, Ethan.” The woman began in a pleasant tone. “My name is Doctor Juliette Howards. I’ve been in practice here for the past twelve years after I graduated from Ohio State university with my degree in Psychological Medicine. It’s not my job to judge you in any shape or form, Ethan. My job is to be here to listen to you and whatever problems you might be having.” She smiled gently at me. “Most of all, nobody will ever know the details of what we discuss, Ethan. Now, before we begin, is there anything that you would like to tell me?”
I sat there quietly before I told her something that only two other people knew.
“I’m gay,” I stated quietly.
I don’t know why I had decided to tell her, but when I did, it felt like a weight had been lifted. I felt myself smile slightly.
“Do you feel better?” Juliette asked me in a pleasant tone.
“Somewhat,” I said with a shrug.
She smiled at me.
“Have you told anybody else?”
“Only two other people know.”
“No,” I replied with a brief shrug of my head. “One of my friends at school – Jenna. And… And… And Evan knew.”
I felt a tear roll down my cheek.
“It was my fifteenth birthday,” I said quietly. “Evan had promised me that he would be there when I told mom and dad. He…” My bottom lip quivered as I fought the urge to cry. “He never came home. He was my hero…”
Doctor Howards listened patiently as I described my life over the past few weeks. I told her about how I had stayed at the top of the staircase the night the police arrived to tell us about Evan’s accident. I told her that I’ve only slept in my own bed three times since his death. She didn’t tell me that I was weird for enjoying Mr. Hunter’s class or for the fact that I found Justin attractive. I blushed when I talked about his green eyes and how they always seemed to draw me into them. I told he about how I had found my mother passed out at the dining room table nearly every night since the accident and how I had overheard my mother talking in her sleep. My mother blamed herself. It felt weird for me to talk about my feelings with a complete stranger, but it did help me feel a little better about Evan’s death.
“I want you to start keeping a diary, Ethan.” Doctor Howards told me as we came up to the end of my first session. “I want you to write it in everyday, and I want you to bring it to our next meeting. You can write about anything that you experienced throughout your day, Ethan. If nothing happens during the day, I want you to write down what you thought about.” Juliette smiled at me. “Okay?”
I nodded shyly. I hated telling anybody about myself, but I knew that I would do as she said. The therapist guided me down the hallway back to the front room where I found my mother waiting for me.
“I’ll see you next week, Ethan.” Doctor Howards reminded me with a gentle smile as I pulled my coat on.
“Thank you, Doctor Howards.”
It was just my mother and I at dinner that night. My father had been called away by his job as usual. My mother had no idea when he would return. That was also the norm for our household. I had learned long ago to not ask too many questions about my father’s job. All I needed to know was that he worked for the CIA in a top-secret division.
I pushed the mashed potatoes around my plate and mixed them up with my peas before I scooped up a mouthful. My mother’s plate looked like she had barely touched any of it. Her chicken had a small piece tore out of it and she stabbed her peas one at a time with her fork. The house was quiet except for the scrapes of our forks on the plates. My mother would take random sips from her wineglass throughout our meal and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to find her passed out on the table again. I couldn’t stop myself from frowning and my mother noticed.
“What’s wrong, Ethan?” She asked in a concerned voice.
“It’s nothing important,” I replied nervously. My stomach knotted up as the lie slipped from my lips. I didn’t even know what the real issue was anymore. My brother was dead, and my mother blamed herself for his death. In return, she had turned to the bottle to dull her pain. Her blue eyes seemed empty.
Sad and empty…
I knew how to help her fix this, and it had to be right there and then. I couldn’t lose her like I had lost my brother. I wouldn’t survive” It was bad enough that I had the death of Tatum to look forward to.
“Mom,” my voice cracked as I tried to keep my emotions under control. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
She reached out to refill her glass from the near empty wine bottle, but I quickly stopped her by grabbing her wrist. Her skin was cold, and she looked surprised by my touch. It was almost as if she had thought I was a figment of her imagination.
“I…” I wasn’t sure how to begin but it had to be done. I took a deep breath and looked at my mother in her eyes as I held her hands in my own. “I overheard you talking the other night in your sleep.”
“Ethan…” Her voice cracked and I saw tears welling up in the corners of her eyes. “I’m sor…”
“No, mom.” I interrupted her quickly. “I think that it’s time that you heard this from me.”
She looked confused but she nodded in agreement. I could feel my hand as it trembled slightly in her grasp.
“I know that you blame yourself for Evan’s accident, mom.” I told her as steadily as I could. “You shouldn’t, though. Evan made the choice to drive that night. I know because I heard you begging him to change his mind.” I smiled at my mom to let her know that I meant what I was saying. “Mr. Hunter told me that he had offered Evan a ride home, but my brother was stubborn as usual and turned him down. Nobody could have persuaded him to leave his car at the school. It’s not your fault, mom. Please, don’t blame yourself.”
I held her hands tightly as tears ran down her cheeks. She sniffled slightly as she looked at me in bewilderment.
“You’ve grown up so fast, Ethan.” She told me with a brief smile. “I’m so sorry that you have been put through this.”
I nodded as my own tears began to roll down my cheeks.
“There’s something else,” I continued softly. “I want you to cut back on how much you’ve been drinking, mom. I don’t want to lose you, also.”
Her eyes went wide as I let go of her hands and took my plate to the kitchen. I cleaned it off before I stuck it into the dishwasher and retreated to my room for the night. I laid back on my bed and hoped that the next day would be better…