By Jessica Standifird
The building looks new from outside, but this office feels old. The carpet is beige and stained, dust has made nests in the corners, and all of the furniture is from the 1980s and trying really hard to be comfortable. A large wooden desk sits in front of the only window, files with paper tongues sticking out are littered across its surface. There’s a computer monitor with a scheduling calendar displayed on the screen.
The psychiatrist my disability lawyer sent me to sits across from me in a rolling office chair. One leg kicked up over the other, ankle on knee. I’ve already forgotten his name. His hair is running away from his face, apparently so quickly that what strands remain are left to the wind. His glasses are gold medal frames stuck so deeply into his nose that I imagine he has to pry them off at night. He is angular and at ease in this place. He is Ichabod Crane in his forties, post a divorce he hardly even noticed.
The chair I’m in is in the middle of the room. There is nowhere to set my purse and drink but on the floor. I am an awkward island in a sea that is past its prime. My palms are damp.
We started this appointment by Ichabod bursting into the waiting room and accusing me of being late. When I said I thought I was supposed to be there at ten-thirty, he admonished me.
“No, no, they know I always do my disability appointments at nine-thirty. They’ve never scheduled for any other time, why would they start with you? But I’ll go check.”
Then he slammed the door to his inner office and I was left alone, feeling like an idiot. He apologized when he came back and let me know I was correct, but the tone for our interaction had already been set. It continued when he told me that because of his mistake, we only had ten minutes before his next appointment arrived. Ten minutes for a full psych evaluation.
Ichabod unfolds his legs, spins around, and grabs a yellow legal pad from the table behind him. He finishes his 360, refolds his legs, and props the pad of paper against this calf. His head drops toward the paper, but he looks up at me over his glasses.
“I’m going to take a ton of notes.”
“Okay,” I say.
I don’t know what to do with my arms. I never know what to do with my arms. If I cross them I’m being confrontational, closed off. My hands are fists, why are my hands fists? I open up my fingers in what I hope is a small and unnoticeable movement and place my hands flat on the tops of my thighs. Open arms, open hands.
His voice is a pointed finger shaming me. “So, what makes you think you need disability?”
My heart picks up tempo. I explain my health issues, and mention my anxiety, chronic depression, and PTSD.
“Why do you think you have PTSD?”
My legs are dried up rubber bands. If I start shaking then I’m nervous, maybe even lying. I feel like a little kid getting in trouble for something I didn’t do. Like I know that no matter what I say no one will believe me. I laugh nervously because I don’t want to upset things, don’t want to argue. Laughter eases tension. I tell him of my diagnosis, explain my history with sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse.
My head fogs up. I can’t remember simple things. I have to think about where I was living when things happened, then figure out what grade I was in, or how old my kids were, and then guess my age, and do the math from 1971 until then. It all starts with 1971.
“Well, you seem well put together. You are able to smile, and you don’t smell.”
My insides are flickering but I pull my spine up. Today was the first day I’ve bathed in almost a week. I even put on “Sunshine” body spray for extra measure. “Ummm, thanks? I’ve had forty years of learning how to present well.”
Ichabod laughs. He scribbles furiously with the pen and I start to get woozy.
What is he filling that page up with? Should I tell him about my history with yellow legal pads? How I had to write down in detail what my father did to me and read it in front of him? How the only paper I had to do this with was the yellow legal pad my father used to pay the bills while drinking scotch at two o’clock in the morning?
“Do you have a small dog?”
Okay, that’s just weird. What the—? “Yes,” I say.
His voice is all harrumph. “That figures.” He checks his watch. “Okay, look, it’s time for my next appointment. I don’t want him to see you, so I’m going to show you out the back way.”
My gut is trying to escape my body, it’s pushing on my throat and my eyes are blurring and my feet are tapping the ground with my heels. Doesn’t want him to see me? Why not? What’s wrong with me? I want out of here. Now. I’m not safe. My skin isn’t safe anymore. My stomach scrambles up the sides of my throat. My head feels like it’s trapped in a tilt-a-whirl that won’t slow down or stop. I can feel myself trying to leave my body. I can’t let him know. I can’t let him know. I can’t let him know. I just repeat this to myself over and over until—
I’m gone. Floating over myself, over him, over the stains and folders and legal pad and outdated furniture. I watch the me that’s left behind stand up and follow him to a door at the back of the room. I hear myself say, “Okay. When will your report be complete?”
He says it will take him two days. Our voices sound hollow, like reverb in a tin can.
I watch my body walk into the skeleton of the building. My right thumb is hooked comfortably on the strap of my purse, right elbow resting on the purse itself. My left arm hangs easy to the side. My face looks relaxed.
He leads my body through a cement, unfinished hallway to a dark brown door. There is scaffolding along the walls.
He’s going to kill me. He’s going to rape me and kill me and leave me here and no one will ever know.
“This will take you back out to the main hallway. Just go straight and it will take you to the elevator.”
“Okay,” my voice says. My head nods and my lips smile slightly.
My body walks through the door and gets safely to the elevator. My finger pushes the button with a green “down” arrow on it. The button lights up like it has an answer to something. It takes a few seconds before the car arrives with a bing. A man in a rough draft of a grey suit steps out and says hello as he walks past. I hear my voice respond. “Hello. Have a good day,” before my body enters the elevator.
The doors close and the elevator begins to descend.
So do I.
I fall into my body and enter it full force— knees buckling, arms shaking, face branded and hot with fear, jaw trembling. I need out of this building. How long does it take to get to the first floor? I catch myself before I fall over and prop up against the elevator wall, gripping the rail until I can feel it digging into the palm of my hand and the insides of my fingers. When I finally get to the bottom floor and the door opens, I hurry through the lobby and outside.
The sun is too bright and hits my eyes hard. My throat is full of acid. I run around the corner and halfway up the next street. Breathing is necessary and absurd.
I can’t run anymore, so I sit on a concrete wall outside an office building. I don’t know where I am.
Doesn’t matter. Anywhere but that office.
I call my roommate for a ride, and when I hear her voice, I realize I’m in a public place. I leave again. I see myself look for the address of the building behind me, hear my voice calmly give her that address, and ask her to hurry.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“Yeah, I just have to get home for practice.”
“I thought that was on Thursdays?” she says.
The streetcar goes by and I imagine myself on it, moving away from here. Just for a moment, then it’s gone.
My voice sounds far away to me. “Yeah, but we have an extra one this week because of the show on Saturday.” It’s not a lie. But practice isn’t for a few hours and it will only take forty-five minutes for her to pick me up and get back home.
A kid with a skateboard in his hand walks by, gives me a look, and shoves his earbuds deeper into his head.
I see the red in my eyes, the saltwater dripping from them, the way my face twists.
My right foot starts to bounce up and down.
“Okay,” she says, “I’ll leave as soon as I’m done with this piece of pie.”
My finger presses the red button on the phone to end the call. I see my head tilt up toward me and for a ridiculous moment I want to wave at myself, but I can feel the pull of my body’s gravity, and need to concentrate on staying up here. At least until I get home and I can fall into myself and apart all at once.
Into myself and apart.
Myself and apart.
Jessica Standifird is a writer, performer, musician, and editor living in Portland, OR.
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