Sullivan was lost in thought sitting in the waiting room of the doctors office. It was the usual ‘speed round’ of topics zipping through her head. Dr. Burrows’ waiting room had been redecorated since the last time she was here.
Sulli replayed her mental recording of Patti Veniciano, ‘Everything changes but Change itself…’ still scolding her after all these years.
Change is one of many things that triggers Sullivan’s snarky, cynical self. Ten years ago, change was a grenade, pulling the pin on Sullivan without notice. She’d spontaneously spew venom, spit spite. Her sharp tongue moving faster than her thoughts. As if the letters from her angst could build a moat in front of her. Stubborn, impetuous, Sullivan would then sulk and snipe the rest of the day. Shoot, longer than that, the next ten years.
Who redecorates doctors waiting rooms anyway? There were goofy splashes of pastel lines on the upholstered chairs. They must’ve stolen Grandmother’s breakfast room chairs from the 1990’s. Every medical office or building entrance now had fresh flowers or plants sitting pretty right when you walked in the door. As if it were the foyer of a house, wall decor and maybe a small table or coat rack. Sullivan noticed the ‘fancy’ mirror to her left. It had eleven little circles, all mirrors, stuck together in an abstract fashion. It still smelled like diapers, bleach, and fucking purell. Lipstick on a pig. Sullivan smiled.
‘Everything changes but change itself!’ Patti V. played loud and clear again, like a song.
Sulli had a lot of lessons locked in her memory. She hated learning these silly little life lessons on top of the large ones that left holes in her heart. She didn’t need any advice, she didn’t need to be fixed. She fixed herself. She now smiled in the face of change, kept her lips locked tight, let no one know what she was really thinking. Her thoughts race in her head, her rage and loss kept buried low in her gut, beneath her skin. She was unbreakable. She was always ready, always alone, and always smiling.
‘Sullivan? Hi!’, Eva swung open the door and saw Sullivan sitting there. Eva noticed a far away look and a half smile on her patients face. Sullivan was surprised how much Eva took a liking to her even more surprised how much she liked Eva. They walked down the hall to Eva’s office. Sullivan dropped her bag and Eva gently closed the door. Eva settled in in front of her computer, folded her legs up under her and took a seat on her office chair. She didn’t take out a pen and paper or open a large file folder, the computer remain untouched, sleeping in downtime. Eva swiveled toward Sullivan ready to talk as if they were at a sleepover. This is why Sullivan liked Eva. She felt like she was a friend, like she wasn’t in another psychologists office, another advice giver, another fixer. Sullivan didn’t need their books and notes and diagnosis’. She had enough of those.
Sullivan stumbled on finding Eva. She came for a check up with her regular doctor and found they had added a psychologist to the office. The health insurance company suggested it with all of the ‘mental health’ concerns in general population lately. When Sullivan was here last time for her check up they asked if she’d like to meet the new addition. Eva was right down the hall in this tiny office. Sullivan liked her so much she came back. She came back to the wretched waiting room redecoration. She needed Eva. Eva was someone to talk to and unleash everything upon. Sulli couldn’t hold this smile forever without letting out some of the awful pain she hid behind it.
‘So… the last time we met your Dad was still in the hospital, you were having some trouble with the family, and you were dealing with all that. How’s it going? What’s new?’
Sulli thought about where to begin.
‘You’re absolutely right Eva. Things have kind of calmed down with my Dad. The family backed off and realized I am the boss. My dad is home. I’m his personal caretaker….’
Sullivan paused. She noticed Eva had the look for a split second. The look that was another trigger for Sullivan. It was the look that people give when they feel pity but also relief because it’s not their life. Sullivan has gotten the look a million times. She thinks about her visits to the humane society. She would walk up and down the loud rows of barking, crying orphans. She stopped at some cages, jail cells for dogs, tried to pet them. Some would back away in fear, some would attack the gate with aggression. Sullivan would give the look to these pups. She would sometimes look in the mirror instead of her reflection she would see an orphaned dog, with three legs and a missing eye. Sullivan smiled at Eva. Her flash of the look had disappeared so fast Sullivan almost didn’t catch it. Was that some sort of new thing that colleges taught to budding psychologists? How to avoid giving the pity look to tragic people? It should be. Eva was young enough to be Sullivan’s little sister. She was pretty with long, beautiful, brown hair and sparkling brown eyes.
‘Everything is going ok with my Dad. As long as he’s at home and not in the hospital we have no reason to worry. I wonder all the time which is worse: cancer of the head and neck or the treatment required to cure it. Seeing my Dad go through this is horrific. It’s a question I ask myself often. But that’s not why I’m here today. I have something else I need to discuss with you.’
Sullivan felt a lump in her throat. She could feel the tears behind her eyes welling up and wondered if she was going to be able to speak the words. Eva grabbed the box of tissues and handed them to her. Eva’ s brown eyes were still sparkling and filled with innocence and light. Gosh, she was good. Sullivan was ready.
‘So the night after my Dad was admitted to the hospital again, he had pneumonia and I had a very long day. I hadn’t heard from my son’s biological father all day and that was unusual. We have come such a long way in the last seven years. He’s been such a support during my Dad’s illness and diagnosis of cancer. He sends me child support every week, I don’t have to ask. It’s like when he moved to South Carolina we got closer, even though he was further away. By helping every week he allowed me to stay home and not work so I can be with my Dad. He’s been great since Eric’s passing last year and we really have learned to co parent together and trust each other. I didn’t receive a payment that week my Dad was back in the hospital. I normally wouldn’t care, I knew he was reliable but that night, that Thursday night I was so frustrated and upset I took it out on Matt. I sent him a snide text, threatening to go to the courthouse, complaining he wasn’t reliable and just being a bitchy baby’s mom.’
Sullivan let out a little laugh and grabbed a tissue. The tears were slowly dripping out her eyes and slyly tiptoeing down her face as if they knew they weren’t allowed.
‘Friday morning I woke up and I had messages on my phone. Text messages and facebook messages, it was Matt’s sister. ‘There’s been an accident. Call me ASAP. Matt’s been in an accident.’ I called her. She answered on the first ring and spoke so quickly I couldn’t process what she was saying. I was still in my pajamas, I wasn’t even out of bed yet. Jude was downstairs watching television, playing with his legos. I could hear him. I couldn’t quite hear Matt’s sister Lexi, I could hear the wind flying in the car window. I knew she was driving, I knew she was driving fast, probably down to South Carolina. All I know is she said Matt was in an accident, he went through the windshield, both his legs are broken, he’s bleeding from the brain and they did surgery. He’s in a coma.’
This was the first time she said the words about Matt. Sullivan was able to convince herself it wasn’t true, but now, her stomach hurt like she was going to throw up. She wiped her face and looked Eva in the eyes. Sullivan knew she looked like a three legged dog missing an eye, Eva was giving her the look. It didn’t disappear from her face this time.