Jack A. Langedijk
16 WEEKS AGO – SEEMA’S OFFICE
“I’m not supposed to be here!” Robert Sanchez spoke the moment Seema Pourshadi walked into the room.
“Seriously, this is wrong! I’m not supposed to be here. Really, I don’t know why I’m here. I never requested this.”
Without a word, Seema went and sat behind the desk facing Robert.
“No offence to you and what you do, but I’m not supposed to be here.”
Seema simply smiled and nodded. Her reaction surprised him.
“Oh—Okay then. So me being here—this is a mistake?”
Seema kept smiling as Robert rambled on. “You see, when Benny said I had an appointment with you after my session, I thought you were a new specialist I had to see—you know, going to talk about the new—Argh! Anyway, it doesn’t matter, it’s pretty obvious you are a…a…you know—Anyway, I’m sorry. Benny must have made the mistake. I’m not supposed to be here, right?”
“Okay. But Mr. Sanchez, do you know where it is you’re supposed to be?”
The question stopped Robert cold. He knew it was not meant to be anything more than just asking him what room he was supposed to be in but the innocent question forced a dawning realization that other than the multitude of doctors’ appointments and physio sessions, he really didn’t have any other place that he was supposed to be. The purpose of his days had changed. He had now become the one seeking help from other people.
Seema waited for Robert to answer her question. It soon became obvious that he was lost for words, so she spoke. “Benny didn’t make a mistake, Mr. Sanchez. He was the one who told me I needed to see you.”
“No, Benny would not have done that! He knows! I told him. We talked about it. He knows.”
“Knows what, Mr. Sanchez?”
“Can you please stop with the ‘Mr. Sanchez’? I’m not here for a job interview!”
“All right, ‘Roberto,’ is it?”
“Just call me Robert.”
“Oh, Robert, that’s such a great name! All right, Robert, you were saying Benny knows something. So what does he know?”
Robert squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. Other than his parents, very few people ever called him Roberto. The name had suited him more when he was in his twenties when his dark brown hair was all slicked back and he sported a very stylish Clarke Gable moustache. But now at forty-eight, a clean-shaven Robert with a receding hairline was a much closer match to Alan Alda during his last days in MASH.
“Look, he just knows, okay?” Robert held his hand up as if to signal he wanted this conversation to be over.
Seema just nodded in agreement.
“Don’t do that, okay?” Robert looked at Seema who just stared back at him.
“Okay—look, please just don’t do that!”
“I’m sorry, do what?”
“That…that…nodding your head all the time, like you know something I don’t. I’ve worked with a lot of people, you know, and I know what this is. And I’m sorry if Benny asked you. That just makes him another…Damn him! Great! Another person I can’t trust around here!”
“I don’t think he meant you any harm, Robert. Please don’t think Benny was being untrustworthy. I wouldn’t want to—”
“—But he knew! I told him. We talked about it so many times.”
“About what, Robert?” Seema asked calmly in her pleasant Middle Eastern accent.
“About this! About seeing any kind of shrink, therapist, mind doctor. I don’t know, whatever the hell you call yourself. ‘Cause he knew! He damn well knew that I don’t want to be here!”
“Well, if he knew that you didn’t want to be here, do you think Benny knows where you want to be, Robert?”
“No! No! And what the hell kind of question is that? Just stop it, all right?”
“I’m sorry, Robert, stop what?”
“All these damn questions! Look, I don’t think anybody knows where I want to be, all right? For God’s sake, I don’t even know where I want to be anymore!”
Seema watched Robert squeeze his eyes closed again, lower his head, and then rock slightly in his chair. After a few moments, he lifted his head and scanned the room, purposely avoiding her eyes.
The room was a small office space with one window that overlooked a schoolyard. Seema sat in a red cushioned chair behind a plain, dark brown desk. On the wall hung a single, framed picture of a majestic black horse flying through the clouds. Among some obvious therapy-titled books, the few bookshelves behind the desk contained a strikingly diverse selection of novels. It looked as if the complete Twilight series, Hardy Boys and James Bond were there. Miss Marple, Jane Eyre and many of John Grisham’s books were scattered over three different shelves. Another shelf seemed completely dedicated to the works of Dr. Seuss. The desk was virtually empty except for two unopened white envelopes and a mug filled with pens and pencils. Dr. Seuss’s book entitled Happy Birthday to You! laid open and face up.
Robert looked up at Seema. Her short dark hair reflected a red glow from the scarf that was loosely draped over her head and around her neck.
“I’m sorry, all right?” Robert spoke unapologetically. “I’m sorry I got upset, but please understand, that ever since this happened, it seems that I have no choice anymore…about anything. Everyone always tells me to be here or there, see this doctor or that specialist. And I made it very clear to everyone—no offence to you, Doctor, but I’ve made it very clear that I don’t want to be in any, you know—this! Therapy! That’s why I said I’m not supposed to be here. Is that clear?”
Seema’s face was hard to read. She possessed vaguely masculine features, and although the deep-set eyes and square jaw did not make her outwardly attractive, her blue eyes seemed to soften all the features of her face when she smiled.
“Well, Robert, first let me tell you that my name is Seema. I am the rehabilitation centre’s assessment consultant. If I don’t give your insurance provider an assessment they will stop paying for your treatment. And second, concerning choices, I am also here to consult with you and help you with all the choices you have now and after you leave this rehab—”
“—Choices? What the hell does that mean?”
Seema’s smile disappeared from her face. “Well, Robert. Even right now, you have a choice. When you came into this room you had the choice of whether to say, ‘hello,’ or to just keep rudely interrupting me.”
Rudely interrupting her? Robert’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened. He was no longer accustomed to anyone being so blunt towards him. Ever since that day, no one had ever spoken to him like this no matter how irritable or nasty he became. Regardless of his behaviour, everyone always seemed to become more understanding and show more kindness towards him, whether he deserved it or not.
“And maybe to help with your choice making,” Seema continued, without any hint of playfulness, “I should also tell you that today is my birthday.”
Lately, hearing the word “birthday” or even the slightest mention of anything to do with celebration would cause Robert to react with extreme irritability verging on anger. He had developed some kind of resentment to all things celebratory. But he definitely didn’t want Seema diagnosing anything more about him so he masked his reaction with a forced smile and gestured to the opened Dr. Seuss book on her desk.
“Oh. So that’s why you have that book on your desk?”
“Before I answer your question, Robert, I would like to know what choice you have made.”
Robert gave her a puzzling look. “What the—”
“—The choice to say, ‘hello,’ or interrupt.” She smiled.
Robert rolled his eyes as he responded, “Oh God, you’re kidding me! Really? Choice? Yeah, okay then, sure…” He forced another smile. “Hello.”
Seema waited for a moment for his greeting to register, nodded her head and smiled, “Hello, Robert.” She then picked up the book. “And yes, to answer your question, that is why this book is on my desk; it’s a gift from my son and daughter. Mr. Seuss was quite a profound writer, don’t you think?”
“Dr. Seuss.” He corrected her.
She simply smiled again and flipped to a page. “Listen to this: ‘Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.’”
Seema turned the book around for Robert to see the picture inside. It was a bright orange, furry creature happily blowing out the rainbow of candles on his colourful cake.
“I’ve gotta get the hell out of here,” Robert said as he abruptly turned towards the door.