by Tamuira Reid
Mom, why are we always at the doctor? Every week we come here. Are you dying?
Why are we always here then?
If you grow-up in NYC with a single mom at the helm, then you grow-up in waiting rooms. And every kid knows what waiting rooms really are: babysitters. And they all pretty much look the same. Books with pages missing. Cartoons on a television jutting out of the wall. And if you’re lucky, an entire vat of dum-dums in every flavor known to man.
This is a special kind of doctor. A doctor that takes care of my brain.
Your brain is sick?
Yeah, a little. I guess you could say that.
Like my dad’s?
Not that sick.
I’ve become very good at self-editing. Hiding what needs to be hidden, saying what needs to be said. The fact that there is a rhino-sized pit in my stomach is my business. No one needs to peer into the bowels of my brokenness.
Ollie looks at me through his coke-rimmed glasses, so dirty I can barely see his big green eyes. He’s waiting for more information. I can feel him processing.
Sometimes people get sad and they need help not being sad.
Depressed. I know about it.
From Big Nate.
The comic books you like?
Graphic. Novels. Jesus, mom.
There’s an Etch-A-Sketch on his lap. James and the Giant Peach peeks out from his open backpack. He only reads that book when he takes a dump. Now I know why his clothes always smell like Febreeze on the way home.
Can’t you just get a brain shot, like the flu shot? This is so much money, mom. We could buy a lot of dollar slices. Or alcohol. Doesn’t alcohol make people happy? You said the Santas at Santa-Con are all drunk assholes but I think they were happy. He doesn’t look up at me because the robot he is drawing is way too good.
Yes, it does make you happy for a while. But then it stops.
Maybe you can drink it for a while then. When I’m twenty-one, I’m going to Las Vegas with Grandma Gayle and I’m going to drink beer for twenty-four hours and play all the machines. And then I won’t ever drink beer again! He somehow manages to talk with his whole body, using it as an exclamation point.
I like that plan, I tell him, plucking his beanie off his head and stuffing it into my pocket where it can’t get lost. Just twelve more years and you’re good to go.
Dr. Shaw is tall, bespectacled, and armed with several bottles of Diet Pepsi that she sips from thoughtfully throughout our session. Artwork from her travels – to Rwanda, India, Vietnam – hang squarely on the four white walls that house our 45 minute sessions.
Once she officially diagnosed me with clinical depression, just short of two years ago, I felt myself fall even more deeply into it. I suddenly had this tangible proof of my misery, the proof that I wasn’t making shit up or just feeling sorry for myself for the past thirty years. It was real. And even though I was terrified that it had no end, that I was the root cause of my own steady descent, that validation – by someone who had studied the better part of their life to know me better than I knew myself – was everything.
I tried psychiatry twice in the past before finding Shaw. My first shrink, Larry, worked out of his townhouse on the Upper East Side. He wore linen slacks and loafers without socks and told me I suffered from middle child syndrome and with the right amount of Prozac and stretching I could possibly recover. Then there was the twenty-something medical prodigy who wrote a prescription for lithium within the first five minutes of meeting me. Drink a lot of water, he told me, handing over the script, a broad smile taking over his cherubic face. I left prodigy’s office and ripped that shit up, swearing I’d never put my brain in anyone’s fucked-up hands again.
But, Dr. Shaw is different. She could take it or leave it. Jump on the next plane to Africa or the next bus to nowhere. She doesn’t need me as much as I need her. And this somehow works for both of us.
So, how are you?
Afraid. Afraid that we will never find the right medication. That this is as good as it will get. That there is no better version of myself waiting around the corner of another year. How I feel better and worse at the same time. I want to say this but it comes out jumbled, wrong.
How am I? I don’t know.
Shaw shifts in her seat, her eyes never leaving mine. Do you remember when you first felt depressed, Tamuira?
Yes. I look out a window that isn’t there. I was young.
What did it feel like?
A noise machine hums outside the office door.
Felt like earthquake weather.
I grew-up on the San Andreas fault, a long, angry line zig-zagging under our house and through the heart of California. I felt it in my bones, the power and reach of those quakes, how you can always hear one before it hits. It’s a slow-building rumble, distant but certain. I tried to run outside once, during a smaller one, and my father pulled me back in by the elastic waistband of my pants, right as a power line toppled over and landed on our lawn. He taught me later that a door frame is the safest place to wait it out, its foundational beams often the only part of a building left standing.
Our house had a walk-in closet downstairs that we used as a fort. After the quake of ’89, our parents stock-piled goods there; gallons of water, flashlights and batteries, canned soup and granola bars. Sometimes my little sister would hide next to the army blankets and lick the powder from hot chocolate packets. Sometimes I would hide in there so the rumble wouldn’t find me.
Feels like earthquake weather today. Say this to any Californian and they will know exactly what you mean. It means all four levels of the Nimitz freeway collapsing like Jenga pieces. It means the Bay Bridge sliced in half. It means the only department store in your town imploding when its pipes suddenly swell with more water than they can hold.
It means a smell in the air.
It means the shape of the clouds.
It means a stillness that is anything but.
When I moved to Manhattan, one of the first things I noticed was how train tracks tremble ever so slightly well before a train actually arrives.
My body hurts. My head hurts. This is generally a good sign that my therapy session has been successful. I leave Shaw and find my son, standing by the elevator, zipped-up and ready to go.
You went over by five minutes tonight, mom. He points at the clock.
Sorry, baby. We had a lot to talk about, I guess.
He holds the elevator door for me, and then presses the button for the lobby. I pull him into a hug and we stay like that.
Mom, is my brain gonna be sick, too?
What? No way. You have a beautiful brain.
How the hell did that happen?
I can’t see it but I know he’s smiling. I’m a lucky little shit, he whispers and hugs me tighter.