*Disclaimer – I used a simple translator for the Spanish parts of this story. If you speak Spanish fluently, feel free to leave any corrections in the comments below. (You can also leave nice comments as well, because you are a delightful human being). Thank you for your understanding!
**Disclaimer – This story makes references to a young child with suicidal behaviors and depression. If this may trigger emotional distress or anxiety, please refrain from reading at this time. All references are vaguely addressed and serve only as supporting details to the story.
“Señor Gonzalez?” A soft voice erupts from behind the door. I’m still upset so I just bite at her unintentionally; just a sharp and angry yelp.
“Qué? Qué quieres?” The poor receptionist trembles in the doorway. I don’t mean to frighten her but at the same time I don’t care. That’s the problem with anger – people just stop caring about anything else but their own feelings. I’m a therapist – a counselor! I shouldn’t struggle with these issues and yet, somehow, I do…
“Tu Hermana está aquí. Tengo su envoi de vuelta, señor?” Of course my sister is already here. I only just called her a couple of hours ago; I called her for some advise about an assessment of a child. I don’t usually counsel children. In fact, my education is geared specifically towards young adults. My youngest client, until today, had been fourteen that I took on a couple of years ago. But this child – she is seven years old. Just seven! Only half the age of my youngest client!
And today that child came in and I had to listen to her tell me dozens of times that she would rather be dead than living with her parents. She loves them and believes that she is a burden to them. She believes that she is a joke to all of her friends. Nobody at school treats her like they would treat any other person. This child feels worthless.
“Si por supuesto.” My sister is a dedicated psychologist. She likes to brag that she went further than being a simple counselor, therapist depending on the establishment. She’s got a better degree, which sets her higher than me. Our mother doesn’t acknowledge the difference but our father always talks about how a “psychologist” makes more money than any “therapist.”
My education tells me that my rage stems from a need to impress my father, with the subtlest hints of subconscious sexism that is prevalent in the American culture. Instead of letting my job dictate every little facet of my life, though, I just ball my fists. With gritted teeth I wait for the screechy voice I’ve known for the entirety of my thirty-eight years.
“Mi hermano! Demasiado largo!” Black hair tied in a perfect bun pulls the skin of her small pored face poke through the door in only a few minutes. The receptionist must have moved very quickly through the building. It’s possible that my sister followed the receptionist through the halls too, being the obsessive-compulsive neurotic that she can sometimes be in regard to my life.
“Por favor, Celeste. Not today. This is not a personal call.” Rarely do I call upon my sister for casual engagements. The call is never social. Of course, Celeste is convinced putting a smile on will ease the tension and make our interactions more fluid. Atop of that, she believes that psychologically pretending to be interested in one another will eventually result in positive re-association.
As soon as we get past the formalities of playing pretend, just to see if she is any closer to breaking me, Celeste pulls her jacket off and tosses it onto my coat rack. Within seconds she’s made herself comfortable at my desk and is making a list in what I’m fairly sure is Mandarin. Chances are that she is detailing all the things she’d change about my office. I don’t think I’ve noted to myself how much being around her makes me want to put my fist through a wall yet.
Losing sight of why she is here, though, would make me even angrier. Today I need to propose a treatment plan before the parents take their daughter home. For the time being they are visiting the salon next door. The ladies are getting pedicures until I can determine the best plan of action, as I believe there may be danger present.
“Habla conmigo.. What troubles you?” Being trilingual, it must be difficult for her to speak in only one language all the way through a single thought. A part of her job requires her to speak in each language daily. Since we both grew up speaking Spanish and English, we fall in to the “Spanglish” speech pattern effortlessly. Of course, with Spanish being the second most common language in the country, I don’t pretend that it is a unique practice to our family. Even I can’t spite her on this matter.
Talk to me; it sounds so casual. Something companions would say to one another during times of great struggle. I suppose my sister sees herself as a friend more than a sibling. It does often feel as though we are from different backgrounds and stories. Celeste has so many of my parents’ positive traits. I was forced to create many of my qualities as a subconscious mechanism to standout against her constantly impressive performance.
Reflecting on those thoughts, I remind myself that being a psychologist is just being a counselor that makes more money as the result of more student loan debt. No thanks, I had agreed many years ago, and when Celeste isn’t around to make me feel less for not pursuing more, I do quite well for myself.
“There is a child. Siete años, Celeste. I do not work with children so young.” This gives her the reason for my call. A reason for which we both know she will be very passionate. See, Doctor Celeste Elena Estevez Gonzales is the leading psychologist for children under ten years old in not one, not two, not even three – but five states! She has become so popular that she has a two-year waiting list and is offering generic webinars for confidential and anonymous group counseling, so that she can start funneling her low-risk patients into a wide service spectrum.
Genius, a born genius; and whether it is fortunate or unfortunate that I am related to her and all the business savvy that she claims is genetic – I may never truly know for sure. Bitterness warns me to shut my mouth and refocus on the reason for her visit.
“Ayuadame. She is suicidal and I need your opinion on treatment options. These parents, they are close to me, and I want affirmation that I am making the best suggestion to them.” On rare occasions, Celeste will be touched by something in the most profound way. Her eyes will not water, but rather they will drown. A heart usually centered on being more finds that it is reminded of why she found this field so endearing.
And this is one of those moments in which his sister is purely invested.
“Do they live here?” There is a faint quiver in her voice. We may not be close, but I can tell by the change that she is holding back vicious sobbing. She doesn’t even know the entire story.
If I am being fair to her, it is possible that she may have guessed to some degree that there is far more to it than the core details. Celeste pokes her hand out. This is her silent way of requesting the file. Unlike at her business, in order to share the file information she must sign a waiver. Thankfully, I planned for this and have it stapled to the front. As I hand it to her, I instruct her in the way I always do; “Firma, por favor. Each case file must have a release.”
I am not sure how, but an hour melts by in what feels to be a millisecond. Celeste has read through the treatment plan several times, scribbling notes onto a half used legal pad I keep near my monitor at all times in the event I remember or think of something unexpectedly. I keep myself from looking at her work, which proves to be easier than anticipated because the clients have returned with their child. I instruct the receptionist to usher the parents back to the office, and to put the daughter in the observation room with supervision.
“Let me speak, Franklin. This is my especialidad, no?” There will be no resistance on the matter. All that I ask is that I be allowed to introduce and explain myself to my friends, and my clients. These women have been my clients since the very beginning of my career.
Barbara and Linda Lindley were some of the best friends I could have, and some of the most intriguing clients I’ve ever encountered. It is with sorrow that I must admit they have regained the top spot in my records as the most complex individuals I have counseled. Their daughter, she is a lovely girl – Clarissa, is her name. To know the struggles within her young mind…
How could anyone do this every single day with children?
Barbara walks in first, her hands writhing around the loose end of her jacket sleeve. As for Linda, she is chewing gum manically. Everyone is hesitant to take a seat upon noticing Celeste, but I have to assure that that there is nothing to worry about; “Doctor C. Gonzalez is a highly capable psychologist, and she is visiting us today free of change to discuss the treatment we believe best fits your daughter’s needs.”
Without hesitation, Celeste introduces herself more clearly. Barbara and Linda are receptive, at least it seems that way. Occasionally they do glance at him questioningly. At the end of her obviously practices mantra, Celeste confirms what I had been considering already…
“So, there is a facility downstate with an astounding in-patient program for children. It is my belief after reviewing the personality assessment, Mr. Gonzalez’ notes, and the behavioral observation that this is your best plan of action. An estimated six to nine months at this center will allow doctors to get to the root of the problem and make sure that Clarissa is not a danger to herself.” It seems that everyone in the room is crying, including myself. Celeste typically describes herself as emotional but I haven’t seen her so vested in a client as she is in the young Lindley girl. I am grateful that she came today.
Barbara wonders aloud if there are alternative options, that they just purchased a home in the area. Even Linda, the freer heart of the two, expresses concern about the home. Celeste shrugs her shoulders, reaching for a tissue before she speaks again; “You could put her in a nearby in-patient facility but the quality of therapy and available programs are less. I understand that financially what I have suggested is frightening, but I would be willing to call in a personal favor. I could get your daughter into the facility at no cost to you.”
My sister is a brilliant businesswoman, a skillful psychologist, and a highly motivated individual. I have never discounted her in this respect. Although, the more she talks to Barbara and Linda about how she will ensure her daughter is provided help for free; how she promises low-cost support therapy upon her release; and how she promises to keep in close contact to ensure that every step of the way their daughter is cared for properly… I fear that I have discounted her ability to be human.
Having cancelled all of my appointments to focus on the Lindleys, the day feels both long and short when I lock the door to my office. Celeste offered to take me out for dinner. Since she rarely travels to the area, she’s letting me pick the restaurant. Normally, I would choose something generic and impersonal. A burger shack, or a steakhouse; anything that would prove to her this was just a business call.
Not today, though. She is waiting by my car with her face into her phone, tapping away at the screen to fix whatever schedule changes she’s had to make to help me. I am starting to think that my father has been right all along – my sister is so much more than I have ever been. She doesn’t know the meaning of ‘stop’ or ‘rest.’
That is why when she asks where it is we are going, I reply with a warm grin; “Noche Familia.”