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This was a safe place. I was so informed as I entered, grey backpack strung tight around my shoulders. Safe and welcoming, there was no need to feel manipulated here. The counselor led me through the entryway with the fake plastic palm trees, past the reception desk with the uninterested receptionist, through the hallway with the melted paintings, into the round room. No sides, there was nothing but smooth white walls with a single wooden door to break the monotony. The first things I noticed were the chairs.

Then I noticed the people, sitting in the chairs as if they were carved there out of alabaster. A multitude of eyes rose up from the floor to acknowledge me, and then returned to their post on the floor. No love lost, i guess. I tried to see what was on the floor, what everybody was staring at. I didn't see anything there, and that was probably part of the problem

"Please sit down, this is a safe place." Safe for you maybe, but everywhere was a safe place to me. Indifferent, i sat in the high backed plastic chair with artificial textures scratching across my back. It was comfortable enough, I suppose especially for such a safe place. The leader sat across from me, he had no distinguish marks to label him as such but it was apparent, to me at least, that he had to be the leader. He stared at me hard, so that i could feel it across my face like a slap, and he twitched his mouth at the corners, smiling his smile that wasn't there. I couldn't look at him for more than a couple seconds. Just as well though, as we were about to start.

The counselor flew in on a golden chariot, notebook in hand and glasses sliding down his equiline nose. He landed loftily in one of the high backed plastic chairs, sitting amongst us derelict rejects as an Aztec god, condescending to the lowly for an infinitely higher purpose. His glasses magnified his eyes past human understanding, scary big. They cut a swath through the group sitting anxious in the circular office and lit upon a particularly pathetic looking character sitting a few seats down to my left. "Mark," He said kindly, emphasizing the r. Mark looked up apprehensively, pain in his eyes. "Mark, why don't you start us out?"

Story One
Mark was five. Melissa was ten. Their father was angry. Their mother, angel that she was, tried to calm him down. Tried so very hard.

But he was inconsolable.

For years before Mark was even capable of memory, his father had been a drinker. Heavy gulps, thousands of dollars and thousands of hours spent slave to an unforgiving indulgence. While drifting through bottles his father had lost something very dear to him. Something he wanted very badly. As a result, his father would often come home very angry, frustrated in his search once again.

The dulled smack of fist against flesh played over and over in Marks mind, the florescent artificial lights of the kitchen glistening white against fresh blood on the floor. His mother wept, crying first with each fist fall until gradually the crying became a constant moan. The fists fell until the moans quieted. His father turned slowly to look at them, eyes dull and far away, then left them to look into the dead staring eyes of their mother.

Mark was five. Melissa was ten.
Close Story One

The tapping on the clipboard became a metronome guiding the silence following Marks story as it stretched further and further into the minds and hearts of the people sitting in the circle. Silent tears flowed down from various sympathizers, and Mark was handed a single tissue from one of the counselor’s aides.

Finally the tapping stopped, and the counselor began to write his notes. The scratching of the pen on the paper rubbed salt into the raw nerves of the broken men and women in the circle, who grated their teeth against the noise.

“That’s all well and good Mark. That’s a very sad story. You deserve the anger in your heart.” That answer was more than satisfactory.

The counselor’s eyes moved again, passing by Mark delicately, a look of infinite pity ingrained on his features. “Thank you for sharing Mark.” The man in the chair shifted uncomfortably under his gaze, knowing his turn had come. “Paul, why don’t you go next.”

Paul looked away, eyes wet and hands hanging defeated at his sides.

“Don’t worry Paul, this is a safe place.”

Story Two
Paul was in love. This he was sure of, although nothing in his life up to this point had made since or gone his way, Justine would be his rock. Justine was always there for Paul.

He came home at two in the morning, tired from his extra long evening shift. He called her name softly as he entered the door, not wanting to wake her if she had gone to bed. The bedroom door squeaked slightly as he opened the door.

The bed was made impeccably. On top of the comforter there was a small note, written in Justine’s handwriting. It told him, in detail, why Justine was going to go to the small bridge that led out of town and jump into the winter river. At the bottom she signed off with all of the love she had left.

Paul didn’t watch the news the next day.
End Story Two

This was it.

It was my turn. It had to be my turn. As the counselor stopped tapping and begin to speak soft comfort towards the remains of Paul, I felt myself become apprehensive. The apprehension turned to fear, and my eyes darted around the room, looking for comfort. Looking for someone to hold on to. But they all head their heads down, studying whatever it was that was on the floor.

Except for the leader, he stared straight at me. And he almost smiled.

The counselor turned towards me, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He started writing right away, putting me down onto a piece of paper for study, exposing me to the erudition of his peers. Asked me to tell my story.

I started Crying then, Crying out of fear and anger and shame. Crying for what I had never had. Through the sobs I managed to choke out a response.

“Nothing” I heaved. “Nothing ever happens to me.”

The pen scratched and scratched, the place becoming safer. Still the floor held the interest of everyone around me.

“I don’t have anything to hate… I have nothing.”

I ran outside then, past the melted paintings and palm trees. Past the receptionist and the double doors leading into the outside world. My hands were feeling for cigarettes I didn’t have, and my heart searched for sorrow that wasn’t there.

I felt so alone.

Story Three

Grant walked outside, following the man who had nothing. He was incredibly calm, filled with all the emotion that came with sitting day after day in a room full of broken men. He found who he was looking for sitting a short distance away on a park bench, crying silent tears for a tragedy that didn’t happen.

Grant sat down next to him and took out a pack of Marlboros. Offered him one.

“I quit”

“No reason to smoke, right” He didn’t answer, just turned away. Grant took out the blade, eight inches of razor sharp steel. Showed it to the man.

“Would you like one” The man’s eyes widened, and hope flashed behind his fear and revulsion.

Grant took of his hat.





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