The Packing House

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Chapter 35 | I Hate Counselors

Next up, I have my appointment with Mr. Faber. Somewhere far off I hear remnants of an echo, like someone calling my name over and over. It’s happening again. Soon, everyone at Oceanside will know. I might as well be dragged away in a straitjacket.

When the bell rings, I climb out from beneath the rubble of the mountain, dust myself off, and trudge off to guidance. What the hell is wrong with me, that my own mother would do that and hand me over to him? I check in with the guidance secretary.

“Mr. Faber will be right with you,” she says pleasantly, as if the world weren’t full of mothers who lie and betray their sons. Bearing the weight of an entire mountain has done nothing to abate my anger. I may never forgive her. My molars grind against each other as I clench and unclench my jaw. I never want to speak to her again. It’s not enough.

And what do I do about spacing out in geometry class? Will they figure it out? Someone besides Osita had to see what happened. Will they start whispering about me as I walk by? It’s like Broad Run all over again.

When I’m called back to Mr. Faber’s office, I walk with brutal, echoing steps along the short hallway. I enter, cross to the sitting area, and flop in the empty chair, catty-corner from Mr. Faber’s.

“Joel, welcome.”

I nod, look down.

“Rough day?”

“You could say that.”

“Anything you want to talk about?” I watch his eyes glance down toward my bandages.

I shake my head.

“Well, the last time we spoke, you were upset about the idea of meeting with your father. I can understand your reluctance to open up old wounds, so I have cancelled those plans permanently.”

I turn and look up at Mr. Faber.

“I was wrong to set up a meeting without getting your permission first, Joel. I am sorry. I hope you will forgive my ineptitude.”

“I don’t answer things I don’t understand.”

Mr. Faber laughs. “It means I was not being a good counselor. I got ahead of myself. I was wrong.”


After a pause, he says, “Joel, can I ask you another question?” Here it goes.

“I guess.”

“Would you tell me why you think you’re here to see me, beside the fact that it is a condition of passing the tenth grade?”

My insides cringe. Do I look stupid enough to fall for this?

I wonder how long I’ll have to keep coming to these appointments. Probably until Mr. Faber thinks he’s made some kind of progress. I’d rather be at the beach, climbing out on the breakers or searching for shells beneath the dock. Anything’s better than this. Better give him an answer or the appointment will never end.

“Well, to help me, I guess. Figure out some things I’m having trouble with.” Did I just read that from a cue card?

“I certainly hope you find these visits helpful. Of course I would like to help you with some of the things listed in your file. But it’s more than that, Joel.”

I nod, unsure of the punch line. My mind has moved on to the boardwalk, running barefoot down the dunes that pull at me the way the moon draws the tide.

“Joel,” Mr. Faber begins again, “am I correct in assuming the behaviors of most adults often leave you… baffled?”

“Yeah.” I try to sound unsure of my answer, but inside I’m screaming so loudly, I imagine the blood rushing to my face, making my veins pop out.

“Do you know any adults you can trust?”

Nope, none whatsoever.

“My grandma and my Uncle Brandon.”

“When you think of the word ‘trust,’ what do you mean?” He must know what a loaded question this is. I give him the party answer.

“They’re not trying to get something out of me or hurt me.”

“Have there been adults who have hurt you?” Heat on my face warms my cheeks to some shade of red. I must be part chameleon. “You don’t have to tell me who. Just yes or no is fine.”

“Then, yes.”

“I take it you haven’t figured out whether you trust me enough to share more about that?”

I nod. My eyebrows go up. Duh!

“Fair enough.” Mr. Faber looks around like he’s just remembered something. “Are you hungry, Joel?”

I shrug. He doesn’t even realize how similar that is to a con Uncle Steven used to pull, directly followed by a beating. And then…

He looks at me funny. “Excuse me for a moment.” As he flips through my file, I pick at my cuticles. I’d rather be down by the water on the beach with the waves washing over my toes, pulling my feet down in the sand.

“Would it make you feel better to know the snacks are in sealed packaging? Or are you just not hungry?” Nice try.

“No, it’s just—” I don’t know how to put my thoughts into words. Guess I’d better explain. “Someone said that, and then they hurt me.”

“I see. We can pass on the snacks. They’re not important. I’m not here to hurt you, Joel.”

“Okay.” What are you here to do to me? I mean, for me.

“I spoke with Ms. Moore, and we have a few short tests to complete your full evaluation. You can sit here or over at the table. I’ll take them when you’re done.”

I stay where I’m at and fill out the forms. I’m tempted to blow off the test but continue answering questions. At least here, the people who are taking care of me actually do their job. Starting over won’t remain an option if I screw up again. Mr. Faber interrupts.

“I know our time is about up for the day. Listen, the Writing Center contacted me. They told me you were a no-show for the last two days. I need to hear back from them that you’re attending those tutoring sessions. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He starts to write some notes in his files on me. I must have done something right.

“All right, I’ll go today. I need the help, anyway.”

“Good. Glad to hear it.”

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