steps

BY MASHIYAT ZAMAN

“So where do you hope to go from here?” Nicole asked, just like she had in our last two appointments, veering us into our closing remarks. I shrugged.

In less than a week, I’d finish my semester, and after another three I’d begin a creative writing class for the interterm. I’d told her how I hoped to get into a habit of writing, and eventually fit it within the crannies between class and homework. I explained my theory in our first session—how writing gives me a kind of control I don’t have in real life. When I try to build a world out of some text and imagination, I get to choose what’s important, and in doing so, command stability. So it’s not just a hobby, but also part of my well-being.

Smiling, she nodded slowly. When she asked me more about the work I did, I was eager to respond. The exchange established the program of our subsequent meetings. First, she’d ask how things were going, and I would answer in more words than I needed, taking every shot at connecting each thought needling me, from a sour experience with a crush to the growing barrier built between my parents and myself. Next, she’d pick out one point from my monologue and poke, ask me to elaborate—tell me more about your prom date, or what is your father like? And for the next forty minutes, I would oblige, telling stories, joking or gesturing, pausing to find the right word, filling in the context for a damning revelation.

For those forty minutes, I had permission to talk about myself—an uncommon opportunity and more exciting than I’d anticipated. And perhaps I was more comfortable with the chance than most. Once, between explanations about why I felt I couldn’t talk to my parents she added, “I think you are very easy to talk to.”

I smiled sheepishly.

“I’ll let you know how the writing class goes,” I said at the end of our third session. I mentioned second semester—how my schedule was pretty relaxed and that I could meet every other week like we had been. I could let her know whether writing actually helped. As I began to list my classes and their times Nicole interrupted—

“We technically don’t schedule students to meet regularly, unless it’s an emergency.”

I blinked, clamping my mouth shut a little too late, though I must have given the slightest nod because she continued. “I’d be happy to meet with you if there are openings, but—” She gestured towards me as if I could finish the sentence. I only stared.

“You’re too healthy.”

I found the privilege of talking—free from guilt, from reservation—more than enjoyable, but also a salve for the scrapes and pinpricks that constantly irritated my conscience. I had scheduled my first session as a shot in the dark—about a week after I didn’t leave my bed one Monday, skipping classes and meals, and avoiding all of my friends for no reason I could easily place. But I had also the foresight to fear what a precedent might entail, and seeking counseling seemed to me the right response.

I couldn’t gauge my health like Nicole apparently had. In the five weeks that we’d had our three sessions, I hadn’t skipped a class, or at least if I had, it didn’t usher in the collapse of the day’s remainder. But in those five weeks, I wasn’t a different person than the one who couldn’t leave his bed.

I wanted to be mad at Nicole. If I was “too healthy,” then it seemed like my only way to continue seeking help was to say I’d skipped yet another day, or haven’t eaten any meals. It seemed like my only way to move forward was to go backwards and try again.

I knew that wasn’t at all what Nicole had meant for me to do, but I find the truth scarier. Nicole knew that I don’t need her help. I’m equipped to help my scrapes heal into scars, equipped to take a few steps alone.

Mashiyat Zaman is a rising sophomore at Amherst College. Photography by Reece Sisto. 

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