"What brings you here today?"
Her voice cracks. "Uh. Nightmares,"
Ignorance would be easier and it would be kinder, but since she was very small she has understood the unspoken things without having to ask. The strained smiles of kind, American faces. The tic -- as the corner of a mouth curves. Happiness. And Sadness. Old anger. She can anticipate it. The nuances of lines, lightly wrinkled foreheads and mouths, welcoming her to her new home.
When she closes her eyes, she can still see the old one, the flowering vine at the window, choked by winter's harshness, blooming again in spring. She doesn’t have to force it. Her imagination runs wild. It is sensory. Potent with smells and tastes. She learns later that it is a gift and a curse in a child. Her memory is just as sharp. But it cuts away at fantasy, at the thought that one day, she might return.
The marketplace. The cold. The hunger. The pictures are turning grey. New pictures. The beach. The sun. Chocolate cake for no reason at all. This couple adores her like she is their own, but there is a feeling of displacement that is hard to forget and hard to release. Her eyes are different. Her nose. Her mouth. When she speaks, a Soviet accent, thick with history, spills from her mouth. Too heavy for a girl of barely four. Children point. In her fear, she acts out. Arms fold around her and a mouth is at her ear, cooing, hushing.
Mother. Mother. Mother. And Promises.
"Take your time," the woman says, balancing her pen between fore and index finger and the edge of a piece of paper. Her hand is poised; her fingernails are clean, neatly kept. From their first meeting in this room, it is what Caitlin chooses to concentrate on. Her heart thumps loudly in her chest. The sanctity of this place is not lost on her. There is a reverence for the woman with dark eyes that looks at her sympathetically as Caitlin wrings her hands and stares at the ceiling. They are colleagues. Sort of. One day, when she is qualified. When she is a Doctor too. She reminds herself to bring that up later. If she can bring up something other than bile.
"Is it always like this?" she asks her, moving her gaze back down to her feet at the other end of the couch, then elaborates with a small shrug that unsettles the pillow beneath her head. The tag at the back of her shirt flaps upward, brushing against her nape and she tries to ignore the nuisance. "The... lull. The silence... before I spill my guts out? Do people do that a lot?"
"Hesitate?" the woman presses, pausing for acknowledgement. Caitlin turns her eyes to look at her, nodding gently. Politely.
"Sometimes. Do you often think about what other people do? Make comparisons?” she asks, and her hand, along with the pen makes a bold stroke across the piece of paper. The pen glides soundlessly as she writes, but there is a pounding in Caitlin’s ears that is far more deafening. Her heart is beating so fast. A trapped hummingbird. Her head feels full. Her stomach feels tight. She feels sick.
"Sometimes," she echoes. It's a part of a lie. There's some satisfaction that she gains in throwing back a clever retort, but she knows she isn't here to win in a battle of wits. It makes her uncomfortable that she cannot rely on her usual defences. That she cannot rally the troops to her aid in the way she's done, time and time again. Her battalion. Her protection. Her wall. Caitlin sighs, resigning. "I don't know how to start this..."
"It's okay," the woman says. It's the fourth time she's said it in the last ten minutes. Caitlin is counting. The fourth time since the session began and they haven't even started in on her childhood yet.
"So..." she says and almost bursts out laughing or crying or both at the banality of it. Her face hurts for no reason at all. Her cheeks feel tight. The feeling in her stomach is rolling. Her body is perspiring. Her thoughts wander to the sticky, wet depression she will have left on the couch when she hoists herself off it at the end and she is already embarrassed by it. She exhales loudly, the air rushing out of her lungs and throat, whistling through her teeth, wondering whose bright idea this was.
"Caitlin, I want you to do something for me," the woman intercedes, bringing her attention back. The pen stops moving. "I want you to close your eyes and just focus on your breath for a little while. First, I want you to breathe in deeply for a count of seven, then you will hold the breath for a count of five and finally, exhale for a count of eight. Now, let's try it together..."
Following the instructions is easy. Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Caitlin finds the pattern and feels her belly filling up with air. Holding for five, four, three, two, and one. Then Release. A soft calm begins to wash over her. Pliable now. Open to suggestion. "Good. Now, imagine the breath. See it, like a great wave, out of the ocean, washing over you, releasing all the tension in your body as it reaches the shore. Each exhale is a letting go. If it helps you, think of the words, moving on the tide. Letting go. Repeat them in your head. A mantra. Letting go. Breathe. Letting go,"
When Caitlin is calmer, no longer fussing, no longer plucking at the threads of a cushion with a sharp, bitten fingernail, the woman tries again. Her voice is soft. Kind. Patiently, she presses for an answer to her earlier question. Picks up her pen again.
Caitlin holds her breath. Her eyes are still closed, hot tears betraying her, sliding down her cheeks. There is so much to say. There is so much to tell. Choking up from the inside. Feelings like tetris pieces that do not fit anymore. That can't be stamped down. The answer shoots from her mouth without a second thought and her body sinks into the couch, but she never hears the woman reply. Instead, there is a scream. A piercing scream of fear and the pen falls. Caitlin feels herself falling. Through the couch. Through the floor.
Kitty whispers. It's okay. I've got you.