That day, I remember, was the day she came into my life and completely obliterated all normalcy. My day had begun as usual, in that pleasantly habitual way of silencing a blaring alarm clock, showering a 42-year-old man’s body (mine, just to clarify), and brushing teeth (mine, once again) with calculated vigor. I dressed in a fitted turtleneck, a peacoat, and a clean pair of trousers and then departed. I deliberately strolled by Starbucks in an admittedly self-righteous sort of way (I can’t help it; I know coffee). I wasn’t about to support the demise of local coffee shops everywhere by partaking in a Starbucks Americano. Instead, I ordered a small, local Americano from my favorite coffee shop, which will remain nameless so as to preserve its ethereal, hole-in-the-wall atmosphere. Coffee in hand, I offered the shop’s owner a nod, a salute of sorts, and he nodded back in somber understanding: we, customer and owner, bound by the same principles, silently vowed to try our very best to keep the evils of Seattle-based, franchised coffeehouses at bay. I expertly navigated the bustling streets of New York, sipping the excellent bean water in rebellious solidarity against mainstream coffee brands, and paid no mind to the sharp winter air numbing my face.
Entering my office building, I briskly passed a couple of people wandering about in the lobby and strolled into the elevator, pressing the button for the fourth floor. The elevator doors cruised open, and I immediately made eye contact with our darling, elderly receptionist, Patty Davis, and waved at her with my free hand. I extended an open hand as she expertly tossed a Werther’s Original caramel hard candy my way, which I deftly caught. It was a daily ritual I always looked forward to. Brian Thompson, fellow psychologist and my former college roommate, rounded the corner and eyed the candy in my hands.
“Morning, Roger. Can I offer you a cane with that? Some Life Alert, perhaps?” Brian said, raising an eyebrow. He was under the false impression that the candies in the blue bowl by Patty’s computer were only intended for consumption by the elderly. I, however, rejected that notion. There was simply no reason why vivacious, youthful men and women couldn’t partake in the delectable bits of caramel ambrosia. I winked at Patty before turning back to Brian.
“Don’t you have any clients today?” I said, walking past him only to turn around and throw the candy at the back of his head. The wrapper crinkled as the candy thumped the back of his neck. Brian laughed and disappeared into the waiting room to retrieve his next patient.
Walking down the short hallway leading to my office, I unlocked the door and strolled in, shrugging off my coat with ease. I hung it on the coat rack by the door and walked to my desk, turning on the lamp. I hadn’t even had time to sit down when a panicked young woman flung open the door to my office. Her hair, windblown and unkempt, bore testimony to her hurry. The bruise on her jaw concerned me, as did the embarrassing state of her blouse, stained and untucked.
“Hello, ma’am, have you scheduled an appointm—,” I asked as politely as possible before being interrupted by the banshee.
“Appointment? But this is an emergency—” she began to explain fervently. Suddenly, she was cut off by Patty, who waddled in with a speed unknown to me before then.
“I am so sorry, Roger, I couldn’t stop the woman. I tried to keep her in the waiting room, but she just ran right on past—” Patty said in an apologetic tone.
Sweet, sweet Patty, I thought. Just before I could reply and attempt to remedy the situation, the young woman swung her arms out in exasperation, but, as someone who obviously lacked spatial awareness, underestimated her own arm span and accidentally whacked Patty in the face. Right then, chaos abounded. Patty screamed as she cradled her nose, trying to stop the blood from seeping between her fingers and dripping on her floral sweater. The klutzy female stammered her apologies and attempted to help stanch the bleeding by tilting Patty’s head back. I could feel my face involuntarily contort as my receptionist’s perfectly coiffed hair suffered grievously at her assailant’s hands. To make matters worse, the young woman’s assistance was largely ineffective. Patty struggled to find her balance after having her head tilted back so sharply and without warning. Obviously, the balancing capabilities of the inner ear diminish exponentially as one ages, but the young woman seemed quite oblivious of these consequences. All within a matter of seconds, Patty, unable to maintain her balance, stumbled backward and fell to the ground, outraged and mortified. The young woman’s face flushed with shame as she bent down to try and hoist Patty back to her feet. Brian appeared in the doorway and inhaled sharply, eyes widening. He looked at me, obviously wanting to remedy the situation but wary of delving into a tangle of bloody, frustrated women.
“Brian, get Patty some Kleenexes and close the door! Maybe some Advil, too!” I shouted over the havoc, sparing Brian the pleasure of removing the overly zealous, clueless young woman from an infuriated Patty. Patty cursed (cursed!) and waved the woman away. She pinched the bloodied nostrils of her mangled nose together and looked down, horrified at the blood spatters marring the printed daisies on her favorite sweater (she wore it at least once a week). In the past twelve years I’d known her, I’d never seen our receptionist exude anything other than pleasant sweetness. I gaped at Patty, now a bloodied, disheveled heap, as she stared murderously at the young woman. In the blink of an eye (or rather, the smacking of a nose), the sweet, church-going receptionist I’d known for a dozen years vanished.
It appears this klutzy woman had smacked the Patty right out of Patty.
Brian gently aided Patty to her feet and ushered her from my office. As soon as the door closed with a resounding thud, I turned my attention to this feminine fiend. I was annoyed and quite frankly surprised that such a dainty young woman could be the catalyst for such chaos. I stared at her face, wanting to know how her jaw had sustained such bruising. Had she been beaten? If she traipsed about New York City drawing blood from the weakest members of society, I could understand why someone might retaliate. My attention was suddenly diverted to the blood spatters on my carpet. I sighed and gave her a pointed look. She smiled apologetically, but her face fell when my critical expression remained unchanged. I cleared my throat and raised an eyebrow before retreating to my office chair. She paled slightly and followed suit by sitting in the leather chair across from me.
The sound of the leather rubbing together as she shifted nervously was akin to flatulence. I, being well acquainted with my furniture and thus unaffected by the noise, took a rather callous pleasure in watching her squirm with discomfort. The bitterness I felt toward her felt uncomfortably foreign. After all, as a counselor, it was my duty and pleasure to listen, console, and advise any ailing New Yorker who crossed the threshold of my office. So, what made her different? After pondering the abnormal feelings of resentment, I decided, after glancing her way, that my actions were justified due to the simple fact that not one of my clients, no matter how shambled the state of their mental health, had ever assaulted a co-worker, especially one as attentive and kind as Patty, upon arrival.
This woman should have made an appointment. And I should send her away so I could make my coffee in the break room like I did every morning at this time. But something stopped me: my insatiable need to make things right. I decided to try and quell my feelings of dislike and do my very best to listen, console, and advise her.
I retrieved a notepad from my desk drawer and uncapped my favorite rollerball pen, the one that wrote and doodled with delicious fluidity, and beseeched the universe for vast quantities of patience and empathy, as my reservoirs had been unexpectedly depleted the moment this woman waltzed through my door.
Crossing my legs, I locked eyes with her and nodded my head, silently urging her to begin.
Great. Now the therapist hates you, I thought. This day just keeps getting better. I broke our eye contact and fumbled with my vocabulary, trying to find the best way to begin. I smiled apologetically, but his face remained stoic. I cleared my throat and began.
“H-hi there. Thank you for seeing me. My name’s Beth, and I really need your help,” I rasped, silently begging my saliva glands to hurry up and do their jobs. My frazzled nerves had turned my tongue into a dry, useless, floppy thing.
“I won’t argue with you there,” the man said through gritted teeth, obviously straining to maintain a neutral, polite tone. “My name is Dr. Roger Stevens. Please continue.”
I could tell I wasn’t the usual client. Obviously. I mean, what normal client goes around whacking old women in the face? Normal clients were supposed to calmly sit in the leather chairs, open up about their depression and anxiety, and then tell their counselor that they looked forward to next week’s appointment. I was pretty sure that, right at this moment, he was wondering what he’d done to anger the gods, silently lamenting to them that he deserved better than being trapped in this office with some accident-prone, old woman smacker. I fidgeted with the pom-poms at the end of my hand-knitted scarf and inhaled deeply.
“I guess I should begin with this morning, then,” I said, looking for a sign of approval. He nodded slightly and uncapped his pen, poised to take notes.
“So, I woke up this morning and was incredibly cold,” I said.
“You felt cold? In the winter time? Truly surprising,” the counselor said, nodding understandingly.
I nodded as well, grateful for his empathy, until I realized that he was smirking, clearly not afraid to make fun of me. Okay, so maybe I deserved it. I cleared my throat and gathered my thoughts.
“Since it was cold, I tried to pull up the blankets, but my hand slipped, and I punched myself in the face. Right here in the jaw,” I said, pointing at the unsightly bruise that marred my face. “I know. I’m an idiot. And I tried to go back to sleep, but that’s when I saw the time. It was 8:20 a.m. Great, right? I was late for work!” I scanned his face. He didn’t look surprised.
“So, I jumped out of bed but, lucky me, the sheet caught on my foot, and my whole body slammed into the floor, my nose included.”
Roger’s eyebrows shot upward. “You mean, you gave yourself a nosebleed today as well?”
“I—Well, yes,” I said quietly. Roger wrote something down. “What are you writing?”
“Not—good—with—noses,” he said, each word articulated slowly and distinctly. I scowled at him. He offered a cheeky smile, but he suddenly remembered his frustration with me, and the smile instantly evaporated. I pressed on.
“I yanked my foot out from the sheets and walked into my bathroom. I remember looking in the mirror and being horrified. Nothing like being greeted by the sight of a mangled face and blood dripping everywhere.”
That’s when Roger interrupted me. “I take comfort knowing that you know how Patty feels,” he said dryly.
I grimaced. “Anyway, I began to wash my face when—drumroll please—soap got in my eye. There I was, Roger, screaming, trying to turn on the water, but my head ran into the faucet. I got it to turn on even though I was totally blind. Then I threw on my work clothes.”
Roger sighed, rubbing his forehead. I ignored him.
“That wasn’t even the worst part. After that mess of a morning, I tried to go downstairs to breakfast and—”
“Let me guess,” Roger began scribbling, “you fell down the stairs.”
I nodded and put my head in my hands. I didn’t want to tell him that I was pretty sure my toe was broken because of that.
“I walked—hobbled, honestly—over to the Keurig to make coffee and used my favorite mug. As soon as I walked outside to my car, a stupid bird—you’re going to make fun of me—flew over me and pooped in my coffee. That’s right, it pooped in my coffee cup. How does that even happen? And see, without my coffee, I literally can’t function—”
“Clearly,” Roger said again, writing furiously. I smiled, happy that he understood, and continued.
“I was angry. I remember just screaming and throwing my arms out—”
“You mean like with Patty?”
“Stop interrupting me!”
“Stop throwing your hands out.”
I sighed, sitting back in the chair in defeat. “Unfortunately, when I threw my hands out, my coffee splattered on me, and my favorite mug flew into the bushes. It burned my hand—” I rolled up my sleeves to show Roger, “and got all over my clothes.”
Roger’s eyes flickered disapprovingly to the coffee stains on my blouse, and he jotted down more notes.
“I climbed into my car, but unfortunately, my fingers got caught in the door as it shut. Now one’s dislocated, one’s purple, and I can’t seem to find the other three—”
He looked up in horror.
“Just kidding, doc, they’re all to be accounted for… But seriously, I just decided to call in sick and come straight to a therapist. Or counselor. Whatever you are. Please help me, Roger. This is a nightmare,” I pleaded with him.
I smiled politely and ran my fingers through my hair. I peered out the window, thankful for the peaceful snowfall, and pondered her plea. This was quite an unusual case. It didn’t seem to be a disorder or an illness—nothing a prescription could fix. I was still not quite sure how this poor, frazzled woman managed to survive in New York. Talk about danger: whizzing cars, disagreeable people, an endless maze of streets and alleyways… Part of me was impressed that, despite her inclination for the unlucky, she was remarkably resilient. I rested my chin on my hand, considering the poor, battered woman before me. Her lip quivered, and her eyes were wide with desperation. I’ll admit, as I glanced at the bruise on her face, the splotches of coffee on her blouse, and the tears in her eyes, I practically felt the frustration seep out of me as feelings of empathy intermingled with pity quickly replaced it. I resituated my notepad to write down a recommendation for weekly visits, tore out the piece of paper, and called Beth forward, handing her my suggestions. She began to cry softly as she pocketed the piece of paper. Uncomfortable with the overwhelming compassion I was beginning to feel toward her, I stood up and quickly ushered the woman out of my office, hoping to be rid of her before Havoc came to knock at my door again—or rather, burst through my door without an appointment and smack my receptionist in the face.
She and I walked down the hallway side by side, shoulder to shoulder. The receptionist’s desk loomed ahead to the right, and Beth slowed her pace, obviously wary of Patty, the battle-hungry lioness that might be prowling about as she nursed her wounds and plotted her revenge. I gripped her elbow reassuringly and stepped between Beth and the lion’s den.
Unfortunately for Beth, Patty was indeed pacing around her desk, eyes aflame with fury, hungry for justice. Though I’m sure she yearned to pounce, she didn’t advance toward us. I looked at Patty and rolled my eyes understandingly, trying to convey my sympathy for her and my annoyance with Beth. I wasn’t actually annoyed with Beth, but I figured implying that I sided with Patty would be good for my physical health, increase my lifespan, and heighten my quality of life while on this earth. Patty lifted her chin triumphantly, satisfied that I was on her side and finally escorting the feminine fiend out of the building—and her life—forever (or so Patty thought; she had no idea that Beth was coming back for weekly visits).
We entered the elevator in silence, both of us breathing a sigh of relief. I removed my hand from Beth’s elbow and stepped into the corner just beyond the length of her arm span. Her hands were shaking, most likely with nervousness, but I didn’t want to take a chance lingering in her vicinity in case her arms had another sudden hunger for blood.
We reached the ground floor, and I placed my hand underneath her elbow once more to stabilize her (and to make sure she successfully vacated the building without any more casualties; I rather liked the nose on Mr. Baltin the doorman and didn’t wish it any harm). I nodded in Mr. Baltin’s direction, and he tipped his hat as he opened the door for us both, waggling his eyebrows suggestively at Beth as she passed. Ah, Mr. Baltin. He made me laugh.
I helped, or rather pushed, her through the door and told her I would see her next week.
“Yeah, we’ll see you next week!” Mr. Baltin said over-zealously. I cast him a side-eye. I rather liked quirky people like Mr. Baltin, but sometimes, such people needed a little reprimand. Mr. Baltin’s smile disappeared immediately, his face darkening in shame. For some reason, I seemed to be a fountain of grace today, so I smiled at him before turning back to Beth. I waved at her as she walked toward the crosswalk.
“Take care, Beth!” I shouted.
She waved back but proceeded to dig the slip of paper I’d given her out of her pocket. She looked as if she was about to ask a question pertaining to the appointment time I’d scribbled on it, but, her luck being as it was, a winter wind managed to nab the piece of paper from her hand. She raced out into the busy street, venturing far beyond the safety of the crosswalk. The wind suddenly relinquished the slip of paper, and, wearied from its flight, the paper fell swiftly into a puddle in the middle of the street. Whether Beth was blissfully unaware or deliberately ignoring the oncoming traffic, she bent down to retrieve it. All of a sudden, I saw a dingy, yellow taxi cab barreling toward her.
“Beth!” Mr. Baltin and I cried out simultaneously.
The taxi cab blared its horn but veered just in the nick of time. Beth, with her slip of paper finally in hand, looked up, wide-eyed. The blood drained from her face when she saw the taxi driver speed off and began piecing together what had happened (or rather, what had almost happened).
Mr. Baltin and I breathed a sigh of relief. But it wasn’t over yet. She remained frozen, her eyes glued to the taxi as it meandered through traffic and quickly disappeared.
“Beth, what the hell are you doing? Get out of the street!” I yelled, realizing that she was in shocked stupor. It worked, because she looked back at me and began to race toward the opposite side of the street. She stepped up on the curb and waved at me victoriously. Thank God she was finally safe and that another crisis had been averted. I could finally go back inside. I glanced at my watch. Calvin, my next client, would be here any moment. He was never late. That’s when I heard a scream and the crunch of metal, followed by a string of profanities.
In the few seconds I had taken to glance at my watch, a bicyclist, presumably on his way home from work by the look of his professional garb, had slammed into Beth. Despite making impact, the bike still had momentum. The biker flew into a telephone pole, and his bike clattered to the concrete. Both parties lay in crumpled, mangled heaps. Concerned bystanders rushed to both the injured biker and the unconscious, bleeding woman.
I could only gape. Mr. Baltin began to whimper.
Just then, Calvin walked up.
“Greeting me at the door today, eh? Incredible service. I guess you’re the most highly rated therapist in New York for a reason,” he chuckled, elbowing me lightly. It took everything in me to tear my eyes away from the chaos across the street and greet him. I smiled weakly and turned back to watch the gathering crowds of people, my eyes roving about for any sign of Beth betwixt the group of people gathered around her. Calvin, confused at my lack of engagement, followed my gaze and gasped. That’s when I saw it: Beth, that little warrior of a woman, had managed to stand with the help of two strangers. A siren (hopefully belonging to an ambulance) sounded in the distance. She flashed a bloody smile at me and waved weakly.
“See you next week,” she yelled before going limp in both of the strangers’ arms. Calvin turned to look at me, obviously surprised that she was also a client of mine.
“I suddenly feel better about having only mild depression,” he said, running a hand over his bald head and chuckling nervously. Not the time, Calvin. Not the time. He turned and entered the building, anxious to begin his session. Mr. Baltin reached out, as if to caress her from across the street, whereas I could only shake my head in wonder. I couldn’t believe I had the audacity to call myself a therapist when I had almost sent this woman away for the sake of following my own schedule. I felt a buzz in my back pocket—Brian had texted me, asking for updates on Beth. No doubt Patty was just as curious about the woman.
Boy, oh boy, were they going to love this story.