Wash, A Short Story

“Do you know why you’re here?” she asked me, voice filled with bass.

I was sitting in a psychologist’s office. It was so typical it hurt my sensibilities. Soft but firm light brown couch for me. Black, upright back chair for her. A few pictures of nature and ocean on the walls. Succulents thoughtfully laid out in every corner of the room. Smelled like vanilla.

She was dressed casual, legal pad on the knee of her crossed upper leg, hair in a low ponytail, glasses, and pen tucked between her fingers, ready to write.

“Yes,” I answered purposefully so she’d have to ask me why. It was too expected. A fun little game.

“Care to tell me?” she asked softly, trying to appear non threatening.

“You already know,” I said to add unnecessary friction. I didn’t mind speaking to her. Having someone to talk to that supposedly wouldn’t judge you was good from time to time. It was ludicrous to pretend therapists could be objective. No one was immune to bias.

She smiled, a first surprise since being here. She was not threatened by my push back. “Humor me.”

I’d give her this one. “My parents are threatening to Baker Act me, but they don’t want to sever the remainder of our broken connection by doing that. Coming here,” I gestured to her office, “is the middle ground.”

“We’re on the same page then.” She rapped her pen momentarily on the legal pad. “I purposefully asked them not to tell me why they want to Baker Act you.”

“To reduce the supposed notion of eliminating bias?” I plucked at last.

Again she smiled. Again I was surprised. Then again, I was probably not the first person to question the validity of therapists. I wasn’t special. “Yes, supposedly. You get to control the narrative of my subjectivity, I mean, supposed objectivity.” She was still smiling.

I matched her expression. “Yes.” Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad. Or perhaps she was playing the cool therapist game. I liked games. “They want to Baker Act me because they think I’m brainwashed,” I said excitedly. The controversy excited me.

“By who?” Her body betrayed her and I knew she was excited, too because she leaned forward a little. Therapists had a great gig listening to all these drama variations. However, they were human, too. All these stories touched them in ways seen and unseen.

“I don’t think it matters. Cult, boy, Instagram influencer, friend, conspiracy theorists – it’s all the same,” I said, making myself comfortable by laying down. I decided I wanted to talk to her in that moment. What a powerful couch.

“Te-” she began. I cut her off.

“Tell you more?” I asked with a mischievous smile. “I’ll make this your easiest session. I’ll tell you everything.” I crossed my arms behind my head and my legs across each other as I stared up at the slowly turning ceiling fan.

“It doesn’t matter what or who they think I’m being brainwashed by because we’re all brainwashed by something,” I began. “Any thought that isn’t your own that touches your mind is a drop. When it’s thought about, it spreads, essentially becoming say an 8 ounce cup of water being thrown on the brain. The more it’s contemplated, the more water that washes your brain if you will. So if I have a negative thought that I’m ugly because someone told me so, that’s a drop. If I feed the thought everyday, it becomes true to my perception. I brainwash myself into believing something I didn’t even originally think about.”

“I like your theory,” she told me.

I looked over at her, some irritation in my eyes and voice. “It’s not a theory. How can you call it that of all people?” I was starting to like her until that moment. Her job was literally to “ethically” brainwash people, usually by their volunteering to be here. I was not exactly here voluntarily. “I’ll continue,” I said sharply. I felt forgiving.

“As a kid who grew up in a different country and now living here in America, I can tell you brainwashing exists. We just call it assimilation. Depending on where you grew up, you get a different wash, but we call that culture. Depending on the family, it’s called traditions. See what I mean?”

She nodded. “It makes sense,” she doubled. I couldn’t tell if she understood me or she was being careful so that I wouldn’t shut down. It didn’t matter.

“Sometimes it makes me wonder if there’s any true original thought because everything gets borrowed, stolen, or altered. That’s what they call colonization and cultural appropriation these days,” I said breathily.

“Anyway, I say all that because now that I’m not following the plan my parents have for me, they think I’m being brainwashed. Following the way of society is a brainwashed program in and of itself. We’re told to do all these things that break us so badly we have to see therapists, take drugs, want to kill ourselves, drink, run away – whatever. All of it. Authentic people don’t need crutches or coping mechanisms because they’re not faking something. It’s the pretending to not be ourselves that breaks us. Just look at kids. Authentic! I look at my little sister progressively losing herself. She’s getting older so she’s gotta follow these rules that go against herself to fit into our family, neighborhood, girlish stereotypes, and culture,” I said heavily, my heart aching.

“I decided to choose something that makes me happy, to choose my own brainwash. I’d rather this path than the wash my family wants me to be drenched in. I want when my little sister gets ready to rebel against the status quo that she has someone and somewhere safe to go to process and let go, to find that little happy girl again.” I fell into silence to exhale what felt like a breath I’d been holding onto. I forgot the therapist was there until she spoke.

“Thanks for sharing that. I didn’t want to be a psychologist at first, but I felt called to do it as a way to balance the tipping scales of things,” she told me. I wasn’t sure if she meant to. “What’s the path they want for you?”

I sat up quickly and saw the familiar firefly like lights pulsing in my field of vision for a few seconds. “The path they want for me doesn’t matter, but I’m glad you get me doc. I wish I could balance the scales the way you are because no child who loves their parents wants to disappoint them.” I took a beat before I added my unsolicited advise. “Becoming a psychologist is not the only way to balance the scales though. It’s settling.” I knew I would offend her, but I didn’t care. She was a coward in a sense.

“I see why you may think so,” she said coolly. “What path are you taking that they don’t approve of?” She was attempting to direct the conversation back to me, deflecting, but again, it didn’t matter. Did she miss the point?

“How about we end here for today, doc?” I offered with a smile pulled up from the corners by invisible ventriloquist strings. She’d be too busy feeling offended to hear the rest of my “theories”. As she said, supposed objectivity.

I essentially brainwashed her with a thought of doubt about her career, her life really. I’d bring it up next time to further prove my point. “I’m talked out.”

“Sure,” she said, her hand itching to write, but what words could she use for something this punctuated? “Set something up with my receptionist on the way out or call if you don’t know your availability right now.” She stood up and gave me a ventriloquist inspired smile as well.

“Will do. See yah, doc.” I waved and left feeling much, much better indeed.

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