The following narrative contains brief mentions of death and child abuse. Please do not read any further if reading about this is triggering.
After graduating from high school in 2010, I started to feel that the weight of the world was lifting. I started the one newest chapters of my life at university that fall. At university, I had friends with whom I would spend nearly all of my time. I never lived on campus, but I would spend hours in the dorms with my friends simply hanging out or watching a movie. Even as a university student, I maintained an A average. Although it brought me joy to make excellent grades, it slowly began to feel like a burden.
As a child, above average marks were a comfort, an anchor keeping me grounded and keeping me safe. As an undergrad, making the grade became a compulsion. If I earned anything less than an A, I took it as a moral failure. I felt as though I were somehow not living up to my potential. What was once my only comfort had now lost its luster.
As a second semester sophomore, going into my junior year at Chowan University, I began therapy again. My initial foray into therapy was disastrous, and left me with a serious distrust of all therapists. However, as a sophomore at university, and the real world post-college visible on the horizon, I felt that I should at least try to seek professional help a second time. Again, this took several therapists, trial and error, and quite a bit of patience.
The first therapist I saw was a wonderful woman whom I felt helped me a great deal. However, I had to give up seeing her because she moved her practice to another county that was miles away from her original practice. This new location was more than two hours from my home, and that kind of drive, every two weeks was unfeasible. I searched for another therapist closer to home, and found another practice only 45 minutes away. However, she too moved away. The search was on yet again, and this time, the therapist was here to stay.
She was a kindly older white woman, with a caring disposition. Her words were gentle, and her manner was pleasant. Similar to the office of the worst therapist, the room was sparse with worn tile floors and flickering fluorescent lights. Unlike that other office, she usually kept the overhead lights off and used a floor lamp which cast a soft glow about the room. For once, I felt at ease.
By the time I became a regular patient at this practice, I was a senior at Chowan University. This doctor-patient relationship lasted for about a year until we reached a plateau. She recommended another local therapist who was able to offer a wider range of treatments. One treatment in particular she highly recommended was EMDR.
EMDR is an acronym that stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This is a specialized treatment used to lessen the distress associated with traumatic events, and is used to aid in the treatment of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). One has to be specially trained in this type of treatment. This current therapist was not trained to administer this treatment, so I was once again off to forge a new relationship with yet another doctor.
This last therapist, who has since become my current therapist, is a kind young woman, with an equally kind disposition. Having become accustomed to the introductory song and dance involved with getting acquainted with a new therapist, I was considerably less anxious explaining my reason for being there. To be quite honest, I was exasperated at having to explain everything again.
When I arrived, I was seated in a brightly lit, quaint little waiting room. There were two armchairs, two couches, serene depictions of beaches, and an assortment of magazines on the coffee table. Behind the two armchairs was a large bay window that filled the room with bright natural light.
Not long after I arrived, the therapist retrieved me for my appointment. After travelling down a short hallway, we entered her office. At long last, it seemed that I had finally found my ideal therapist’s office. Along one wall, was a plush sofa with two floral throw pillows. Opposite that wall was her desk and her chair. The room was cozy and lit with a tall floor lamp.
Introductions were made, forms were filled out, and during this initial visit, we had a brief chat about what brought me to this practice. All was well.
I say all was well, but in actuality, trouble was stirring just beneath the surface.
As I got older, I become more and more detached from my father. During my time at Chowan University, I grew so indifferent to my father’s existence that he was practically dead to me. The summer between my junior and senior year marked the moment when my father became literally dead to me.
My father died on July 6, 2013. In the years preceding his death, unbeknownst to me, he was suffering from colon cancer and lung cancer. He refused all treatment to fight the disease, and simply resigned himself to death. He, my mother, and my siblings all hid his diagnosis from me. I suppose this was done to spare my feelings, or possibly none of them knew how to tell me that my father was slowly dying. I remember the day of his death like it was yesterday.
July 6, 2013 was a sunny Saturday morning as my mother and I prepared to go to the cinema. The Lone Ranger was just released, and I had been looking forward to the weekend so we could finally watch the film. I excitedly drove to the cinema, eagerly anticipating seeing my favorite childhood characters portrayed larger than life on the silver screen.
Walking through the doors of the cinema, the delicious, buttery aroma of freshly popped popcorn delighted my senses. After purchasing tickets for my mom and me, we joined the queue at the snack counter. I ordered nachos and a cherry coke, while my mom opted for root beer and popcorn. Food and beverages in hand, we travelled to the theater—theater number twelve to be exact—and trekked up the stairs to sit in the very top row. As the previews rolled, mom and I settled into companionable silence.
After about an hour into the duration of the movie, my mom’s phone rang. Call it intuition or a sixth sense, but that was the moment I knew my father died. She quietly got up to exit the theater so she would not disturb any of the other moviegoers. Even though I spent the entire morning excited about our weekend trip to the cinema, somehow I could not shake the feeling that this would be my father’s last day on Earth.
Fifteen minutes passed, and my mom returned to the theater. We finished watching the movie together, but after the end of the credits, my mom was still very quiet. Neither of us spoke until we were outside in the parking lot.
“Amethyst,” my mom began.
Knowing what she was about to say, I interrupted: “He died.” It was not a question; it was simply a statement of fact.
Eyes lowered, in a soft voice, my mom responded, “Yeah, bay, he died.”
I could see how difficult it was for my mom to find the words to tell me. Regardless of how either of us felt about him, she must have been under a heavy burden trying to inform me of his passing. I cannot imagine how it must feel for a parent to tell their child that the other parent is dead. I did not feel relief, joy, or even grief after he died. The truth is, I did not feel anything. I had not spoken to him in over a year, and before that, I had already become accustomed to ignoring his existence.
If you’re searching for help with mental illness, please reach out to someone.
Below is an abbreviated list of hotlines for the USA. Click here for the full list.
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Stop it Now! 1-888-PREVENT
United States Elder Abuse Hotline 1-866-363-4276
National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453)
Child Abuse Hotline / Dept of Social Services 1-800-342-3720
Child Abuse National Hotline 1-800-25ABUSE
Children in immediate danger 1-800-THE-LOST
Exploitation of Children 1-800-843-5678
Missing Children Help Center 1-800-872-5437
Gay and Lesbian National Hotline 1-888-843-4564
Trevor Hotline (Suicide) 1-866-4-U-TREVOR