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Bubblegum & Thumbtacks
Waiting for my mom to come out of the bank was like waiting for your turn at the doctor’s office; you might as well bring a book. God knew what she did in there – I was convinced that she took the opportunity to organize the vast collection of family photos she kept in her purse – but really, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that today, I didn’t have a book, and asking me to be silent and sit still for ten minutes was like asking Dr. Phil to smoke weed. It just wasn’t going to happen.
I turned on the radio and started blasting the first radio station I came to, and incidentally, it was one I liked. It was always gritty guitar with melodic voices, or vice versa. Either way was fine with me. Sighing, I surveyed my surroundings. There wasn’t much to look at. A few decorative bushes growing through the gravel in front of the bank (because we all know that that looks in any way realistic), and two older men talking in front of an old, red Toyota. But in the rearview mirror I could see the row of old shops across the street, and I couldn’t help but smile. I was proud to live in a town that hadn’t yet been completely digested by the cooperate business world.
I jumped as the driver’s side door opened and Mom reached in, groping madly for the volume on the radio. “Jasmine, what the hell are you doing?” After turning the radio off, she got inside and shut the door behind her, scowling.
I shrugged. “You usually take longer. I got bored.”
“So you decided to see which would happen first, you going deaf or my speakers getting blown?” She pulled out of the parking lot, and for a moment, I was sure she was going to hit one of the two guys talking – my mom scares the s*** out of me when she’s driving.
I sighed. “Why do you have to overreact about everything?”
“I don’t, and I don’t see why you can’t just… calm down once in a while.”
I was about to retaliate when she started to pull out into the street, and I decided having the last word wasn’t worth another hit and run. I took a deep breath, and once she was safely speeding along, I said, “I hate the bank. I mean I hate most stops, but the bank is my least favorite.”
My mom sighed, leaning back in her seat. “Why’s that?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure. They stopped giving me grape suckers and I stopped liking them.”
“You were, what, fourteen? I think you got a longer ride on that train than most people.”
I blinked. “Who… who even says that? What is this, a grape… train? I think you lost me.”
“I’ll pull over. I’m not going to put up with you being obnoxious today.” She glared at me for a moment, and I could tell that for once she meant it.
“Well… what’s… wrong?”
She shook her head. “Nothing.” Looking to the digital clock on the radio, she asked, “You remember what time your appointment is?”
“Uh… I think the card said 1:15.”
I looked at the clock. 1:26.
By the time we pulled into the parking lot, I was gripping the edge of my seat for all it was worth. My mother was incapable of grasping the idea that speeding really doesn’t solve anything when you’re already late.
“Okay, hurry up, Martha will be waiting on you – I’ll be in the waiting room when you come out.”
I nodded, tearing myself away from the seat and running inside. Once I was through the glass doors, I let the receptionist know that I was there, and then ran down the hall to let myself in before she could try to bother me with something – meeting with Martha might not have been my favorite time of the month, but it could only help at this point. I opened the door to her office, expecting a glance of disapproval from a kind looking thirty year old with an inexhaustible amount of patience. What I got was an office full of awkward expressions. There was a small circle of people in the middle of the room, each of them a little older than myself, and for a moment, I thought I’d gone through the wrong door – and then I noticed Martha in the corner, smiling and gesturing for me to come inside.
“Ah, Jasmine. I see you finally decided to show up.” She laughed politely and waved to an empty chair. “Come sit down.”
I stood in the doorway, frozen. Roomful of strange people looking at me like I’m crazy, plus annoyingly pleasant therapist asking me to come sit down right in the middle of them – I think I’ll pass. I shook my head, smiling. “No, uh… no, I’m fine here, thanks.”
Martha frowned. “Come on, Jasmine. You know I won’t make you because this is a force-free zone, but it would be appreciated if you would come and join the group.”
I sighed. I really hated it when she did that – when she used phrases like ‘force-free zone’ and ‘pressure-free environment’. All they did was guilt you into doing whatever she wanted you to do.
Reluctantly, I shut the door and sat down, trying not to meet the stares of everyone around me. I could feel them looking me up and down, judging me, trying to figure out what was wrong with me – they were all asking themselves the same question: What is she doing here?
Martha cleared her throat. “As I was saying, we’re going to go around the circle and take turns trying to verbalize to one another what issues you may be trying to work through. This exercise is to work on social skills and trust.” She looked around, trying to make eye contact with everyone in the group. “Once again, I’ll remind you that if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, no one is going to pressure you into it. This is a voluntary exercise. Now… how about you start, Craig.”
The young man across from me cleared his throat and stood up, forcing a smile on his face. “Uh, well… hi, I’m Craig.”
He swallowed. “I’ve got obsessive compulsive disorder, and uhm… well, my little sister, Holly, begged for a dog until my parents finally gave in, and now it drives me crazy. I’m washing my hands every fifteen minutes and…”
I started zoning out. He was wearing an American Eagle polo and his dirty blonde hair looked as though he had painstakingly gelled every individual hair into place. I had a feeling that even under the best of circumstances, we wouldn’t get along. I did my best to focus in again – who knew, knowing Martha she might give us a f***ing quiz after this was over to make sure that we were all practicing our listening skills.
“…But I feel like if I hint that I have issues with the dog being there that my parents will get rid of it on my account, and I don’t want that. My sister loves it too much.” He paused. “So… yeah. That’s… my current issue, I guess.” After a moment of silence, he looked around and sat down, unsure of what to do.
Martha smiled. “Good job. Does anyone have any advice for Craig?”
I contemplated pointing out the fact that washing your hands every fifteen minutes was an obnoxiously large hint that the dog was causing some sort of problem, but I decided to keep my mouth shut. Karma was a b****, and if I decided to talk, the last thing I wanted was anyone saying something about me.
As we went around the circle, it became increasingly apparent to me that I was the worst listener in the group. Everyone else appeared to be completely absorbed as everyone told their various stories, as though they of all people had never interacted with anyone with issues before.
Somewhere around the third or fourth person, I drifted off into an intense question and answer session with myself concerning Martha.
Is it just me, or would she look great rocking a bonnet?
Yeah. I think she could pull it off.
Half the time I ask myself if she used to be Amish.
… Amish? Why would she be Amish?
I don’t know. I mean, the Amish, when their teenagers reach a certain age or whatever, they let them run wild and do whatever they want. Apparently 98% of them come back home, but Martha could be one of those… uh… escapees, or whatever.
I guess that’s true. But you make it sound like it was a prison break.
Well, I think she could work orange pretty well, too.
I don’t know. I still think the bonnet would be pretty nice.
I jerked my head to the side to see Martha staring at me.
“It’s your turn.”
I smiled nervously. “Oh. Uh, okay.”
I stood up, cursing myself for being so scatter-brained. I hadn’t had time to think of anything to say. So, nervously, I started with, “So um… I’m Jasmine.”
“But um… you can call me… Jasmine. Ha.”
No one laughed.
I sighed. “Okay, look, I’m just going to be straight with you guys, because you all seem great,”
Yeah. A real riot.
“…And I really don’t know what else to tell you.”
I cleared my throat for theatrical purposes. “I’m not here because I have an actual disorder, I’m here because I sort of drove my principal insane until he forced me into therapy. I’m obnoxious, unruly, I have the attention span of a goldfish, and I think structured learning of any kind is a waste of time. I hate politics, cats, Gatorade, and coffee, but I love sharpie markers, loud music, bubblegum, and thumbtacks. And that is my life story in about three seconds.”
I bowed and sat back down, waiting for a reaction. I wished I’d paid more attention so I knew what to expect, but no one said anything – they all just… stared at me. Martha cleared her throat. “Does… anyone have anything to add to… that?”
Craig raised his hand.
“I think Jasmine would benefit from Riddlin.”
I glared at him. “I think you would benefit from-“
“Hush.” Martha gave me a warning look.
I sighed. So much for being in a force-free environment.
She smiled politely, nodding. “Thank you for your input, Craig.”