“So tell me a little about what brought you here.” Followed by a smile. It was a warm smile, but not quite warm enough to make Lia feel entirely comfortable, not quite warm enough to reach the eyes in fact, she noted, shooting a quick glance across at the woman opposite her before immediately looking away, fixing her eyes on some undetermined spot on the white wall, slightly to the left of the woman’s shoulder. It was as if it was a rehearsed warmth, and it had got stuck somewhere along the way – the throat, maybe, Lia thought – certainly the tone was warm enough mixed in with that slightly sing-songy Europeanly accented voice. But it just didn’t go quite all the way. It was a good effort as far as warm smiles go, but it didn’t feel.. what? Real? Genuine? That’s it. It didn’t feel genuine. It felt like the kind of warmth you may afford someone you don’t really know and haven’t decided if you like yet. Not an anti-smile as such, not the kind of transparently false smile you would aim at someone you really didn’t like but felt you ought to be smiling at. You know, the kind of smile you might have found plastered across your face when you were fourteen, greeting one of the popular girls who you couldn’t for the life of you understand why they’d been deemed so bloody popular in the first place, with their glossy blonde hair, carefully applied and re-applied make-up and overly aerated brains.
Popular girls. Popular girls? Did people even call them that any more? It had been a long time since Lia was fourteen. And yet it didn’t seem that long ago. Didn’t seem like the life-time ago it really was. Oh, get a grip, Lia! she scolded herself. You’re not here to reminisce about your school days. Or popular girls. Or whether or not people still called them that. What was the question again? Something about what had brought her here.
“Well, I guess..” she began but then her words dried up before she got to the end of the sentence, overcome by a sudden feeling that she didn’t want to tell Miss Opposite Her any of the real reasons for why she was there.
Miss Opposite Her in every way, Lia thought to herself. With her abundance of dark curls and trendy red – no – bordeaux glasses, sitting almost at the tip of her nose, giving that casually deliberate I’m rather clever impression. Miss Opposite Her – she had a name, of course she did – but for the time being Lia decided that she didn’t want to use it – Miss Opposite Her had surely been one of those popular girls. And if that was the case, and Lia now felt certain that it must be, how could she ever understand where she – Lia – had come from? Lia who had been so utterly grey she hadn’t been either popular or unpopular. And the very fact that that invisibility wasn’t even a remote part of the reason why she was there, well, she’d never believe that. Lia was convinced Miss Opposite Her would insist that it was, that it must be, because how could anyone go through school, barely existing in the eyes of the popular girls and not be permanently scarred for life by the experience? Lia decided to stay silent for a little longer in sheer defiance of Miss Opposite Her.
Miss Opposite Her shifted ever so slightly on her seat, an über-stylish probably-but-not-definitely fake leather armchair which very nearly matched her glasses in colour. Was she getting impatient? Lia toyed with the idea of saying absolutely nothing for the entire fifty-minute hour just to see if Miss Opposite Her would eventually, openly, allow her impatience to shine through.
She discarded the idea as easily as it had come to her. She wanted to be here, she reminded herself. She had been waiting for a long time to get here. There were things eating her up from the inside out and this was the way forward. Time to face those little monsters and demons in her belly head on.
Just because Miss Opposite Her didn’t feel like a perfect hand-in-glove fit didn’t mean that she wasn’t. That she couldn’t become a good enough match. A good enough pseudo parent.
Oh how Lia hated that concept. Good enough. Why should anyone ever have to settle for something less than ideal? This good enough psycho babble malarkey, surely that was something someone had come up with only to cover for their own inadequacies? Who was it that had come up with it anyway? Freud? No, Lia was pretty sure this was one Freud couldn’t be blamed for. No, it must have been a woman. Klein? Could be. She had certainly had enough reasons to wish to cover up her own less than shining parenting skills. Or maybe it was a man who thought he had women and motherhood nailed? Oh yes, that’s it. Winnicott. That’s who she should address her letter of complaint to.
Lia made herself snap out of her intellectual endeavour even though she would rather have liked to linger for just a little bit longer. But there were other matters at hand. Like coming to grips with Miss Opposite Her. This was only the first time they’d met. Her first ever therapy session, in fact, or at least the first one she herself had wanted to go to. Surely Lia wasn’t so judgemental a person that she would discount another person just because the warmth of her smile didn’t quite reach all the way to the eyes and across the room to where she was sitting? That would be unfair, and say what you like, unfair was not a quality Lia would allow attach itself to her person. So she mimicked Miss Opposite Her and also slightly repositioned herself on her chair and tried again. This time the words slid out of her as easily as if she had greased her tongue; “I suppose I’m here because I couldn’t get any further on my journey just sitting on my own in my room”.
“Could you tell me more about this journey?” Miss Opposite Her looked pleased Lia thought even though she wasn’t even looking at her, but just as she had known before looking over that the warmth of the smile didn’t reach the eyes, she just knew that this time the pleased look would be there on Miss Opposite Her’s face, and Lia had to repress an urge to say “l take it you’re one of those shrinks who repeat everything in the form of a question”. Except, of course, she wouldn’t say shrink. Shrink wasn’t her word, wasn’t the way she spoke. Shrink sounded tacky and American, neither of which fit Lia, even though she had in her past life been mistaken for an American before she had arrived at her now reasonably perfected British accent. No, not shrink. Therapist. That was the word she would use. It was a word she liked, one she felt fond of, even. Therapist. It was a word that tasted good in her mouth, precious somehow. Precious with a hint of some exotic spice, because it had that lovely th-sound at the beginning which her own native tongue lacked. Therapist. Psychotherapist. Psycho-therapist. Psycho, The Rapist. Psycho, psycho, psycho, the emotional rapist. Lia smiled to herself, and then realised that she was also smiling at Miss Opposite Her, and felt she ought to somehow explain this inappropriate smiling – one of her least favourite traits, and one which her mother loved to pounce upon whenever it reared its ugly little head.
She didn’t explain what the inappropriate smiling was about, nor what had really brought her there. Instead she made her face all neutral and disconnected and served Miss Opposite Her a sort of half-open half-shut version of why she had ended up there, opposite Miss Opposite Her. She gave a bullet point run-down of all the major defining moments of her pathetic little life thus far. Only she left out The Big One. She left out the real reason for why she had come here. She just couldn’t go there. Not yet, not until she had thoroughly tested Miss Opposite Her to make sure she’d be able to handle it. It. The Truth. The bare naked truth in all its hideous ugliness. Most people couldn’t. So far in her life the exact number of people who had been able to tolerate The Truth had reached a grand total of exactly zero. And that included herself.
At least she was honest enough to tell Miss Opposite Her that there was that one Really Major Thing that she was leaving out, to which Miss Opposite Her responded by firing off what Lia could only assume was meant to be her reassuring smile, only, Lia noted immediately [because this time she happened to be actually looking in Miss Opposite Her’s general direction] that smile, too, didn’t quite get to where it needed to be, to do what it was supposed to do.
Lia wondered if perhaps Miss Opposite Her had a collection of photographic index cards at home, pictures of people smiling, neatly labelled warm or reassuring or accepting. Snapshots marked encouraging or concerned. Maybe she used to stand in front of her mirror perfecting this tool of her trade? Maybe she had voice recordings, too, so she could work on getting her tone of voice to match the chosen facial expression? Maybe there were even special therapist workshops or seminars where Miss Opposite Her and her colleagues went to learn how to fine tune the way they came across to their clients at any given moment?
And there it was again. Her very own smile. The inappropriate one. No index card needed for that one. She had it down to a T.
Lia left that initial session determined not to allow first impressions keep her from giving this a real shot. She would give Miss Opposite Her an honest chance. And, most importantly, she promised herself, she was going to give herself a chance.
Exactly eight weeks later Lia closed the book on Miss Opposite her, having got no closer to telling her of that one momentous moment when everything changed.
She was back to square one. And it wasn’t even a nice smooth square, it was a raw and rough one. One which she was desperate to get away from. And fast.
Only things didn’t ever really happen fast. Not in her life. And so it wasn’t until a full two and a half years later Lia finally found herself in the right place at the right time – with the right person – that she managed to get her voice to speak of that hideously ugly truth:
When she was nine she killed her younger brother and sister.
I’ve been toying with this idea for a little while now; posting a little something of what I write [other than just my usual blog rants]. And a few people have asked me to, too. So, what you’ve just read, is a small sample. A teaser. It’s from the project I’m currently working on – possibly the prologue in its rawest form. I’m probably somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way through this project, pre-edit. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll end up being something readworthy.
Thank you for taking the time to read!