Author’s note: If you haven’t read chapter’s one and two, be sure to do so before reading here.
Ian sat in the sterile confines of the waiting room thumbing through an old magazine. He wasn’t really reading. The ragged copy of National Geographic was just a prop, a barrier between himself and the others waiting their turn to see one of the doctors. Dr. Dunn was running late, probably sorting through some genuinely dark and plaguing issue with another one of her patients. He comforted himself with the thought that crazy people don’t worry that they’re crazy. He was. Ergo, he wasn’t.
When she finally invited him into her office, Ian’s averted his eyes from the women who was departing. A courtesy. People who went to counselors, at least the ones like him, didn’t want to make eye contact. They’re greatest fear was encountering someone they knew. But that was silly, he often thought. Anyone who was at the counselor’s office was probably the least likely person to judge you for being there. But still.
“It’s been a while, Ian. How are you?” she asked.
“I’m good. Pretty good, I mean. The meditation stuff you gave me has helped a lot. I still have trouble sleeping sometimes. But that’s okay. I’ve kind of learned to accept it—not fight it.”
When she asked him what he’d like to discuss during their fifty minutes together, Ian stumbled. He was genuinely afraid she would see something deep within him, some madness she hadn’t seen before. Sharing the stuff about the panic attacks had been difficult enough. But he had been able to rationalize that. He worked hard. Had a challenging job. And the lack of sleep. Well, the panic was just the physical manifestation of all those things. Anyone in his situation would be a little prone to panic every now and then.
He dodged her question a bit more. But she cut through his bullshit like a razor through paper. Precise, clean, and efficient. Before he knew it, Ian had told her about the note. How he almost thought it had followed him. He told her about his conversation with Alethia. She didn’t interrupt, just nodded and gave him that affirming non-judgmental look he was sure they taught in medical school. Doctors probably gave that same practiced look to smokers who had lung cancer and obese people dying from heart disease.
“I know it’s crazy. It makes no sense, Doc.”
“Well, I’ll admit its unusual, Ian. But not crazy. If it’s a comfort, I believe you.”
Ian refused to let himself be lulled into any real sense of relief. He thought she was being honest with him. But he wasn’t going to let his guard down any further.
“Tell me again what she said. About Mike. And about how she was waiting on your call.”
He repeated the story, giving her all the details, but no more insights to how all this made him feel.
“I know you’re probably going to tell me this is all some kind of transference thing. Or that when she asked me what I need, I interpreted that to mean something different than she meant because maybe deep down inside, I need something I’m not aware of.”
“It’s a thought. But that may not be the case entirely.”
“Look, Doc. For $250 an hour, I need more than it’s a thought. I need, do this, don’t do that. I need Let it go, Ian. You just need more sleep.”
“Well, you probably do need more sleep. Are you using the prescription I gave you?”
“No. Well, yeah. Sometimes, I mean.”
“It won’t help if you don’t use it, Ian.”
“Look, our time is almost up. But here’s the thing. I don’t see any harm in calling this woman. Just talk to her. I mean, sometimes things just happen for a reason. We have to accept them. Learn from them. You have to choose not to be afraid.”
Ian muttered something that sounded like another trucker under his breathe. She smiled.
“Call her. You have my cell. If something really distressing happens, text me. I’ll call you back. But come back to see me next week and let’s talk about it when you’ve had a real conversation with Alethia.”
Leaving the office, Ian reached into his pocket and removed the piece of paper. It was becoming increasingly soiled. The sweat from his palms had smudged the ink a little, and the scrap seemed to be growing thinner. He had programed the number into is phone. He’d even taken a photo of it, just in case he lost it. Ian shook his head and stuffed the note back into breast-pocket inside his navy blazer.
“Call her,” he mocked. “Just see what she has to say. Have conversation with her.”
He slid into the seat of his car, cranked the engine and punched at his phone a few times. By the time he crossed West Paces on the interstate, the stereo was throbbing with AC/DCs Back in Black. He lost himself in it and the remnants of Atlanta’s rush hour traffic. But somewhere deep within him, he felt his resolve growing.