By Jessica Seamands
“I’ll bring in your 2:15. Open or closed?” My secretary hovers in the doorway.
“Open.” I count to thirty before rising to close the door. The clock reads 2:20. I glance at the schedule. 2:15 p.m. – Rowan Cassidy. A knock on the door. “Come in.”
I watch closely as the patient enters. Slouched posture. Relatively untouched hair, shirt untucked.
“Hi, Rowan. It’s nice to meet you.” Limp, rushed handshake.
“Nice to meet you, too, Dr., uhm…”
“Right. It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Lantz.”
Rowan plops down onto the couch unceremoniously and glances around the room for something to stare at, focusing briefly on my worn-out sneakers, then at the woods outside, then down at the couch, tracing the stripes of the faded, blue fabric with tired, grey eyes before settling finally for a faint coffee stain on the carpet.
I’m in my usual spot, away from the desk and sitting instead on a recliner by the far corner of the couch, leaving the distance between myself and my patient to their discretion. The couch is strategically positioned along the north wall, directly facing the window, but some patients choose to ignore the view. Usually it’s the newer ones. I suspect that the outside is too harsh a reality for some of them—that they’d rather pretend they’re somewhere else, anywhere else but here, and a real window with a real view spoils the illusion.
I’m waiting for Rowan to say something. They don’t usually start the conversation, but some of them like to, so I tend to take my time before speaking up.
“I was glad that no one else was in the waiting room,” chuckles Rowan. “I like to have my pick of the magazines.” I smile softly to ease the eyes avoiding mine. Things like that can be felt even when they aren’t seen.
“You never really know how long you’ll be there,” Rowan continues. “I mean, really, it would surprise you how long some of these pl—”
Rowan trails off, embarrassed, as if just discovering where the words in our ears are coming from. The soft, grey eyes take off again, frantically searching for a fresh focal point. They land on me. I hold the gaze. “What would surprise me, Rowan?”
“Never mind. It wouldn’t.” I furrow my brow invitingly, a notably tricky expression to execute. I first saw it on the face of a patient years ago and spent the next two weeks perfecting it in my bathroom mirror while brushing my teeth.
“I was going to say that you’d be surprised how long the wait can be in a waiting room,” Rowan blurts out. “But then I thought about how you probably know exactly how waiting rooms can be. I’m sure you’re in waiting rooms just as much as anybody else…” I watch intently as Rowan’s lips gradually curl upwards, twisting to secure a smirk with elfish eyes to match.
“What is it?”
“Nothing. It’s just…Well, you wanna know what’s kind of funny? I just thought of this.” Rowan waits for my nod. “In a way, this room is sort of like your waiting room. Only you’re waiting to go get someone while they’re waiting for you to come get them. I bet you’ve never thought about it like that, have you? I bet no one has, really. Don’t you think that’s pretty funny? I bet I’m the first one to think about that.”
It is kind of funny. I start to reach for my pen before remembering having recently sworn off notetaking during my sessions in light of my noticing that some people don’t really like being written about, especially while they’re talking. Especially by someone like me in a place like this.
“Why are you here today, Rowan?”
“Hell if I know.” I wait. Nothing. It’s quiet, but not. Sometime within the past five minutes it has started to rain. Our ears cling to the sound, surprised and thankful. Silent silence is far worse than any other kind. I start counting to thirty. It’s good to give them time before pushing. I only get to twelve.
“Rain,” Rowan whispers, the lips returning to their previous, lighthearted post.
“Do you like rain, Rowan?”
“No. I mean, sure. But that’s not what I was thinking about.”
“Alright, what were you thinking about?” “Just rain. The word. You know when you say a word, like…well, like ‘rain’, and then you think about the word and then you say it, like, six times in your head and then you say it out loud too and it starts to sound really funny and dumb, like it shouldn’t even be a word in the first place?” Rowan’s breath turns choppy, the tongue tripping, scurrying over syllables as if to avoid their aftertastes. “I mean there are way more words like that than just rain…I can’t think of one right now, but you know what I mean. It’s funny, I always notice that about words unless I want to, and then I can’t think of one. But you know what I mean.”
I peer around the room for inspiration, willing to play, wanting to speak Rowan’s language. People are more willing to talk in their own language. “How about the word ‘book’?”
Rowan frowns, deliberating. “No, I think ‘book’ is alright. Maybe you can’t pick them out in advance, maybe you just have to wait for one to hit your ear funny.”
“Maybe. Rowan, before the rain, I asked you a question. I asked you why you think you’re here today. Do you have any thoughts about that?”
One of Rowan’s legs starts to twitch.
“Did someone tell you to come see me, Rowan? Or did you decide to make an appointment on your own?”
The rain has stopped. Rowan’s heel digs doggedly into the ground to stop the twitching as if in grounding the body, the mind might be grounded, too. “Both, I guess. My mom told me about you. How you helped Frankie. That’s my cousin. Do you remember a Frankie, Dr. Lantz? Real short, pretty bummed out most of the time. I’ve never met someone that could get as low as Frankie used to get. You don’t remember? I guess you can’t tell me even if you do, can you? But anyway, ever since a month ago my mom has been going on and on about Frankie and you and how you helped. So I guess I took the hint and decided to look you up. Not for me, but for my mom.”
I nod. “You say your mother started bringing this up a month ago?”
“Yeah, about then.”
“What do you think prompted that?” Rowan leans back into the couch. The grey eyes survey the ceiling, searching for something. Anything.
“I don’t know, really. I’m not like Frankie. I’m not depressed.”
“You can be depressed without being like Frankie. Depression occurs on a spectrum, Rowan. And it’s not something to be embarrassed or upset about.”
“Yeah, fine, but I’m telling you I’m not depressed. I’ve seen depressed. Depressed is when you wake up every day and wish you could go back to sleep so you do, and you waste your whole day sleeping or wishing you were asleep.” Rowan’s eyes glaze over. The twitching leg is now still. “
Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel depressed?”
Rowan’s eyes compose themselves, snapping back into focus and meeting mine.
“Sure, every now and then. Not every hour of every day for all eternity. Like I said, I’m not like Frankie. But I mean everybody feels like that sometimes. I bet you’ve felt that way. I bet you get real bummed out from talking to people like Frankie all day.”
“Let’s focus on you, Rowan. How often do you fe—”
“Especially if you’re having a bad day to start with,” Rowan rambles on. “Like a bad-traffic, spilled-coffee, limp-lettuce-in-your-salad kind of day. And then you’ve got to talk to wackos like Frankie and you think about how they’re human and you’re human and if they feel it then you can feel it, too, and you’re thinking on that your whole way home so you try flipping through FM stations to listen to something louder than your thoughts, but they’re all selling cars or weightloss pills so you just give up and listen to your engine instead. And then you finally get home and you go to bed, but you’re still thinking about it all and then when you wake up in the morning you wish you were still asleep. I bet you feel like that sometimes, Dr. Lantz. Maybe even often.”
“You aren’t here to talk about me, Rowan. You’re here to talk about you. So why is that? What happened a month ago? Why do you think your mother wanted you to come see me?”
Rowan laughs. “She thinks that I have mood swings.”
“Yeah, mood swings. Mood. Swings. Mood…You know, I think ‘mood’ might be one of those weird words I was talking about before. Mood. Don’t you think so?”
“Why does your mother think that you have mood swings?”
“Because I crashed her car.”
Rowan’s eyes bore into mine. “On purpose.”
“But I had a reason. And it had nothing to do with my mood, by the way. There was just some stuff that…I don’t really like to…I guess I can tell you. You won’t tell anybody, right? Because you can’t. I don’t really want people to know but if you can’t tell it you might as well not know it. Six weeks ago my mom, I mean my other mom, Karen, she was driving back from the airport really early in the morning and her car ended up in a ditch. She died.”
“I’m sorry, Rowan.”
“Yeah, me too. I mean we did the funeral and all that and said our goodbyes and I’m okay. I only knew her for a few years. She moved in six months after my dad left. She was really great for my mom, but I mean I already had a mom, I already had a parent. And I’d gotten kind of used to just having one. So, she was more like my friend, I guess. It doesn’t feel like she died so much as it feels like she left, too. Only I’m not mad at her, so there’s a difference there I guess.” Rowan sits up stiffly, caught off guard. “
Tell me more about your relationship with Kar—”
“I’m mostly worried about my mom. She’s alone now. I guess the worst part is not knowing. We don’t know what happened to Karen. All we know is that she crashed. And with my mom being all alone now, I just didn’t want her to…It’s just not safe. You can’t stop something from happening if you don’t know what you’re trying to stop.”
“So you crashed her car to protect her.”
“Exactly,” insists Rowan. “To keep her safe.”
“Were you scared? To crash the car, I mean? That had to have been scary for you.”
“No, not really. I didn’t really give myself time to get worked up about it. I just did it, sort of. I don’t really remember…I mean I remember, but I don’t remember feeling scared or anything like that. I just remember doing it and it being done.”
“I see. Rowan, I want you to know that I’m on your side. And I’m not here to judge you, I’m here to help you. Do you know that?” Rowan shrugs. “Do you regret it?”
“No. I mean I did for a bit. But not at first, and not now. I was smart about it. I drove it head on into the tree by our garage. I didn’t floor it or anything, just had it going fast enough to do some damage. My mom was mad but I was madder at her for not realizing what she was doing, what she could have done to herself and to me, why I had to do what I did. But after a while she wore me down and I got all in my head feeling sad about it. About everything. I could barely do a single thing for weeks because I felt so bad for doing it. I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t eat. Parents can do that, you know. I mean they can really wreck you.”
“And you believe that it was your mother’s feelings that prompted this state? As opposed to your own?”
“Kind of. I don’t know. I think I was probably sad about the accident. Delayed grief or something. About Karen dying. Because now I don’t feel bad at all for what I did. And if it was because of my mom being upset that I felt bad, then I’d still feel bad. But I don’t. It was a tough call and not everyone can make tough calls like that. Some people can’t. But I can.” “
Would you say that you were feeling depressed during this period of time, during this period of ‘delayed grief’ as you call it?”
Rowan’s fingernails scratch the fabric of the couch, the fingers fidgeting restlessly. “Sure,” Rowan mumbles, “I guess you could say that. I mean I slept a lot. I probably slept enough for the rest of my life. I’ve barely even slept since then I’m so rested from it.”
“Have you ever done anything like this before, Rowan?”
“Anything like what before? You mean the car? You mean have I ever crashed a car on purpose before? What kind of wacko goes around crashing cars all the time.”
“I mean can you recall any other times when you acted abnormally? When you did things that others considered…irrational, perhaps?”
“Irrational? It wasn’t irrational. What’s irrational is driving around in a death machine.”
“Okay, Rowan. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. Let’s stick with abnormal. Just anything out of the ordinary.”
But Rowan doesn’t hear me. Doesn’t want to. “What’s irrational is sending your child to a wacko doctor just so they can put them on meds so you don’t have to be a parent. What’s irrational is the entire concept of psychotic drugs.”
“Do you mean psychotropic medications?”
“Yeah, whatever. Psycho-whatever medi-whatever. Happy pills and calm pills and focus pills and anti-wacko pills. The whole idea of it, the entire construct. It’s ridiculous. It’s so stupid it’s funny. I mean, seriously. Think about it. Somebody tells you to go on these meds, so you do it. Even though you don’t really know what they do. I mean you know what they do, but you don’t know how, and you don’t even really care for some reason as long as they do what everyone thinks you need them to do for you.” Rowan rises from the couch, pacing and laughing hysterically.
“Rowan, let’s just go ba—”
“Oh, wait, but there’s more! So you decide to do it, right? You go to the drug store to get your stupid little apricot cylinder of wacko capsules. And they make you pay for it. And they put your name on it. As if it belongs to you! When you know and the pharmacist knows and your doctor knows it’s the other way around.” Rowan’s face reddens, the grey eyes now black.
“And you know what’s going to happen. You know that even though they promise that it’ll make you better, it’s going to make you worse. It’s fake, it’s synthetic, it’s not you. That can’t actually be better. That’s fake better. That’s better until they stop making the pills or you run out of money or you get sick of it and stop altogether and then you realize that the whole time you weren’t getting better because you didn’t have to try to, so you were just getting worse and now you’re even more wacko than before.”
“Rowan, I understand you’re upset. It’s clear that you have strong feelings about medication, and that’s fine. No one is going to make you do anything.”
I watch Rowan’s shoulders droop. Slow, dragging feet retrace their steps. The body plunges onto the couch, sinking back into cushions that look too stiff. Face in hands, Rowan’s muffled sobs sound distorted, choked by staggered breathing and…laughter. The sad, grey eyes rise to find mine, heavy, hollow holes held up by trembling tear-stained cheeks and an empty, obstinate smile.
“Look, Dr. Lantz, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get all worked up.” Rowan’s palms rub the tired eyes, restoring their stoic façade. “Really, I’m okay. I honestly just think the whole thing is hysterical. I mean, I know it’s your job and I know you just want to help people and I’m sure you do sometimes. But don’t you think it’s even just a little bit funny?”
I stare at the floor, this time my eyes avoiding Rowan’s. A knock on the door lets me know that I’ve taken the session five minutes too long.
We both look over at the phantom knocker, then at each other. My eyes lock with Rowan’s and I force myself to hold them there, smiling. “Well Rowan, it seems our time is up. I know it may not feel like it, but I think that this was quite productive. What do you think about coming back in to talk with me next week?”
“Yeah, maybe. I’ll think about it, Dr. Lantz.” Rowan shifts forward, pausing for a moment to get another good look at the coffee-stained carpet before standing and walking towards the doorway.
“Open or closed?” “What?”
“Oh, right. Open, please.”
When I can no longer hear Rowan’s muffled footsteps, I count to thirty and pull myself out of my chair. My feet drag, stumbling over the coffee stain that I usually make a point to avoid. I close the door, but the room still feels too open. Returning to my desk, I pick up my pen and notebook.
Rowan Cassidy, Appointment #1. Patient shows signs of transient high self-esteem coupled with excessive paranoia. Easily distracted and irritated, sometimes lashing out into impassioned rants with rushed speech. Experiences manic episodes of irrationality and insomnia followed by prolonged periods of depression. Patient expresses excessive hostility towards medication. Brief hypomania during session triggered by perceived criticism. Tentative diagnosis: Bipolar I Disorder.
I close the notebook, but my thoughts stay with Rowan. I’m not depressed. I’m not like Frankie. I open my desk drawer. Denial. I place my notebook in the drawer atop loose papers and pamphlets, pausing for a moment to observe the various knick-knacks that I’ve stowed away over the years. I don’t really want people to know but if you can’t tell it you might as well not know it. Nearly pulling the drawer off its track, I rummage through its contents. I bet you feel like that sometimes. Maybe even often. I trace the outline of a stapler, remembering that I forgot to buy staples again after running out two years ago. Defensive. Projecting. My hand brushes up against a package of post-its, still wrapped up in their cold, plastic packaging. Rain. Book. Mood.
Finally finding what they’re looking for, my fingers curl around a smooth, fluorescent tube. I pick it up, studying it. My eyes fixate on the clean white label with neat sans serif letters as I read the words staring back at me. LANTZ, BLAIRE Q. TAKE 1 TABLET BY MOUTH DAILY. I tilt the bottle on its side, watching the pills slide with the movement, toppling over one another, each trying to position itself so that it’ll be next. Your stupid little apricot cylinder of wacko capsules. Leaving it up to fate, I unscrew the lid and pour my wacko capsules out onto the desk, reaching for the one that falls closest to me and popping it into my mouth. One by one, I drop the remaining capsules back into their tube.
Apricot. I can’t help but smile at the word. It’s strange, foreign almost. Apricot. I visualize the letters, the shape of them all strung together. I imagine picking them up, one by one, bending them. The more I think about it, the more absurd they look in my head. A-p-r-i-c-o-t. The bitter, synthetic flavor spreading across my tongue pulls me back to reality. I swallow, close my eyes, and listen for the sound of rain that isn’t there.