Slamming the car door shut, Nate looked out across the carpark, squinting through the sunlight. It was a slightly odd place for a clinic; grunts and thwacks intruded on the carpark from the tennis club next door and the shouts from the local football team echoed from the training fields opposite. In all honesty, this was probably one of the less pretty places in town. If you walked 5 minutes down the road however, you’d come to the beautiful local boating lake – one of Nate’s favourite places to go; nobody body bothered him down there, he didn’t have to worry about the others. The town itself was surrounded on one side by large fields and a forest which Nate regularly took his dog to when they weren’t filled with cattle. The view from the top of the hill in the neighbouring town was really something to look at.
A short woman in her mid-forties stepped out the driver’s side, closed the door and locked the car. She looked a tough woman, hard and unmoving like a mountain. Sharp ears jutted out from her easy-to-manage black hair; a tapering nose and pointed chin looked almost perpendicular; and bright, lively blue eyes scanned everything she saw. In her black pinstriped suit, she looked a little like a female Agent Smith. She looked at Nate as he stared off at the clinic, and her face softened into a small loving but slightly sad smile. This was Nate’s mother, Alice.
Alice squirmed in her suit, tugging at the uncomfortable shirt and jacket. The reason for the suit was the funding reception she’d just come from – Alice was a big name in physics, so showing her face usually brought in the donations. She looked at Nate as he stared off into the middle distance at the clinic and took huge gulps of air every few breaths, fidgeting with his hair and pockets, she started complaining to the back of Nate’s head.
“Man, those receptions really take it out of me. Kissing the arse of a bunch of rich tossers with a vague understanding of physics, just so I can actually carry on doing the job that they claim to know so much about!”
Nate swung his head round to look at his mum with knitted eyebrows, a slight smile playing at the corner of his mouth. Now that he was back in the room and paying attention to her, she doubled down.
“I get forced by the university to massage the egos of these people, to dumb down my research so they can actually start to understand why it’s needed. It’s exhausting and humiliating! I’m telling you, I’m never doing one of those again!” she half yelled. She stared into Nate’s eyes as he started back into hers. Eventually he gave in and, with a huff, turned to face her.
“Mum, don’t shout, other people can hear you!” he hissed. “Besides, you say that after literally every single reception you do. If you’re going to say it at least stick to your guns.” With that, he turned his back to her and started walking towards the clinic. Alice, looking at her son’s shoulders now steady movement, gave a quiet smile and followed on.
As he got closer to the clinic, Nate read the familiar, big green sign – “The Pastures Clinic”. It was a new building, maybe only a few years old, with quirky, modern architecture. A quiet summer breeze swept through the carpark, messing up his hair and bringing with it the scent of the rape seed fields on the other side of town. Walking up the stairs as he flicked his hair to one side, the automatic doors opened, and Nate and his mum walked into the clinic.
He’d been coming here for about two years now – the therapy was part his treatment. Nate considered himself a pretty average guy for the most part. He had muddy brown hair that swept around into loose curls, and with his black jeans, grey t-shirt and blue zip-up hoodie, he dressed like any other teenager his age. He was moderately built and could do pretty well in school, but due to his situation his grades across the board had been all over the place; sometimes a lot better than normal, sometimes a lot worse. Somehow though, he’d managed to make it into university to study physics.
No matter how many times he came to the clinic, he still hated how it smelt. It had that classic doctors smell to it – the smell of sterilisation. This confused Nate, why would it smell like a hospital if the only people who practice here are psychologists? He figured it was just something that came with the territory, much like the sense of melancholy that seems to come with all medical institutes, which had a permanent place here too.
Reaching the cluttered front desk, he noticed the secretary. He was young, tall and well-muscled – not really what you’d expect from a secretary. Short blonde hair rustled in the breeze of his desk fan as his sharp blue eyes regarded Nate. Nate always sensed that this man could have been so much more than just a secretary. He seemed like a nice man, but he never really said anything, so Nate wasn’t too sure. The secretary motioned for him to sit in the waiting area. He’d been working here for as long as Nate could remember and knew why he was here.
Nate moved over to the side of the room and picked out two free seats from the multitude of unoccupied cheap wooden chairs, making sure that he wouldn’t be sitting directly next to anyone other than his mum. Sitting down, he remembered again why he disliked the waiting part of these sessions. Wriggling his butt in a fruitless attempt to get comfortable on the crappy chair, he noticed he was getting fidgety again.
Felling his chest tightening, his breathing becoming uneven and his hands tingle slightly, he could tell he was starting to get a little worked up. Panic attacks weren’t something new for Nate, so he started going through his routine to centre himself. Whenever Nate got this way, he would look around whatever room he was in and pick three objects, then describe them in detail to himself until he could picture them when he closed his eyes.
“A kentia palm tree in a large grey pot. It’s a very healthy green but a few of its leaves are turning brown at the tips, it’s probably being watered too much.”
He started at the plant for another thirty seconds before he was satisfied, then did the same thing for a poster and a section of the secretary’s desk. Finishing his routine, he felt his breathing had become stable and the tension in his chest was dissipating.
Alice watched her son as he went through the motions to stop himself having a panic attack – this was quite commonplace by now. She hated bringing him and the others here, and she knew they all hated it too. Despite how many of them there were, all the different behaviours and quirks, Nate would always be her baby boy. There was always that thought though, that little bit of doubt…
Feeling a little better, Nate turned to his mum.
“So Mum, who was it last time?”
Alice glanced up at Nate. Only being 5-foot-tall meant she tended to have to look up at most people she spoke to. She knew she was the reason Nate wanted to study physics, and this was something she was extremely proud of; but she knew he would have a very hard time at university, and that this was to some degree her fault. She knew he couldn’t change how things were, but it was even difficult for her sometimes, let alone the strangers that he’d be living with. Her mouth hung open for a second or two as she considered how to respond.
“It was Isaac last time. I wish it could be you every time Nathan.” she told him, placing her hand on Nate’s cheek.
Nate gave his mum an apologetic smile, then brushed Alice’s hand off. Alice immediately felt bad. She knew Nate couldn’t help it, and she knew he felt like he was a burden to her, but no mother ever expects to have to deal with something like this.
At this point, brisk footsteps filled the corridor that lead to the meeting rooms. A muscled man in a tight blue shirt rounded the corner and made directly for the exit. He was wiping his eyes with his sleeve, and when he was done, he revealed slightly bloodshot eyes and a puffy red nose. Despite this, no one in the waiting area and no one who worked at the clinic made to check if he was alright; this was the etiquette. This man plainly had something he was going through and he must’ve just had a particularly difficult session. He had taken the difficult decision to deal with his issues head on – no one was going to belittle him by asking if he was ok. Of course he wasn’t, but he was dealing with it in a productive way. A bunch of strangers making a fuss wasn’t going to help. The man hurried toward the doors and soon was out of sight.
A couple of minutes later, the telephone on the secretary’s desk rang. The secretary answered, listened for a few seconds, then hung up.
“Nate Walling, go on through to Dr Alben’s room. You know where it is”
Alice turned to Nate and looked him in the eye, a stern look on her face.
“Ok Nate, I’ll be waiting here, I’ll see you in an hour.”
Nate smiled. He was grateful to his mum; his condition wasn’t an easy thing to deal with, but she made such an effort to accommodate him. He stood up, made a grunt in affirmation to his mum, and started walking down the corridor. He looked down at his legs after his first few steps as he noticed they weren’t working how he wanted them to. “My legs have got lag, they’ll glitch through a wall in a minute.” Nate muttered to himself, chuckling at his own joke.
He’d walked these corridors a lot, so he walked straight to the doctor’s room. About a minute of walking brought him to the familiar door. It was thick and somewhat imposing. There was a plaque that read “Jessica Alben, Psy.D.” in bold white letters. Nate took a brief look out the window opposite the door. The town’s football team was still busy practicing. The dewy field shone, meaning Nate had to squint as he looked at the grass. Despite the brightness of the morning, the coaches wore thick jackets – a hallmark that Summer had started to give way to Autumn.
Nate turned back to the door and knocked three times on the thick wooden door, and after a few seconds, a female voice called him in. He pushed the silvery door handle down and the door swung open.
Walking in, Nate saw a blonde woman in a white lab coat over a blue top and back pencil skirt writing on a pad. Why a psychologist was wearing a lab coat he didn’t know, he just assumed it was a stylistic thing. The woman, Jess, was in her early thirties – very different from the old bearded man Nate had been expecting when he first came here.
“So, who is it I’m speaking to today?” she asked without looking up from her pad.
“Oh, it’s just Nate I guess.” Nate muttered back.
“Oh good!” Jess exclaimed, a bright smile appearing on her lips. “I wanted to speak to you after last week’s session.”
Jess looked up and waved Nate towards the brown leather seats in the middle of the room. He walked over, took a seat in the firm, pristine chair, and waited for Jess to finish whatever it was she was writing. He sat bolt upright in the seat, his arms clenching his sides. Nate glanced around the room; it had been a while since he had been here. A window to Nate’s right lit up the room with the light of the midmorning sun, and a small assortment of cacti on the windowsill seemed to act as some sort of personal touch to the room. Decorating the walls were vast numbers of mental health posters and helplines and the like, but the walls themselves were white- the kind of white you saw in a hospital. The clinical smell that usually adorned the clinic seemed to vanish in here. Maybe it was the cacti. Eventually, Jess looked up from her pad with a slight sigh and gave Nate a smile.
“Long day?” asked Nate. She gave a slight chuckle.
“You’ve no idea, I’ve got some really trying patients.” She replied with a weary smile. “Anyway, we’re here to talk about you!” she said, her wearing smile lighting up into a real one. She got up from her neat wooden desk, bringing her pad with her, and headed over to the free seat. Jess lowered herself into the worn leather and relaxed a little, one hand on the arm of the chair, one holding the pad in her lap.
Jess flicked through roughly ten pages of her pad, then looked up and eyed Nate. Nate couldn’t meet her gaze – she was quite a good-looking woman; and even though he was 18 and heading to university in the next few days, he still had no idea about how women worked. He’d never had a girlfriend or even been very good friends with a girl, so the other sex was a complete mystery to him. Despite how uncomfortable she could make him feel when he looked at her a certain way, Nate enjoyed talking to her – it was somehow just really easy.
Jess was a kind, patient woman, and one of very few who payed him any attention. He knew that was only because of their circumstances – if not for her job, neither would be very likely to talk to the other; but it still made Nate happy that someone outside his family seemed to give a damn about him. A few strands of her blonde, curly hair dangled in front of her glasses as she looked at Nate. She did this every now and then – staring at Nate as though she were looking into him.
“How are the anti-depressants helping? Last time we saw each other you mentioned having some…unpleasant thoughts.” she asked, still staring into Nate.
Nate glanced down at his arms. Summer was always a trying time for him – he couldn’t reasonably wear long sleeves a lot of the time when it was warmer.
“Yeah, I guess they’re fine. I haven’t tried anything since that last time, and I haven’t really had too many bad days recently, so I guess they’re working. But I think it kinda all just comes and goes every now and then.” replied Nate. At that, he became quiet again as his hands moved to his lap and clasped together. Jess gave a slight hum in response before noting something on her pad. Nate glared at the back of the pad, wondering what she was writing. Suddenly, he remembered something he’d meant to bring up, and piped up again.
“I think the time loss is getting worse though.” he said, projecting himself a little more than usual. “I’ve even missed whole days.”
Nate always tried to take a rather nonchalant approach to all this – there was nothing he could do about it except follow his treatment, so why make a fuss? This didn’t always work though. Things being as they were, bad days, bad choices and bad situations were inevitable.
“Ok, well at least the anti-depressants seem to be doing their job. The time loss is a bit more difficult to deal with though…” Jess pondered. “We can try some guided meditation if you’d be up for it. I’m thinking it might put you in a better place to talk to your system. Maybe then you’ll be able to figure out how to be a little more cooperative.” At this point, Jess’s stare hardened, and she leant a little forward. “You went through something terrible for a long time Nate, your system came about to help you deal with the trauma. Remember that – they’re there to help you. You should try and make peace with them.”
She’d talked to Nate about this “trauma” a lot. The funny thing about his condition was he couldn’t actually remember the cause of it, so what this trauma was, it was lowkey a mystery to him. Obviously, he wasn’t the one who told her about it, so it must’ve either been his mum or one of the people in his system, but he struggled to believe that someone in his system would be comfortable enough to talk to Jess about something like that – they barely even talked to him, let alone someone relatively new to him.
“If you think it might help, then I guess it’s worth a shot.” Nate replied with a slight shrug. At this, Jess leant back into the chair again, her eyebrows furrowed and lips pressed together.
“Ok, well I’ll set it up for you for a weeks’ time then.” she said with a slight sigh.
Nate thanked her, and she started writing in her pad again.
He was getting nervous again. He wanted to ask the question, but he was kind of scared of the answer and he’d never managed to ask about it before. Clenching his fists and breathing in as if to bounce into the question he, rather loudly, asked the burning question.
“So, what was Isaac like last week?”
Jess looked up from her pad, eyebrows raised. Nate glanced away.
“You never ask about the others…” Jess muttered quiet enough that Nate almost didn’t hear her. She leant right back in her chair and pondered how she should reply. A few moments later she replied. “Well, he was as all over the place as ever. That boy’s temper is incredible, but I’ve pretty much got the hang of dealing with him. He’s not quite as smart as you are, but he’s certainly not dim. Given the chance, I think he could surprise a lot of people.”
“Oh, well I’m glad that he wasn’t too much trouble.” Nate said, relieved. He carried on with a half-hearted chuckle “I don’t think I mind Isaac too much to be honest, he’s certainly not as bad as Grace.”
Smiling at this, Jess brushed the hair from her eyes and quickly replied. “That’s true, Grace is quite frankly a pain to deal with. So is Isaac in other ways though – the chair you’re sitting in is new. Isaac bent the arms of the last one during one of his episodes.”
Nate stared at Jess in mild shock. These chairs weren’t flimsy things - thick wood and probably quite expensive - how Isaac had broken one, even accidentally, was beyond him. Feeling guilty, Nate looked away sheepishly.
Jess realised her mistake. She’d replied too quickly, hadn’t given any thought into her response. It wasn’t often that Nate asked about this, she shouldn’t have mentioned the old chair, let alone speaking about Grace. Grace had always been a bit of a sore spot for Nate since their personalities clashed so abruptly. Jess leant forward and placed her hand on the tip of Nate’s knee. Nate recoiled a little, lifting his now half open hands up to his chest. He looked as if he were caught between whether he should be putting his hands in the air in surrender or not.
“Don’t worry about it Nate, the government pays for it anyway, no real damage was done.”
Nate relaxed and lowered his hands back into his lap, both of them flat on his thighs. “Alright.” he said. “I’m sorry, its just…my feelings around this whole situation…all of it’s just really complicated.” For once, Nate was looking Jess in the eye. “Even after a couple years, I still haven’t figured out how I feel about it all. I mean…I don’t even remember what caused this to happen!” He started into Jess, almost pleading for an answer.
Jess gave a wholehearted grin. He’s such a good boy. she thought. Her eyes softened, and she replied. “I think you might benefit from understanding what happened and why. You should ask your mum about what happened. And…I want you to put extra effort into understanding why it happened.”
Nate sat there for a moment, thinking. Then, he decided. “Ok, I’ll talk to mum when we get home.” He gave a smile to Jess and, with all the sincerity he could muster, told her “Thank you.”
Jess sat back into her chair, a genuinely happy smile on her face. “You’re so welcome Nate.” she exclaimed. “Ok, now that we’ve decided on that, let’s talk about your meds for the next couple weeks.”
Nate came out of the office, walked to the reception, and gave his mum a slight smile. Alice got up to leave with him. He wasn’t in the best of moods after that meeting, and it had completely worn him out. He needed to get some rest, but he knew he needed to talk to his mum first.
Looking at his mum a little resigned, he whispered “Mum, can we have a chat when we get home? There’s some things I think I ought to know by now.”
Alice eyed her son a little. He looked dead serious, so it must’ve been a heavy conversation he wanted to have. The last time he looked at her like that was when he’d resolved to tell her about the bullying.
“Yeah that’s fine, what is it you’re wanting to talk about?”
Nate furrowed his eyebrows and turned his gaze down a little.
Alice had been right. A heavy conversation indeed.
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