Pop Quiz

The following short story originally appeared in Wigleaf. It was a finalist for the Mythic Pizza award.

The therapist said, for instance: I notice you bite your fingernails. I notice you twirl your hair when you’re talking. I take it you have trouble making eye contact. You’re rubbing the thighs of your pants with the palms of your hands. Do you bite the inside of your cheek? I see your fingers are stained. When you roll your eyes, it is as if you are avoiding something. You look pale. You are looking at my abdomen. How often do you masturbate? Do you like boys?

I notice you make jokes when you’re uncomfortable. You make yourself uncomfortable. Do you always dress this way? What do you think you tell people with the way you dress, the way you stand, the way you sit? You make yourself look different. One can only assume that you like being uncomfortable. You identify with being an outsider. What is your favorite color? When you were a teenager you cut yourself. You avoid taking responsibility for your life. It’s a defense mechanism to keep people out. So you won’t ever have to try/be rejected/fail. What is it about haircuts that you find so abhorrent? Is conformity a bad thing? Imagine, if you went along like with the flow, you could focus on the important things: friends, family, work. Your glasses are always dirty. Why don’t you clean them? It’s a simple step, but imagine how much clearer everything in the world would be. Consider first impressions; a simple thing like cleaning your glasses would dramatically improve your encounters with others. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, either, like brushing your teeth—just another habit. These are the kinds of things I’m talking about. Small simple things that will help you get a job. Be productive. Be grown up.

I notice you don’t like talking about yourself. How would you characterize your relationship with your mother? Put this jump rope around your chair. Loop it around, yes just like that, make a circle. Like an aura. Inside the jump rope is your safe place. Nothing can hurt you inside the jump rope. Now, tell me what you’re thinking.

Do you always sit that way? Tell me about your work. Tell me about your friends here. Do you like the people here? Do you like your roommates? Is there someone you’re particularly worried about? Someone who is particularly violent? Tell me about ghosts. Take this quiz for me. When is the last time you felt despair? Take this jump rope. Loop it around yourself. Don’t be scared. It’s just a personality test. Totally standard. Inside the jump rope you’re safe place. It’s your womb. Would you say you have the same triggers? But how do those triggers make you feel? You’re inside the jump rope, you don’t have to be afraid. Here. I brought some stuffed animals especially for you. They’re just in my office; this is Garfield. This is Snoopy. This is a Valentine bear. A Smurf. Pick one. Pick as many as you like. You can put them inside of your jump rope and they can protect you. See, Teddy Bear says I love you. He’s holding a heart for you. Now tell me. Tell me about your suicidal tendencies. Do you ever want to kill someone?

I notice you’re frustrated. I notice a degree of aggression in your tone. I notice you’ve gained weight. Would you say you use alcohol as an escape? I notice that your face is dirty. Often people who are mourning lose sight of their hygiene. Often people in mourning abuse substances. You have shit on your pants. You have period blood on your ankles. You have semen on your face. I can tell what you are thinking.