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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Eight

Julie stopped off to get her usual coffee and was sitting in the waiting room at seven minutes to eight. She looked at the framed prints on the wall, including her favorite, a poster for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival from 1985. A bright, yellow sunflower sat sturdily atop a pale green stem, two leaves stretched out beneath the big yellow disc like a pair of shrugging shoulders, as if to ask “Why so down?” 1985. A good year, she liked to think, though her presence here seemed to count towards the contrary. The thing about coming in the morning, which she’d long understood and even liked, was that it was so quiet. There were several times when she’d shown up before anyone else, only to find the windows dark and the door locked. Along would come Louise or Cervantes himself to unlock the door to let her in, where she’d wait five minutes for them to do whatever it was they needed to do in order to get ready. To review notes, she guessed – a thought that used to make her a little paranoid, but which she now found reassuring, though she doubted how much counseling actually accomplished. Why had she ever stopped going?

It was then that she realized in a rush of panic that she had stopped going, that she wasn’t supposed to be here at all, and that she had come here purely out of the long-standing habit she’d somehow managed to forget on this particular morning. It was Tuesday at eight o’clock am; where else should she be? As if to punctuate the point, Louise walked into the reception room at that very moment, and after putting something on top of her desk paused to take a long look at the familiar patient on the other side of the glass. Tilted her face downwards, so as to see over her eyeglasses in order to look at Julie more carefully, and then simply smiled by way of her usual greeting.

No sooner did she see Louise reach for the phone than another young woman walked through the front door and around the long couch to sit perpendicular to her, Julie, on the smaller couch up against the wall. The girl, like Julie, was wearing blue jeans and a brown leather jacket. Also like Julie, she put her purse down at her side, and folded her hands in her lap. Unlike Julie, she stared straight down at the carpet at her feet, while Julie stared at her. For a moment she thought she was dreaming, as the feeling of being trapped was a familiar one. Should she just get up and leave? It was all so strange. The clock on the wall turned into an instrument of doom, and mere seconds later Cervantes himself appeared at the door, swinging it open with his left hand on the knob and leaning forward slightly to give his standard, hearty hello. He said this looking straight at Julie, and then added with an air of command, “Louise will be with you in a minute,” and then turned to the girl on the couch to let her know that it was time to go in.

No sooner had the door closed behind the pair than Louise appeared at her desk behind the glass again, standing and beckoning Julie forward to discuss what turned out to be an appointment later in the day. To Julie it felt nightmarish, but Dr. Cervantes and Louise (and the other young woman, however unknowingly) were treating her unexpected visit as business as usual.

“Is this is an emergency situation?” asked Louise, firmly enough to show that she wasn’t there to merely deal with the situation pleasantly.

“No . . . I just showed up . . . I’m not sure what I was thinking. I mean, there’s stuff I want to talk about, I guess, but I don’t know why I didn’t call first to make an appointment . . .”

“Maybe you thought you had?” offered Louise, helpfully.

“Yes . . .” said Julie, slowly nodding her head in agreement. “I thought I should just come at the usual time . . .”

“You can discuss that with Dr. Cervantes later, if you like,” said Louise, already looking down at the appointment book. “He has an opening at 11:00 today,” she continued, the bright red nail of her index finger crossing the green lines of the ledger as it moved toward the middle of the page.

She didn’t offer any other times, and so Julie said “Yeah, that would be okay. I don’t go into work until 3:00.” After she said this she realized that an explanation wasn’t really needed, and she felt even more self-conscious.

“So we’ll see you back here then,” said Louise, smiling.

Julie smiled back and left the office. She felt trapped. On the other hand, surely this kind of absentmindedness was reason enough for seeing a doctor. “Or maybe I’m just an airhead,” she thought to herself, and then pushed that thought aside in favor of one that was more productive. Quite a lot had happened since she’d had her last visit, she realized, and now she had three hours to think about how she would present all of it to the psychiatrist.

So there she was, three hours later in the same chair in which she’d sat so many times before. Dr. Cervantes was seated in his leather office chair across from her, leaning back far enough to look as if he was about to swing his feet up on the edge of the desk, parallel beside him.

“The first thing I want to say is that I’m not sure I can afford to keep coming here, week after week. I’d like to be able to check in every once in awhile, I think, but every week is probably just too much money. I’m working now, and I make just enough to pay for rent and food and basic stuff like that. I’m not sure how I’m going to pay for clothes and the car and other things I’m used to having.” She paused to see if Dr. Cervantes wanted to say anything.

“That really might not be necessary.” He paused there. “And of course we’ve discussed other kinds of therapy before.”
When she didn’t say anything, he asked a natural question. “So where are you working?”

“Yeah, well . . . not for mom, which I think is what you’re thinking. I’m working at a video store, Videosyncracy, 25 to 30 hours a week.”

Cervantes, who in fact had not been thinking this, said, “so, you’ve done what you said you were going to do a few months ago.”

“Yes, I have,” said Julie, with a tremulous note of confidence in her voice. “I got the job, and I also moved out.”

Cervantes lowered the corners of his mouth and nodded as if to say, ‘Way to go!’ but settled instead on a more noncommittal “Well, well.”

“I moved in with a couple a little older than I am, just ten minutes from home, on Eastlake. It was through her, the girl, that I got the job.” She waited to see if Cervantes had another expression for her. He didn’t, and so she added, “all this happened the same week I left. That is, the last time I saw you.”

“So how long has that been now?” asked Cervantes.

Julie thought that he probably knew the answer to that, but spoke up anyway. “Three months. Right around three months.”

“That seems about right,” said Cervantes nodding his head affirmatively. Although he said nothing more, the silence seemed to say, “What brings you back?”

“Well… I’m not sure, exactly.”

“Not sure of what, exactly?”

“I’m not really sure why I’m back?”

Cervantes nodded as if it were the most natural answer she could give.

“I don’t think I’ve ever told you much about my dreams, but sometimes they’re pretty weird.” She’d been looking at the same old pair of Mephistoes, looking about the same, really, and now looked up to gauge the expression on his face. “I had one a couple of nights ago that took place here, right in this office.”

This did seem to get Cervantes’ attention. He didn’t change his position in the chair, but he did seem to move his head slightly. “Oh?”

“Well, kind of. It was a cross between this office and my mom’s pottery studio in the solarium. Or it was here, but instead of this table-“ and here Julie turned with both arms open towards the table beside her, “-there was the potter’s wheel from home. I mean, a potter’s wheel from my parent’s place was here in the office.” She didn’t bother to check how interested Cervantes was, as she was interested enough herself.

“You were actually seated in the other chair there,” and here Julie pointed to the empty companion seat on the other side of the small table where the Kleenex were kept, now an imaginary potter’s wheel. “Not the one you’re in now.”

Cervantes nodded, interested but not necessarily committed, or rather indicating that he wanted to hear more.

“We were working on a piece together, and both our hands were on it at the same time.” She paused here to think about what she was saying. “They weren’t touching, though – our hands, that is – I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea.”

“I understand.”

“Anyway, the piece was a vase, a big vase about like this . . .” and here she held out her hands and waved them downwards to give him an idea of the size and the shape of the dream vase. By the time she’d finished she realized she used the same gesture often used to describe a woman’s figure, so she waved her hands as if to erase it and said, “Not like that . . . or maybe it was like that, but that’s not the point.”

Here Cervantes did change his position in the chair.

“The point is, I think . . .” she continued, dropping her hands in her lap. “The main thing was that the vase was already partly filled with water. Not a lot of water, but a little. But it kept getting mixed in with the clay, and then the whole statue – vase, I mean – the whole vase would turn to liquid and collapse.”

“Hmm,” said Cervantes. Some things never change.

“I think we started up the wheel once or twice more, but we weren’t really able to get started. We’d get the vase built up halfway, or even very nearly complete, but then it would just fall apart, and then the wheel would stop.”

Julie had been sitting straight up in her chair while talking; now she slumped back into a less vulnerable position. She was staring at the box of Kleenex, as if waiting for it to turn into a big lump of clay.

“Well, what do you think?” asked Cervantes.

She sat thinking for a moment, as if gathering energy to speak, and then leaned forward in her chair again slightly. “I think it’s pretty obvious, actually.”

“How so?”

“I think that you moving to the other chair is a sign that I want to work with you more closely, for one thing. Although what I said earlier still stands – about not being too sure about the money situation.”

Cervantes nodded and turned his attention to his own hands.

Julie continued. “I’m not exactly sure about the vase, but it’s probably safe to say that it’s something sexual.”

Cervantes looked up from the pen he’d been examining as he listened.

“Although I still don’t think I meant with you. I mean that working on the pottery together was some way of talking about sex in the dream. . . you know what I mean, don’t you?”

“Yes, I think so. We weren’t. . . we were engaged in talking about sex, and that’s all.” A bit of the sticky wicket there, he thought, as a British patient of his used to say.

“Yes, that’s it exactly.” She repeated the last word for emphasis, “Exactly.”

“Okay, so what kinds of things were we saying? Or what would we have talked about, if we had been talking?”

“Probably about this guy named Tom.” She looked down at her own hands after saying his name. Which was certainly for the best, as a look of noticeable surprise crossed Cervantes’ face. “He’s the guy I’ve been sleeping with for the last couple of months.”

“From the video store?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact. How’d you know?”

“Lucky guess.”

“Pretty lucky.”

“Not really.”

“Yeah, well, anyway, he’s the owner and the manager of the place. Tweezer – my roommate – she warned me about getting involved with him. He’s married, you see, and I guess besides that he’s been through a lot of women at the store, so she, like, kinda thinks he’s a jerk . . .” At this point she let her voice trail off into silence.

“You said her name was Tweezer?”

“Yeah. It’s her real name.”

Shrugging that off, he then asked, “Well, what do you think about him?”

“Well, maybe he’s a jerk, but that’s not the point.”

“What do you think the point is?”

“The thing is that . . . it may be true, but when she said that I sorda thought she was referring to me. Which is fine – I haven’t been living with a guy for seven years unmarried like she has, so I guess she can judge me all she wants, but that still isn’t the point.”

Cervantes didn’t stop her. Julie continued.

“The point is that I kinda liked the fact that he’s married, and it doesn’t really matter to me how many women he’s slept with. He’s twice as old as I am, for god’s sake. He could be my father.”

“Is that what you think you might be after?”

“No!’ she said, a little more emphatically, “that isn’t the point either.” She realized she’d picked up a little bit of steam and paused to catch her breath. “Okay, so maybe it is. But my point was that there really is no point. I wanted the experience, and now I’ve had it.”

“And now that you have it?”

“I wish I didn’t have it.”

“And why is that?”

“I don’t like him as much as I thought I would. Some of it was fun, I guess, but it’s not like I like him all that much. He can be kind of creepy.”

“Like your friend Tweezer says?”

“Yeah, Tweezer. Like she said.”

“So that’s part of it, perhaps, but why do you think this now?”

“Well, it’s not exactly that he’s a dog, actually, even though he is. It has more to do with what he brings out of me.”

“The way he makes you feel?”

“No, that’s not it at all. He doesn’t try to make me feel anything. Good, in some ways, actually. It’s just that I feel like I go a little crazy around him.”

“What do mean by ‘crazy,’ exactly?”

“Well. . . a week or so we were over at my parents’ place. Dad, I think you know, has been down in LA for almost a year now, and now mom’s going down there as well, chasing him or trying to reconcile, or something, since I moved out. So the house is sitting there empty, and I wanted to get a chair for my room at Doug and Tweezer’s.”

“Got it.” said Cervantes, nodding.

“Yeah, anyway, to make a long story short, we ended up sleeping together in my parents’ bed.”

“Hmm.”

Julie would have sworn that she could have said, “played Parcheesi” and gotten the exact same reaction.

“I think he was kind of surprised by that, which is exactly what I wanted to do. So you see, he both brought it out of me, and I tried to top him with by pulling a move I didn’t think he’d expect, all at the same time.”

“And it sounds like you did.” Cervantes was a little worried about that comment, but Julie laughed.

“Yes I did. Afterwards I felt kinda weird. Like I’d violated an inner sanctum.”

“You mean your parents’ bedroom?”

“Yeah, I suppose so, but more than that.”

“More than that?”

“Well . . .”

Julie was pushing up the sleeves of her shirt, then pulling them down again. Then she started wring her hands. Cervantes moved his right elbow on the edge of his desk, leaning back a little as if to give her more space.

“Well, it’s like this . . .” She couldn’t go on, and let silence reign for a moment.

“Tough subject, eh?”

“Yeah. Tough subject.” She took a deep breath. “The point of it all is, I think Tom and mom were actually lovers back in college. So yeah, I guess that’s what I was after.”

“I see,” said Cervantes after a few seconds had passed.

“Do you?” asked Julie.

“I think so,” said Cervantes. “I mean that I think I understand your thinking this. I’m not sure that it’s actually true.”

“But it’s possible.”

“Well, yes, it’s possible. Doesn’t mean it’s true.”

“I overheard mom talking to a friend once, and they were talking about this guy that ran the video store and how much he’d changed since college. Mom changed the subject right away, and something about the way she did it made me realize that she used to know him. It was a total coincidence when I found out that the girl I live with works at the same store. But I went and applied there anyway, knowing that it might lead to something. And Tom must have known who I was; I look a lot like my mom did at that age.”

“Hmm.”

“I also found out a while ago that mom and dad had to get married. They were in their last year at school together, and all of a sudden they got married. Before graduating or anything.”

“Of course, some couples do get married in college.”

“Yeah, but there was definitely something rushed about the way they did it.”

“And your evidence for this?” This was a question Cervantes asked quite a bit; not really intended as hostile, but some clients took it that way, resenting the need to measure their feelings against objective criteria – especially when they didn’t have any such thing. Julie did.

“Well, I did a little hunting around. Mom’s always been pretty secretive about the wedding. For example, they never talk about their wedding anniversary”

“That’s not necessarily unusual. Especially if they’ve had problems over the years.”

“Maybe not. But in their wedding album there’s just pictures. No invitations or anything giving a date.”

“But the fact that there is an album suggests that it wasn’t entirely a secret.”

“No, but when I’ve asked mom about the date she’s always been strange. She used to say, ‘about a year before you were born.’ So, you think, or I thought, 1984 – that makes perfect sense. But the wedding was in the fall of 1984.”

“And what does this mean?”

“Well, once I heard her talking with one of her friends from college, who said something about her secret engagement.”

“So this idea of a secret isn’t just yours.”

“No. And now it’s just so obvious. She got married before she finished school, but by finishing school she doesn’t mean graduated. What she means, even though she doesn’t say it, is that she left school in order to have me. She never talks about graduating. So what I think happened was that she got pregnant with me around the beginning of her junior year. Dad did the right thing and married her before she started showing, which he could easily do because he was a year older. They got formally engaged right after she found out she was pregnant with me, but said that they’d been secretly engaged for three months, and then got married two months later. That made for a respectable engagement of six months – mom always says six, but it was really five, and that itself is a cover for the fact that the whole thing was a rush job. I dug out Dad’s diploma from one of his files in the office. He graduated in 1985, four months after I was born, and eight months after they were married – in October of 1984. Mom always implies that Dad was working when she had me, but the fact is that he was just working to finish school. She’s always very vague about it. And that’s why she’s never really had a job. She just did the decorating and seamstress thing on the side, and now she’s trying to push it onto me.”

“You seem pretty confident about this.”

“I’m just lucky I wasn’t aborted. I guess I can probably thank Mom for that.”

“Okay, so what does this mean for the big picture?”

“It means that they never really wanted to get married, but stuck it out because of me. I wasn’t exactly wanted either. And that’s why they’ve had all these problems. And now Dad has finally left, even though Mom hasn’t figured out how to deal with it.”

Neither Julie nor Cervantes spoke for a moment.

“I’m a little more concerned with how you’re dealing with it.”

“I’m fine with it. I call him up in LA and he sends me money when I need it. As long as I don’t do it too much there’s no problem. I haven’t even figured out what ‘too much’ is.”

“Do you miss him?”

“Not really. He’s got his own thing going on now. And mom needs to figure that out now.”

“That seems pretty generous.”

“Yeah, well, I have my own life too.”

In her effort to relate all this mental sleuthing she was beginning to sound shrill. And she was pushing her shirtsleeves up and down several times a minute without realizing that she was doing so. He thought again of medication. He wouldn’t bring up this visit, but he knew that he would eventually. Some day we’ll all be on medication of one kind or another, he thought. It was the future. It was inevitable.

He stood up from his chair, signaling that their meeting was at an end.

“So when we meet next week you can tell me about that.”

Julie actually held her breath for a few seconds before acknowledging him. “I think we’d better make that two weeks.”

Dr. Cervantes turned towards his desk and flipped forward by a couple of pages. “Okay. Then two weeks it is.”

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