Don’t ask this…just do as you’re told, I kept on thinking. Alessandra always wanted to focus on my present, and future. Move on from the past, and the negative way I saw myself and all of that. I understood why.
Yet I wanted to talk about memories nearly twenty years old. And I was going to. This was supposed to be for me, wasn’t it?
Most of them were heavily tinged with raw shame, and fear, and tears, as well as a lot of the stuff I told myself to this day. I didn’t really remember-
“Hi, Sarai, come in, how are you?”
“Alessandra.” I said to her, once we were both seated. “I know you have a plan for these sessions, and, um, I know I’m not supposed to-I just would like to talk about…the past.”
“All right. Could you be a little more specific?”
“I kind of realised that a lot of what I say to myself – the negative thoughts – comes from when I was a kid. You’ve talked about episodes and that but this isn’t an episode – it’s not Nolan.” It was getting easier to say his name. “I think I’m just…like this. And I’m trying so hard not to be but it’s been years!” My voice rose in volume and speed. “I don’t know how to undo this and I-“
“All right.” she slowly repeated. “What was being said? And who was saying it?”
“Just the usual stuff – I was being weak or whiny or stupid or disappointing my mom – she’s dead, by the way, I think I said that-“ Alessandra nodded. “It was…it was my Aunt. She raised me from when I was three. And – I just realised – I don’t remember her ever being happy with me. I was never good enough.”
She sighed and shook her head, her eyes closing and mouth turning downwards. Her expression appeared almost sorrowful. “I’m not surprised you’ve internalised these things to such a degree. What we’re told and what we experience when young can deeply affect our adult lives.”
“So I can’t change?” What was I doing here then? You’ll be like this forever, you stupid bitch.
“I won’t lie to you, it will be difficult. You…hold these ideas close. The idea that you can’t feel your feelings, or that you’re stupid, or disappointing – they drive you.”
“But I – I kind of hate her. I know she kept me alive and out of foster care and I’m an ungrateful bitch or whatever but I hate her. I know she isn’t – wasn’t a good parent and…why would I listen to her?” Before I might have claimed that I don’t. That all of this shit I tell myself was my own idea. But now I don’t think that’s true.
For years I held the belief that even though Clarissa was cruel, she had the right idea about me. That lots of the things she said was true…her only problem was how she said them. Was I wrong all that time? Perhaps she was the one with the problem, which twisted how she saw me.
I said as much to Alessandra.
“Well…you’re learning to relate to yourself in a more positive, evidence-based manner. You have to judge yourself in that way too. Not on the words of a harsh parental figure, taken completely to heart by a child.”
“So I just have to keep doing what I do now. With the thought-catching and stuff.”
She nodded. “You do. You need to be driven by a different way of thinking.”
You can’t do it anyway, it’s been so long…twenty fucking years. How do you undo twenty years of thinking…knowing what you’re like. Why should you anyway? It’s true…but I know a lot of it’s from Clarissa, and nothing ever pleased her. She’d have parties and get promotions and visit her brother and it never brightened that dour, unimpressed face. I wasn’t any different. I couldn’t please her.
Those weren’t the kind of standards I wanted to apply to my own life. I actually want to be happy, and I can admit it now. I‘m Sarai Amara Hayes and I hate – don’t think much of myself but I’m working on changing and improving my life. I repeated it in my head a few times, and smiled a little.
But you can’t…
Twenty-five minutes later my session was over. I didn’t have much to do until my evening classes, so I’d probably go home and meal prep or something.
…Fuck, was that Uncle Miles?
It was. And he clearly fucking saw me. Now he was coming over.
“Sarai, hi. It’s been a while, huh?” he said with a friendly smile.
It had been. A year and a half ago, at one of Clarissa’s birthday parties. “Yeah. Sorry about that.” I was fidgeting, occasionally shooting glances at the building behind us. Was it obviously a therapy building? God, I did not want to talk about that.
“It’s all right…I figured…well, last November Clarissa called me about you and…how is everything?”
“Good. Great.” I sent another glance back towards the building. Miles looked up at it too. A small grimace of realisation flashed over his face. “Uh…I should go.”
“Of course, I’m sure you’re busy.” I really wasn’t. “Oh – remember how you and Clarissa would come over on Fridays?”
“Yeah…” I fidgeted with my hands and tapped the insides of my feet together. Stop acting weird!
“Well, the kids are coming over for dinner on Friday. You’re welcome to swing by. Great to see you.” He gave me a quick hug and walked off.
It took me a while but I decided to join them. Aunt Adela probably wouldn’t mind, and Miles actually invited me, I reasoned. So I called Dianne to ask her if we could carpool over there. I didn’t remember the address.
Dianne had a bit of a laugh. “I know why I’m going. My mom’s cooking. You actually wanna hang out with my parents?” she teased.
“I dunno. It used to be kind of fun going over there…”
Hopefully it would still be. This time, Clarissa might not be there. And then she couldn’t have shit to say about it. She’d always find a problem with me; I was always too quiet or too loud and I didn’t talk about the right things. I’d always had fun but…now it would be even better, without her to cast a cloud on the night.
They don’t want you around, not when you act like that, and it still sounded a lot like Clarissa. “Get out of my head.” I muttered. “It’s going to be fun. And I’m fine.”
Uncle Miles and I had been doing the dishes, mostly in silence, while Aunt Adela chatted to Dianne and Michael. I’d put away the last of the forks when Miles turned to me.
“You don’t…need to be embarrassed.” he said, and I knew what he was talking about.
“It’s OK. What you’re doing…therapy, let’s just say it-” He gave a short, nervous laugh. “-can really help you. I know it helped me…”
He was in therapy? I couldn’t fucking believe it! Of all the people I knew, I wouldn’t have guessed that he… had to do that, and fix himself…was he like me? Yeah, and now he’s a normal fucking person with a family… it’s different…but what if it wasn’t? It’s not very ambitious but having this kind of life…being married and having kids that I can actually fucking raise…it sounds so nice. What if it was something I could do? That’s a faraway dream though. I don’t think it’ll happen.
“Why?” I asked in a small, embarrassed voice.
He sighed. “It was after the accident…after your mother…it was a lot. I knew I needed to do it – and it helped me in more ways than just dealing with what happened to Kendra.” He cleared his throat and patted my shoulder. “Good luck with it.”
“What was she like?” I suddenly burst out. Fuck, shut up! “I never knew, and I’ve just got this…one memory.” I never wanted to ask, after a while. Clarissa never talked about her. She’d close off and turn away. Change the subject.
“Your aunt never…well, I always tried to…well, it’s been so long.” For a few seemingly endless seconds, he was looking past me, appearing stuck somewhere else. “But I’d never forget Kendra…”