She washes her hands three times, staring at her gloomy reflection in the large bathroom mirror. Her face is so tired: dark half-moons border her grey eyes. Blowing a wisp of hair out of her ashen face, she turns away from the poignant image of the fourteen-year-old girl gazing back at her.
She’s really fidgety and on edge, though she’s been seeing him for over two years now. Squirming uncomfortably in the rigid dark blue leather chair she always sits in, Chelsea O’Bryan adjusts the watch on her left wrist. Dr. Preston studies her with scrutinizing eyes and she shudders, a feeling of unnerving exposure coming over her.
His office is small, but not claustrophobic, with bright light shining through the half-open window. They want you to feel safe so you’ll tell them all your secrets.
She takes in a deep breath and holds it until he starts talking, which isn’t long.
“So, Chelsea, how are we doing today?” He is sitting at the desk opposite her, leaning back in his chair and massaging his temple.
“Fine.” She surprisingly has had a few better days in these past couple weeks.
“Good, good…” Preston nods to himself and, absently shuffling through a messy drawer, pulls out a clipboard. Chelsea notices that he leaves it slightly open and has to sit on her own hands to avoid reaching forward and closing it.
“Is it getting any better?” He asks, trying to sound interested, but Chelsea can hear the indifference in his tone. Of course he avoids using the term; surely they’ve taught him not to in psychology school. They don’t want you to think of it as a psychological problem.
OCD: obsessive-compulsive disorder, common symptoms of which are: anxiety and distracting thoughts, frequently resulting in trepidation, restlessness, lost sleep, repetitive habits or a combination of all of the above.
Chelsea shrugs without saying anything, angry with him for being so prying, though that’s what he’s paid 120 dollars an hour for. But more than anything, she’s angry with herself for not getting better faster, for being stuck in that dam and not being able to drag herself completely out. She keeps getting sucked back in, and soon she’s afraid it will be too late to have any hope of ever entirely relaxing again.
Chelsea walks home pensively.
Two small girls are sitting on a lofty branch of a tall cypress tree, animatedly playing make-believe. They are the queens of their imaginary land and they must slay the evil trees with enormous mossy feet in order to protect the beautiful eagle-winged girl with ram horns that lives in a feather-nest in the Howling Hedge.
Chelsea stares at the small framed photograph between her thumb and index finger, a tight feeling of nostalgia starting in her chest and stealthily slinking up to her neckline making it difficult to swallow. When was the last occasion she’d been that untroubled and relaxed? Been free of the burden of time, unpredictability and responsibility?
Wiping off the trickle of saltwater that was making its way down her cheek, she places the picture back on the mantel where it belongs, reluctantly tearing her gaze from it.
What if it happens again? The fluttering sensation returns that evening, right around dinnertime. It comes nearly every night, and grows into a wild, dark horse that, try as she might, Chelsea can’t seem to put a leash on. Quavering, slippery, bubbling—there is no one word to describe it.
She wishes she could always count on at least a few hours of restful sleep. It’s like trying to perform a flawless recital after years of having stopped playing the piano. She’s simply forgotten how.
Her parents’ light turns out. Now she’s the only one awake, staring out her window into the hollow black night. The sky is so thick and layered, like a drawing in soft charcoal. The morning is bound to come eventually. Chelsea sighs, changing position yet again, I have to sleep, I have to sleep…
Last night had been better than most…
She doesn’t know when she finally falls asleep. All she remembers is turning her pillow over and over, the lamp on her bedside table being on then off, the clock she refuses to look at ticking obnoxiously.
She finally dreams…
A young woman crumpled in a sad heap on the floor, a strong smell of cleaning products; polished eggshell-colored tiles seem to go on forever. Shoulders bobbing, her sobs are lost in the endlessness that she unconsciously created.
A radiant sky specked with white tufts; the shade of a majestic oak tree. The woman sits in the breezy shadow next to an open picnic basket handing out sandwiches to the three children eagerly huddled around her. She smiles, accepting of her past, cherishing her present, and eager for the future.
A forked road: the same woman, two possible outcomes.
Chelsea opens the fogged-up window. The chilly air nibbles playfully at her nose and ears: a puppy waiting, excited, for its owner to toss the ball.
A thin sheet of white stretches as far as the eye can see, covering every visible surface, as if during the night someone had come and sprinkled powdered sugar over the sleeping city. Frosty light of the infant sun glints off the scattered crystals of ice and a little bird flutters over the frozen cityscape. Such a small delicate creature. As it becomes a russet fragment in the crisp December sky, Chelsea imagines it free of burdens, obligations, constraints.
The vastness of that cerulean sky: so much space for anything that may come.
Chelsea feels a prick of excitement about the new day and its fresh possibilities. When was the last time I felt this way? She wonders.
It’s a tiny spark, a beginning. The first small flame of a bonfire being lit. Warmth begins to thaw the coating of frost inside her that has thickened, layered, over the months: a barrier to her essence. But now—radiating, lustrous—something starts to take shape.
For the first time in as long as she can remember, Chelsea O’Bryan feels real hope.