Here, we continue Veniamin’s therapy session from last week.
“If managing stress was as easy as me telling you what to do, I would have written a book about it and you wouldn’t need to come see me.” Dr. Mabel Watney shifted in her seat behind her desk, folding her hands in her lap. “It takes time and work to unlearn the pattern of behavior that has lead you to me.”
Veniamin sighed deeply and stared at his hands. Dr. Watney’s office smelled aggressively neutral; even the plants barely gave off the sweet, earthy scent that would have calmed him down. Underneath the “light” touch of her perfume, she smelled relaxed but alert, comfortable in her space. By comparison he was a beacon of nerves, the acrid odor sweating through his disheveled suit. It made him incredibly self-conscious to be the strongest-smelling thing in the room.
He really wished he could shift. There was something about being a bear that felt more honest, more…himself. While being human had its advantages — opposable thumbs really were one of the greatest adaptations ever — it felt like he could never relax in that form. He was wearing a mask almost all the time just to make other people comfortable, and after a while the effort wore on you. He was tired, that was all. He could use a season in the woods, foraging for anything that tasted good and casually hunting fish and game. That was his therapy.
Or, it used to be. Now he was stuck here, talking about his feelings to someone who could never have the context to understand them.
“All right then,” he mumbled into his chest. “Where do we start?”
“At the beginning.” She answered so quickly she must have expected the question. “Tell me about your childhood.”
He did — mostly. He told her about living in a house with parents who had few boundaries, with no concept of privacy or personal ownership. He talked about his extended family who each lived in their own territories but would come over to visit. He talked about how, until he moved to San Francisco, he practically had no relationship with anyone who wasn’t related to him by blood.
He did not speak about the fact his parents had few boundaries because the concepts of privacy and personal ownership were distinctly human ones that didn’t apply to them. He didn’t speak about how he spent most of his childhood naked, switching between two legs and four as easily as she could slip on her jacket. He didn’t talk about how he never realized how much he would miss that freedom, and how stifling it still felt to wear a suit after all this time.
He most definitely didn’t speak about how his uncle had been gunned down by men with guns right before his eyes and how frightened he was by the tyranny of authority.
“I see,” Dr. Watney said. Her eyes told him that she knew he was omitting a great deal. Not for the first time, the mask of his “civilized self” felt especially ill-fitting. “So why did you decide to leave home?”
Veniamin kept staring into his lap to make sure she couldn’t see the momentary rush of panic in his eyes. “I…had to leave to go where the work is.”
“You’re a private investigator. Is that correct?”
“What made you want to pursue that line of work?” Dr. Watney had a way of asking a question that made it seem like she was only casually interested, but also that the answer would be of tremendous importance.
He shrugged. “One of the things I learned growing up is that everyone has secrets, and sometimes those secrets hurt the people around them.”
Dr. Watney raised an eyebrow. “So you see yourself as someone who finds out the truth in order to save people from being hurt.” She paused. “But in my experience, the truth can be just as painful, especially if someone isn’t equipped to process it in a healthy way.”
Veniamin furrowed his brow. “But it’s a cleaner pain. Once you get through it, you’re better off than you were before. At least you know what’s really going on.”
“So you think being honest with someone is always the best thing to do?”
Veniamin frowned. “Most of the time.”
“I see. Then why aren’t you being honest with me right now?”
He looked up and into her eyes, forcing himself to hold her gaze. “Because you’re not equipped to process that in a healthy way.”