Thursday, February 3, 2011

From the Therapist's Chair

The following writing is a piece of fiction, lightly inspired by real life experiences in my time working juvenile probation, and in response to this week's Red Dress Club prompt (link up is on Friday):  The premise of the contest is to write a piece of flash fiction - it should be no more than 600 words and should take no longer than 3 minutes to read aloud.
And the requirement for this particular one is a character MUST tell a joke and a character MUST cry. One character can do both.
Critique on this piece is welcomed and encouraged.
Some people are gifted musically.  Others mathematically.  Jo?  She excelled kinesthetically.  She could watch the movements of others, listen to the flow of their words, and read between the lines.  It's what made her so good at her job.  Kids would come in and sit in the big brown chair (they always chose the brown chair - never the red), and slump down, staring at the patterns in the rug.
"Nothing's going on.  School's fine.  Life is boring," they'd reassure.  But Jo would feel the unspoken words tumbling through the air.  She'd watch their deceptive eyes and lack of hand gestures and she'd feel the real story absorbing into her skin, inhaling it into her head.
"Dad beat me last night."
"I'm pregnant."
"My parents are getting divorced."
Simple sentences, heard intuitively.  And Jo, never letting on that she knew what lay beneath the surface, would gently prod, "You seem down today.  What's really on your mind?"  Some of the teens took longer than others, but eventually they learned to confide in her, to think of Jo as a safe refuge from the chaos in their lives.
On this particular morning Jo had already been refuge to two teens, and she refilled her coffee mug and scarfed a granola bar to refuel for her 11:00 appointment.  She would need the energy for her toughest case, she thought, her hand lightly resting over the manila folder.  Tracy was 13 years old, sullen, distrustful, and suffering from one of the worst cases of borderline personality disorder Jo had seen in her ten years of practice.  Borderlines were known for their manipulation tactics, unstable moods, and distortions of thoughts and self.  So far Jo had been unable to reach through Tracy's walls to connect with her on a deeper level.
Sighing and taking a last swig of coffee, Jo rose and walked across the rug, opening the door to the waiting area.
"Tracy, come on in," Jo paused as she watched Tracy rise with heaviness, trudging her way into the office in wide-legged black pants, long silver chains hanging and jingling from the pockets.  "How are you today?"
"Oh just freaking GREAT, so thrilled to be back with my lousy Brady Bunch therapist," Tracy joked sarcastically, rolling her eyes for good measure.  She tossed her emaciated frame into the brown chair, slumping down as low as possible without tumbling to the floor.
Jo eyed the layers of kohl eyeliner, the nose ring, the streaks of pink in the long edgy hair, and she thought for a moment.  They'd been at this for weeks and Tracy had proved completely resistent to Jo's softer efforts.  Yet unbeknownst to Tracy, Jo was receiving more than her sarcastic words; she was feeling the pain hidden behind the hardened goth mask.  Jo decided it was time to switch approaches.  It was time to talk about the elephant in the room.  She took a deep breath and looked at the droplets of blood oozing through Tracy's white ribbed tank top in at least a dozen places. 
"Tracy, tell me about the cutting," Jo said gently.  She forced herself to look in Tracy's eyes, which angrily looked away in response, staring at the graduate degree on the wall.
"I want to know.  I see you're in pain.  I feel like things are so bad you can't let anyone in."
Jo settled in and waited.  The clock ticked.
"I can't stop," Tracy whispered, putting her head in her hands as black tears rolled softly down her cheeks.


jp@A Green Ridge said...

WOW, Baby Girl! That's not only scary but moving as well. Let's hope that in things to come that Jo can reach Tracy!

Nancy C said...

"...real story absorbing into her skin"

I loved this phrase.

I loved the back and forth.

Compelling characters. More, please.

Unknown said...

I love the character building you did at the beginning of the piece. The slight mention of the chair color had me waiting to she which chair she would sit in.

Nancy said...

Awesome, Lisa. And I didn't know about your past career. Must have been very interesting, but challenging.

Andrea said...

Now I know why we get along so well. I've been Jo, too. I know I knew that, but I really know it now.

Great wording, my fave, here:
"Simple sentences, heard intuitively." And the things the kids have been through? Heartbreaking.

I lost you a little after that first line describing Tracey, maybe because I wanted to rush to what she was going to say to her, I could have done without these two lines:

"They'd been at this for weeks and Tracy had proved completely resistent to Jo's softer efforts. Yet unbeknownst to Tracy, Jo was receiving more than her sarcastic words; she was feeling the pain hidden behind the hardened goth mask."

I loved it. It broke my heart just a little bit.

TexWisGirl said...

I agree with Andrea's last line. "I loved it. It broke my heart just a little bit." You made us care for the kids as if they were in the room with us. I think you have a great power in your writing.

laughwithusblog said...

I love your stories!

Valerie Boersma said...

This was so wrenching and beautiful.. My daughter is in the 9th grade and I'm sure there are many, many Tracy's at her school, crying out for help.
The cutting is the worst-such an act of self hatred. I hope Jo can get through to Tracy, somehow, and help her stop.

My Mad World said...

Wonderful story! Really wanted more!

Always thought you should be a writer!

Terry said...

Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed looking through the page on your animals. Two of your cats look a lot like two of my cats!

Chatty Crone said...

Everyone has a story to tell. Whew. This was a good one. sandie♥

Sorta Southern Single Mom said...

Wow... that was intense! I enjoyed reading it though.

Anonymous said...

OH geez... you gave me goosebumps. I love how you developed the character... I love how you intensified the moment... and then. there it was. She confesses, admits, pours her heart out. Made me want to read more about this story...

Unknown said...


I have chills.
From your writing, and this girl, her story.
And you know why b/c you've read my blog.

I want to know more. Are you thinking you could take this somewhere? I loved it. Because I love knowing I'm not alone.

KLZ said...

This is a really unique take on this post - I like the view from the therapist's seat.

Tracie Nall said...

This right here is amazing.

I would love to see you develop it further...I want to read more. Coming at this from the therapist's point of view is very interesting. Maybe especially to me, because I have been the one sitting in that brown chair hiding.

Jennifer said...

I loved that when Jo switched committed to switching tactics and went for the direct approach she was able to do so gently especially after this brilliantly written line: "Oh just freaking GREAT, so thrilled to be back with my lousy Brady Bunch therapist."

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

Wow! This was amazing. I love how she just sensed it was time to get right to the point.

I'm going to make the same comment here as I did the last post I read; I find the centered formatting very difficult to read. I don't know why, but it is distracting to me. I guess b/c it is so unusual for fiction. I think of poetry as being formatted that way.

Cheryl said...

I really liked this. I wish all teens had a "Jo" in their lives.

And I loved the last line, the black tears. Perfect.

Anonymous said...

Wow...this was powerful. I loved your phrasing and tempo. I would love to read more about Jo and Tracie.

lydia said...

I wanted to say that I like these characters a lot too- I know others have said that. But they really are very interesting. nd for a counselor or therapist to have that gift is just genius. I want to know more too.