I rubbed my eyes as I exited my room, trying to see where Cole’s voice was coming from. He peered at me behind the corner of his kitchen, so I made my way there.
“Vaughn messaged me. He has time for you tomorrow morning at ten. Is that okay with you?” he spoke before I could even open my mouth.
“Yeah, sounds good,” I said before I could start thinking about it – I feared I’d back out from it if I did.
“Great! I’ll come with you, so you don’t have to worry about finding the place. It’s a bit tricky to find the right door.”
“Sounds good,” I repeated, though I was feeling a bit nervous now. Why, I had no idea.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
I smelled bacon. Bacon and eggs. If I hadn’t been hungry already, I was now. The smell was phenomenal.
“Oh, god, yes,” I mumbled.
He smiled at me and gestured at the table.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked as I was sitting down.
“Didn’t wake up once,” I said, peering at the clock. “How is it almost ten already? I slept for almost twelve hours!”
“And that’s a good thing. You really needed the sleep,” he said as he walked to me with a hot pan in his hands.
Again, he did most of the talking while we ate. I wasn’t completely focused on his words this time, though. The appointment tomorrow was looming in my head, almost like a dark cloud. I wasn’t completely happy with the idea of changing the shrink right now, but then again, the appointment I had with my own was next week. I’d have to wait six whole days before seeing him, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to wait that long.
For one, it gave me plenty of opportunities to back out of it once again. And two, I had plenty of time to freak out again.
But my biggest problem wasn’t the time. It was the fact that I had to start all over again with a new person. I’d have to tell this Vaughn, a complete stranger, everything from the beginning. I’d have to relive my entire life in front of a man I had never met before. I wasn’t completely comfortable talking about stuff like that, even with Cole.
“You all right?” Cole suddenly spoke, waking me up from my thoughts.
“Yeah… I guess I’m still a bit sleepy,” I muttered.
“We’ll take it easy for today,” he told me with a smile.
We did exactly that. We spent most of the day in front of TV, though Cole had some paperwork to do as well. I let him focus on that while I tried to focus on the sitcoms, but the thought of the appointment invaded my mind more often than once.
By the end of the day, I couldn’t remember much about it. This time I was also more nervous when we went to sleep, and I stayed up for a few hours, tossing and turning restlessly under the covers.
But then, finally, I fell asleep, and the morning arrived.
I had never been so nervous about a meeting with a shrink before. I tried to understand why it bothered me so much this time. Maybe it was because my hopes were now higher than before. Who knew?
Having Cole to accompany me was making things both easier and worse for me at the same time. Easier because he was good at keeping me from going down the rabbit hole that was my mind, and worse because he was there to witness me being unmanly. Weak. Sissy.
Those negative thoughts were the reason I was in that situation, so I did my best to ignore them.
I was surprisingly calm when we arrived at the shrink’s office. It probably would’ve taken me a hot minute to find the right door, just like Cole had said, since the office was located in a small shopping center, but the entrance was through a side door outside, and we had to climb three flights of stairs to get there. Once we had the right floor, there was a small hallway with five more doors to choose from. The place looked like an office.
We were supposed to have plenty of time to sit down after we arrived, but it took Vaughn only a few minutes to step outside.
“Cole!” the older man smiled at him and came to shake his hand before turning his attention to me. “And you must be Randall.”
There was something sympathetic in his voice. A big chunk of his hair had already turned white, and he had plenty of wrinkles when he smiled as we shook hands, but there was something child-like in his eyes. And a lot of kindness.
“Are you ready to get started?” he asked, his eyes swiftly noting the small wounds on my temples.
“I guess so,” I mumbled and turned to look at Cole. “You don’t have to stay–”
“You know what my answer is,” he smirked at me and sat back down.
I nodded, feeling… relieved. And the odd feeling was back.
“Right this way,” Vaughn said, gesturing for me to step into his office.
After the annoying introductions and pleasantries I always had to go through when starting with a new shrink, I finally was able to look around the office. The room was like a shrink’s office, yes, but it had more personality than the ones I’d been in. For some reason, seeing the pictures of his family, and the variety of decorations and drawings made by kids, eased my mind.
And then I took a better look at one of the photos. Vaughn was in it, wearing a suit, holding hands with another man in a suit. It looked a lot like a wedding picture.
“Feel free to tell me if anything makes you uncomfortable,” Vaughn spoke somewhere behind me, and when I turned to look at him, he was sitting down.
There was an empty armchair in front of him. It looked much more comfortable than anything I’d seen before. I was still nervous and feeling a bit claustrophobic, but at the same time, I had a good feeling about this.
I sat down and took a deep breath.
“I’m not good at talking,” I warned him.
“I understand,” he said slowly. “Take all the time you need and do let me know if you are getting uncomfortable.”
I nodded. “I…”
I what? All of a sudden, I didn’t have any words. None whatsoever. He sat there, peering at me over his glasses with a friendly expression on his face, patiently waiting for me to continue.
Talking… Why was it so hard to do, even though I knew it was exactly what I needed to do? He was able to help me, but the longer I stayed silent, the harder it was to open my mouth.
“Let’s start with something easy, hmm?” Vaughn suddenly spoke. “How has your day been so far?”
“I… woke up. Ate. Got dressed and now I’m here,” I muttered, looking away from him in frustration.
This was not going to go too well. The atmosphere was much nicer, but I was still starting to get stressed. Cole sitting outside was stealing a lot of my attention, and suddenly I wished he’d left.
“And what did you eat?”
I glared at the shrink. “Why does it matter?”
Vaughn leaned back in his chair and spent a moment watching me. “You said you’re not good at talking. Talking is a skill we learn at a young age, but communication and expressing ourselves with words is something we can master only with practice.”
I closed my eyes and forced air into my lungs. I tried to remember this man was here to help me. I didn’t have to stay here. I could just walk out that door and never look back.
Or I could stay.
“Haven’t had a lot of practice, I suppose,” I finally muttered.
“You find it hard to express yourself? Or is it a matter of not wanting to do so?”
“I don’t want to,” I said truthfully, and Vaughn nodded.
“Are you here by your own will?”
“Yeah…” I muttered, taking a better position on the chair. “I’ll…”
I’d end up dead if I left now.
“That is a good start,” Vaughn said with a smile. “I can help you, but only as much as you will let me.”
“I had cereal. Juice. Apple juice…” I murmured, thinking about this morning with Cole at his table. “Some stupid low calorie nonsense Cole had lying around…”
“Sounds delicious,” Vaughn said, and laughed when I raised my eyebrows at him. “I’m sure low calorie nonsense won’t keep a man like you up and running for long, though.”
I shrugged. “I’m not going to the gym today, so it’s fine.”
“You like working out?” he asked.
“It’s… I don’t know. I’m used to it. It’s been part of my routine for…”
Ever since Dad forced me to go.
“…years,” I ended.
“Do you enjoy it?”
“It…” Did I? “I guess,” I said slowly.
“Would you say working out is more positive than negative to you?”
After a moment of silence, Vaughn changed his position on the chair. “We can come back to that later.”
“Why does it matter?” I asked, but this time I was actually curious.
“You look like a big, strong man, and I’d like to understand your relationship with your body and gym. Working out seems to be a big part of your life.”
“It’s just something I’m used to doing…”
“Hmm. So you wouldn’t be sad if you had to stop working out?”
I got frustrated again. “I tried to kill myself two days ago! Why are we talking about working out?”
He was silent but didn’t seem at all taken aback by my outburst. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No!” I spat and stood up, turning my back on him with balled fists. “I…”
“Perhaps we should talk about working out for now,” Vaughn suggested quietly. “You don’t know me. You don’t trust me. You don’t want to talk about what happened. You may be here by your own will, but you don’t want to be here.”
I just stood there, not knowing what to say or do.
“And I want you to trust me. I want you to feel comfortable talking to me. I could focus only on your suicide attempt, but that won’t help you in the long run. Especially if you don’t trust me.”
I took a deep breath and turned to face the chair again.
“What I really want is an easy fix…” I muttered, and returned to my seat.
“I’m afraid there is no such things,” Vaughn said with a sympathetic smile. “This will be a very long marathon, and we both need to be committed to it.”
“All right…” I mumbled. “But…”
Vaughn waited patiently while I tried to find it in me to say what I wanted to say.
“I… I tried to kill myself,” I finally spat out. “And I… I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Are you ready to talk about it?” Vaughn asked slowly.
I stared at him, then at my hands. “Not really…”
“We don’t have to talk about it in detail yet, but if you want to share your thoughts or feelings or anything else that troubles you, I’m here to listen.”
“It… scared me,” I spoke so quietly it was nearly a whisper. “I don’t… want to die.”
“Was this the first time you’ve tried to take your own life?”
“…yeah. And I regret it. I don’t know why I… why I did it. I just… It was just too much. I didn’t know how else to get out.”
Vaughn nodded with a kind smile. “You were driven into a corner, would you say?”
“I guess… I was just… I can hear all the things my dad used to say to me inside my head. He… He keeps telling me to do it.”
“I see,” Vaughn said with a different tone in his voice. “Do you mean you can actually hear him, or are we talking about past memories?”
“The latter… I can remember everything he’s said to me… And… I can’t forget any of it. I just want to forget…”
“I see,” he said again. “Are you comfortable with talking about these memories?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
“All right. Would you prefer talking about working out?”
“Yes,” I mumbled, feeling relieved I didn’t have to go back there yet.
Into my childhood.
I spent the rest of the session trying to talk about me and my everyday life. Whenever I felt like shutting up, I thought about Cole, that kind man who was still sitting outside the room just to make sure I was all right. I had stayed silent because of my father, but now I wanted to talk.
Because of Cole.
And because of him, I even told Vaughn a little about my father, and why he had treated me the way he did. Because he hated gay people so much. I told Vaughn how much I’d hated Cole’s bar in the beginning, and because of my father’s influence, I’d wanted to burn down the place.
Then, by the time the session was almost over, I’d found enough courage to bring up my suicide attempt again.
“How do I move on?” I breathed out my question.
He frowned lightly as he stared at me. Then he took a deep breath. “For such a simple question, I don’t have a short answer, I’m afraid. It will take time and energy, and there will be a lot of ups and downs on the way. But I know where we can start. I’d like us to meet at least once a week, preferably twice, if that’s all right with you?”
I nodded, not trusting my own opinion on the matter at that moment. Money wasn’t really an issue for me after years of working overtime and not buying anything. All I wanted was to get better, no matter the cost.
“I will help you,” Vaughn said with a friendly smile. “If you let me help you.”
I nodded again. “Thanks… I guess I could really use the help…”
His smile grew wider at my words. “Then I will do everything I can for you.”
I thought we were done now, so I was about to get up, but he stopped me.
“There is one thing I’d like to tell you before you go. You must’ve noticed my wedding picture,” he spoke, and I nodded. “There is nothing wrong about being attracted to people of same sex.”
“I know,” I murmured. “But…” I trailed off, thinking of my old man.
“You have lived through a traumatic childhood,” Vaughn said gently. “If you didn’t already know, all these negative, destructive thoughts you spoke of, your father’s words you still keep hearing and your commitment to avoid certain types of people and places are called coping mechanisms. These are habits you’ve developed early on to avoid angering your father, and these habits have followed you into adulthood.”
“If I didn’t do exactly as he said, he went ballistic,” I spoke quietly. “I have so many scars…”
He nodded. “We’ll start working on these habits soon enough, but for now I want to make sure I will see you on Friday.”
“I’ll be here,” I said.
“Good. I’ll see you on Friday then,” he said with a smile.
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