I read Psychology Today in the lobby and none of us were sad we were just lonely and the girl in oversized sweats had a glowing crimson face and three-fifths of a dilapidated pedicure and I thought what a vapid slut how could vanity feel anything meaningful but sometimes we’d feel at ease together and I’d catch a glimpse of the butch receptionist with the bleached military cut as she surveyed the room and we’d flicker nervous smiles in succession as we looked up in anticipation to hear our own names.
Sometimes when I took the mental health diagnosis quiz I’d make it seem like I was depressed so I had a reason to see her and I learned how to quantify my anxiety at around an 8.5 because I thought that was enough to make me interesting and enough to make her feel at ease but sometimes I was honest and I’d spike the average to 9.5 to let her know I was at an 8.5 and one night my girlfriend called me vomit drunk and told me she thought the world of me but I put an 8.5 anyway because I was happy and I felt ashamed.
She was probably five years older than me and had familiar hands.
She said my name with perfect diction and her voice was smooth and my heart jumped. She was tall and thin with short, authoritarian hair. She had sewed on a record-label’s logo onto her bag and she wore high leather boots with cocoa stockings and a black skirt and her breasts weren’t proportional to her head but the sweater wrapped around them tightly like cantaloupes.
I wanted to fuck her.
In the nights when I’d recreate her pussy I’d call myself a misogynist and was ashamed to tell her. It was also a white pussy. I felt bad because she didn’t have a white pussy. I felt bad because I was imagining her pussy but I was also whitewashing her imagined pussy. When I whitewashed her pussy it looked like two glowing crescent moons. When I went soft and imagined her pussy it wasn’t as good as it was when it was white but she wasn’t either so I had to disregard her pussy or she’d be olive with a white pussy. I made up for the discrepancy by imagining my body covering up her pussy but then I had to recreate my body and it was difficult so I just thought of her reaching orgasm as I did until she screamed and I came.
“Last night I masturbated to a guy taking a woman’s veil off. I was stoned. When I woke up I felt ashamed.”
She wore her face maternally. It looked like stretched anorexia and it was taut and her eyes glimmered with false serenity.
She had my father’s occupation and my mother’s genitalia.
There was a samovar in the corner of the room and an embroidered image of Persian ladies playing the tambour in front of a two-dimensional beatific sun.
I had crawled in my mother’s womb and found the sloppy seconds of my childhood.
It was carefully selected to fool me into complying.
I told her once that conspiracy theories were retarded and she laughed.
A small light under a camera in the corner of the room gleamed green, and blinked.
“If it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, since I am technically an intern I will be recording these sessions for my advisor so he can make sure I’m doing things correctly. Is that fine with you?”
The small light under a camera in the corner of the room gleamed green, and blinked, and it reminded me of nothing so I felt at ease.
“Maybe next time we should talk about you.”
I said but he wouldn’t allow it would he and I stared at the gleaming green light, and it blinked and we laughed.
According to Facebook she didn’t exist.
She used to run a blog devoted to the Persian Diaspora but it hadn’t been curated in two years so it slumped heavy into cyber soil and was forgotten.
She had a degree in creative writing.
“You know, Persian parents, they can be really hard. You must know how that feels, right? It’s like we run from the past and end up embracing it.”
She blushed and it was recorded.
“My Uncle died last week.
My mother had seen him once in the last thirty years. Our family was barely even in contact with him. We hated him for so long because we thought he was just an asshole who had abandoned the family and gone to live his own life without us. But we found out he’d been a refugee for decades and was too ashamed to tell us he hadn’t gotten his papers in order.
I mean, my mother, his sister, and the rest of the family have done pretty damn well. They all scattered after the Revolution but fuck most of them aren’t struggling. But he was homeless the whole time and they kept throwing him into prison and he kept trying to get a lawyer but he could never really figure things out.
He had a hard past though. The family was poor, his dad was abusive and unfaithful, and he ran off to Turkey to smuggle contraband to Western Europe and he was eventually caught. So he did time for a decade or so, and finally got out. And then he changed his name, revoked his citizenship, and fled to the Netherlands and had been there since. And he was just too ashamed to tell his family that he didn’t have a home.
We’d send him family photos of ourselves smiling and my mom feels like a bitch because she’d always say, ‘I don’t understand. We love you. Look at how happy we are. We just want to see who you’re happy with,’ and the truth of it was that he had nothing.
The one time my mother visited him he told her, ‘Always be grateful that you have a home. I have no home here. I can’t have the sky or the trees or the ground. I can’t be one of them and I can’t be one of us. I’m lost and there is nothing I can do about it,’ and my mom said oh well you’ll figure it out thinking he was waxing existential but he was in pain.
So he finally gets diagnosed with lung cancer and the state releases him and says you’re free.
And my mother sends him an email saying I’ll be there in the summer and he said why not mid spring and she said we bought our tickets for then. And he said Okay because he was too ashamed.
He died shortly after.
I’ve been trying to recreate his life but without papers, without a name, without friends or family, his whole life is gone. I want to write a novel about him but there is nothing left to him but his release papers and ill-feelings.
They hated him because he had too much shame.
He was forgotten because he had too much shame.”
And I thought she’d hear this and respond back but she said yes it’s hard for us and our time was up and we stood up and she hid her hands behind her back and gave me a nod like a pious woman who was afraid of affection and it was recorded.
At night I’d be stoned and try to masturbate and my hand would be an automaton as I thought of desperately morose things but once I saw an image of her visage embroidered on tapestry and her rouge cheeks were burning and I came.
I had shredded the paper off of a bottle and I informed her that it was a sign of sexual tension but I meant repression and I joked about Freud and she said Oh yea? and I muttered but couldn’t think of anything expect “well that’s what they say,” and she said who’s “they” and I said it didn’t matter.
I didn’t want to die. She asked me if I wanted to die and I said no and felt ashamed.
It felt good to be questioned.
The little green light gleamed green and blinked and I had no choice but to clench my dick even though I talked about myself and she just asked questions.
I called the clinic a confessional and she laughed.
“What’s next for you?”
“A job.” Her inflection made my throat clench because her throat clenched and her voice quavered and if she were alone she would have sobbed I wanted.
I tried to be selfish for her so I’d fantasize that I was speaking for her to her and I’d tell her about how I was considering giving everything up for a chance to start again and maybe trying to find the time to write freely again. I told her I read an article that said on average people my age change careers four times so I had hope. I told her she had really helped me work things out and she smiled and her shoulders drooped and she leaned forward the slightest bit and her head cocked forth the slightest bit and her voice meekly said I try and the y trailed off into silence and cracked and my throat clenched and it was recorded.
Maybe if we could see the hollow words of our moist tongues we’d see them interlaced and shamelessly fucking.
“Last time it seemed like you wanted me to give you a diagnosis.”
Last time I had told her one of my dreams in horrifying detail about how I decapitated an angel as I was falling from the sky.
I said it’s from last night but it was from last year and maybe I was anxious but I was crafting myself for her consumption and somewhere I’d read that we never forget and I figured our dreams are included so who was I to say that it didn’t matter.
“Do you have faith?”
“No no, I’m an Atheist.
And she said nothing and I thought of my mother who found meaning in everything and she found no meaning at all and I thought less of her and was ashamed.
She had A Primer on Anxiety and the latest edition of the DSM bookmarked on her desk and she glanced at it but said it wasn’t necessary, just talk, it has nothing to tell us that you don’t already know.
I met her advisor.
He was an earthy, petite family man with clothes made of hemp and his office was decorated with African art and I looked around and she stared at me stare at the chiseled elephants and the ersatz ivory tusks and the sinewy ebony bushmen and a portrait of himself playing soccer with a tribe and my eyebrows furrowed and I saw that she saw and she smiled.
“As you know, I’ve been watching your sessions. This session serves as a way for me to see how much progress you’ve made and to make sure everything is in order.”
He asked me about my parents and my girlfriend, my dreams and my future, my fears and my anxieties and with every question his voice sounded more alien and more bureaucratic and more legal. So I gave him nothing but evasive responses and complimented her for making me feel so good and she smiled and I said I consider her a friend and she smiled and I said I look forward to the weeks I get to see her and she smiled and he asked me about my uncle and I said you watched the tapes and he said well okay and got up and we got up and as I left she stayed
And her smile was gone and I closed the door to hushed whispers and yellow notepads and he said let’s begin at the top of the list and work down and I felt betrayed.
She called me later because she’d forgotten to ask me if I had felt the urge to harm myself or harm others. I picked up the phone and said don’t worry, I won’t kill myself. We laughed.
We spent an hour talking about how non-committal I was and she asked me if I had felt the urge to harm myself or harm others and I reminded her of how non-committal I was.
Once she called me again to ask me if I wanted to harm myself or harm others but instead of hanging up she asked a question and we talked for ten minutes idly about nothing too serious but I enjoyed her voice and maybe she was obligated to talk back but she wasn’t obliged to laugh I wanted.
One day her computer shut down and nothing happened. But the little green light turned off and we were alone as the system rebooted.
“I’m thinking of leaving her but I just can’t find the right time to do it, I think I love her but she’s seven hours away. Our conversations are so tedious. I just wish she were more here. Sometimes I talk about the future and she says don’t worry it’ll work itself out and you make me feel like a terrible girlfriend what more can I do and I say I just want intimacy and she says but we talk every day.
I’ve been jacking off too much trying to bide my time and I’ve tried to remain monogamous in my fantasies. I would think of her day and night and when we’d Skype I’d say c’mon can we please cyber and she’d be too afraid and she’d say somebody will hear.
The other day she showed me her breasts and I took a picture but her head’s cocked right and she’s staring at the door with severe concern and eventually I close my eyes and think of her staring me in the eyes as she comes. Her voice still makes me hard but I’ve started to think of someone else. And at nights I’ll get stoned and close my eyes and think of someone else and feel ashamed.”
And I was staring her in the eyes and the small light under the camera in the corner of the room didn’t gleam green and didn’t blink.
“I’m afraid that if I lose her I’ll be alone but the fear of loneliness isn’t enough to keep people together. There has to be something more.”
“Do you love her?”
“Would you stay with her if she didn’t love you?”
“Then it’s time.”
She sanctioned my death for us and I was ecstatic and emboldened and I said or I can jack off six times a day and we laughed because celibacy was a cruel joke I wanted.
“Maybe I’ll start dating again.”
And she looked at the time and said I think it’s time and the green light turned back on and I could speak meaningfully again.
“We’re on our ninth of ten sessions. Next time will be our last one. Do you want to talk about that?”
“How do you feel about that? Do you feel sad? Or angry?”
I told her I’d move on quickly and she said yes people move on quickly but she seemed sad and it was recorded.
“I broke up with her last night.”
“I feel like you’ve really done a lot these past months.
Something happened last time that I thought of later that day and it made me think yes he did it.
Remember I asked you about why you can’t speak to your father and you said
Are you kidding me? We have five minutes left,
Well, I thought, this is somebody I respect.”
At the end of the last session she cried I wanted and I didn’t and I asked her if we could be friends.
“That would be unethical.”
“Is there a statute of limitations for this type of thing?”
“No, if you’ve treated somebody in the past you cannot fraternize with them.”
“So, now what?”
“What do you mean?”
Later I saw her at a bus stop as she sat next to a stack of books and looked wistful and contemplative and young. Her legs were elegantly crossed and she thumbed through a glossy magazine and I yelled her name and tried to say hi but she just smiled and gave a delicate wave with her fingers and looked away and I thought of her rouge cheeks and cantaloupe tits and olive pussy and I thought of that messianic cunt and his green blinking light and I felt betrayed and I felt forsaken and I felt salvaged.
“Who was that?”
“Nobody, a friend.”
A | A | A
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”
To begin, I got totally screwed over in the dental genes department. I was born with a pretty severe overbite and a mouth that was too small.