Black Iris: Chapter Twenty-Two
I intentionally show up 15 minutes late to my appointment with Dr. Teresa Bell to make a statement about how little I value her time. She doesn’t acknowledge it.
“Make yourself comfortable.” She gestures towards a plush couch and takes a seat in a modern armchair on the other side of a glass coffee table.
“Can I actually lie down or do I have to stay upright?”
“You can lie down.”
“What if I fall asleep?”
She smiles, revealing a mouthful of braces, which, combined with her bright auburn hair and face full of freckles, make her look like she’s still in high school. “I’ll probably wake you up. Or not. Depending on how much time is left in the session at that point.”
The couch is wide and comfortable with plump, squishy pillows. Next to a box of Kleenex on the coffee table is a pile of stress balls. I grab one that’s shaped like a sumo wrestler.
“So, what brings you here today?” She sits back in her chair with her legs crossed and a pen and notepad in her lap.
“I promised my dad and my ex that I’d give therapy a shot. Though, I’m going to be honest with you, Doc. I don’t expect to get much out of this.”
She shrugs. “I get paid either way. Which means you might as well approach this with an open mind.”
“Right. Well, I’ll do my best, but no promises.”
“Same here. So why do your father and your ex think you need therapy?”
“I don’t know, I guess I’ve been a little moody lately. Maybe a little unmotivated. Lethargic, if you will. But that’s normal for a cat in the summer.”
“Would you say that you’ve been depressed?”
“I mean… I haven’t been super cheerful.”
“Tell me a little about your ex. How long were you two together, and how recently did you break up?”
“Let’s see, we broke up on Sunday, June 13th so that’s… however many weeks ago, and before that, we were together for maybe 10 months, depending on what you count as being together.”
“Well, what do you count as being together?”
“I guess when we stopped fucking other people.”
I hear her writing, and when I lift my head from the pillow, I see she’s focused on her pad. “What did you just write?”
“I wrote down what you just said.”
“Word for word, like a stenographer?”
“More or less. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I just end up doodling. You can doodle, too, if it helps.” She gestures towards a stack of notepads and a mug full of pens on the coffee table.
“I’m ok for now, thanks.”
She takes a sip from a water bottle “So, back to your ex. Why did you break up?”
“We started fighting all the time. Like all the time.”
“Well, for one thing, she was always flirting with other guys. I didn’t like the way they looked at her, and I didn’t like the way she looked back at them.”
“Do you think she was cheating on you?”
I squeeze the sumo guy so tight that he turns into a gymnast. “No, but she was going to soon. I could tell.”
“Sounds like there were some trust issues.”
“What about you? Did you ever flirt with other women?”
“Definitely not. I only had eyes for her. I mean… you know, sometimes I’d see someone I thought was attractive, and maybe I’d smile or whatever, but it’s not the same thing as what Gia was doing.”
“I see.” She writes some more. “So, aside from her flirting, were there any other problems?”
“She ignored me sometimes. Like, sometimes she’d be at her computer and I’d want her to pet me so I’d go over and stick my head on her lap. Then she’d be like ‘Hold on, I have to finish this email,’ which I thought was lame, so I’d swat her mouse onto the floor. That’s her fault, though, right? I mean, who still uses a mouse?”
“Fair point, I suppose. Were there ever times when she wanted attention, but you weren’t in the mood?”
“Yeah, I guess. Like sometimes I’d be lying there on the couch taking a nap or whatever, and she’d come over and start rubbing my belly for no reason. Then I’d have to run into the other room.”
“Uh, you might want to relax your grip on that thing.”
“Huh?” I look at my hand and realize I’ve inadvertently popped my claws. Poor Sumo Man has deep gashes from his shoulders down to his thighs. “Shit, sorry.”
“It’s fine, but going forward maybe you could scratch at that tissue box or something.”
“Trust me, that would get messy real fast. Do you have any plastic bags I can gnaw on?”
“Just what I had my lunch in, but that’s in the trash.”
“That’s fine, I’m no germaphobe.”
“Suit yourself, then.”
Luckily, the gallon-sized Ziploc bag is right on top of the pile. I take a few nips and lie back down.
“So was Gia the first person you’d ever been in a committed relationship with?”
“Yeah. How did you know?”
“I get the sense you were struggling with boundaries a little bit. You were used to being by yourself and suddenly there’s this other person around all the time. That was a difficult adjustment, wasn’t it?”
“Well, it’s not like I was antisocial before. In fact, when I was single, I rarely slept alone on the weekends.”
“This is different. This is about intimacy. Truly opening up to someone, showing them a side of yourself you might not show anyone else.”
“It’s true, Gia was the first woman I fucked in the ass, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
Dr. Bell smiles patiently at my deflection. Kudos to her for not flinching. “You know what I meant. Though your answer confirms my suspicion.”
“What do you mean?”
“You never cared for anyone the way you cared for Gia, and it scared you.”
“Boy, you’re way off on this one, Doc. I wasn’t afraid of anything; I just wasn’t sure she was into me enough.”
“Mm-hmm. Tell me about the break-up.”
I take a deep breath and swallow a bunch of plastic. It causes a tickle in my throat, which triggers a coughing fit.
“Are you ok?”
Dr. Bell stands up when I don’t respond, but before she can make it over to me, I press on my sternum and eject the pieces of plastic onto the floor.
“I’m ok,” I gasp.
She grabs a pitcher from the coffee table and pours me a cup of water. “Here.”
“Got any bowls? I can’t drink out of cups because of my snout.”
“Uh — ”
“Never mind, I’ll just…” I tilt my head back and pour the pitcher directly into my mouth, spilling a generous amount onto my clothes, the rug, and the couch. I dab at the spills with Kleenex, but they instantly become soggy globs of pulp. She hands me some napkins from her desk, which work slightly better. I throw the pile of soaking paper into the trash.
“Good thing this isn’t leather, huh?”
She sighs. “It’s suede.”
“Huh. No offense, but it seems like a bad idea to have nice furniture in here. I mean people must spill stuff on it all the time.”
“Actually, this is the first time it’s happened.”
“Sorry about that.”
“Are you ok now?”
“Yeah, but that’s it for the plastic bag. I think I’ll try drawing for a while. Got any charcoal?”
“No, just the pens. Sorry.”
“They’ll do.” From my reclined position, I reach over to the table and start doodling.
“You don’t have to look at the paper?”
“Not if I don’t care what the finished product looks like. I’m just trying to keep my hands busy so I don’t claw up your furniture.”
“I appreciate that,” she says. “Ok, back to the break-up. What happened?”
“Right. We were at the Kibble Museum Gala, and she was talking to this guy. He was standing really close, looking down her dress. I could tell by his breath that he had consumed a lot of the free wine and was hoping to get laid that night. Gia was pretty buzzed, too, and wasn’t shutting him down, so I stepped in.”
“You started a fight with this guy?”
“No, and believe me if I had, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because he’d be dead and I’d be in jail.”
Dr. Bell’s professional smile fades, and for a moment, she stops writing.
“I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. Anyway, the point is, I didn’t get into a fight with the guy. I simply pulled Gia away from him and told her she was being a jerk. Next thing I know, we were both screaming at each other while the entire gallery watched. She stormed off, and I went after her. We slept in the same bed that night, but stayed butt to butt the entire time, and didn’t say one word to each other. The next morning, I woke up to her staring out the window saying ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ And that was it.”
“So, she’s the one who ended it.”
“No, it was mutual. Weren’t you listening?”
“Right. So, since then — ”
“Full disclosure: I didn’t call her a jerk, I called her a bitch. And when I say ‘bitch,’ I actually do mean female dog, which is the worst insult I can give someone. But you should have seen her with this guy.”
“I appreciate the honesty. I’m here to listen, not to judge.”
“But… you are here to judge a little bit, aren’t you? Otherwise, I might as well be talking to my dog.”
“Have you tried that?”
“No, of course not. Lincoln’s an idiot.”
“There’s a difference between judging and evaluating. I do the latter, whereas I’m guessing your dog does neither. Still, some people do find it therapeutic to talk to their pets. It certainly can’t make things worse. Well… I guess there was that one time.”
Dr. Bell’s irreverence is disarming. It must be a trick.
“So, did you call Gia a bitch often?”
“No, no. I mean… maybe a little more towards the end. But she called me things, too.”
“Like… like… like she’d call me a jealous asshole. Can you believe that? Me. Jealous.”
“Oh, it’s not that hard to believe.”
“What, you mean that guy at the Gala? That guy was actually hitting on her. I mean come on, what was I supposed to do?”
“There are a lot of things you could have done, but it sounds like, by then, you had already made it clear to Gia that you didn’t trust her.”
I hear a scraping sound and realize it’s me pressing so hard with my pen that I’m digging through the paper.
“Can we talk about something else, please?”
“Sure. Why don’t you tell me about your mother?”
I exhale hard. Shrinks always want to talk about the mother, so I was expecting this one. But now I’m too flustered. “Actually, can we skip the parents, too?”
“For now. So maybe you can tell me about the flower, then.”
I sit up. “My flower drawings? How do you know about those?”
“Because you’re drawing one right now.”
I look down at my notepad, and sure enough, it’s the same image I’ve been drawing for weeks, only in ballpoint pen instead of charcoal. The grooves in the paper resulting from pressing too hard make the petals pop out almost like a relief sculpture.
“Very impressive work, considering you weren’t even looking at what you were doing.”
Back in art school, we did blind contour drawings all the time. They were an exercise meant to improve focus, and they were infuriating because they always resulted in scribbly pieces of garbage that you’d throw out immediately. But what I’m looking at now is a perfectly recognizable flower, with not a single stray line.
“Actually, I have no idea how I did that.”
“Two questions. One: why are you holding the pen like that, and two: why flowers? With the pen thing, you’re holding it in your fist like a child, so I’m wondering if there’s some kind of regression going on.”
“It’s really the only way I can hold it because of how my fingers are. As for the flowers, well, I’m hoping you can help me figure that out because I have absolutely no idea. For weeks now, I’ve been waking up with this image in my head, and I can’t stop drawing it.”
“Interesting. A few of my other patients have reported the same thing.”
“Really? For me, it started after a night I can’t remember. Did any of them mention anything about missing time?”
She puts her pen down. “As a matter of fact, they did. Some of them admitted they were drunk at the time, but at least one of them insisted they were sober.”
“How many patients are we talking about here?”
“Several. Meanwhile, certain other patients had similar experiences, except they’re drawing mushrooms instead of flowers.”
“Well, it’s just flowers for me. Did any of them mention sensory crossover? Synesthesia, I guess it’s called?”
Dr. Bell furrows her brow. “Yes, actually. They didn’t specifically tie it to the night they can’t remember, but they all said this was a new experience for them.”
“Weird. That can’t be a coincidence, can it? What do you think is causing it?”
“I couldn’t say. I’m not an expert myself, though I know it most often presents during childhood. Anyway, it definitely merits further exploration.”
“Say, uh… did any of these patients mention suffering from priapism?”
“No, why? Did that happen to you?”
“Yeah. It sucked. I had an erection that lasted an entire day, and at the end of it, I was completely impotent. But then I killed myself, and things went back to normal. At least for a few hours. I don’t know what — ”
“Whoa, slow down. Did you say you killed yourself?”
I nod. “I know it sounds bad, but I had nine lives, and whenever I come back from the dead, I’m made whole again. I figured it was worth one of my lives to get my penis back.”
She looks at her watch and shakes her head. “We only have two minutes left. I can’t believe you waited until now to tell me this.”
“I didn’t realize it was a big deal. It wasn’t the first time I died. It wasn’t even the most recent.”
“There’s so much to unpack here, but let me just explain my curiosity as a behaviorist. I’ve had my fair share of patients who have attempted suicide over the years, and I’ve been trained on ways to treat them. But I’ve obviously never spoken to someone who succeeded. There’s insight you can offer that nobody else can.”
“Well, my experience won’t tell you much about what it’s like for normal people. I’m not a human, I’m technically not mortal, and I have firsthand knowledge of the afterlife and how it works. That gives me a pretty unrelatable perspective.”
“Still, I think what you have to say on the matter could be useful. I also think we should explore how it ties in with your break-up.” She sighs. “Anyway, I guess we’ll have to delve into that next time.”
“Wait, who said anything about a next time? This was fun and all, but I’m not sure I got much out of it. I certainly don’t feel any different.”
“Nobody’s fixed after just one session. For therapy to be truly effective, it usually takes years.”
“Sounds like a scam.”
“I prefer to think of it like exercise, because that’s exactly what it is. Nobody expects to look like Schwarzenegger after one day at the gym.”
“Fair enough. But can you even help me with the thing that matters most? Can you help me regain my lost memories?”
She sighs. “Honestly, there’s a limit to what a standard psychologist can do for that. We can talk about the events leading up to it, maybe uncover trauma, but that’s about it. If you really want a shot at recovering that missing time, I recommend seeing a hypnotherapist.”
“Really? I thought hypnosis was bunk, like acupuncture and cupping.”
She shrugs. “In my experience, the only thing that definitely doesn’t work is being close-minded. Hold on.” She walks over to her desk and pulls a business card out from a drawer. “I’ve sent several of my patients to see Dr. Nehrashani, and they have nothing but positive things to say.”
“Cool, thanks. I’ll let you know how it goes.” I get ready to leave, but she stops me.
“Hold on now,” she says. “The hypnotist may or may not be able to help you with your memory, but I hardly think that’s your biggest problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“You killed yourself, Snowball.”
Was killing myself an awesome thing to do? No, of course not. But it doesn’t mean what she thinks it means. I wasn’t trying to end it all, I was just trying to end some of it. And I succeeded.
Or did I? I still have all the same problems I had before I killed myself, plus one terrifying new one: mortality. I’m skeptical that it’ll do much good, but I guess I could try one more session.
“Ok, fine. I’ll make another appointment. I can always cancel, right?”
“We need 24 hours notice if you don’t want to be charged, but yeah. Talk to Rachel on your way out. Oh, and do you mind if I hold onto your drawing?”
“It’s all yours.”
She tears the mangled sheet from the pad and places it in my folder along with her notes. It’s too bad my masterpiece has to live in a filing cabinet. It belongs on a refrigerator.