I stood, six years tall, on the outside basement steps of Dr. Susan Deschaine’s home practice. A therapist. For families. A knitted sign on the entrance door said, in red stitching:
A smile a day keeps the doctor away!
I frowned and held my sister’s hand as we pushed through the door.
“I want us to try a fun, little exercise!” said Susan, all sing-song like, with wide, gaping eyes. Those eyes were so large and menacing, like two black holes, abysses, the gateway to Hell, or perhaps even circular, bulbous manifestations of Satan himself.
I nodded suspiciously.
My little sister, Tonya, sat next to me on a tacky, floral couch. She bounced up and down all jolly, her shoelaces untied and askew. Clearly, she didn’t get it. We had to be here. If I wanted to suddenly throw Tonya off her seat, set the tacky, floral couch on fire, spit a poisonous dart into Susan Deschaine’s giraffe neck while walking away from her devil eyes, never to return, I couldn’t. We were court-ordered to be here. I was tied to that God-awful couch by the invisible twine of the law.
“For custody issues,” I had heard the adults whisper.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find someone who accepts Medicare, you won’t have to pay,” the tight-lipped lady in the turtleneck had said to my mother behind a glass window.
And there we were with the seedy underbelly of the therapy community: a frizzy-haired quack that rich people wouldn’t pay to see. We watched her kneel on the carpet in her floor-length hippie skirt with puppets on her hands, demonstrating how to approach divorce in a healthy, positive, and normal way. Puppet-Daddy turned his back on Puppet-Mommy, and Puppet-Mommy would retaliate by telling Puppet-Babies that Puppet-Daddy was a lousy, cheating, sleazy, conniving, good-for-nothing Puppet-Scumbag.
Most six year-olds would cry and maybe pee themselves a little at the idea of their nuclear family splitting up, never to be together again. I was not. In fact, when my mother pressed PLAY on the answering machine to my father’s roaring voice, declaring, “I’d like a divorce!” I felt a rush of relief. Most men wouldn’t divorce someone through an answering machine, but my father was overseas, and it would be a shame to pay over six hundred dollars for a plane ticket to divorce a woman he didn’t really like anymore.
He had moved to the Dominican Republic years before because the pay was better, the living was cheaper, and the women were prettier. To save their marriage, we tried living there for a while. The whole “fam-damily!” my mother smiled to us. I was four then and my sister was two. My mother would spend all day sitting idly at the window, sucking the red out of wine glasses until her eyes got all glossy, when she would then play dolls with us and crack jokes with the hassled maid, Evelyn, in her poor, poor Spanish.
“¿Por que el pollo croozar la cayay? Huh?” she poked Evelyn, “Huh?!”
We moved back to Maine faster than my mother could say, “Adios!” and soon after, my father fell in deep Dominican lust with his secretary, Katia Rios.
I wasn’t angry or upset, I wasn’t even fazed. Thank God, I thought, no more bizarre punishments, like having to hold a dictionary in the corner of my bedroom for hours. No more hiding my dolls. No more slap-fights. No more rushed cleaning nights on the eve of my father’s arrival for a few days each month. The only divorce I felt any sort of passion about was the fantasized one between Susan Deschaine and me. I could just imagine! I would wear a smashing tuxedo and I would sit Susan on her tacky, floral couch, look into her saucer eyes and say, “It’s over,” ever so gently.
If she asked why, I would put a finger to her lips: “Shh, Susan, goodbye,” and I would leave her basement office, holding Tonya’s hand, skip away into a field of daisies, and never look back. It was a daydream that satisfied me during many of our sessions. Sometimes I imagined Susan would take off her tent-skirt, earthy clogs, and hideous, wool sweater to reveal the body of a scaly dragon, and she would emerge into her true form—a terrifying, reptilian, monstrous, rather untherapeutic beast. And I would slice her head off and carry it to town in my teeth.
“We’re going to make feeling cookies”, she said with a crazed grin.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Well, we are going to decorate these cookies I baked. We are going to decorate them based on how we feel!”
“Can we eat ‘em?” my sister asked, kicking her feet together.
“If we have time! Absolutely!” exclaimed Susan.
And at the “family table”, she organized little tubes of icing and sugar and M&M’s. I looked at the clock.
I clenched my fists.
“Let us talk about our feelings for this week,” Susan said calmly, while turning on her radio. A strange music seeped out of the speakers; I imagined miniature Buddhist monks held captive inside, being tortured to a bloody, painful death.
Tonya and I were silent, looking at the plate of cookies on the table.
“Carrie-Lynne, how was your week?”
She gave me one of those half-smiles, pausing for a while, and then giving up. She turned to Tonya.
“How about you? How was your week?”
“Well, Carrie-Lynne hid my blanket yesterday and then poured water on it. And Dad called and was mean,” Tonya said, always reporting for duty.
“How does that make you feel,” she paused, looking at me, “…when Carrie-Lynne does things like that?”
She looked at me and frowned.
“She hit me,” I shrugged.
“Mmm, and how does that make you feel when Tonya hits you?”
I looked at Tonya. I looked at Susan. I looked at the cookies.
Susan looked at me. Tonya looked at Susan. I looked at the cookies. The cookies didn’t look back.
“Well, it looks like we’ve experienced some bad feelings this week, and now I think it would be a good idea for us to express ourselves through these cookies,” she said, while nodding enthusiastically.
And so we did.
Tonya finger-painted sad faces in icing over the chocolate chips. I frosted the cookies—finger-to-surface. One single layer over the top. No design. I didn’t care. I just wanted to eat the cookies. I glanced up at Susan, sitting with us at the table. She was making her own feeling cookies, of blue, frosted curving lines and happy, yellow dots. I began mimicking her, painting the same designs in frosting but with different colors.
Tonya and I sat with our heads down for ages, it seemed, while Susan hummed along with the dreadful monks, and I became increasingly impatient. I was finished. Our session was almost over. I wanted a glass of milk with three ice cubes, I wanted a napkin, I wanted a paper plate, and I wanted to eat my cookies immediately. We watched as Susan was the last one to finish her cookies, and when she did, she casually looked up at the clock and said, “Well, it looks like our time is done for the week!”
And she rose, wiped off her skirt, and smiled at both of us.
“I hope that you girls learned something today and that you have a good week. I’ll see you next session,” she said, as she helped us out of our chairs and gently pushed us toward the door. As she said goodbye, I watched my “feeling cookies” lay barren on the table, frowning their little frosted frowns as I walked away, becoming smaller and smaller until she closed the door and I could no longer see them. I never returned to the basement office of Susan Deschaine.
Now, over ten years later, though I haven’t seen her since that session, I expect one day to walk to my mail room, open my mail box to an envelop of my long-awaited feeling cookies. If that were to happen, Susan Deschaine would, for perhaps the first time in her career, make a client feel very, very happy. I would even smile.