I reach down and rub my heel but the itchy burning feeling doesn’t ease. The movement doesn’t escape Dr. Lucas’ notice, either, even though he never looks up from the letter he’s reading.
“What are you thinking?” he asks.
“Nothing,” I answer, knowing he’ll see right through the lie.
“Okay, then.” He drops the letter on the armrest of his chair and sits back. “What are you feeling?”
Damn. Right into the trap. I cross my legs. I uncross and then recross them. I lean forward. I lean back. The leather sofa squeals as I move. I consider excusing myself to the john. I grab my wrist to stop myself reaching for my heel again.
Dr. Lucas remains still and silent.
“Uncomfortable,” I finally answer. “I feel uncomfortable.”
“Why? What’s making you uncomfortable?”
Like he doesn’t know. I nod in the direction of his armrest. “That letter. What else?”
“What about the letter?” he asks, adjusting his glasses.
“Everything.” I tick off the reasons on my fingers. “It’s from the doctor at the psychiatric hospital. She wants me to visit my mother. I haven’t seen my mother since I was sixteen.”
Dr. Lucas raises his eyebrow. “And?”
“And what?” I shift deeper into the sofa. More squeals.
“It seems you’re leaving out the most important part.”
“Really? I thought that went without saying.” My voice comes out much angrier than I’d intended, but I don’t apologize. Dr. Lucas has been teaching me to own my feelings, including—or maybe especially—my anger over my mother.
My goddamn mother.
Who thought she was the Greek nymph Thetis and I, her son Achilles.
Who decided the fountain at Oak Hills Mall was the River Styx.
Who spent my childhood in and out of sanity and institutions.
Who almost drowned me when I was nine months old.
Who was now dying and wanted me to come see her.
Like that would make anything better.
I blink and make eye contact.
“You drifted away for a moment,” Dr. Lucas says. “Want to tell me what you were thinking?”
I raise my eyebrows and tilt my head, giving the doctor what I hope is a particularly sardonic expression.
He returns the look. “Out loud, please.”
“I don’t see the point. I don’t see why I should visit her. There is nothing she can say or do that will make up for the damage—“
“Maybe she wants to apologize.”
“Apologize?” I jam my fingers into my shoe and scratch. “What could an ‘I’m sorry’ do after all this time and drama?”
Dr. Lucas looks directly at my scratching fingers. I yank my hand back to my lap. “…calm your anger,” he’s saying. “Soothe your hurt.”
I freeze for a moment, not sure I heard correctly. “I thought you said there was no such thing as magic words.”
“Magic words, no. Healing words, yes, sometimes.” He holds up his pen. “If the listener is ready and willing to hear them.”
I open my mouth to speak but change my mind. Dr. Lucas’ comment sounded like a statement, but maybe it was really a question. Am I ready? Willing? How would I know? Damn it, I didn’t start this therapy thing to become “ready” for anything. I just wanted to know I hadn’t inherited my mother’s crazy. Milestone birthdays can have that effect.
“What was that?” Dr. Lucas asks.
God, I hate that question.
“I saw something on your face just now,” he continues. “A pretty strong reaction, from the looks of it. Tell me about it.”
I take a deep breath and then let it rip. “Don’t you have tests for this stuff, like a real doctor would? Take a little blood, spin it in a centrifuge, pop it into machine, push a button, and bing, bang, boom, a diagnosis. This therapy...stuff has far too many gray areas, requires far too much thinking. If I’d known that, I might not have started at all. Then I would have been able throw out that damn letter without ever opening the envelope or feeling a twinge of anything.”
Dr. Lucas raises an eyebrow. So very Spock, always so logical, so damn frustrating.
“Look.” I lean forward, elbows on my knees, ignoring the creak in the sofa, and lower my tone. “I get that this is my decision. But it would help me make my decision if I knew where you stood. All I want is a straight answer. Is that too much to ask?”
The good doctor shifts in his seat and taps his upper lip with his pen. I lean back and settle into my corner of the squeaky sofa. I start to cross my arms, but force myself to rest them on the armrest and back of the sofa instead. I bite my lip, resisting the overwhelming pull of my bothersome heel. I want an answer, damn it, and I’m going to get one.
The silence lasts forever.
When Dr. Lucas clips his pen to the folder on the side table, I know I’ve won.
“No, it’s not,” he says in his let-me-talk-you-off-that-ledge voice. His tone makes me wonder if he’s being honest or humoring me.
I’ve got a good three inches and fifty pounds on him. I would never take advantage of that, but maybe he’s not so sure, given my uncharacteristic outburst. I want him to know he’s safe so I say, “Thank you, doc.”
He nods acknowledgement. Tenting his fingers, he says in his normal therapy voice, “You want to know if I think you should see your mother.”
I nod back. The man has a gift for stating the obvious.
“Short answer? Yes, I do.”
“I take it that wasn’t the answer you were hoping for?”
“That obvious, huh? No, don’t answer that. I know—my face is an open book.”
Dr. Lucas gives me a small smile. “Something like that.” The smile disappears when he says, “Are you ready for the long answer?”
“I’m not sure.” I stare at the painting of a sailboat on the wall behind him. I take a couple of measured breaths. “Tell me anyway.”
“As I said, I think you should see your mother. I won’t lie to you. It won’t be easy, but I think it’s necessary. You’ve demonized her in your memory. You need to see that she’s human and most importantly, that she no longer has power over you. Or rather, she only has whatever power you give her. I think seeing her will help you let her go.”
I sigh. “But what do I say to her?”
“You don’t have to say anything, but I would suggest at least offering hello and goodbye to be polite.”
Did he just make a joke?
“Mostly you should listen and be mindful. Do what we’ve talked about before—observe and describe.”
Observe and describe. So much easier said than done. And dammit, why won’t my heel stop itching! “And if I can’t? If I get upset? Can I storm out?”
“Of course you can leave, but I would hope that would be a last resort.”
In my rational mind, I know he’s right, but every cell in my body feels tense. When it comes to my mother, my fight-or-flight reflex has always been flight. Then, like a switch has been flipped, I’m nine years old again. “Will you come with me?” I hear myself ask.
He shakes his head. “No, you need to do this on your own.” He leans forward. “You can do this on your own.” He straightens and grabs the phone off his side table. Handing it to me with the letter, he says, “Let’s start now. Call the hospital and make an appointment for your visit.”
I hold my breath while I press the numbers and listen. When an efficient-sounding voice answers, I feel my shoulders sag. That out-of-body feeling returns as I hear myself making an appointment for the day after next. The sensation evaporates once the phone is safely back in Dr. Lucas’ hands.
That’s when I notice the shake in my own hands. The doc notices it too. “Tell you what,” he says. “Instead of meeting in two weeks for our regular appointment, why don’t we set something up for Friday to debrief after your visit?”
I mumble something that must have sounded like assent because Dr. Lucas starts tapping on his phone’s screen. “Which would be better for you: before work on Friday or after? I can do 8 a.m. or 7 p.m.”
Like I’d be going to work the day after visiting my psycho—I mean, ailing—mother. I doubt I’d be sleeping, either, so I sign up for the morning appointment and just like that, time’s up.
We stand and shake hands. I thank him, more out of habit than anything else, and Dr. Lucas says he’ll see me on Friday. I’m halfway home when I realize the burn-y itchy feeling in my heel has gone away.
Click here to read the story behind "Achilles' Heel."