“Our love story was one that fairytales are made of. Boy meets girl. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy goes home completely infatuated with girl after their first meeting, calls his mom, and exclaims, ‘I just found the girl I’m going to marry!’ Love at first sight.” I took in a deep breath then exhaled slowly.
“Is something wrong?” Greg sensed my hesitation.
“No, but to get to this point in my life, something else happened first.” I looked Greg in the eye, figuring how to gauge my explanation.
“I’m listening,” he affirmed.
Twiddling my thumbs, I thought back to my freshman year. “There was a reason I was at home instead of being away at college,” I started. “I wasn’t exactly at the best place in my life. That’s why I had dropped all my classes and come home.” I pursed my lips, somewhat embarrassed by my truth. “I may not have met Brad had I been at school.”
Greg smiled. “You’ve got my attention.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Molly popped her head above the top bunk, peering over the anatomy and physiology homework spread across my dorm room bed. Perkiness exuded from her as she exclaimed, “Hey, Roomie!”
I grinned. “Hey, Mol! What’s up?” She clung to my bed frame, her infectious smile lighting up the room.
“Just checkin’ in on ya. How’s it goin’?” Her southern drawl brought with it a natural sort of warmth.
“I might as well be studying Greek,” I laughed. “Dorsal? Ventral? Prone? Supine? Unless you can explain how all this A&P stuff works, I’m afraid I’m stuck here awhile.” I tapped on my five-inch-thick textbook.
“Good luck with that! I hear those words and immediately think air conditioning and trees.” I gave her a sideways glance. “You know? Vents? Pines?”
I rolled my eyes and laughed. “Yeah. You’re no help. Ever think of being a stand-up comic?”
“I’m sure tuition would be cheaper,” she teased.
“Probably.” I laughed some more. “So, what are you really here for? I can tell when something’s not being said, and you’re holding back. Spill it, Girl.”
“Well, in all honesty, a little birdie told me you could use some cheerin’ up; so, I’m here to bring you a little sunshine.”
“Really?” I raised my eyebrows, tilting my head to the side. “And does this birdie have a name?”
“Nope. Fluttered away before I got the chance to ask,” she answered with a hint of sass.
I chuckled. “And what else did this birdie tell you?”
“Well, it told me you received a disturbing phone call today, and that you might need a little heart-to-heart.” She tightened her grip on the bed frame. “The birdie also said you haven’t quite been yourself since receiving the call, and she’s kind of worried about you.”
“I see.” I presented a weak smile. “Well, you can go and tell your little birdie friend that I’m just fine. I appreciate you looking in on me, but your job here is done. Nothing can be done here.”
Molly leaned forward, resting her arms on my mattress. “I’m a really great listener,” she bolstered her presence. “Anything you share will stay just between you and me. I’m like Fort Knox. Your information is completely safe.” She pretended to zip her lips and throw away the key.
My smile widened. “Thanks. It’s nice knowing someone cares.” Wedging my A&P notes into the middle of my textbook, I clapped the book shut. “Have you ever lost a friend or someone you love?”
The tight brown curls highlighting Molly’s face swayed gingerly back and forth with her answer. “No, but several of my friends have, and I’ve seen how difficult the loss was for them,” she sympathized. “Why? Is that what’s happened with you? Did someone you know die?” Seriousness flooded the expression on her face.
I nodded. “Yeah, but she’s not someone I’m close with—not that that matters.”
“I’m so sorry!” Molly apologized. “Who was she? How did you know her?”
“Church,” I answered. “She was a church acquaintance. It’s all over the news back home. I don’t think she was even forty years old. My dad called to let me know this morning. A neighbor found her dead in her apartment sometime in the last day or two. Everyone’s in shock.”
“That’s so sad.” Molly’s brow furrowed, her lower lip protruding into a pout. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“Bullet to the head,” I added. “She supposedly shot both of her kids in their sleep then turned the gun on herself—an attempted murder/suicide.” Numbness shielded my emotions.
“Kids were involved, too?” Molly’s voice raised an octave. “Wow! That’s especially sad!”
“Yeah, the mom died. The kids lived. I can’t even imagine what they must be going through. It’s all so surreal.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I just saw their mom a few weeks ago during home leave. She was happy and healthy—not a care in the world. She complimented me on my new haircut—thought it was cute—even said she looked forward to seeing me at Thanksgiving or Christmas—the next time I was planning on being home. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her happier.”
“Hold on to that memory,” Molly persuaded. “I’m sure that’s how she would have wanted you to remember her.”
I nodded. “Yeah. The thing I can’t seem to wrap my head around, though, is nothing looked wrong. She was her sweet, bubbly self. I keep asking myself the same question over and over. What did I miss?”
Molly shrugged. “You might not have missed anything. People who live with depression are masters at hiding the sadness they’re feeling. The inside struggle doesn’t always show on the outside. It’s often the people you least expect—the ones with the biggest smiles on their faces—who appear to have it all together. Those are the ones who are usually covering brokenness no one else can see. Some hide it for weeks. Others disguise it for years. The world is an overwhelming and lonely place when you start running out of hope. Maybe that’s where she found herself.”
Tears started leaking from the corners of my eyes.
“This really has you torn up, doesn’t it?” Molly reached for a tissue on my nightstand, handing me several.
“Thank you,” I sniffled, dabbing at the wetness on my face. “I keep thinking that could’ve been me. What happens if I get to the point I just can’t take it any more? What if I’m the one who snaps? Sometimes, I feel I can’t handle the pressure of keeping it all together. School feels like it’s too much. I’m exhausted, and I feel like a fraud. I walk around campus with a big smile on my face; but, in reality, I feel like my insides could erupt at any moment.”
“Then don’t let that be you,” Molly urged. Hoisting herself onto my mattress, she dangled her legs off the side of my bed.
I searched her eyes. “What do you mean? I can’t undo the past.”
“No one’s asking you to.” Molly took a moment to organize her thoughts, then exhaled slowly. “Let me ask it another way. What would you do if you broke your foot?” She paused a moment, letting her words sink in.
I eyed her with great suspicion. “Is this a trick question?”
“Nope. Just answer the question,” she politely instructed.
I proceeded with caution. “I would go to the doctor.”
“And what would you do if you had a really bad toothache that wasn’t going away?” She raised an eyebrow.
“That’s obvious. I’d go see a dentist.” I wrinkled my forehead then asked, “Where are you going with this?”
“I think you know where I’m going,” Molly answered. “It’s quite simple. When you break an arm, you go to the emergency room to have it fixed. When you chip a tooth, you visit the dentist to have a cap put on. When your heart shatters into a million pieces, or you can’t find reason to get out of bed in the morning, you see a therapist to help you make sense of it.” A warm smile lifted her cheeks.
I nodded out of irritation. “So, you think I’m broken and need a shrink? That’s wonderful! I open up and share how I’m feeling and the first thing you do is label me a fruit loop? Just lovely!” Sarcasm dripped from my words.
Molly shook her head. “No. That’s not what I’m sayin’ at all. Going to a therapist is like going to a regular doctor, except that therapists specialize in understanding your brain—they’re trained in helping you understand your emotions. That’s why I think you need a skilled professional to help you make sense of all the stress you’re dealing with right now. You’re not broken. You’re human.” Her face brightened with another smile. “Want in on a li’l secret?”
I shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
“You’re not the only one who’s needed help with the emotional healing process. I’ve been there, too.” She nodded her truth. “I personally know how important it is to talk things through with someone who understands, because keeping it bottled up will change your life—and feeling crappy all the time isn’t any fun, either.” She noted the surprised look on my face. “Really,” she answered my unspoken question. “Don’t let the stigma that others place on therapists prevent you from getting the help you need. Everything is confidential, and no one knows you’re going—unless you tell them. So, why not give it a try?”
“Because I’m not sure it’ll help,” I answered. “Most people don’t know this, but I’ve been to a counselor before. It didn’t do any good. Actually, it was the biggest waste of time. I’m not sure the therapist had ever had a bad day in her life; yet, she thought she could relate to me and give me advice. The meetings were extremely awkward.”
Molly responded, unfazed. “That’s not surprising. Book smarts don’t give you relatable life experience. Finding a good therapist is like going on a job interview. You usually have to interview several before you find one that really clicks with your situation. I’m tellin’ ya, it’s worth the time and effort, because when you find the right fit, you’ll have a safe place where you can be yourself, one hundred percent.” I nodded my understanding.
“One more piece of advice,” Molly added. “Don’t base your present situation, and whether or not to see a counselor, on your past experience. Trust me. Not all counselors are the same. There is someone out there who will understand you the way you need to feel understood, but it will take perseverance in finding the right one. Whatever you do, don’t give up. OK? The world needs Hope Blythe.”
Realizing how vulnerable Molly had been, I chose to be open in return. “I haven’t told this to anyone, yet,” I confided, “but I can’t focus on my work. My grades are slipping, and life, in general, feels too hard to manage right now. I’ve started wondering if college is meant for me. I want to go home. I want to throw in the towel and call it quits, but I’ve never been a quitter, so that’s not even an option.” I lowered my head.
“No one’s saying you have to finish your degree by a certain date. Why not take a break?” Molly countered.
“Because I’m not a quitter.”
Molly looked at me with full-on sincerity. “Who’s saying you are?”
“I dunno. The school. My parents.” I lowered my gaze. “If I drop out of school right now, that’d also interrupt the rhythm and flow of my education. I imagine I could also lose my my scholarships. That’s a lot of money.”
“True, but do you plan on finishing your classes someday?” Details didn’t keep Molly from thinking outside the box.
I fiddled with the edges of the notes sticking out from inside my A&P textbook and sighed. “I hope to.”
“Then you’re not quitting. You’re postponing. School will always be here. When you get done taking care of yourself, classes will make more sense, too—no more trying to hear the teacher through the fog in your head. Learning is hard enough without it being compounded by the stuff you’re dealing with.”
I thought a long moment then made eye contact. “I’ve never thought of it that way before,” I admitted. “Maybe you’re right.”
“Of course, I am,” Molly beamed. “I get ya! It’s all about perspective. I’ll miss you if you decide to leave—you’ve been an awesome roomie—but you need to take care of you. You matter to this world. This will all be waiting. I promise.” She pointed to my textbook, tapping on its hard cover. “In the meantime, I’m here if you need to talk or want help loading up your suitcases.” She leaned over and gave me a quick hug then hopped off the bed.
I smiled as she headed for the door. “Thanks for taking the time to care. It really means a lot.”
She turned and displayed a knowing smile. “I know. That’s what friends are for.”
Less than a week later, bags and boxes filled my car as I headed home.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“It sounds like I should be honored that you’re sitting in my office,” Greg smiled.
I returned a grin and stroked his ego. “You’re more than just book smarts; and, sometimes, I even get some sage advice.” Dimples caved my cheeks.
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Thank you.”
“That’s how it was intended,” I confirmed.
“So, let me guess. While you were at home from college trying to find yourself, a handsome young gentleman entered your life and offered you a fairy-tale romance that seemed to make all the bad things go away for a while.”
“Yeah, for the most part,” I vouched.
Greg leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “OK, so fill me in on the details.”
My smile broadened. “There was instant chemistry between Brad and me when we met.”
Greg smirked. “I wouldn’t expect anything less. And where did this scientific reaction take place?”
“Where else?” I smirked. “Church.”