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Separation Anxiety MAG
I sat and stared at her as she fiddled with the top of her pen until finally the cap snapped in half and the pieces skittered across the floor. Mom was always nervous like that, especially in places like this. She’s hated hospitals ever since I can remember. “They stress me out,” she always said.
And now, sitting in a tiny waiting room in the emergency room, her ability to suppress her stress was being pushed to its limits. She picked up her purse and, after struggling with it for a moment, finally produced a new pen with Marriott scrawled on it in royal blue. We had been sitting in silence for hours, and each time a nurse came to take my blood pressure and heart rate, she would look away. We hadn’t been getting along all week, and this scene only made it worse. After waiting for hours for the door to open, it finally did.
“Hello,” said a woman with fitted khakis peeking out below her white doctor’s coat. “I’m Dr. Hart. It’s very nice to meet you.” She put her clipboard between her arm and her hip to shake hands with me and my mother.
“You too,” Mom said, respectfully. After introductions, Dr. Hart asked Mom to leave, saying she needed to have a chat with me.
The room was the size of a large walk-in closet, and sparsely furnished. The walls were bright white, with one non-controversial landscape painting hanging on the back wall. Facing the door was a small, stiff couch that I had been sitting on for approximately three hours. The fabric was rough to match the obvious tone of discomfort in the room. Mom had been sitting in an equally uncomfortable armchair. The most color in this tiny cell was the red of the four panic buttons that adorned each wall.
The smell of sickness and cleanliness in this hospital made me want to gag, so every once in a while I would breathe into my sleeve. Now, sitting in an
armchair opposite me, Dr. Hart removed her glasses, focusing on me. “So, being an ER doctor, I don’t like to waste time. Let’s get right to it. This is the second attempted suicide, right?”
I looked down, focusing on my feet. Why am I here? I wondered. Why on earth am I here? She continued questioning me about almost everything, until she got an answer she liked. A breakthrough, I think she called it. It took me a minute to figure out what it was. Then I got it. She had found a key to me. Until then I had been hard to break, and reluctant to give answers. I didn’t know her; what right did she have to poke around at the things in my life that I had locked away? I felt like she was harassing me. But it was too late. I watched her as she formulated more questions.
“So, your parents are divorced?”
“Yes,” I still would not meet her eyes.
“Look, I think that this event plays a really significant role in your depression. Would you do me a favor? One that will really help you out?” The armchair squeaked as she shifted.
“What is it?” Enlighten me, I thought.
“Think back to your parent’s divorce. Think about the time before, the time during, and the time after. Really go back.” I mused on this as she spoke. Each word seemed like an increasingly more difficult task, each letter screamed at me just to try.
“Alright,” I said, finally meeting her gaze.
“Alright,” she smiled, probably thinking what a good doctor she was to crack someone like me.
I guess there have been times when people have made me think about my parents’ divorce, but only in that tiny room with Dr. Hart did I really think how it had affected me. This was my chance to get it out and let it go.
“I don’t really know where to start,” I said.
“How about the beginning,” she put her glasses back on and picked up her pen. She kept it poised right above the paper, and I could feel her waiting for me to say something she could write.
“Well, I was born in France, in a little village. Everyone knew everyone there, and it was impossible to go anywhere without seeing someone who’s known you your entire life. Our house was a renovated pharmacy. It had five floors, and the top was a huge room with floor-to-ceiling drawers. My parents fought a lot, and I mean really a lot. I was not even six years old, but still, I would stand there while they fought and I’d cry and scream for them to stop. When it got violent, I’d run upstairs and hide in one of those large drawers. I hid in a different one each time so that when they came looking for me, it would take them forever to find me.”
“So what did that instill in you?” asked Dr. Hart, not looking up from her clipboard.
“Well, I guess I run away from my problems, and I suppose try to, um ... end things ... to me, the ultimate way to run away.”
Dr. Hart smiled and nodded as though she were thinking, She’s finally getting it. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Go on.”
I paused, reveling in the amazing feeling of getting somewhere. It was like being underground in a deep, deep hole and then finally someone sticks in her hand and starts to pull you out.
“Sometimes I would sing and dance and tell stupid jokes to lighten the mood. It worked at times. Other times I would still need to run away. I don’t remember the day they got divorced very clearly. It kind of comes in these flashes of images. I remember Mom packing two suitcases and crying. The next thing I remember is flying to America with her. We each had one suitcase, $lsquo;Just enough to get us started,’ Mom had said. I remember showing up on my grandpa’s doorstep and the look on his face. We lived with him for a long time, until Mom saved enough money to get our own place.”
“That’s quite an experience,” Dr. Hart continued to write, but I didn’t care. Any other time this would have made me mad, but today I was letting go of things I needed to let go of. I didn’t care if she was really listening.
“Thinking about it now, I bet it was hard for her to get out of that relationship. I can’t imagine leaving everything I’ve worked for behind to build a better life. I guess she deserves a lot of ...” Tears wet my cheeks as these words came out of me. It was all true. My entire life I had blamed my mother for leaving my father and taking me with her. How selfish had I been? Our fights seemed so selfish. I had yelled at her just the day before, saying, “This never would have happened if we were still in France!”
“Respect.” I fell silent again, feeling peace settle over me, washing away so much resentment and anger. These were feelings that had twice driven me too close to the end of my life.
When Mom came back into the room, I hugged her. We stood like that, crying.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. No other time had I breathed those simple words and meant it so much. Mom could tell, because she said it too.
Walking out of that room, I knew something in me had clicked. Just like the look on Dr. Hart’s face as I spoke, I knew I was finally getting it. My parents’ divorce was not our family’s demise - it was a new beginning. I had always thought of their divorce as a big question with no answer. It hung over my head like a dark cloud for years. But now, I know there was no question; there was no answer. It had been an experience that I needed to accept for what it was - and move on.