Chapter 1: Therapy
It was an all too familiar experience, sitting there with nothing but the sound of deafening silence. How many times has it been now? Eight? Nine? Maybe less? Was it sensible to keep count? No, she promised herself she would not entertain such thoughts. She reminded herself that she was here to get better. Yes, that is precisely what Michaela told her. She needed to get better, but was that even possible? Is it possible for someone who had been through what she had gone through to get better?
Michaela said she should not give up, that she had made some excellent progress, but her mind knew that Michaela had no idea that it was all an act, a false persona. People need to put an act sometimes to get by. Life demands it. Certain professions would not allow its occupants to survive without it. Her situation was not different.
“Miss. Collins, are you okay? You haven’t said anything for a while now.”
Her eyes darted towards the blond middle-aged woman sitting right across from her. Mary Grove was her name, was it? Michaela told her she was the best therapist in the city. Her friend did say the same thing about other therapists before her, yet not a single one of them had been able to help her.
Maybe she was a hopeless case. Maybe she should just accept the fact that she would never overcome the experience and just give in. It would be nice, leaving this world with all its troubles. The ironic thing was that her traumatic experience had left her brain so fragmented and incapable of aligning its contradictory demands that she would no longer know if death was really what it wanted. She would find herself at one point at the pit of a spiral of depression so intense that she would wish she was dead. Her sadistic mind would even go on to devise one method after another in search of the best way to go. A few moments later it would recoil in terror. Her heartbeat would race, her whole body would start to convulse and her chest would struggle to fill her lungs with air. The episode would go on and off for hours until it totally annihilated her grip on reality and sent her crawling into a corner to wait for her impending doom.
“Lesly are you okay?”
No, she was not okay. No one in this god-forsaken city was okay. What made this woman believe anyone was okay? Isn’t that what they say any way? That every single individual suffers from an issue of sorts?
“Do you need me to get you anything?” Mary asked with a concerned look on her face.
“I’m fine,” Lesly finally decided to answer.
Mary nodded her head, acknowledging the response she was given. She started scribbling on her notebook before she finally decided to address her newest patient, “Shall we continue?”
When Leslie smiled emptily in response to Mary’s question, Mary proceeded, her gaze cantered undividedly on Leslie, “Michaela told me about your situation, but I would like to hear your story.”
Oh yes, the story, that god-awful story. She must have told that story like a hundred times. Although she would like nothing more than to forget it, her brain would make sure to remind her every once in a while. True to its sadistic streak, her brain would not only reminisce on the moments when she was most helpless and scared but would also make her relive every excruciating detail of that experience every chance it gets. Nightmares were quite common and as awful as they were, they were still preferable to the far more harrowing and intrusive flashbacks. Yes, sharing the story should be a breeze. Why would she object to telling it?
“You already know it. Why go through it again?” Lesly answered dryly.
“That’s fine. We won’t discuss it then,” Mary responded with a smile. It seemed that she had had her fair share of difficult patients before Lesly showed up.
“How’s work Lesly?”
Was Mary trying to approach the problem from a different direction now? Lesly had encountered that strategy a lot, especially when she was reticent. It was obvious what Mary was trying to do.
“You are familiar with my line of work,” Lesly answered calmly.
“Michaela told me you are a brilliant lawyer.”
Brilliant indeed. She could barely afford these sessions. Ever since the death of her younger brother seven years ago, she had been suffering this overwhelming guilt that robbed her of sleep. That guilt would only be eased a little when she distracted herself with work. However, it was not long before she lost the sense of comfort that work gave her. Every case she took made her feel miserable, not only because some clients proved to be the absolute worst human beings on earth, but also because she was the reason the people who really needed help found themselves financially crippled soon afterwards. Eventually, she began taking more cases pro bono. She convinced herself that she was balancing some of the bad with a little good, but sadly that was not the case.
People do charity work for different reasons. There are those who help out of the goodness of their heart, and there are those who help for purely selfish reasons, to fix their public image, deceive people into thinking they are somebody that they are not, or even use their charity organization as a front for illegal activities. She could easily fall into the second category. Helping was one way she could convince herself that she was not a bad person, and because she knew that was a lie, she found herself charging her clients little to none over and over in an effort to mask that reality. It was not long before her savings dried up and she found herself downgrading everything in her life to make ends meet. That did not bother her much. As long as she was handling that overwhelming sense of guilt, she was fine.
Soon afterwards, she joined Sonata, a charity organization concerned with helping the victims of human trafficking and putting an end to their suffering. Unfortunately, every case she took through the organization following the incident was nothing more than a blatant reminder of what she had gone through.
“I’m sorry. I was just thinking about a case I encountered at work today,” Lesly finally decided to answer, realizing that the long time she took to respond was also a sign this Mary person could use to figure her out.
“Care to share it with me?” Mary asked patiently, hoping to get Lesly to finally open up.
Lesly sighed, wondering whether it was worth it to say anything at all or not. She eventually decided to randomly choose a case and to present it to Mary as a way to fill the silence.
“There is this woman, early twenties, who came to the city of Redlyn in hopes of finding a job that would support her and her five-year old son. She trusted the wrong people and ended up in a prostitution job that she could not leave for fear that her son might get hurt. We managed to save her, but we can’t find her son.”
“That is awful.”
“Yes, that is what people normally say, and yet no body is doing anything about the problem.”
“Lesly, what makes you think the problem is getting worse?” Mary asked after a moment of silence.
“What makes you think it’s getting better?”
“Wouldn’t you consider the changes the newly elected mayor promised to make a step in the right direction?” Mary clarified.
Leslie could not help but laugh at this point, “Politicians!”
Unable to keep her real thoughts to herself any longer, she continued, “The slave-trade has grown prosperous due to the city’s stagnant environment, yet despite the growing numbers we announce, politicians still insist that we exaggerate. Why do you think that?”
“You tell me.”
“Because they are entangled in that mess. The persistence of the problem helps them. They get paid a handsome some by the syndicates running the show to stay quiet. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the city’s major political figures are involved in the lucrative sex-trade that such an activity gave rise to.”
Silence again. The crime rate in the city of Redlyn was high. That was an undisputed fact. The factors behind the increase in crime rate, however, were a source of a major controversy. As with any community, there were those who believed that hijacking people’s freedom through stricter laws was the answer. There were the conspiracy theorists who would either trace the problem to some foreign powers or locate it in the existing government. And then there were the religious fanatics who would simply interpret every occurrence as God’s punishment to the sinful.
“That is…an interesting analysis, Lesly,” Mary replied hesitantly after a moment of silence.
Great! She must have already been categorized as another conspiracy theorist. Lesly did not normally care what other people thought of her, but she did not want Mary to needlessly prolong those sessions. One session every two weeks was torture enough.
She leaned forward in her seat and tried her best to control her simmering temper as she reasoned, “Dr. Grove, how would you explain the rising crime rate? The inadequacy of the law enforcement system? The corruption of the judicial system? And the fact that parts of the city are totally controlled by syndicates and criminal organizations rather than a functional government body?”
Mary would not answer the questions. She just sat there waiting for Leslie to voice the one experience that was the source of this seething, yet somewhat controlled anger.
Realizing that she had revealed more than what she wished her therapist to find out, she stood up, turned her back to the middle-aged woman and began walking towards the window. Lesly took a couple of deep breaths and tried to think of way to handle what remained of the one-hour session. She wanted to leave that instant, but Michaela was waiting outside. Leaving would mean subjecting herself to the hellish nagging, crying and pleading that resulted in the guilt-ride that brought here in the first place. No, leaving was not an option, and apparently beating around the bush and answering questions with questions was not working either, especially since she was exhausted and sleep-deprived. What else was there to do?
Her eyes scanned the small garden through the window. The sound of children playing and laughing immediately caught her attention and had her search their surroundings for the source of their amusement. She soon found out that it was a small golden retriever running around the kids in circles and chasing after a toy they were holding.
Something about the scene evoked a surge of emotions within her. She could not understand at first why the scene affected her so much, but she soon managed to put a name to the phenomenon…nostalgia…but that was not all there was to it. Something else was making her eyes burn. They were tearing up. The more she fought that, the harder her eyes pulsed. She tried to keep herself composed, but so many things were out of order right now that she could not keep track of everything. Something was bound to slip out.
Almost involuntarily, she found herself whispering, “Things would have been easier if he was around.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
What was there to talk about? The guy lived his whole life treating her like nothing but the family he always wanted, but she rarely returned the sentiment. The two had only each other when their father passed away. She tried to step up and assume the role of a parent for him, but the task proved more challenging than she thought.
Christopher was not very young when their father passed away. He was only four years younger than her, yet the way he behaved did not leave her much choice but to assume the responsibility of guiding him. She did not know whether it was the lack of guidance or the fact that he had been spoiled by everybody who cared for him throughout his life, but Christopher had grown up to be the most irresponsible person she had ever encountered. He could not keep himself in college and would not even bother looking for a job. His reason, of course, was that he could not work at a job that he did not like.
Every encounter the two had followed the same routine course. She would criticize his irresponsible behavior. He would call her a stuck-up a bitch, and then the two of them would keep their distance until he sought her out again.
It was always him who initiated the contact, never her. He was the one who would call to check on her. He was the one who would arrange dinner appointments to meet her. He was the one who constantly called her office to plan things around her schedule. It was obvious that he loved her a great deal. She loved him, too, but for some reason, she was never capable of showing it, and now he was dead and his blood was on her hands alone.
Why didn’t she keep her mouth shut? If she had tried to reason with him rather than criticize and point his flaws every time she saw him, he would not have stormed out of her flat in anger and got himself killed in a car accident. Why did she do that? Why was she so harsh with him? She was an attorney and a damn excellent one. She should have been able to use her words in a more effective manner than that.
Maybe she deserved what happened to her, getting incarcerated, tortured, and raped. She should have died that day. She should not have been rescued.
“Lesly, what are you thinking?”
“Nothing,” Lesly answered in a small voice.
At this point, Mary could not help but sigh in frustration at her patient’s lack of cooperation. She placed the cap over her pen, put her notebook aside, took a deep breath, and tried to reason one more time.
“Dear, I’m trying to help you. You are obviously suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. What you have been though is horrendous in every sense of the word. You have to open up.”
Still not convinced, Lesly asked, “What’s the point? It won’t erase the fact that it happened. It won’t erase the fact that I deserved it.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Because I’m a horrible human being.” Lesly responded calmly.
“Lesly, it is common for sexual assault victims to blame themselves. The most important thing to remember is that…”
“Did you not hear me? I deserved it,” Lesly interrupted coldly.
Mary tried to hold back from saying anything that would further enrage Lesly. She took a deep breath, tried to rearrange her thoughts, and then proceeded one more time to convince her patient to speak.
“Lesly, perhaps you can help me understand the situation better by telling me exactly what happened.”
Lesly tried to calm herself down. She closed her eyes to keep the tears that were threatening to fall from falling, and counted to ten. She could handle this. She could power through if she wanted. She had done it before, and she could do it again.
She slowly walked back to her seat, sat down, then spoke softly, “I helped someone.”
“And?” Mary asked encouragingly.
“I paid dearly for it.”