The voice on the other end of the line is gentle yet coaxing. I have reached her office. I am speaking to her personal assistant. I make my introduction and the PA asks me what my problem is. I explain it with the most sincerity and most pithy I can muster. She asks that she calls me back. I nod as I say, Sure thing. When she does, six minutes later, she tells me to turn up the following day at 3PM. “Don’t be late”, she said. A threat and a warning in one sentence, peachy. She gives me directions. It is one of those places you will not find if you are not looking. In fact, I had driven past its partially hidden gate countless times before and I had never noticed it.
The following day, I am seated at the reception at 2.30PM, waiting for her to arrive. My shrink. I am waiting for my shrink, I am waiting for my shrink. I rolled those words around in my tongue over and over, hopeful that the absurdity and foreignness they carried would wisp away before she arrived. I was dressed terribly: a pair of faded turn-up blue jeans, a stripped yellow and green Gypsy top which tells of its age from the way it hang loose and uneven around my hips, and a pair of Nike flip-flops. Car keys and cell phone stuffed into my pockets. I would later learn that this terrible dressing told of my initial attitude towards this whole shrinking hullabaloo. That first meeting would be the first and last time I dressed so flippantly.
She shows up at ten minutes to three. She is dressed in an oversize black leather jacket; it looks like the one Mzee Jomo Kenyatta wore when he returned from Lancaster House Conference in 1962. Her shoes are the pointy sling-back type we are advised against; it has an outrageously large toe-cleavage and short pointy heels. Orthopedically speaking, these shoes are wrong from whichever angle you look at it. And she smiles too often, too hard. A smile like that Briton actor’s, Russell Brand. I can tell it’s a real smile from the way her eyes crinkle at the sides then sparkle in return. In this moment, its authenticity irks me. Her skin: beautiful and dark. Flawless. I am tempted to rub the back of my hands over her round cheeks just to feel its softness beneath them.
She leads me to a room on the first floor. Its sparse furniture has been strewn across the room with thoughtful precision: three seats in a triangle, and a side table with a box of tissues on it. Pink tissue. Pale green drapes with a netting to match prevent the sunlight from pouring in. A clock with a moon face and Roman numerics lends this room the timeliness central to its occupants. One hour per session is all we get. One hour. One hour sessions, twice a week for four to six weeks, depending on how far we shall go. I tell her that my leave form reads four weeks only. She nods.
It would take us seven weeks instead, with the final and seventh week spaced out a month after the sixth week – for when I am back to the normalcy of life and its mosaic of routines.
My first session was in describing who I am. Crucial because each time she called me by name afterward, the ‘Florence’ that she had in mind was the description I had given her. I told her I was a self-acclaimed artist with a scientists’ stance. Tell me about being an artist, tell me about being a scientist, she said. I explained that my creativity and logic are intertwined like hair in a braid.
I cried in three of the sessions. Hot furious tears: the type that leave your face and eyes puffy, with a splitting headache to boot. The type that leave you in an emotional wrung-out mess. She told me I would one day talk about it without crying. It shall be nothing but a scar someday, she promised.
I appreciated why it is a cycle of grief, not just stages of grief. It is called a cycle of grief because you go through a stage more than once, over and over. When you get to the end of the cycle, you go back to the beginning and start the process all over again. Do you know what did not make sense to my scientist brain? That going back to the beginning of the cycle, after completing a stage, was progress. There is no logic in it, is there?
I always did my homework. After each session, she would give me this list of to-dos that were introspective yet fun. Writing letters. Or making a resolve on what to do with the clothes. Or identifying the emotions that threw me into an outburst.
I learnt how to say ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ without coming off like a spoilt bolshie teenager.
I would align my seat in-front of hers so that my eyes pierced directly into hers. At first, she never answered my questions. Much later when she did, I thanked her for her advice she would say that it was not advice. So, I would say ‘Thank you for your counsel’. She would smile.
I spent one session in the children’s drawing room; half an hour to draw and color ‘whatever comes to mind’, and half an hour to interpret the sketch. What if the drawing doesn’t make any sense? We will find the sense in it, she said.
I would wash my car every other day. Turned out that cleaning it inside and out was therapeutic. When I was done, I would sit behind the wheel and slide in the music CD from Freshly Ground’s Nomvula or my mix tape from that April. And then, I would sing along quietly.
On other days, I would spend the afternoon knitting. Knit and pearl. Knit and pearl. The neat square of the stitches coming together, one at a time, to create an odd knitting of nothing soothed my soul. On other afternoons, I would lie flat on my back, hands crossed underneath my head and legs folded at the ankle. Then I would stare at the ceiling listening to my mind quiet down.
On other days, I would drive down to this quiet spot where the trees hang low and the pathways were littered with leaves fallen from the trees. There, I would park my car, recline the driver’s seat, take off my shoes then stretch my legs out until my toes touched the glove compartment. And then, I would stare. Seeking the beatific escape only a still mind can give. I knew it was time to go back home when the street lights amidst the hanging trees would come on at 6.15PM.
In December, I delivered a Christmas card to her office. Tucked in-between the card was a hand-written note in black ink, ripped out from the pages of a spring-bound notebook. I had rambled on and on about her grace and patience with me. Something about her being God-given and timely, coping mechanism and whatnot. In the New Year that January, I sent her a diary and a desk calendar. I signed off with a post-it note that read, To a glorious 2012. She sent me a text message with a simple ‘Thank you’.
She unexpectedly called a few weeks later to check up on me. I jabbered as if I was her little sister.
Lifestyle pundits have made a career out of calling this the quarter-life crisis. 25. At this age, something life-changing happens. It doesn’t matter what it is but it will pull the rag from under your feet. It forces you to take-stock. To redefine and reprioritize your life’s ideals. To measure your life’s purposes without the pressure and pretense of society’s yardstick. To slow down all activities and beg for some bearing. For me, it was all that plus seeking professional assistance.
The purpose of seeing a shrink is not to solve the problem, or force you to forget the problem. No. The problem is a constant. Its purpose is to reinforce the Mental, Spiritual and Physical aspects of your life so that we are strengthened to take things in stride. Because, realistically, we cannot keep running to a shrink each time our pots break.
So for seven weeks, that is all I did: reinforcement.
Your pastime is to read and write? Good. Read more. Write more. Mental.
Pray. Then, pray more often. Then, pray more often with more faith, more earnest. Go to church and study the Word. Spiritual.
Run. Jog. Strut. For one hour, every other day. Stretch every morning. Swim on the weekends. Physical.
It has taken me years but she was right all along: it has become a scar. Nothing but a mere scar.