I scrape my uneaten hamburger and beans into the garbage. Nothing to clean from Andrew's plate, only a smear of ketchup, a few bread crumbs. I squeeze Ivory liquid soap onto the sponge and wash several days' worth of dishes. With a Brillo pad I scour the long-encrusted broiler pan. I sprinkle Comet in the stained sink. I set Andrew's blue cereal bowl on the counter next to his coffee mug, ready for his breakfast in the morning. I want to do more: mop linoleum, polish hardwood floors. I want to try harder to please Andrew. I never can. There's always a distraction, always a Rick, or someone. Now, tonight, I feel the burden of calling my parents, the burden of going to the hospital, press against my back. I feel as if I've lost all my muscles.
I turn on the lamp in the living room and sit on our Victorian couch. I pick up the telephone and dial my parents' number. My mother answers on the second ring. Even though my parents know I'm in therapy, I've never said the word incest aloud in their presence. Whenever I visit, once or twice a year, we still eat dinner on pretty Wedgwood plates the way we always did. We are silently confused with each other, or else we speak as if no one heard my father turn the doorknob on all my childhood bedrooms . . . never heard the door click shut all those nights.
Now I say to my mother that I have something important to tell her. There is a pause before she answers, "Sure, honey," then places her hand over the receiver. She calls to my father, who picks up the extension. "Hi, precious," he says to me.
I tell them there's nothing to worry about. I've just been depressed and need to go away for about a month. "I'll be at this treatment facility where my therapist works."
"I don't understand," my mother says. "I thought you said you've been doing so much better."
I have told them this lie. They are paying for my therapy sessions, and I want them to think they're getting their money's worth. Ironically, they want me to feel better even as they never ask why I need therapy in the first place.
"How do you know this therapist knows what he's doing?" my father says. "He doesn't know anything about you."
This therapist knows my life is out of control, I want to say. He knows I'm afraid to eat, can't feed my body. He knows I fuck men because it's what you taught me is love.
Father, this therapist knows everything. About you.
The back of my neck is sweaty, and I coil my hair around my fist. Quizzle, my cat, jumps on the couch and curls beside me.
I barely hear my voice. "He knows I don't know how to love right," I say.
"What kind of people would be in a place like that?" he says.
The more he speaks, the more weightless my head feels, the more sluggish my body. My stomach cramps: with hunger, with fear. I don't know if I can do this.
"People like me," I whisper.
"I won't hear about this," he says.
"Dad, wait. My therapist said he'll want to schedule a family session. I mean, I know you can't come down here, but we'll do it on the phone. Like a conference call."
"If he wants a meeting, tell him to send me an agenda."
"That's not exactly how it's done."
"Then how can I know what we're going to talk about?"
What do you think we're going to talk about?
The phone clicks.
I know we'll never have a family session, even on the phone.
"I'm still here."
"You think he's really angry?"
"Can't you call him from the hospital without these therapists?"
Copyright Sue Silverman 2001. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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