Broken – Julie

17 minutes, 30 seconds

There is a room with white walls. Sea Shell, actually. I don’t understand why they have so many names for the same thing. I wouldn’t have picked Sea Shell. I would have picked a pretty sky blue. Then instead of cream-colored Victorian flowers as a border, I would have fluffy white clouds. 

I hear a door slam somewhere outside and I realize that I have been daydreaming again, wasting her precious time. At the rate that our sessions have been progressing, I’m not certain that she has enough time left to break out of her psychosis. She’s only thirty, but it feels like I have been treating her for years. Nothing has changed. I’m starting to wonder if I have the capacity to help her, but medication made her listless and I have always had better results when my patients are talking, and if nothing else, she does talk. 

Looking across the table, she sits with her hands folded in front of her. She stares at me with a prim look of expectation, saying nothing until I instigate a conversation, as always. “Good morning, Julie.”

“Good morning, Julie.” The words reverberated back to me are not surprising. I am not new to this game that we play. Though somehow I always hope to hear ‘piss off’ or something rebellious that I can work with.

I take a look at her chart and consider what she ate for breakfast this morning, or more specifically the lack of it. “You didn’t eat this morning. What have I told you about the importance of starting your day right?” Even as I hear her repeat my own sentence back at me, I can almost hear my mother’s voice telling me the same thing. It brings a bitter taste to my mouth because for all the times I have hurried out of the house and forgotten to eat breakfast or sometimes, to eat at all, I am still overweight.  She says nothing, but the wry look on her face suggests that she knows that I skip meals too. Perhaps we have been patient and doctor for too long, but I feel like I have invested my soul into Julie. I will fix her.

I lean back in my chair and cross my legs. I rest my hands in my lap and smile as I ask, “Have you thought about what we talked about last week?” It’s hard to keep my smile as I watch her shift into the same position and repeat my words, her sharp dark brown eyes never leaving mine as she rests her hands in her lap and a tight-lipped smile just barely stretches her lips. I am a therapist, but I can’t stop the hot fury at watching her mimic my movements in such a hideous way.  I am legitimately trying to help her, but every week she plays this game. Toying with me and twisting my words in a way that make them seem empty of all good intentions. 

Still, do I look like that? No, her motions are correct, but her eyes and smile are not. They are talking for her and just like last week, I will listen and try to break them, fix them. I will continue asking questions and making statements, but I will stop listening to her voice and I will stop watching her actions. I know what she will say and I know what she will do. Instead I will watch her eyes and read the answers I find there.

They say that your eyes are the windows to your soul. I hope that it’s true because this may be the only way I will ever get through to her. This is also highly unprofessional, but I feel the urgency of time standing behind me, watching; judging; reminding me that something must change or nothing will ever change. This brings me to my next question.

“Are you angry at me?” 

Yes. The answer is already there and her gaze doesn’t waver.

“Was it because I asked you last week to think about your relationship with your family?” 

Yes. I reach up to scratch my neck with my pen and see her movement. I can’t help but fixate on it. Stop. I need to stop. I’ll only get angry again.

“Why does that make you angry?” 

Nothing. Interesting. Her eyes didn’t change at all. At this point I am uncertain if it’s because I asked a question that could not be answered with a yes or no; or if maybe she doesn’t know why she is angry.

Before I can address the lack of response, my watch goes off. Our time is up and I have someplace to be. Suddenly the dismal interlude that is Julie’s therapy is gone. I stand and pick up my things and turn back to say goodbye and that I’ll see her next week. I keep my eyes averted. Its cowardly but I can feel the irrational anxiety in my chest at the thought of looking into her eyes now that I am leaving, on my way to something I have looked forward to all week. I don’t want her to ruin the small joy that I have waiting for me so I leave quickly.

The city outside is so loud that it’s startling. It’s like this every Tuesday. Julie’s Tuesday. I make sure not to schedule any more patients besides Julie on Tuesdays because talking to her is so far removed from this clamor that stepping back into it feels like regaining the whole hour lost all at once and from all angles. On one hand the quiet in our sessions could seem like a blessing if it weren’t for the morbidity of those moments with her. Those years with her. 

I manage to catch a taxi and give him Michael’s business address. We haven’t moved past friendly colleagues yet, but I have hope. We get together every Tuesday after my appointment with Julie and talk about our feelings about our cases and fairly often eat some of the best chicken curry you can get delivered. Honestly it’s the best I have ever had, but Michael says that there is one place better on Second Street, but they don’t deliver. I don’t mind having the second best. His couch is exquisite and after Julie, just laying back and pretending to be the patient for a while is nice.

As I walk into the outer office, I give the receptionist my name although you would think that she would know to expect me by now. As always, she gives me a long look and it feels like she is trying to look into my soul. I talked to Michael about this once and he just smiled and said that it must mean that she knows that I am an important customer. At that point I kidded him about not being a customer and he nodded solemnly and said that he would talk to her. It hasn’t stopped her from staring, but I no longer have to sign in. She is disturbing, but lunch with Michael makes it worth it.

As I enter his office, he looks up and smiles at me and the lingering grip of anxiety is gone. I start off sitting across from him and pick up the nearest cup of rice with chopsticks sticking out. He always has food and a smile ready for me when I arrive. It’s hard to hold onto my anger and frustration when the atmosphere he creates for me is so warm. This ritual we have is perfect. The friendship we have is perfect. But I know that is all it is right now. Despite all the signs, I am not so flattered that I cannot tell that he is just a kind person. He probably has no idea how much I rely on him.

“How was your appointment with Julie?” He asks while piercing another piece of chicken with his chopsticks. I feel like that piece of chicken. I almost forgot that debacle.

“Uneventful.” He stops eating long enough to give me a look. “That’s not exactly true.” I amend my statement quickly. “She still insists on mimicking me. It’s getting to where seeing her makes me so angry that I feel… violent. But you know me, I would never hurt anyone so these feelings are harmless, it’s just the frustration.”

He puts his cup down and leans back in his chair. When I first met him, it used to intimidate me but I am used it now. It’s because he stops smiling and I used to think it was a bad sign, but over time I have realized that he is focusing intently on what I’m saying. His eyes are still warm and that’s enough.

“Frustration is not something to be taken lightly. It can cause us to do things that we wouldn’t normally do and see things that we wouldn’t normally see. But tell me, do those emotions feel harmless when you are feeling them or just on reflection later after being separated from the situation?”

I laugh a little and lean back in my chair as well. Even as I do it, I remember Julie. It’s everything I can do to push her face to the back of my mind. “Point made. At the time, I am so frustrated that I don’t know. It feels like there is just a thin line holding me back.”

“Is that line professional or emotional?”

“What do you mean?” I am almost embarrassed to ask, but he never asks something that isn’t important.

“What is stopping you from hitting her?”
“Oh! Professionalism, of course. Otherwise I would have slapped her silly a long time ago.” 

“That’s a shame. I’m starting to think it would do you more good to go ahead and hit her.” He stands and walks around his desk, grabbing a chair along the way. He sits and turns my chair to face him, and now our knees are touching. Suddenly my heart starts beating faster because he is leaning forward and his hands grip my forearms. It is impossible to avoid looking into his eyes like this. I feel naked and exposed as if I were a creature of the earth pulled into the sun to be examined. Panic rises in my chest but my trust in him makes me stay still. My words are shaky as I ask, “What is this?”

“Is this how she makes you feel?” I can’t explain how this office that was so warm and comfortable when I came in suddenly feels so hot, so suffocating. Although voice in the back of my mind reminds me that the room is somewhat dark, Michael isn’t a fan of artificial lighting, I can hardly keep my eyes open beneath his gaze because it feels so bright.
“Please stop. I don’t like this.”

“Please stop. I don’t like this.” He echoes my words. His face is still so close and he doesn’t even blink. I am breathing shallower now and my back is pressed as far against the seat behind me as I can get. I feel everything. Embarrassment, Sorrow, Anger, and Frustration. I feel watched. Looking into his eyes, still so close, those orbs reflect the face of truth back at me.
“Julie…” I close my eyes and start sobbing uncontrollably. I cry so much that I am only vaguely aware that he lets go of my arms and leans back in his seat, letting time pass by.

“Is this how she makes you feel?” He repeats. His voice is softer and although more tears are still hovering and clouding my vision, my heart unwinds slowly. I know the answer, but suddenly I don’t want to give it. The panic from before is gone, but I am weary. Gone is the illusion of what was before. 

“Yes.” For a moment, I consider stopping there. But I am angry now. “Why did you do that? I come here to forget. This is my safe place. You are my safe place. You’ve ruined us.”

He sighs and it hurts me. “You can’t go on like this. This issue with Julie has to be resolved or I’m afraid for you. You can be mad at me if you want to.”

There are so many things that I want to say, but I find myself saying the only ones that don’t make sense and that I don’t want to be heard. “Michael, I’m tired of this. I’m tired of being afraid of my own client. I walk into that office feeling like I’m walking to my death. Like I’m talking to death. Like I’m talking to the dead. And instead of finding answers to life’s mysteries, I hear my own voice spouting therapeutic bullshit. Didn’t I hear enough of that from my mother? I want to end it all.” Seeing the panic in his face, I add quickly, “My sessions with Julie. I don’t want to see her again. She can find another therapist.”

“No.” He reaches out and holds my hand. I let him. In my chest is that feeling of finality because I know I won’t be back and this is the last time I will see him. “You can’t stop seeing her. I know you want to, but it’s not possible. You can’t stop seeing her until you see this through.”

“It’s unprofessional, I know.” My watch beeps and he grimaces. I think he knows too, that this is the end. I remove my hand from his and stand. As I grab my purse and walk to the door, I can’t look back. Much like my sessions with Julie, I can’t handle the storm cloud of possibilities behind me or the anxiety that now rains there. But before I leave, there is something I have to know. “I trusted you. Were we ever more than this? Was finding your answer so important that you would break down my only safe place?” 

I can hear him sigh behind me and when he speaks, his voice is quiet and maybe… regretful. I can’t tell for sure. It doesn’t matter. “You needed to see. If this thing with Julie isn’t sorted out, I worry for you. It means more than you think.”

“More than us? The possibility of us? I realize that my feelings are my own and that I can’t assign a relationship where there is none. It takes two after all, but..”

“There can be no us.” He interrupts. “Not while Julie’s solution still alludes you. She’s here with us even when we’re alone and you know that. You are just hiding from it.” I feel a pang of the same anxiety as soon as he says her name. Every time he says her name. He’s right, but I’ll never admit it out loud.

“Bye, Michael.”

“Come see me next week. Please. We can meet someplace else, if you’d like. Try that place on Second Street I told you about.”

“We’ll see.” I say as I leave, but I have no intention of seeing him again.


Something about these flowers disturbs me. I know that they are the same Victorian petals from last week and the week before. It doesn’t make sense that they would have been changed suddenly, but they seem different…ominous? Is it possible to have ominous wallpaper? I doubt it, even though I keep going back to it as if it’s going to move. I think Julie is making me crazy. 

Speaking of, it’s Tuesday again and here we are. I feel sick to my stomach but every once in a while it growls, reminding me of the lunch I will not be having today, reminding me of Michael and then Julie. I haven’t even greeted her yet. She sits across from me, eyes dark and narrowed. At this point I feel a kind of satisfaction. Let her be angry. Let her be as miserable as I am. This last week has been a testament to how empty and pointless my life is now. I saw no other patients; I sat there and couldn’t even remember their names. Michael. Julie. That’s all I could focus on. I am a broken woman living a broken life because of her.

“Good morning, Julie.” I say, forcing a smile on my face. Like always, I am not surprised by my words thrown back at me but there is a cracking in my chest that aches and transports me emotionally to last week, the weeks before and now my ruined memories of Michael. 

“Julie. I’m not going play the same game we always play. I came today to tell you that I’m leaving. I’ve had enough.” I close my eyes against her voice echoing over mine. I am done speaking by the time I process her, “I have had enough.” And the words are abrupt and sharp. Opening my eyes again, I see her look of disgust. 

“You’ll have to find another therapist.” There, I said it. I am not satisfied, but it will have to do. However when I hear it repeated back to me, I think of Michael and misery. Absence and loss…after I leave here, this will be over. I will have nothing to go home to. It makes me angry and I want to hurt her with more than words. I just start talking and with every echo back to me, my grip on the armrest of my chair tightens.

“This has been a miserable relationship. You are a miserable person. You will never get better until you talk about your problems. You avoid addressing everything that makes you such a horrible little creature!” I can’t help myself; I’m on my feet yelling now and so is she. 

“Frankly, I’m tired of trying to fix you. I hope you appreciate how much I have done for you, you ungrateful little bitch!” I am so enraged that I throw my clipboard at her. It slams against an invisible wall and falls to the floor. There is another cracking in my chest, but this time with sound. Something is wrong. Something is not right.

I freeze as I realize what I had said. The words that I had said. The words she had said. Words my mother had said. We are just staring at each other now from world to world. Out of breath, out of mind. I close my eyes. I don’t want to see this. I don’t want to know this. I drop to the floor and wrap my arms around my knees, trying to find that safe place in the middle of chaos.

I hear a banging outside my door. Even as I open my mouth to yell that I’m okay to the receptionist, I know how futile that would be. 

“Julie, let me in!” It was Michael yelling from outside my door. Just like with each time before, time starts to slide back in place and I notice my watch is beeping insistently. I ran out of time. I don’t even know how long ago. My eyes are still closed. I can’t believe my eyes, so it’s best to keep them shut. 

The door bangs open and Michael enters, I can’t hear anything but his labored breath. “Open your eyes, Julie.” 

Fucking Julie. I curse to myself and even though I close my eyes tighter and jealousy roars through me, I know. I know who he is talking to. It takes me a few minutes, but when I finally open my eyes and look up at him, I ask, “How long have I been like this?”

He leans down and pulls me into his arms. “Since your mother died, two years ago.” 

“I am so broken.” I cry and hide my face in his shirt. I am still unwilling to look back at my broken dresser mirror or even that god awful wallpaper. I didn’t want to look at anything that reeked of the reality that I had not seen coming.

“No, Julie. You were broken. Now we move on… would you like some lunch? We can clean this up later, together.” Wouldn’t you know, though my whole world is crashing down around me, my stomach still has the nerve to growl.