Dear Therapist - Tammy Smith

I haven't seen you in-person for the past four months. It's been approximately 121 days since I counted the steps like sacred breaths it took to walk from my car to the lobby to your office. Almost 3,000 hours from the last time I wrote you a check sitting in the waiting room. It's crazy to think nearly 10,520,000 seconds have passed since I felt the wrinkled weight of the fee I pay you tucked deep inside my pocket.

Now I send you money using Venmo, PayPal, or some similar kind of sinister direct deposit we mutually agree. It may be the same currency coming out of the same checking account, but it feels second-rate.

I miss sitting on the lumpy couch in your office; the one I used to joke was older than my earliest memory. Deeper-rooted. I grieve for my favorite spot, the middle cushion sagging from years of butts pressing into the fabric's folds. When I made fun of you for not replacing the furniture, you laughed and wanted to explore my budding interest in office décor. Probed me as to why I think colors shrink in proportion to their size and shape. I remember thinking how clever you were in asking me to lean into the diverse ways that positionality matters.

I still recall driving home from that last session we had back in early March, feeling grateful for the safe space you gave me to punch pillows. Flip out. If I had known the world was on the verge of shutting down, I would have asked you for a few extra minutes to process this devastating loss.

Now we have virtual therapy sessions. Expend additional energy and resources using a weird combination of phones, apps, and telemedicine platforms, trying to maintain our attachment. I've already lost count of the times I've had to restart my router to improve my connection. Speaking to you through a cracked screen makes me cry, then freeze. Technical glitches abound. Everything looks and feels creepy. Your hazy, triangulated face melts into the background like a Dali painting. We misconstrue sighs for yawns: another hiccup. You can't keep track of my eyeball rolls and garrulous grunts. Skip over a pause, and needs slip, like loose change falling between the cushions, unseen.

Dear therapist, sitting at home with buds sticking out of your ears and your volume muted. You gaze at me like a mad serpent. In this new twisted reality, your balding head swiveling around my despair makes me recoil. I contemplate quitting therapy. Never mind that I'm privileged to have insurance coverage; in this innovative unraveling, I'm ashamed to shed my skin. Or maybe I'm just punishing you for bearing the pressure of these disclosures.

I can't wait to see you back in the office. I miss using your couch—punching pillows. I started having dreams about the plastic clock on your wall, a masked face covered with scratches waving a gloved second hand in my direction. Moving past my secrets. Keeping track of my progress. Have I gone mad? Insanity may not be contagious, but it's still virulent. And stigmatizing. Another virus we fail to treat.

Tammy Smith is a single mother and a licensed clinical social worker from New Jersey. Her writing has been published in The Esthetic Apostle, Ailment: Chronicles of Illness Narratives, Ariel Chart, the Dewdrop, Ariel Publishing, and io Literary Journal. Her work has been nominated for the Best of the Net.

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