I slowly climb the plaster stairs. Just one more floor. Just one more. Just one more. I repeat these words to myself slowly, giving me the strength to go up to the top floor. The last of five. I have to exercise; go for a walk, yoga, or something that keeps me a little fit.
I reach the fifth floor almost out of breath. Phew. I comb my red hair with my fingers, trying to get it off my neck and face because of the sweat. I rearrange the bag handle on my shoulder, smooth out my gray wool pullover and approach the white door.
I give three not too strong touches. I feel like being at home. It’s where I should be at seven in the evening, but I can’t delay my appointment with Dr. Wallace any longer. I’ve been avoiding him for the last three sessions with excuses about my work, when I was actually at home, stuffing myself with Ben and Jerry’s vanilla ice cream.
He’s coming. The steps are getting closer and closer. I cross my arms, trying to protect myself. The door opens, letting me see Dr. Wallace in his typical robe, his hair, and his white beard, neither too long, inspiring me with some confidence. I don’t know why, but that thick layer of snow makes him look harmless.
—Welcome back, Grace. I’ve been waiting for you—his voice is broken and his gestures invite me in.
He was waiting for me?
I thought he would have forgotten me by now, but no. If I missed one more session I’d already been assaulting calls and messages, so coming in was the best, if uncomfortable, decision. I go into the office. It’s a house, but he’s made it suitable for a psychology consultation. It’s a single room with yellow armchairs, a wooden desk, and a leather chair. There are two more doors; one leads to the kitchen and the other to the bathroom.
I watch through the windows as the sun falls on the city of Belltown. Its reddish, blue, yellow, and greenish buildings look much more contrasted, while on the opposite side, the large buildings of downtown Seattle, where the light reflects on each of its windows. It’s an architectural collage worth seeing with a cup of tea at dawn.
—I’ve been very busy, but good. I’m here now.
His hand is stretched out, pointing at the armchair. I take a seat and grab a brown velvet cushion. I place it in my lap, touching it with my fingers. The soft fabric is barely wrapped around my fingers because of how well the cushion is filled.
—How have you been? —he asks.
Well, let’s get started.
—Well. It’s been all normal, nothing unusual—he opens his notebook, turning the pages quickly—from work to home, from home to work.
—How many people have you talked to since the last time we met?
Oh. That was three weeks ago, and I don’t think you’re going to like the answer.
—Well...With Luke— —I smile at the thought of him. He’s the best thing in the world — and with a waiter who brought me coffee the other day.
—And that’s it? —I nod — you have to interact with more people. You’re an adult now, Grace. You’re changed. You don’t need to wear a mask anymore.
—I don’t want to be rejected or hurt. When I think about talking to someone, all the memories of everything come back, and I just chicken out and leave.
—Listen to me. There will always be people who will insult you, look down on you, and for a million reasons. I just ask you to talk to people. They don’t need to know your story. You have to learn to relate.
I pout. I don’t want to relate to empty people who only care about the outside. I want to have a nice conversation about the future, concerns, projects...someone who cares about more than just the physicality and parties.
Our talk goes on and on, where he repeats over and over again that I have to relate, and I simply deny it. He’s a good psychologist, and I’m going to end up listening to him. He has been treating me for about seven years and the truth is that we have made progress. We would have made more progress if I were not so fearful and stubborn, but as it is not the case we are going a little slower, but thanks to him I managed to continue with my transition, I studied and got a good job, a nice house and now I can take care of another living being. Luke. My cat.
—You already have things to do for next Thursday. I want you to talk to people, and write it down in your notebook, who you talked to, and what you talked about. Apart from the daily feelings sheet.
—It’s OK. I’ll try it.
Give me a handshake. I give him a sincere smile, the first one I’ve given him all day. He opens the door for me, I step aside, and I walk by as best I can. I wave goodbye once more and disappear from his vision. Once again to the stairs of hell. Going down them is easier, less effort. I push the front door, receiving the icy December wind. It took us an hour and a half. I look at my wristwatch.
It is not too late. I don’t want to go to bed too late. Tomorrow I have work and going to bed late to get up early...It’s not what I want.
I walk, hurriedly to the car. It is too cold. I clumsily look for the keys inside the black bag. The leather inside the bag caresses my fingers. I smile internally when I find them. I unlock my little white mini. I climb into it and rub my hands against my pants to get warm.
I should have brought my coat!
I start the car, heading home. I barely live two miles away, I could come by public transport, but I came just after work, after overtime, if it is a bit far and I didn’t see any point in leaving the car at home to take the subway or the bus. I turn on the radio and The Avener wraps the inside of the car. It is a song with a good rhythm, it is quiet with a touch of energy. Without a doubt, the music I like.
I put the key in the lock. You can hear the “click” of each of the locks, unlocking. I turn the handle and the warmth of my home makes me feel more comfortable. I turn on the light, illuminating the hall, living room, and kitchen at the same time. Luke approaches, wagging his long, hairy tail, welcoming me. He rubs himself against my leg, purring.
I leave my purse on the sideboard and bend down to pick up my beautiful brown cat. I caress his head, and he leans against my chest.
—I’m sorry I left you alone,” I say by way of apology, “I’ll be home soon. I promise.
He lets out a meow as if he had understood me. I leave him on the floor and he goes back to my black chair. What a lazy cat... I don’t understand how he can spend the same amount of time asleep as when he was a baby sleeping twenty hours a day.
I take off my high heels and carry them in my hand to my bedroom. I open my little closet and put them in their place.
I am more than proud to have started a minimalist life. When I decided to come to this house I got rid of almost all my clothes. I only left three pairs of pants, a dozen blouses, three types of jackets and sweaters, a sports outfit, and three pairs of shoes.
I did this not only on the clothes but also on the furniture, household items, products, etc. I don’t see any point in having thousands of things and wearing the same things as always. I take the pajamas I have on the bed and go to the bathroom to take a bath and do my nightly routine.
—It’s time to close the terrace, Luke —I close the door, not without putting the sandbox in first.
It’s the same routine every time. It opens in the morning and closes at night. I go to my little bathroom. I take off my make—up, take the hairpins out of my hair, and start taking off my clothes. I take one last look in the mirror and get in the shower, making all the stress of the day disappear. The hot water relaxes my numb muscles of the day. It is a physical and spiritual renewal, allowing me to stop thinking about everything for a second and reset my mind.
I get into bed. The white sheets warm my body instantly. I shrink, hugging my knees, feeling warm and secure.
I plan my day for tomorrow. Going to work and coming home. Just that. I want to start cleaning the house and get some sleep. Although I also have to go to the supermarket to restock the pantry.
I start to feel my mind dizzy like the lights are going out at work like I’m closing up after a long day of work. I stop thinking about planning, in my mind, any idea dissolves, just the letters prevail —sleep—.
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