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An ex-boyfriend once told me I “rub nine out of 10 people the wrong way.” He hadn’t actually surveyed anyone, but if he had, he probably would’ve found that people find me more boring than irritating.
At least that’s what I was led to believe by the psychologist I was seeing at the same time as that ex-boyfriend. She didn’t outright tell me I was boring, but falling asleep while I was crying seemed like a pretty clear statement.
In November 2001, at age 22, I was nearing my first anniversary of living in New York City. I had moved to Manhattan for an internship at "The Late Show With David Letterman" and stayed when I got a job as a copywriter at Bluefly. My aforementioned college boyfriend had moved up from Florida to live with me, and I had made some great friends. Things were good.
But, like so many New Yorkers, 9/11 changed me. More specifically, it changed me back, disquieting the clinical depression that had been dormant for a while. So I used my very own grown-up-person health insurance for the first time to help pay for once-a-week, hour-long therapy sessions with a psychologist in the neighborhood I was living in at the time.
One Tuesday, I took the 6 train one stop farther than I would if I were going straight home, as I normally did on evenings after work when I had a therapy appointment. As I walked three blocks south from the station, I passed the middle school I always pass.
Just as I finished crossing the street and stepping up onto the sidewalk catty-corner to the school, something hefty and solid hit the back of my head -- hard -- and I was knocked to the ground. I think I blacked out for a minute, because I don’t actually remember falling.
The next thing I saw: two teenage boys standing over me, one with his hand outstretched, offering to help me up, the other holding the object that had been pitched at full-teenage-boy-arm strength at my head. It was a 32-ounce McDonald’s cup that had been filled to the brim with water and then frozen -- basically, a brick of ice wrapped in card stock.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” the boy helping me up said. I got to my feet and turned around to see a third boy running away. “We thought you were our teacher.”
That statement and its horrifying implications didn’t even make it through to my left temporal lobe to be fully comprehended immediately. I just walked away, blurry-eyed and dazed, in the direction of my therapist's home office.
I held back tears for the rest of the walk, in the lobby of her building, in the elevator, in her foyer. But as soon as I took off my coat, I broke down. I started crying hysterically as she gently guided me to the club chair patients sit in.
This was the fourth of fifth time I’d seen her. We usually talked about my past, my current relationships, my insecurities; and I was usually pretty stoic. Now I was suddenly bawling over a very fresh ordeal. It was like when a TV show with an established plot formula has that one episode a few weeks into the season where something crazy happens or it’s someone else’s perspective.
She sat down across from me and let me recount everything that had just happened. As I neared the end of the story -- maybe about five minutes in -- I noticed that her eyelids were droopy.
“It really hurt,” I said, sobbing. “It still does.”
I was done telling her what happened, but there was a long pause. I kind of expected her to ask me if I wanted to call the cops or go to the hospital, but the look on her face was more drowsy than concerned.
“Are you taking it personally?” she asked after a few dragging seconds.
I didn’t know how to answer that, but I tried.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I feel like I was singled out, but they thought I was someone else. They thought I was their teacher, which doesn’t make it better; it might make it worse.”
I went on about how I couldn’t imagine thinking that’s OK even as a kid, that I felt really unlucky sometimes, that I was struggling with the idea of fairness and deserving good things.
As I spoke, I noticed her drifting off. Her eyes would close for about a minute; then her eyelashes would unlatch and her lids would slowly peel back.
It happened several times. But instead of saying something about it or even doing the obvious ahem cough, I just kept talking. I was worried that she’d feel bad if she realized what was happening and further realized that I knew, too. So I just weepily talked to myself while insult was added to injury, literally.
Her internal clock was apparently still alert, because she managed to spring her eyes open to say, “Let’s talk more about this next week,” after I’d been there for about 50 minutes.
“OK,” I said. And that’s all I said. I didn’t address that she was borderline-REMing the whole time, and neither did she. While I had rambled about feeling undeserving and unlikable, she confirmed my concerns in the blink of an eye -- several groggy, slow-motion blinks that were more like short naps than actual blinks.
I called to cancel the following week’s appointment, and I haven’t been back to a therapist since.
(Do I even need to ask you to leave your bad therapist horror stories in the comments?)