By Stacy O'Connor
The hallway to and from there counselor’s office was endless. It pushed down and down, farther still, longer still, led by and finished by a bubbling up, fibrous polyester carpet. The walls were wood-paneled and felt flimsy. Unopened doors lined the hallway with must-be-made-up business names in gaudy blue, box lettering (Mix Max Distributors) and basic golden name-plating (Dr. Shibanna, D.C.) among others. Then finally, past too many doors, much too far from the two flights of stairs to enter and exit the building, was Dr. Robert Hurley’s door. His name in black letters atop a thick, plastic, name plate. Dr. Robert Hurley, CMFT.
Every Wednesday, Joe and Janey would drive directly from work to Dr. Robert Hurley’s office. They would exchange pleasantries in the waiting room, a sparsely decorated square space with a spattering of folding chairs lining the walls, and then greet DRH before they walked into his office. He was a Democrat. For sure. He talked to them about his rescued dogs, always had very read copies of the New York Times on his desk, and was much too comfortable using the word ‘fondling’ when we discussed bedroom problems to be a Republican. Janey liked him, just not his counseling.
At the tail end of a heated session which came at the dead end of a particularly hard month of appointments Joe had said, “It’s ok for us to talk about her depression, and her anxiety, and don’t you dare tell me Janey, turning to her though she wouldn’t take her head out of her hands, “that I don’t take those two things seriously. I know they are serious. I worry about her everyday,” turning back to Robert Hurley and his embracing eyes, “I worry about her safety to herself everyday”.
“Are you going to hurt yourself, Janey?”
But Janey, alternating between cradling her heavy head in her hands, and biting off the remnants of an at home manicure, like a girl, didn’t understand this line of questioning. “No. Yes. No it doesn’t hurt. What I do,” and what she did, dragging sharp objects, usually scissors, across her thighs, and stomach and all the places that coworkers and family couldn’t easily find them, “doesn’t hurt me. I’m not going to get hurt. And don’t worry, because if for some dumb reason I did get hurt, I could drive my own-damn-self to the hospital!”
A silence impregnated the room. Eyes fell on Janey and she knew what she said had been the wrong thing. They wanted her to say that no, of course she wasn’t going to hurt herself. “Me?! Hurt myself!?” She imagined saying this with a dramatically outstretched hand on her chest. “Moi?! I will have you know, sirs, that I am a profession women with responsibilities and meetings and important social events. I don’t have time for the vulgarities of self-harm” But they didn’t understand, and who could blame them, that what she did was a release and a punishment to herself. She had no time, and all the time for it. It didn’t hurt. She, however, did hurt. All over. It smoldered inside of her and was beginning to burn its way out. She was having a hard time hiding this hurt. They didn’t understand that this long, slow, smolder of depression was like that time she took Mushrooms in college. Once it had taken over her, it didn’t stop when she was ready for it to be over. It stopped when it was ready to be over and all she could do was hold on and try not to be terrified.
“Right. Well anyway.” Joe stroked his beard and tried to decide how to move on without seeming insensitive. He stuttered for a moment, and decided to jump right back into it. “Right. Well we talk about that depression, and we talk about that anxiety, but what we don’t talk about, what I feel like we can’t talk about is your rage. You have an insane,” the word perked her ears up. She raised her eyebrows and looked in his direction. They had gotten into some lively arguments around that word, “rage-ful side that I feel like we can never address.”
“Ahhh yes.” old Robert Hurley in his geriatric shoes and buttoned up flannel shirts cooed, “the three headed snake: anger, depression, anxiety.”
Janey pictured this wild beast that Dr. Robert Hurley was describing. She wondered if the heads would be the same, like a Hydra. All snapping and biting at one another. Angry and serious. Or would the heads be different. Maybe it was more like a Siamese twin situation where they all had their own personalities and wants and needs.
Anger was always getting mad at Depression because Depression was no fun and only wanted to stay in and sleep, but Anger wanted to go out and rage. Anger was definitely a frat boy. They both probably hated Anxiety because Anxiety made it impossible to do either. “If you go out and rage,” it would ask Anger, “how are you going to get up early and get all the chores and errands and work done you’ve been putting off for the weekend?! You never think! God you’re so ugly and stupid. And Depression, you can’t sleep all day! We have so much to think about! How will you obsessively plan for the week? How will you feel about doing one thing over another thing, but also feel bad about not doing all the things? And, hello, let’s not forget your family. Who is going to worry about those guys?! God Depression, you are so lazy! Your father was right!” Yes. Anxiety was a real uptight bitch.
“Those three,” Dr. Robert Hurley continued, “they can really do a number on you. Yes indeed, that combo will take you right for a loop. And Janey,” he really wanted her to look at him now, so she did, “man, sometimes that’ll just make you feel down right toxic huh?”
If her depression wasn’t making her so lifeless today, she would have ripped his kindly, Irish head right off. “Yep.” her voice cracked from being silent so long. She cleared her throat, “Yes. It can.”
“Well, alrighty,” he spoke after tapping the thumbs of his interlaced hands together for countless seconds, “You know, I think it’s an important job, you know, of the therapist to recognize when they are not, exactly, helping the couple. This is not a safe place. Nope. Not a lot of safe feelings in this room right now.” He moved his veiny hands in two counterclockwise circles to indicate just where, exactly, things were not safe. The ring finger on each hand permanently bent in a mysterious ailment of the elderly. “ I think, Janey, if it’s ok with you, I’m going to go ahead and get in touch with your therapist and your psychiatrist and we’ll see what we all think are the best next steps for this, ahem, work we’re all doing together.”
Leaving the office now, polite on the way out, always, “Yes. Thank you Dr. Hurley. See you next week!” Janey practically sprinted for dear, sweet life. She looked down that hallway, and felt the way a soon-to-be newborn must. She saw the tiniest exit, at the furthest end of the tunnel, and she didn’t know if she could make it, or if she wanted to. What would be on the other side? Was it safer where she was? Strangled by the rectangle canal of the hallway?
Certainly, either choice led to a hopeless outcome. Robert Hurley had gotten to a point with them tonight where he realized he couldn’t quite help them. He had failed them. Not that he failed them as a counselor. Not in the sinister way an evil monarch might say to their minion after he blundered a mission: “You’ve failed me”. No he FAILED them. Big fat F’s on their marriage counseling report card, and Janey knew that she was at fault.
As she now power walked down the hallway, with Joe trailing sheepishly behind, she imagined all her therapists getting on the phone together in a three-way call like a bunch of mean valley girls. Their hair in pigtails, laying on their stomachs, legs crossed in the air behind them: Doug, her flamboyantly gay therapist, Dr. Khan, her greasy Indian psychiatrist, and Dr. Robert Hurley, her hopeless, old, couples’ counselor.
“Oh-my-god Robby,” Khan would gush, “did you hear about Janey?”
“No! Excuse me Nooooooooo! Tell. Me. Everything!” Doug would beg the group.
“You won’t even believe it, I put her on these new meds,” twirling his gum around his pointer finger, “and she is totally bugging out. She was all, “I don’t want to be on meds!” and I was all, “Girl, you better get used to it!”
“Khan, you are so bad!” DRH would giggle
“She is, like totally cray-zee!” Doug would laugh along.
“I know! Can you believe?!”
“I can totally believe it. You should hear the way she talks to Tim” DRH would rant in disgust while the other two swooned in unison, “That Tim. He’s so dreamy.”
“Seriously,” Dr. Khan would get up to stand in front of his mirrored wardrobe and delicately run a blush brush across his tawny cheeks, “And don’t tell her I told you guys this, but she is JUST like her mother. And. AND. I’m going to go ahead and say it, HIS MOTHER!”
Then in giddy disbelief, Doug would giggle, “Oh-my-god! You totally went there!”
“You know,” Joe called at her down the hallway, “Dr. Hurley doesn’t have to call them. He just thinks it might be best, for you, for us. For us.”
He caught up to her just as they reached the landing before the two flights of stairs that led down to the exit, the parking lot, the longest car ride home full of the aborted hopes they both had about each other, the apartment full of their things yet barren of all their emotions, and the end of this session for the night.
Holds an MFA from Fairfield University and has recently left her career to try to be a writer (and defiantly a waitress). Follow her on Instagram: Wordsnwoofs and Imusuallywrite.blog