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noun, plural ther•a•pies
the treatment of disease or disorders, as by some remedial, rehabilitating, or curative process
Dr. Rashmi Kapoor could have been consulting with a woman whose family empire had filed for bankruptcy or a six-year-old with an affinity for unstable imaginary friends. Instead, she had been "promoted" to group fear therapy. Because that was her greatest dream in life: to work with six adults who could vote and purchase lottery tickets, but shuddered and shrieked at the sight of otters (lutraphobia) or symmetry (symmetrophobia).
Her eyes had obtained that dry, sunken quality that comes with spending hours on an airplane, or in her case, achieving a grand total of half an hour's sleep. Rashmi folded her arms over her head, careful to preserve her expensive hairdo, and listened to the mechanical footsteps of the clock hands as they marched up towards 4:00.
Rashmi had no idea how to approach these people. She had submersed herself into medical books that weighed half as much as she did, clicked on dozens of unreliable web pages, and sobbed on the phone to her mother over frozen cookie dough at three in the morning.
What if the patients didn't talk to her, and she was forced to poke holes in the awkward silence with ignorant accusations and questions about their childhoods, and they decided to report her for her idiocy, and she was fired? What if they asked her questions or provided her with heartfelt answers laced with childhood trauma, and expected her to evaluate their existence? They would see through her like she was a marionette on thin silver strings, and then they would still leave.
The minute hand continued its pilgrimage to four p.m.
Rashmi joined the walk, pacing miles in circles around the beige office, strolling past informational pamphlets and weaving through the metal folding chairs. She had requested more comfortable furniture, but had been informed patronizingly that that might frighten some of the patients.
In as many moments as there were stars sprinkling the night sky, Rashmi hated her job.
There was a harsh rap at the door.
noun, plural bib-li-o-phobes
a person who hates, fears, or distrusts books.
Philippa wasn’t afraid of books.
She had just a mild discomfort. A vexation, a little malaise.
That wasn’t enough to go to therapy. Her mother, and her parole officer, thought that the incident two weeks prior was a golden ticket to this squat, nondescript gray edifice that slouched in the lot across from the grocery store. This morning had been a scourge, beginning with burnt toast and a meeting with her formidable parole officer, She and her mother had argued a sum of eleven times, and finally, Philippa had been wrestled into the car by her older brother. She and her mother were still bickering as the Volvo jolted across the interstate; right now, her mother was berating her for her extensive vocabulary.
“You’re so afraid of books, and yet you sound like you’ve swallowed a freaking thesaurus.” Philippa’s mother shook her head, tossing her flaxen curls.
"I'm not afraid," Philippa had retorted. That was counterfactual, but she would never admit that to her mother. Especially not after what she had done. The...the...disquietude with books might have originated when her parents decided to teach her to read as soon as she could utter a single syllable.
Or possibly because when she was seven she had been locked in a library over night and had broken into the thriller novel selection.
Since then, she couldn’t spare a glance at a hardcover or paperback without shuddering. Her grades had taken a lumbering swan-dive.
Her mother also took to bringing Philippa to the library to study for the one or two classes that she had a passing grade in.
This was a mistake.
Philippa had taken no more than a dozen steps toward the impregnable stacks when she was hit with a wall of panic like scorching cement.
She had spun around and around, searching for a place with no books, without volumes or textbooks or paragraphs or words. She, running from horror about to engulf her, approached a smoker-type and asked for their lighter. She was only given a puzzled look, and she set about her business setting fire to shelves of books. She was so dazed and scared, and just kept burning and burning this sacred property. She hadn’t noticed that people were yelling, or that the smoke was infiltrating her lungs. All she had felt was pure relief, like she had saved the world.
But apparently, she hadn't. Far from it. According to her parole officer, she had "saved herself".
That was, if saving herself meant dragging her muddy pink flip-flops up seven floors to Dr. Rashmi Kapoor, PhD’s office at 3:57 on Monday afternoon, and knocking firmly on the stark alabaster door.
An irrational fear of adolescent people.
“You’re afraid of teenagers?” Abel Bixby’s fiancée had scoffed.
He shrugged, then nodded reluctantly.
“I’m terrified of them, Louise.”
“Terrified.” she repeated flatly.
Abel bobbled his head once again. He was glad they were at a stage in their relationship where he could finally tell her this: his greatest mystery; an explanation to why he always cringed in anticipation of the local movie theater, why he flinched at the mention of his own adolescent nephews.
“So, you’re going to be terrified of our children when they’re teenagers, then? You’re going to scream in the presence of a thirteenth birthday card for your own son or daughter?” Louise’s face was scrunched and scarlet; she looked disgusted.
“You...you’re...? We’re...?” Abel stuttered. He could not, would not be a father.
Louise let out a brittle snap of laughter.
“No. Definitely not now, anyway.”
Abel twisted his eyebrows into elaborate forms and shrugged, at a complete loss for words.
Two days later, Louise shrugged as she loaded her suitcases into the elevator. She didn’t walk back through the front door.
Abel had wanted to call her back, to apologize, to lament and beg, crying that he would let go of his fear, just for her, just like that.
But it would never be just like that.
His singular option was to seek out therapy. This was a fear he needed to get over; he was a 42-year-old, 6’4 Danish man, he could not be afraid of some pimply, gangly, awkward young adults.
But some of them were just so awful. For example, those who frequented his previous school in Queens. They had terrorized him: one day while he was out at lunch, someone had ripped up all of his lesson plans, and planted marijuana in his desk.
That was the last day he had ever taught.
Since then, he regarded teenagers as ticking time-bombs, so volatile with hormones and knowledge and excitement that they couldn’t help but burst, destroying everything around them.
Abel had no desire to get caught in that fray, that explosion that was so magnificently inevitable.
Now, he climbed into his motorbike and set out to change himself.
He recalled, as he carried his loafers up the carpeted stairs to the therapist’s office, the instant when he drove past group of adolescent boys at midnight, how they had slurred at each other as though they were so caught up in ruining themselves, they couldn’t even speak correctly.
He knocked on the office door, and as he greeted the young Indian woman, his eye caught on the person behind the doctor.
A girl with yellow hair hardly out of her adolescent years.
Abel Bixby felt the color drain from his face.
Noun, plural phi•lo•phobia
A fear of love, falling in love.
Noah hadn’t told his dad that he was going to a therapist.
He wasn’t going to. He would tell him that he was spending the money on a basketball game, something they used to do together.
Remember that, Dad?
It was wrong. You couldn’t be scared of love. It was the best thing imaginable, wasn’t it?
It was in every movie he watched, every song on the radio, every book in the library.
That was a slight exaggeration, but love, to Noah, was everywhere. It lurked in the corners of the hallways at school, in the sky filled with miniscule people travelling to see each other, in the wild savannah as families fed each other.
He couldn’t escape it, and it felt like he was being eaten alive from the inside. He was so petrified that someone would look at him differently, see him through a pink-red lens and hold him up on some pedestal as someone they loved, cherished, admired.
He realized this was a problem when he was younger, and he would cry if a girl winked at him or complemented his shirt, worried they would want to get married and he would have to make someone happy forever.
Noah thought about his parents as he rode across town to his therapy appointment on his rusty red bicycle. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but his fear might have been their fault.
They had been desperately, frantically in love, clinging to each other when they were together, worried that they would never see each other again. This had seemed ridiculous to five-year-old Noah; they were one person, a package deal.
Then his mom was deported back to Poland. Noah watched his father fall deeper and deeper down into himself, and two years ago he had been checked into a psychiatric hospital.
The door to the therapist’s office swung open seconds after he knocked, and Noah padded over to an open folding chair after greeting the therapist and filling out a form.
He looked up into the sideways glance of a girl with hair the hue of honey left out in the afternoon sunshine.
Her mouth quirked up at the side facing him, and she stuck out a freckled hand.
“I’m Philippa. Apparently afraid of books. Nice to meet you.” she beamed, like she had won a contest just from looking at him.
Noah might have said his name, but he couldn’t hear himself over the electric thrum that had overtaken his heart.
Across from Philippa, a middle-aged man with white-blond hair stared at them in horror.
Noun, plural xan•tho•phobias
(rare) An aversion to yellow light.
He didn’t actually like death metal.
It was often too loud, and generally, the mascots creeped Reese out.
As his grandmother would say, he had fallen in with the wrong crowd, and needed to get out before all of the sheep became wolves. This saying was tainted by the fact that Reese had recently acquired a wolf tattoo on his arm.
Reese, as he stood among the wailing, thrashing crowd, felt desperately out of place and felt gravitational pull towards his bed, some tea, and the fifth season of Lost.
He liked to think it was all a misjudgment of character. When, around eighth grade, he began to cry and tremor at the color of dandelions and experienced some later unease to all other colors of the rainbow, he had to quickly adapt; changing to an all-black wardrobe and staying perpetually inside.
It quickly escalated when in high-school, the goth crowd claimed him as one of their own, and in a matter of years and fake identification, his body was made a canvas of piercings and tattoos.
His mother was not shy with her shame and disapproval of this, but Reese hated it far more than her.
While his fellow classmates were sneaking away from their parents in the thick darkness of midnight, Reese was sneaking away from his rebel-against-the-man “friends”, whose idea of fun was to smoke and vandalize elementary school playgrounds, to do community service.
At his last death-metal experience, in which the band threw fake blood at the crowd, Reese decided he was done with this lifestyle, with this appearance, with this fear.
He was brave enough to get sixteen tattoos and lie to a gang of wannabe felons; he could conquer the skin-crawling and lung-strangling sensations.
And yet, a wall of saltwater surged up into his eyes when the canary-colored cardigan of the therapist came into view.
noun, plural oph•thal•mo•phobias
the fear of being stared at
She entered at 4:34
Everyone’s head snapped towards her
They looked at her like she was prey
One two three four five six seven pairs of eyes
840,000,000 rods 7,000,000 cones
They all looked at her
They were staring her down
They judged and pondered and saw her every flaw and looked into her deepest parts
Blue and black and grey and brown and hazel irises
She was wrong why else would they look at her like that
She needed to leave
noun, plural nu•mero•pho•bias
A fear of numbers or considerable distress when having to use them.
Leo Morgan, age...
Had been one semester away from graduating MIT.
This was what he told everyone he met, “Why yes, I did go to MIT, I am aware I’m a genius.”
“How does a refugee from Sudan graduate at the top of his class?” they would ask.
He would shake his head modestly and chuckle. It’s not like he would actually know.
Leo was a genius, though; he had passed the Mensa test, which was child’s play at MIT.
He knew science and biology as though he himself had written the laws of physics and thermodynamics, had discovered the Galapagos Islands and penned the Origin of Species.
To graduate MIT, occasionally you had to glimpse numbers for at least a fraction of a second. This was not something Leo could manifest out of his array of skills.
Any figures, characters, sums, totals, statistics, or digits would send a flash flood to Leo’s palms, and replace his heart with a woodpecker.
Leo had faked it, telling the others that he had simply eaten something bad for lunch, but there was only so many times you could use that as an excuse until someone recommend that you see a gastroenterologist.
During his final exam in his senior year, he had a hideous breakdown. There were too many numbers and Leo couldn’t see or think; they were blocking his view and taking up residence in his brain, and Leo’s method of getting the numbers out may or may not have been hitting himself in the head with a textbook repeatedly. He had gone home permanently that winter break, and had not returned to the vast modern structure in Cambridge.
He took a cab to the short, metallic building that the therapist's office was in, and arrived as a woman peeled frantically out of the parking lot, swinging her head wildly to look all around her, possibly to make sure no one was watching her.
When Leo trotted up the stairs and tapped on the door with his knuckles, it was promptly answered by a woman who looked to be about 15 years old. He flashed her a wolfish smile and looked at the exasperated occupants of the room, and then at the clock. He was over an hour late.
“So sorry,” he announced to both the therapist and the five others. “I don’t own a watch.”
Rashmi Kapoor was not prepared for the five patients whom she would get to know frighteningly well in the next hour. There were two moon-eyed eighteen-year olds, glancing shyly back and forth at one another, and the Vikingly man sandwiched between them, looking close to fainting. There was a man decorated in the fashion of a New York City subway station, and a man the color of ground coffee sitting a little too close to her, but she didn’t mind. Imogen Weller, the middle aged woman who was-- Rashmi looked down at her clipboard--phobic of people staring at her, had sprinted out of the building after sitting for about seventeen seconds. There were 57 minutes until she could go home and eat rocky road ice cream straight from the carton.
“So,” Rashmi turned to the group, “Who wants to start?”