I was terrified. Of what, I couldn’t be sure. I knew that everything would be fine—that, for all intents and purposes, everything would be okay—yet, I knew that facing my past would inspire all sorts of demons to come rising to the surface, and as a result, leave me reeling in the aftermath of personal devastation.
Nothing’s going to hurt you, I remember thinking. You’re done with that phase of your life.
The looks. The stares. The incessant, questioning glares. No longer were they present within my life. Gone like the wind they were on a cold winter’s day—something to be remembered, but nothing to be experienced again.
At least for now, I’d then thought.
When the knock came at the door at about twelve-thirty PM that day—signaling not only Brad’s arrival, but the coming of my personal suffering—I steeled myself for what was to come, then opened the door and said, “Hey.”
“Hey,” he replied. He clutched an umbrella in one hand. “Everything okay?”
“It’s gonna rain?” I asked.
“Smells like it,” he said.
I sighed, but nodded and said, “Yeah. Everything’s fine.” Then I stepped out of my dorm and locked the door behind me. “You ready?”
“Ready when you are, bud.”
The word was enough to instill a small amount of comfort in me regardless of the way I felt.
With that thought firmly implanted in mind, we made our way out of the dormitory and to the street—where, waiting for us in a sleek black car, was our driver, whose gaze was set on the cell phone in his grasp.
It took less than a minute for us to climb into the car and begin making our way to our destination.
As we traveled, slowly maneuvering through the traffic along the university before making our way to the main roads that would take us to the McAllen Medical Center, I tried, with little success, to keep my mind off the possibilities that could occur come time we arrived, but found that was nearly impossible considering the circumstance at hand.
What if they don’t believe you?
What if they think you’re a fraud?
That you’re just trying to get medicine?
That you’re lying.
That word triggered something within me—something that, deep down, made me feel small and insignificant, weak and stripped of power. I drew in a breath as I considered this and slowly but surely expelled it in an effort to keep my emotions from running rampant, but found that they threatened to do so anyway.
“Everything okay?” Brad asked.
“Yeah,” I lied. “Everything’s fine.”
Whether or not Brad saw through me I couldn’t be sure. Perhaps he was simply being quiet for the sake of my conscience, or because we were in a cab with a stranger who didn’t need to know my business. Either way, he didn’t say anything. He simply nodded and pursed his lips before looking over the center console and out the windshield.
This left me to my own devices—which, in a way, was both comforting and disarming at the same time.
I didn’t want to think of everything that could happen come time that I arrived at the medical center, and the time I walked in to see the doctor. I’d heard horror stories of mental diagnoses being mishandled in general practitioners’ offices, or of medical professionals being cruel due to ignorance. There seemed to be no shortage of mean people in the world, so when a doctor happened to be one of them, it made the whole process even more complicated.
But, I realized, I couldn’t afford to think about that, because if I did, there was a chance that I would simply turn and walk out of the office come time we arrived.
Thankfully, the trip took less than fifteen minutes.
By the time we arrived, I paid the cab fare without so much as a second thought before climbing out, and waited for Brad to depart in kind before turning toward the building.
“You ready for this?” my companion said.
“I think so,” I replied.
He placed a hand on my upper back and held it there for several long moments before pushing forward and saying, “Go.”
“What about you?” I asked, turning to face him.
“I’ll be right behind you.”
That knowledge was enough to spur me forward—and through the medical center’s front doors.
I went through a routine I had never experienced before. I checked in. I paid. I filled out paperwork, what little medical history I could, consented to be treated, then returned the paperwork before seating myself beside Brad, whose gaze was fixed on his cell phone.
“Are you okay?” I asked as I looked at him.
“I’m fine,” he replied. “Why?”
“You seem a little too calm for this whole thing.”
“I don’t like doctor’s offices,” he admitted.
“Is there a—” I started to say.
But before I could finish, a nurse opened a nearby door and said, “Dean McAllen?”
I stood, and immediately felt beads of nervous sweat pool down my spine.
“You’ll be fine,” Brad said as I started forward.
I could only nod in response.