:: Article

Things to Tell a Therapist at the First Appointment

By Anna McCormally.

Laure’s earliest memory is the hot Carolina sun streaming through glass that’s smudged where she had her nose pressed up against it. Summer is outside in the trees and the leaves look very big because when you’re four everything looks very big. She is looking at the driveway and her mother is getting into her van, the shiny blue glinting in the sunlight. Her brother is already in the passengers seat and he is wearing his soccer uniform. Her mother is waving goodbye, and the van is going, going, gone. She starts to scream. They’re gone, gone, gone. Hot tears are streaming and she can’t see or move or think. Strong arms scoop her up and her father’s face is concerned, he is stroking her hair. She can’t remember what he said but she remembers saying, or maybe thinking, or maybe it’s just in the memory that she is giving herself this voice: “I thought I was all by myself.” She remembers the humiliation the tears brought, and the heat of embarrassment on her face mixed with the heat of the sun.

When Laure is seven, her father remarries. At first, Laure tries her hardest to be stiff and unyielding as Tara, the tanned and athletic bride, wraps her slender sinewy arms around her, saying, “You and I are just going to have so much fun!” Laure wants to be loyal to her mother, who seems hard and wrinkled next to this glamorous woman, but Tara is blonde and wearing a t-shirt with PRINCESS spelled out in rhinestones and big hoop earrings like the ones Laure wants but isn’t allowed to have. Then Tara brings out the junior bridesmaid dress she has bought in Laure’s size and Laure falls in love: the dress is white and lacy with a huge tulle underskirt and a bodice covered in silk rosettes, and there are shoes and a tiara that match, and Tara tells her she will carry a tiny bouquet that is a miniature version of the one that she, Tara, will carry. By the time her mother comes in the blue van to pick her up and take her home, Laure is converted. She is allowed to wear the bridesmaid dress home and carefully buckles her seatbelt over the huge skirt. It is a twenty-minute drive across town and her mother frowns the whole way, slamming on the brakes at every red light, angrily flipping through the stations on the radio, never saying a word. When she gets out of the car at home and comes around to get her purse from Laure’s side, she vehemently slams the door shut too soon and catches Laure’s finger. She swears and Laure screams and blood pours out and the prim white flowers of the bridesmaid dress are turned, in the car on the way to the hospital, into blood red roses. Laure cries, not form the pain but from worrying about what Tara will say.

Laure is nine, and asks her father and stepmother to pay to send her to summer camp. They do, and she is ecstatic up until it is June, and time to pack to leave. When she gets there, she will be unsure as to why she thought she wanted to spend two weeks in a creaky cabin in the woods and sleep every night in a smelly sleeping bag and swim in a lagoon that is filled with goose poop. She has never been that kind of child, and summer camp means nothing, it seems to Laure once she is there, but two weeks of loneliness—nothing like the scenes of the camp in The Parent Trap, which is what she had been imagining. On the first tearful, sleepless night in a cabin that shakes in the wind with four cabin mates who are all stick thin and look at her disapprovingly (she is the chubby fifth wheel of the group, her hiking boots not even broken in, a fact that will result in painful blisters that her counselors will cover with duct tape in the rain while she is silent with misery) Laure is banking on breaking an ankle and getting to go home early. The next day while the other girls are canoeing on the lagoon Laure spends a good twenty minutes contemplating ways to achieve this, and relishes the misery.

The summer she is fifteen, Laure smokes her first joint with Johnny, who is on the swim team with her. Nothing happens except that she doesn’t get high and tries to pretend that she did while secretly wishing they weren’t sitting in scratchy brown grass that is giving her red welts all over her legs. She plays it cool while Johnny puts his tongue in her mouth and his hand inside her shirt, trying to enjoy the importance of her first kiss — but when she gets home she is shivering, brushes her teeth three times and runs a hot bath, staying in until the water runs cold and her mother sticks her head in the bathroom door, saying, “I thought maybe you’d drowned!”

It’s Friday night, her first weekend in college. Against her better judgment she goes with a boy, blonde and muscular and older, to his room in the basement of a moldy dorm, and he pours her a shot of something clear. She is eighteen and has never had more than a glass of wine before but she is confident in her naivety and eager to please: she downs it without smelling it and has to turn away so he doesn’t see her choke, or wipe at her watery eyes or gulp down the acid that has leapt up to her throat. The comfort zone is miles and miles away but she doesn’t feel anything except mildly sick and that fades quickly enough, so when he’s taken his shot and offers her another one she shrugs and takes it. Still nothing, but then she takes the third and it’s been all of five minutes since they got to the room and all of a sudden she can’t see. In fact, she can barely open her eyes and she is thinking oh, shit, I’m drunk.

He says, suddenly, “Ask me anything,”

For some reason, Laure laughs. “Don’t laugh,” he says, and suddenly his beautiful face contracts and he goes on: “I mean it, ask me anything.”

“Like what?” she giggles.

“Anything,” he says. He cracks open a beer and takes a long drink. “I’ve had a rough life. Ask me if I’ve done cocaine.”

The room is spinning from the alcohol and the absurdity of the situation, neither of which, it seems, could exist without the other. “Okay,” she says. “Have you done cocaine?”

“Yes,” he says. “Ask me if I’ve sold drugs.”

“Have you sold drugs?” she asks.

“Yes,” he says, and now he’s angry, she can tell, but she doesn’t know why and it occurs to her for the first time that he’s drunk too, that he’s had much more to drink than she has. “Ask better questions. Ask if I’ve given a man a blowjob for heroin. Ask me if I’ve been to jail. Ask me if I’ve been raped.”

She doesn’t know what he’s talking about, doesn’t know why it all seems so funny. “Have you been raped?” she asks. She can barely hear her own words.

He stands up suddenly, slams the beer down on his dresser. “Don’t fucking ask me that,” he says, and looks away from her.

The strange thing, she realizes later, is this: because after ten minutes he looked at her again, and because he kissed her before she left, because she didn’t spend it by herself—for all of these reasons, she considers this night to be a success.

Later that semester, in an attempt recreate that exhilarating spontaneity, Laure decides to get a tattoo; rather, she decides she wants to be the kind of person who gets a tattoo on a whim. She and her roommate drive into the city and when she sees the needle she almost changes her mind but pride makes her lay down on the table and pull up her shirt and squeeze her roommate’s hand while a balding semi-professional lays into the small of her back with a needle the size of a—but she can’t think about it. She squeezes her eyes shut but when the guy turns away to get something she makes the mistake of craning her head back and looking at the reflection of the tattoo in the mirror—the half-finished half-moon and stars, smeared ink and blood, her body scarred forever in this intentional way. Her head spins. “What do you think?” the guy leers, and lays in to her with the needle without waiting for an answer.

Anna McCormally recently graduated from Earlham College and lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Her work has been published previously in the Crucible and The Blue Route.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, August 21st, 2012.