“Career Counseling Services; how can I help you?”
“Hello... I would like to make an appointment for next week,” she spoke, all in one breath, as if she were a stage-frozen actor reciting his lines for the first time in front of an audience.
“We’re actually really booked... Can I put you on hold while I check for appointments?” The other voice was soft and also belonged to an actor, but one who was better-prepared and did not have as much at stake as she did.
After answering, her hands began to shake. At first a twitch, sudden and something uncontrollable. Her thoughts started coming loose, stars falling with sparks from the ceiling. ‘What if I can’t get an appointment and I have to go through this alone, without even knowing if it is what’s wrong with me? Am I bad enough to be considered crisis?—No. People are worse. Others want to hurt themselves, and I don’t want that. I don’t even think of that... But I still have the same need to know what’s wrong so I can start getting better. I don’t know. What if there is nothing wrong with me and they turn me away, tell me I’m just lazy, and a waste of a human being?’
The classical music started to fade and she tried to regain her composure.
“Career Counseling Services; how can I help you?” It was a new voice.
“Hi... I would like to make an appointment for next week.”
“Well... we are actually really booked. We keep one to two appointments open everyday for emergency and crisis cases; would you consider yourself to be one of these and need immediate attention?”
“No...t at this point.” ‘Not at this point?’ she thought. “Not at this point? The correct answer should have been no...’
“Okay then. Hold on a minute... Oh wow. We just had a spot open up. On Monday. Can you tell us why you called today?”
Tears welled up at the back of her throat. “I think I have seasonal affective disorder. I sleep all the time, to the point where I can’t go to class...”
The lady on the other end of the line cut her off by repeating the words. She lingered over the word “affective”.
“The appointment, amazingly, is Monday, the 8th at 1 pm. Someone must have cancelled right before you called. Can you make this appointment? If not, we’re going to have to put you on a waitlist.”
There were different tears this time, of desperation. “Yes. I can make it.”
She gave the operator her information, and the operator explained the office procedures. Come 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork, have your ID with you... It all built up alongside the walls of her mind. She had bigger things to deal with, such as the burning stars now burning at the bottom of her mind, preventing her from thinking about much else.
When she hung up the phone, she started shaking and crying again. It should not have been this hard for her to schedule an appointment. She didn’t know if she had anything wrong with her, but she started to think that maybe her condition was worse than she had originally thought. Upon hearing the words “not at this point”, she found herself believing them.
It wasn’t a cold day, only cold enough to make her ears and nose hurt. She had a destination in mind: food, but instead of taking the long way there, she went out of her way to walk around the part of campus where she lived. It was slightly depressing, because it was the end of fall and most of the trees lay barren and bracing themselves for frozen winter. It was the season that affected her most: probably because it came on the heels of her favorite season, but lately there was a great suspicion that there was more going on. The yellow canopy was now gone, and when it had fallen, she had nothing to look towards to. The leaves were wet and cemented to the sidewalk; it had not been a good fall, for it had been extremely moist. She didn’t mind rain: in fact, she loved it, but it had not rained... only been damp for weeks on end, never freeing up the dead leaves from their tomb.
Not once had she even frolicked through them; she had only scuffled her feet through the small piles that had formed on the asphalt paths. They always left bits of themselves on her shoe.
Though she was alone, people were looking. She kept her eyes glued to the pavement, only moving her head to look at the people she passed for a brief moment. A genuine sadness set in, and she really had no reason to smile, but not reason not to either. It was a winter coldness that is not worth continuing through, but at the same time, not harsh enough to kill.
It was a pretty town. The past week had dragged on forever, and the only recessance that it had been a full week, other than the calendar days, were the sounds of trains that came in on the other side of town. It used to be a rare occurrence, at 4 or 5 in the morning when most people were settled. Her insomnia kept her up those late nights but she didn’t mind, for she would wander around, have conversations with people both real and nonexistent, and all the time was worth the sacrificed shut-eye. Now, every time a train came into town, she heard it. It softly awakened her out of her hypersomnia, and it made her long to get away. Not just away, and not in a suicidal manner: she just wanted to disappear for a while. Sleep on someone’s couch, eat in restaurants by herself, spend the days walking around or browsing the poorly lit grocery store aisles. She wanted to be alone in the sense that she felt she was, alone but still part of the world as a whole. Connected but still distant enough to provide commentary.
She had only rode on a train once, in December, to a little Christmas town in Indiana that, at the time, seemed only accessible by train. As she had grown older, she realized it was a lie. It was just a trick, like a haunted house, but instead of being for the purpose of scaring, it was to make you feel like you were getting somewhere, somewhere pleasant. Still, trains had a special place in her heart, and combined with rock candy, that cane sugar perfection normally used for sweetening things and not to be licked and eaten like a lollipop, it was her way of feeling that that little Christmas town really did exist, and it was really only accessible by a magic few.
She wanted to get on a train. In a car, you have a specific place in mind, and her family only used the car to get to the next town over, for fast-food or groceries. It was merely an assistant in the mundane daily life, the life she wanted to get away from. In a train, she could sit back and let the scenery fade around her. She could read, eat, look out the window at the ever-changing yet similar landscape of America. She would be away from the fishy characters that rode buses around, and not in the air, for she was afraid of planes merely because she had never flown on one.
But being alone on a train, or anywhere, scared her just a bit. She felt that she needed someone with her, for outward security at least. She didn’t want one of her friends, who would turn the trip into a stereotypical “road trip”, nor did she really want someone who would psychoanalyze her, and keep talking about the week’s past events. The more she heard about the election and politics in general, the more depressed she became.
She wanted someone who was independent, who could sit beside her in their own mind, a connected but distant person. He wouldn’t speak very much, but only in the most opportune of times, and then, the most brilliant of things. Rhetorical questions that make life sweet, rather than the answerless questions that pervades it.
As she crossed the street, she heard a man laughing. It was fake laughter, and she turned to look at the other side of the street, where she had been. A young man was jogging and pushing along a stroller as well, with a baby boy inside. The boy giggled loudly, and then the fake laughter was replaced with genuine. She felt a smile forming on her face, but was saddened to find that it did not push through, and she remained expressionless.
‘Is this how the world works?’ she thought. ‘You have to pretend before things actually happen? You have to pretend to be happy before you actually can be, pretend you’re safe, pretend you’re in the right... Why then are many of my friends, who are trying to be happy, not succeeding? What is the last step to becoming who we are pretending to be? Is it finding someone who believes us—in the person we are trying to be?’
Whenever she tried to bring herself to clean, she ended up looking through photo books, or smelling her perfumes, letting the memories soak into her mind. One, a fruit-punchy smell, reminded her of her best friend from high school. She had the same kind of perfume, as did probably a thousand-some girls. The scent had grown weary, and was not as edible-smelling as it had been when their relationship was still continuing.
Another was a new scent, an East Asian inspired scent that reminded her of days she couldn’t have been bothered to shower, so she just sprayed herself with perfume. It was an usual occurrence at college, and more common for her than actually showering that semester.
Others were disconnected to random memories that would pop up every time she looked away, then brought her face back to the scent. Some were sad memories, some were drawn-out stories, and some were amazing moments.
She held up one, and instantly smiled. It had the most unusual shape, and it was the one she bought herself, for $41. She had smelled a sample of it in a magazine and was determined to buy it, even though the store price was $71: far too much for a simple perfume that she could have bought at Big Lots. However, she had found it cheaper online, and bought it.
Now when she smelled it, it brought back an inner peace, a happiness that she had discovered the previous year. She doesn’t remember how, or even when, but a few scenes still came back to her. The crisp white falling snow, turning Oxford pure again, discovering that she could have the type of relationship with someone else that she had always dreamed of. The type of friendship that blows away all others. They had sat on the floor of his room, Saturday Night Live muted on the television, and The Postal Service and Badly Drawn Boy playing. He was opening her up to all of the things that made him happy. The moment he let her in on his secret. His presence, and the funny hat he wore. The times he made her get out of her room to go uptown, the time he said she was quickly becoming his “favorite.”
Their friendship had crumbled like a stale cookie, but she still loved him, and he was still her best friend, though she might not have shared all the secrets with him that she wanted to. He was what got her out of her depression, the 3 days she didn’t leave bed or eat. He saved her from a debilitating crush, helped her get to a point where she was more confident in herself than ever before. He was an example of what she hoped people to really be like: at first, afraid of her, but then they get to know her and they grow to love her, the opposite of what had happened over and over again in her life up to that point.
Drugs and alcohol had taken him away from her. She didn’t know if he still was doing them, but it was obvious that he was looking to change his life. He wanted to be out; he saw how his roommates were now killing themselves with lies and substances. She was willing to help, but also knew that she could not fight his fight.
The one thing more than anything that she wished for was to have someone be there to assist her in her fight... even if it was agreeing to accompany her on the walks she promised to take, holding her hand as they went along.