I don’t need this I don’t need this I don’t need this. I repeat it over and over to myself, sinking into the scratchy wool chair in the downstairs lobby. I’m here because my parents tell me I need to talk to someone, need to walk through the perfectionism, need to admit the things I don’t want to admit – I don’t need this I don’t need this I don’t need this. I look around – the water in its bulky upside down Poland Springs dispenser, the packets of Swiss Miss, the old copies of Martha Stewart Living or Bon Appetit, which I flip through foolishly (I barely cook anything) as I wait. Pumpkin sage ravioli. Pumpkin chocolate cookies. Something with cinnamon that sounds beautiful and impossible. I toss the magazines aside and move my feet around the edges of my chair.
I don’t need this – isn’t this for those who really struggle, not for 19 year olds with perfectionist tendencies and maybe some insecurities but nothing major, nothing she can’t get a handle on if she would only try harder and shape up and be better?
I don’t need this – it was just one or two comments to my parents about feeling not good enough or that I was a bad friend and a failure.
I don’t need this – I’m Hilary. Hilary is put together. Hilary doesn’t need to go to counseling.
She comes downstairs to get me for the appointment and I walk quietly behind her.
Her couch is softer than the chair downstairs, and the office is quiet, and there are paper cups for the hot tea I know she must offer or make for most of the people who come through in a day, in a week. I see the rain on the glass panes of the window behind her chair, and though I am afraid, though I worry, though I think in my head still, I don’t need this – something in her smiles tells me it is okay to keep talking.
She asks me questions no one has asked before – asks me to tell her all about what I think to myself as I walk through a day, asks me to tell her about school, and how I perform, asks me to tell her about my stray thoughts and my someday dreams and what it is I think will happen if… And I find myself back, week after week, spreading the questions like puzzle pieces between us. I talk about how things make me feel. I talk about what I wish I was, and don’t believe I am. I talk about my desire to be prettier, or thinner, about my perceptions of the world, about friendship, about trust. I talk about boys, long, winding conversations where I can’t tell beginning from end, the heartbreak from the hard conversation from the new possibility. We take our time.
Nearly three years later, we sit in leather chairs. Her office has moved to a different building on campus, and it’s only a brief meeting – we’re both in between so many things. But I have to tell her – not in the words, I’m engaged! – but in the smile, in how I tuck my hair behind my ear and how I smile (I smile differently now, softer, I think, but also bursting with life), tell her that she has made a difference. A big one.
It was as simple as being seen those years ago on her couch. It was as simple as her kind smile amid the puzzle pieces and the grace that pours out when we see one another. And as I untangled all the knots of not needing it, I realized – I did.
I needed to be seen. And she saw me – saw me wild and free and imperfect and so desperate to share myself with the world and so afraid to do anything. Three years later, and we are both near tears, and I tell her the words I should have said a long time ago:
This was one of the things I remember most from college. You were one of the most important people I met here. And you, seeing me?
It meant everything.
Can I ask us again, wherever we find ourselves? Can we see each other again? Can we pause, and look for each other, look past the Oh, I’m fine, and the schedule and the college exams and the minivans. Because it means everything.