Time in Willow Creek: 12 months, 2 weeks, 3 days
Later on that day, after Hillary calmed down and came to her senses, she apologized to everyone and announced she was going to get counseling. Harriett was proud that she was taking a step in the right direction. Juliana didn’t say much but hoped that it would help her. Harold just grunted. After the announcement, she called the number on the card her sister gave her and begged for an appointment as soon as possible. The doctor said, if she could get there first thing in the morning, she could be all hers. Hillary wasn’t pleased about having to wake up before dawn to get to Windenburg by 9 a.m., but she needed the help; there was no question in her mind about that after her unfortunate display at breakfast.
She awoke the next morning with butterflies flitting about her stomach. Food was the furthest thing from her mind, but she knew the baby needed breakfast more than she did. Leftover casserole, or leftover omelets? She had that feeling she got in her stomach during the first dip of a roller coaster. Screw it, she thought and grabbed the closest dish. She trudged to the table, casserole in one hand and the tiniest baby bump in the other. She wasn’t sure what she was more nervous about: doing something new, or talking to a stranger about things she never admitted to anyone. Eating was laborious, but she had to try. The baby needed her to.
Harold must have heard her stirring around and joined her just as she was finishing the meal.
“Hey daddy.” She sounded exasperated.
He took some bites out of his omelet while she finished the leftover tuna casserole. She was beginning to think she made the wrong choice and should have gone with the omelet.
“What’s got you up with the rooster? Baby won’t let ya sleep?”
Inside she was beaming, but her discomfort wouldn’t let her smile. “Gotta be in Windenburg by 9. That’s the only time she could squeeze me in at the last minute.”
He snorted. “You gotta go all the way to Windenburg to see this woman? Hmph. You can’t find no one closer?”
“I’ll go all the way to Bridgeport if Rebecca keeps paying for it.”
Harold grunted. She was an expert at decoding his non-verbal responses. The key to unlocking the messages was his body language when he grunted. He tossed his head back a little, and the corners of his mouth formed the tiniest curl. That one meant he agreed and liked the way she thought.
It was nearing 7:00, and she needed to hurry if she was going to make it on time. She placed her dish in the machine and went upstairs to get ready.
Harriett was an early riser, and Hillary half expected her to be waiting at the door to wish her luck and see her off. However, as she marched down the stairs, there was no one to greet her. At first, she was disappointed, but then she was relieved. Her mother would only make her feel more nervous, and she needed to get used to doing things alone. She was 23 years old and shouldn’t have needed her mommy to accompany her.
The taxi was waiting for her when she stepped outside. “Good mornin,” the driver said. “Where ya headed?”
“Windenburg. South Square.”
He pulled off, and she watched her neighborhood roll by. It had been such a long time since she had seen Willow Creek in the early morning. The last time was probably when she in school. Mornings were just not an event she cared to participate in. She had forgotten how pretty everything was when the sun bathed it in gold. Watching houses and businesses swoosh by, her mind began to wander. She tried to think up the types of questions this doctor would ask her. She wondered if there was going to be a huge sofa where she would lie and speak about her mother like they did on TV. The thoughts drifted to her relationship with Jase. She wondered where they would be now if she would have allowed herself to give into the love she knew she had for him back when she first discovered it in high school. Would they still be together? Would she still be pregnant at that time? Would there have been other children before this one? Where would they be living? Would she still care that Harold didn’t treat her right? Would she end up in therapy anyway?
“Here you are, ma’am.”
It was 9:10. She cursed under her breath and hoped the tardiness wouldn’t be an issue for the doctor. “Thank you,” she said and paid the driver.
The office was a cozy spot on top of South Square Coffee. Hillary thought it was such a brilliant idea to renovate a space that already existed instead of spending tons of money to build from the ground up. There was a set of stairs behind the cafe that lead up to the entrance. The door lead straight into the reception area. The carpet was green and a tacky pattern, walls a nice, light sage, and there was an abstract painting in shades of Chartreuse on the wall behind the reception desk. Overall, it was a nice looking space. Hillary wondered if green was this woman’s favorite color. The doctor was coming out of her office to speak to a woman who was sitting at the front desk who looked more like a bartender than a receptionist.
She knew she was expected and waited for the doctor to address her. “Hillary?”
“I’m Christen Still.” She extended her hand to her. “I’m glad you’re here.” She ushered her into her office and gestured toward the couch.
“I’m so sorry I’m late. I came from Willow Creek, and I forgot how tricky the traffic is in the morning.” She quickly glanced around the office before she sat on the big couch; she wanted to laugh when she saw it. The walls were a beautiful teal with white wainscoting. The brown and cream furniture and curtains were a nice contrast from the bright walls and accent pieces. The office reminded her of her own colorful bedroom, and she liked that this woman appreciated color; it said a lot about her.
“Oh right! Willow Creek.” She smacked her forehead. “I should have made the connection when your sister told me you might call.” She sat in the living chair in front of Hillary. “I’m glad you made it anyway. So, have you seen a counselor before?”
“Ok. So, these sessions will be exactly one hour. I would recommend that you come no less than once a week, but the frequency is up to you. Today I have a few questions to guide where we go from now, but usually I like to let you all do the talking. Does that sound cool?”
Hillary nodded and pasted on a smile. She hoped her sister was right about everything.
“Groovy. Have you ever wanted to harm yourself or anyone else?”
She tensed up. The answer was no, but it was such a disturbing question to launch with and she wondered what she had gotten herself into. “N-n-no! Of course not!”
Dr. Still smiled. “That one gets a lot of people. I have to ask you that.”
“It’s required by law. If you answer yes, then I would have to refer you to a mental health professional, and they would probably admit you for observation.”
“Oh. W-well I guess that makes sense.”
“Since you’re not suicidal, I can guarantee you that everything you say will be confidential, ok?”
“Do you take any drugs?”
“Like…medicine?” She kept rubbing her hands together and bouncing her knee. She thought for sure the doctor would think she was guilty, but she couldn’t help it. This appointment was much worse than answering questions about her sex life in front of her mother. She wished she was there with her.
“Medicinal or recreational,” the doctor clarified.
She shook her head.
Dr. Still stood. “Hillary, would you mind if I sat next to you?”
She shook her head and breathed a sigh of relief. It felt less clinical that way and more like having a conversation.
“I’m done with the ominous questions now. I can look at your intake forms for the rest, ok? You can breathe now.” Her smile was so warm.
Hillary chuckled. She felt like she was going to like her.
“So, what’s brought you here today?”
She glanced across the room as she tallied up all the problems she knew about but knew she couldn’t just lay them all out in one visit. As she thought about the root of her problems, she took notice of all the degrees on the wall behind Dr. Still’s desk and wondered if they really made her qualified to help her.
“I, ummm… I guess you could say I have daddy issues.”
Dr. Still jotted something in her notebook. “Ok! You’re doing great. Can you give me some details about it?”
She breathed heavily as she attempted to sum up 23 years of abuse. “He doesn’t like me. And… He doesn’t treat me well.”
“Is he physically abusive?”
She gasped. “Oh, no! Never! He’s just mean to me. We barely talk, and when he does, most times he hurts my feelings.”
“I see. So, how do you cope with that?”
“I…” She hadn’t considered that before.
“Take your time. We still have a few minutes left.”
Hillary flashed a weak smile while she thought. The words poured out slow like molasses. “I guess I cope by trying to find a boyfriend.”
The doctor jotted something else in her book. “Do you engage in sexual activities with these men?”
“Not all of them.”
“Would you say that you are a sex addict?”
She felt sick to her stomach and wondered what the doctor must have thought about her. Surely she thought she was some freak. Her frequent visits with Don came to mind. He was someone she got addicted to temporarily, but she didn’t think that made her an addict. “No.”
“Ok. One last thing before we go. What are you looking to get out of your time here?”
“Can it be two things?”
“It can be as many things as you want!”
Hillary sat back and considered her answers before she made her delivery. She wanted to be stronger and not so affected by what Harold said or didn’t say, and she wanted to be that person Jase always believed she was. But, when she realized the two requests were related, she changed her answer.
“I want to be a better person.”
“Can you elaborate?”
“I-I’m pregnant, and…I don’t want to raise this child how I am now.” She was caught off guard by a couple of aggressive rogue tears. “I want to believe that I really am a good person…that I can do more than just ruin everybody’s life.”
“Why do you think you ruin lives?”
“Because I do!” She didn’t mean to raise her voice even though it was just slightly. “I ruined the rest of my daddy’s life just by being born. I hurt my best friend and ruined his life. I keep hurting my friend Juliana. If she didn’t live with us, I’m sure we wouldn’t be friends anymore either.”
Dr. Still wrote something in her notebook again. “Ok! You’ve certainly given me a lot to work with. I already have some questions to ask you next time!”
“That went by a lot faster than I thought it would,” Hillary said.
“Oh yes, after a while you’ll feel like one hour isn’t enough!”
“What if…what if one hour really isn’t enough?”
“If you think you’ll want more time, let the receptionist know when you’re booking the appointment. Otherwise you may encroach on another appointment if we go over.”
“Well, Hillary, it was very nice to meet you! I love referrals, but I also ask for people not to tell me about their friends and family. I don’t want to develop any opinions before I meet them, you know?”
“Yeah…I guess you shouldn’t.”
“Well,” she stood and extended her hand again, “I’m looking forward to our next session. Take care of yourself, Hillary.”
“Thanks for seeing me, Dr. Still.”
“Please, call me Christen.”