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“I’m not depressed,” I tell the guy in glasses sitting across from me. I refuse to call him “my therapist” because therapists are supposed to be calming and helpful. I seriously doubt this guy can help me. And he’s definitely not calming. He has a clipboard. “I honestly have no purpose here.” The guy with glasses nods slowly and kind of squints at me.
“Alright,” he says slowly, “tell me more about what you’re feeling.”
“That’s the point!” I yell, “I’m not feeling anything! I’m fine! The only reason I’m here is because my parents feel they’re best decision they ever made was to spend buttloads of money giving me therapy,” I make a point of making air quotes with my hands when I say “therapy”, “just because they don’t want to try to understand me.” The guy with glasses nods again, and I mentally slap him because his slow-nodding is really starting to piss me off.
“Alright, Dylan,” guy with the glasses says, “then why don’t you talk about why your parents sent you here? Put yourself in your parents’ shoes for a moment, imagine you are Dylan’s mother and father.”
I snorted, “Well, first I’d probably say I have a demon child for a son.”
“Good, good...” How is that good? Sometimes, I think the guy with the glasses is only here to get paid and doesn’t really listen to what any of his clients are actually saying.
“I...I said ‘demon child’.” Just to make sure he heard me.
“Yes.” His constantly expressionless face makes me want to punch him in the gut. I’m not violent.
“Well, I just don’t think...never mind.”
“We’re getting off topic, here. Tell me about why your parents sent you here.”
“Someone’s needy...” I mutter under my breath.
“What was that?”
Guy with the glasses hates me. I know it. It’s his face. He is determined to keep his face a blank canvas, making it impossible for anyone to see his utter hatred for the world. Maybe he’s an alien. An alien on a mission to exterminate the human race, starting with his so-called “clients”.
“Listen, Dylan, I’m here for you. Really. I think this whole process will start off smoother if you just tell me your parents’ perspective. Why did they send their son to therapy? What was going on in their heads? What did you do to make them think you needed this?”
“That’s a lot of questions, bro.” I exhale. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to tell this guy my story. If he is an alien, maybe my humanistic story will convince him to not exterminate all Earthlings.
“Alright then, Mr....?” I ask.
“You can call me Josh.” No.
“Alright, Mr. Therapist-Guy. Well...I guess it all started with a haircut.”
I’ve always had sort of long hair, or at least for a guy. My dark brown bangs fell over my left eye most of the time, or at least pretty close to it. My hair is, I don’t know, flippy? It’s not quite straight, but it’s not quite curly. It’s weird. Somehow, my hair has kind of been a source of comfort for me for most of my life. I felt like I could hide behind it and feel however I was feeling.
One day recently, my uncle came to stay with my family and me, I think because he was on some sort of weird, emotional trip across the country and needed places to stay. I do not like my uncle. Ever since I was little, I remember dreading the times when I was forced to see him, because he would always try and make me be someone I’m not.
“You’re pretty quiet, aren’t ya, boy?” he’d ask.
I, being the witty kid I thought I was, would say something along the lines of, “Only around stupid people like you.” Clever, right?
Of course, I’d say it quietly, and my uncle would respond with, “What’s that? Speak up, boy!”
“No,” I’d say quieter.
“Here,” he’d toss me some matches or a stick or something and say, “Go outside and enjoy yourself. Be a boy. You won’t be for long.” I never knew what that meant.
So, when I received the news that he was coming to stay with us, I automatically hid in my room, put my headphones on, and turned the volume way up, cringing at the thought of what was to come. The time between then and the knock on my door seemed way, way too short. They must have knocked pretty loud, because I could hear it through my music. I shrunk behind my hair and turned the volume up higher, before the face of my childhood nightmare invited itself into my room.
“Heya, boy-o! Come out and say hi to your Uncle Patrick!” No, no, no, no, no, I thought. I closed my eyes, hoping that when I opened them, he’d disappear. That didn’t happen. Instead, I felt a huge hand grab my shoulder from where I sat comfortably on the bottom bunk of a bunk bed that I shared with no one, and yank me out into the exposed part of the room, where I could smell his ugly Uncle Patrick stench. I was now taller than him (my lanky self being about six feet tall) but I still felt as small as I always feel around him. My earbuds had fallen out of my ears, so my only escape now was to hide behind my hair, which I proceeded to do, by looking down and shaking my head, so my bangs fell in front of my eyes. Before I knew what was happening, I was being crushed by a huge hunk of meat with a sharp, scruffy chin that scratched my bare upper arm.
“Ha, would ya look at that! The boy is almost taller than me!” he said, finally letting go of me after smacking my back repeatedly. Actually, I was a lot taller than him, but he didn’t seem to notice that.
“Hi, Uncle Patrick.”
“WHAT WAS THAT? The boy is still quiet as ever, Marge!” “Marge” (she goes by Margaret) would be my mother, who is never any help in these situations. Characteristically, she simply chuckled and left the room instead of saving me.
My uncle patted me on the shoulder several times before noting the things he didn’t like about my appearance. “You’re too pale, boy.”
“I’ll work on that.”
“And your hair is too long. We’re gonna need to fix that. Marge! I’m taking him to get his hair cut tomorrow!” HOW ABOUT NO. I don’t care who he thinks he is, it is not time for me to get a haircut, and especially not with him!
“Um, I don’t think I want to get a haircut.”
“Go outside boy, go play. I can’t hear anything you’re saying anyways.”
“I don’t ‘play’. I’m seventeen.”
“Speak up, or go outside!” I frustratedly left my room and went into the backyard, muttering curse words and wondering why I was actually listening to him. And why he was so unbelievably deaf, but only around me. He can even hear when my little sister talks, and she barely talks to anyone who’s not any of her friends.
It was cold outside.
“RISE AND SHINE, BOY!” The top of my head hit the upper bunk above my bed as I jerked out of a cozy sleeping position and into one that was uncomfortable and completely upright (well, except for my head, which was bent to the side as a result of it pushing against the top bunk). Now, wasn’t that a lovely good morning... Patrick laughed boisterously.
“Let’s go, boy-o! We’re gonna go get your hair cut!” I rubbed my left eye, which was open wide from disbelief. My finger touched my wide open eye and I flinched on account of it hurt.
Patrick was now taking it upon himself to go through my clothes and get something for me to wear. He somehow managed to find and lay on the floor the least attractive clothes I own, two items of which were from seventh grade.
“When I come back in here, I better see ya in these, boy! Then we’ll go chop that mop of hair on your head off bit by bit till there’s nothin’ left!” At this point, he laughed in a sort of maniacal way and left the room, not bothering to close my door afterwards. I wondered if there was any hope left of getting out of this one, then knew there wasn’t when I heard my uncle’s loud speech about how they don’t let you keep your hair in the military coming from downstairs. I don’t believe he ever served in the military.
My hair was gone. I stared in the mirror in the guys’ bathroom with wide eyes and an expression of skepticism. I touched the top of my head and ran my hand through the short, silky remains. Nothing to hide behind. Nothing there to provide a one constant in my life when I needed one. Simply a smooth, short sweep of hair that sat atop my head. Had my forehead always been that big? Someone entered the bathroom and I quickly turned on the sink to repeat the act of washing my hands, so it didn’t look like I’d been staring in the mirror this whole time. Which, I had been.
I left the bathroom and headed to my first class, smiling at the thought of who I’d see. Mari. Her name is pronounced like “Marley” as in “Marley and Me”, but without the “l”. She’d made that clear to me when I first met her. Mari was the one person in my life that I felt I could completely be myself around. She never gave me any sense of insecurity, though she made fun of me often. She was the only person who understood me when I talked about my specific needs, such as long hair to hide behind.
As soon as I walked into class, I saw her sitting on top of my desk, leaning over her iPod with earbuds in her ears. Her long, dark blue hair touched her knees that were folded up near her head, which was bobbing up and down slightly, in time to the music I assumed she was listening to. I sat down at my desk, not expecting her to get up. She didn’t. Instead, she looked down at me, her eyes widening at what she saw. She smiled, her mouth dropping open in amusement.
“Okay, hold up,” she said, looking back at her iPod and pausing her music. This was the cue that I was about to get mocked.
“Here we go...” I said, as she put the music player inside her backpack.
“I didn’t know Cousin It has a face!” She laughed.
“Good to see you, too, Mari.”
“Okay, I’m sorry, are we joining the army any time soon?” She shrugged, bringing her hands by her shoulders. “Or did you just read a bunch of Superman comics this weekend and get inspired to copy his hair?”
“Yeeeeaahh...” I knew this would happen.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, you have eyebrows?”
“Hey, look! Teacher!” I pointed at my math teacher who walked up to the whiteboard at the front of the classroom, and pushed Mari off of my desk. She laughed and sat in her seat, which happened to be right behind me.
“No, but I like it,” I heard her say from behind me, “It really brings out your corporate business guy side.”
“Ignoring you now.”
“Why’d you do it?” Mari asked. She looked to her left at me, her eyebrows pushing a bit towards each other to form a somewhat concerned expression. I noticed a small drop of the vanilla ice cream in her ice cream sandwich drip onto the pavement we were sitting on in the Walgreens parking lot. I looked at my identical ice cream sandwich, noticing I’d eaten a lot more than she had.
“Why’d I do what?” I took a large bite of my treat. Mari looked at me with an “Are you stupid?” look on her face.
“Why’d you murder your aunt?” she said sarcastically, before hitting my arm, “Why’d you cut your hair?” I took one last bite of my ice cream sandwich, finishing it, and crumpled the blue wrapper into a little ball. I looked straight ahead of me and shrugged.
“My uncle wanted me to.”
“You shouldn’t have done it.”
“I didn’t really have a choice.” I looked at her again, and the frown on her face was still existent. “It’s not a big deal,” I said casually, “I can handle it.” I mean, it was just hair. It’s not like I suffered a great loss. I hoped.
“It was important. You felt safe with it.” She was starting to make me nervous. I began doubting my previous thought that I could live without my hair. I attempted to change the subject.
“It’s fine. Whatever. How was the concert yesterday?” Luckily, Mari was easily distracted, and I listened to her excitedly rattle off the many exciting events that took place at the show. I touched my hair for what seemed like the millionth time that day. I missed it.
Mari finished her ice cream and we walked back to her house, laughing and discussing the topics we usually discuss. The majority of our conversations went along the lines of:
“Did you apply to any honors courses?”
“I’M NOT A NERD! YOU’RE A NERD!” And so on.
We walked up the short stairs to Mari’s front door and found the door was locked, which it wasn’t when we left. Mari knocked on the door loudly.
“HEY!” she yelled, “Is that you, Felix?” Felix is Mari’s older brother, and he loves her to pieces, but they could not be more different. Mari is a pretty small person, though she makes up for it with her large amounts of confidence. She isn’t extremely popular, but she probably would be if she stopped being around me all the time. She’s super nice, and really funny, and she’s not a typical teenage girl. Felix, however, is 230 pounds of muscle, and has never said more than two words to me. He chooses not to associate himself with me. I’m sure, when he talks, he’s nice, because he’s extremely popular. Everyone at my school either knows him or knows of him. He’s a senior at the school Mari and I attend, and, oh yeah, he’s a football player. Of course.
Felix opened the door with a smile on his face that immediately vanished upon seeing me. Oh, did I not mention he hates me? ...Well, he hates me. I have no idea what I did to him to make him dislike me so much, but whenever I’m around him he always gives me a death glare. As he was doing when he opened the door.
“Thanks, bro!” Mari said, inviting herself in.
“Mhm,” Felix replied. He didn’t take his glaring eyes off me. He stood in the doorway after his sister went inside and stared at me for a while, and I thought I was going to die. I looked down and shook my head, expecting hair to go into my eyes. I cringed. I’d forgotten. I stared at the ground until I heard his footsteps walk away. I looked back up to see an empty doorway.
“Lemonade or Sprite?” Mari asked, her head in the fridge.
“I’m good, thanks,” I answered, walking into the kitchen. I sat on a stepstool by the counter that I assumed Mari had just used to reach something in the cupboard above the counter.
“Sprite, it is.” Mari closed the fridge holding two soda cans. “To my room!”
We sat crisscross applesauce facing each other on her bed, papers, music devices, and snacks separating us.
“Your brother hates me.”
“He does not.” Mari took a sip of Sprite and continued doing her homework. She’d heard me bring this up many times.
“He does! Did you see the way he was looking at me?”
“That was his face.”
“It was a death glare. He hates me. I didn’t even do anything to him! Just because he’s all popular and I’m not, he thinks he’s better than me?” I had no idea where that sentence came from. It was not like me at all to say something like that. “Woah.” I muttered.
“Hey, can you lay off my brother?” Mari looked up from her homework. “He hasn’t done anything to you. I think you’re just mad that you’re not like him and you want to be.”
“I do not want to be like your brother,” I snapped. At this point, something else was controlling my speech. I hate to say, maybe it was...jealousy?
“What’s that supposed to mean?? My brother is awesome, you wish you didn’t want to be like him!” Mari crossed her arms.
“HA! That’s funny, Mari. You’re brother is the last person on my list that I’d wanna take after. God, I’d hate to be your brother.” Mari’s eyes got really wide, and her frown deepened. She shook her head.
“Say that again,” she said in a quiet, but threatening voice.
“I’d hate to be your brother.” I’m sorry, sometimes, I get really immature, okay? Without saying anything, Mari gathered my homework, messily shoved it into my backpack, and marched out of her room, bringing my bag with her. I shook my head and looked downwards.
“Agghhh!” I groaned. My hair was still gone. I covered my face with my hands.
Suddenly, I felt a pair of small hands pull my arms away from my face and pull me out of the room. I was pushed out the door, to find my papers scattered across Mari’s front yard. I stood on the porch, staring in disbelief, before going down the steps to collect my things. I reached for my backpack, when the sprinkler it happened to be under, turned on suddenly. I jumped. My hand and the sleeve of my grey hoodie had gotten wet. I looked at my hand. No backpack. It was still where it had been placed, right under the sprinkler, getting soaked.
“I turned on the sprinkler,” I heard a deep voice say behind me. I turned around to see Felix smiling. “Your backpack looked dirty.” He laughed and entered the house, closing the door behind him.
“Well, f***,” I said to no one.
When I got home that day, I was soaking. And so was my homework. I walked straight into my room, not stopping to greet my uncle, who was lying on our couch, watching football.
“Bout time you got home, boy!”
I slammed my door. I was mad. Mad at everything. Mad at Mari for killing my homework, mad at Felix for hating me, mad at my stupid uncle for taking away my security blanket! I dug my hand into my hair and yelled. When I brought my hand down, I saw it had a tuft of dark brown hair in it. Strangely, it felt satisfying to hold it in my hand. To destroy what my uncle did to me. I did it again. More pieces of hair. I did it again. And again. My head really started to hurt. I did it again. This time, I looked at my hand. Along with hair, it had blood. A little drop of blood on my index finger. I felt my head, wincing as I went over the patches I’d pulled out. It hurt. A lot.
I ran out of my room and into the bathroom across the hall. I locked the door and looked in the mirror. It was then that I realized I really am a messed up kid.
The next morning I went to school wearing my Neff beanie to hide what I’d done. I felt so stupid. I felt like there was something wrong with me that couldn’t be fixed. I felt like an old, broken toy.
I saw Mari’s long blue hair in the distance. She turned, saw me, and began walking towards me. I didn’t know what to do. Were we still fighting? Should I say hi? Would she say hi?
“Hi.” She waved. That answered that question. She walked closer to me and smiled. I put my hands in my pockets and began walking closer to her.
“Like your beanie,” she said, once we were together.
“Thanks.” I nodded and bit my lip. Mari smiled.
“I’m sorry about yesterday. I overreacted. And I’m really sorry Felix turned the water on.” She looked behind me at my backpack. “Still soaking?”
I shrugged. “Damp.” She nodded.
“I’m sorry too,” I blurted out. “It wasn’t my place to talk about your brother like that. I don’t know what happened there.” Mari smiled brightly for the first time that morning.
“It’s cool. So we’re friends again?” She held her right hand out towards me. I took it in mine.
“Yep.” We shook hands in a very end-of-interview type manner. Then Felix came.
His crew of his three best friends walked behind him as he approached us. He hugged Mari from behind, surprising her.
“Hey, little sis,” he said. She pulled his arms off her and pointed at me.
“Apologize,” she ordered. I did not like this.
“It’s cool. I’m okay. You don’t have to apologize.”
“Yes, you do.” Sometimes, Mari just can’t take a hint.
“Alright, alright,” Felix said, “I apologize, uh, Logan?”
“His name is Dylan.” Mari hit her brother on the shoulder.
“It’s okay. Logan’s cool.” At this point, Felix’s friend came towards me and sort of circled me, reminding me of a vulture.
“Nice hat,” he said, “Can I try it on?” You know where this is going. I’ll save you the painful details. Basically, everyone now knew, or knew some version, of the story of how I was that one kid who pulled his own hair out. I was the freak. And I could handle the rumors and names for the most part, but the thing that killed me was the expression of horror, confusion, pity, and guilt all mixed into one that sprung onto Mari’s face once my hat was off. I ran home from there.
I was cursed with the torture that was going to school the next day. Of course, I wore my beanie. I walked down the hall, enduring people pointing and whispering, to my first class, which happened to be math with Mari. I walked into the classroom, only to hear even more whispering. Mari looked up from her seat behind mine and smiled. It was a pity smile.
“F***,” I muttered.
“Hey.” Mari looked at me, and now even the pity smile was gone.
“I have to tell you something. You’re not gonna like it.” Figures.
“Is it that I didn’t win the lottery? Dammit, that was like my 17th try. I think I’ll have to give up.”
“Hey, only losers quit. You want that jackpot, you go buy another scratcher.” I smiled. It was nice to have Mari back, even if it was only for a short while, which it was. She immediately turned back into stranger Mari. “Anyways, Felix doesn’t really...” she scratched the back of her head, “He thinks it’d be best if...” she squinted, “And he kind of convinced my mom that...I shouldn’t...necessarily,” she exhaled. “They don’t want me hanging out with you anymore.” There it was. I’d hit rock bottom. Mari told me she couldn’t be friends with me anymore. She was the only thing I had left. “But, hey, we can still hang out in class, just not anywhere else, or Felix will see.” I turned around in my seat and stared at the blank whiteboard.
By the end of class, I’d put on a good enough show to appear normal. I guess Mari somehow accepted the fact that I was okay with only being her friend in class. We did work and laughed for the rest of the block and to the untrained eye, it would look like our friendship was the same as it had always been.
When class ended I gathered my things and walked to the door. When Mari was behind me, I slowed down. She laughed and pushed me.
“Hurry up!” I slowed down even further, partially in contradiction to what she was telling me to do, and partially because I knew the moment I stepped out of the classroom door, I’d be miserable.
“No offense,” the guy with glasses says, interrupting me, “but doesn’t that make it obvious why you’re here? You’re clearly having emotional issues.”
“No offense,” I repeated, “but I’m not at the part that explains why I’m here yet. I wasn’t experiencing any emotions here, actually.”
“Well can you get to that part, then?” What kind of therapist asks that? For a patient to hurry up with their story? That’s horrible!
“Calm your nips! Someone’s impatient!” I roll my eyes, probably appearing more childish than I attempted to be. “Sorry. That was immature,” I mutter. “What I’m trying to say,” I look up at his expressionless face, “is that I told you everything for a reason. I was getting to the part about why I’m here.”
Guy with the glasses blinks a couple of times, before slowly sitting back in his chair. He crosses his legs and put his clipboard on his lap.
I was flipping out. I can’t quite describe exactly what was happening to me, but I can say I was panicking. It’s happened to me before. I panic a lot and get sort of shaky. I start breathing quickly and heavily and I can’t stop, and I can’t think about anything except the fact that something is wrong.
Nobody was home, which was good because my family thought my panic attacks stopped when I was in sixth grade. Little did they know, that was simply the age I began to hide my panic attacks from them. I suppose I got pretty good at it, because now, if I’m around my family and start to get a panic attack, they don’t notice a thing. I don’t know how I do it, seeing as every time it actually feels like there are bombs in my body, but I manage to do it. I don’t want to worry them.
Because no one was home, I let my attack control me. I remember shrinking into practically every corner of the house and crying there because everything in the world was wrong and nothing could be fixed. I’m not proud of it; when the attacks come I become a three-year-old terrified by a serial killer that’s in the house chasing me. Everywhere I go, he just keeps chasing and chasing.
I remembered going to a bunch of doctors when I was younger to be “examined”. A lot of them told me I should close my eyes when I’m having an attack, and imagine a peaceful place. Ever heard someone use the phrase “happy place” ironically? Yeah, not supposed to be ironic for me.
I shut my eyes really tight, involuntarily whimpering a little and shaking. I tried my best to imagine a place where there were no problems. No war, no hunger, no insecurities. It was a field. A field with grass that was dark blue and tall trees. There were streams and little houses, and everyone in the world was there. There were no problems.
Mari was there. Her hair matched the grass. She stood there, barefoot in a stream, a huge smile on her face. She was beautiful. She waved and called me over, though I couldn’t hear exactly what she said, because her voice sounded like it was muffled by cotton. I began walking towards her, when suddenly, everything turned red. People were melting, babies were crying, bombs were going off in the air. I tried to scream, but my voice was muffled too. In fact, something was covering my mouth. I couldn’t breath. I saw Mari slowly melting into the stream. Her mouth formed the word “help”.
I opened my eyes and ran. I ran from the bombs, from the red, from the melting people, from the serial killer. Chasing me, chasing me, chasing me. I found myself in the kitchen. I had no control over anything. I pushed plates off the counter. They broke with a crash. I think I tasted blood. I spotted something shiny out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see what it was. It was a big knife. Somehow, in this moment, that knife was the most compelling thing in the world. In a sort of trance, I walked over to it and picked it up. I slowly raised it to my throat. With one swift movement, everything could end. All the horribleness in me could go away. All it took was this knife and a flick of the wrist...
“Dylan.” I recognized that voice. It was Mari’s voice. “Dylan. It doesn’t make sense. What you’re doing.” I took a breath. Finally. “It won’t end things. It’ll only make it worse.” She was there now. In front of me. Looking up at me. “Trust me.” She reached a delicate hand up and slowly brought the hand that held the knife down. I blinked. She took the knife out of my hand and set it on the counter, before leading me into my room. I followed her. It was the only thing my body could do. She sat me down on my bed, while she remained standing up. I shook my head and looked down. No hair. She sat next to me on my bed and wrapped her arms around me. I breathed.
“She was coming to apologize to me,” I explain to the therapist. “For not hanging out with me just because someone told her so. And because she doubted how mean Felix was to me.” Sitting here, in this office, listening to myself speak is strangely horrifying. I suppose my parents did have a good reason to send me to therapy. I almost killed myself, for crying out loud. “So, that happened.” I say, sitting back in my chair. “That’s my story. What do ya think, Mr. Josh? Am I a nutcase?” He laughs.
“No. You’re not a nutcase. But I will be seeing you next week.” I nod.
“Fair enough. There’s really more to me than the crazy depression stories. I tell really good jokes. And I can make a mean Pop-Tart.” He chuckles again.
“Tell me a joke.”
“Hm...okay, what’s green, and round, and has four wheels?”
“A turtle. I lied about the wheels.” Mr. Josh rests his face in his hand.
“That was terrible.”
I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. It’s a text from Mari, along with a picture.
LOOK. I AM STANDING IN A FREAKING RIVER. DID YOU KNOW THERES ONE HELLA CLOSE TO OUR HOUSE? ILL SHOW YOU LATER. REMIND ME.
I smile. Things could be shaping up from here.