I was a few minutes early for my appointment and took a seat in the waiting room area. A young man checking out stood at the counter with his back to me. I wondered what he was ‘in for’ and silently surveyed him to see if I could tell. When he turned, he gave me a knowing smile before leaving. As I have come to understand, there is a comradery among those seeking help. The receptionist smiled and told me she’d let my guy know I was waiting. I thanked her and watched as she disappeared down a hallway lined with original artwork. I closed my eyes and tried to relax some before my session; I could hear music from hidden speakers playing a familiar song. “Cold Play” I said aloud. I only know this song because it’s one of my daughter’s favorite. “The Scientist” I say to no one; and wonder if hearing it now, today, is coincidence or providence.
“Hi, are you ready?” my therapist stood before me.
I nodded and followed him to his office space. It was quiet and well lit. There was a desk, a chair and a lounging chair. I knew which one was meant for me and sat down shifting a bit to get comfortable and kicked my shoes off.
“I think I have everything I need.” He took a quick look at his notes and smiled. “The last time you were here, you were telling me about your daughter, how is she doing?”
“Wonderful, amazing; but she complained that the Christmas break was too short.” I watched as he turned to gather a few things from his desk.
He turned back to me, “Ready to start?” I nodded and he switched on his machine. “Now tell me why you are here again.”
“Well, it’s my girl, she has this smile that lights up a room when she enters and her eyes dance about impishly.” I leaned my head back and stared off. “She was Valedictorian of her high school class, received awards for National Honor Society, the President’s Award for Educational Excellence; oh, and The Davidson Fellows Scholarship for harvesting energy.”
“It sounds like she is doing great! So, what is your concern?” he paused writing and looked at me thoughtfully.
“Oh, she is; but it’s me.” my voice trailed off and I winced.
“You miss her.” It was a statement not a question, and he was right.
“I do. I am coping with the distance just fine, it’s just that there is this boy.”
“Humm” he nodded his head in understanding.
“Ok, don’t get me wrong, we didn’t expect her to be celibate or anything, we were just not ready for or expecting this.” A bit too much emphasis sent spittle flying. Thank goodness his head was down.
He paused, looking up at me thoughtfully, “We?” he questioned with a gentle smile.
“Ok, me.” I corrected myself. “I wasn’t ready”. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. He switched his machine off and waited patiently while I fidgeted.
“Need a break?” he asked kindly.
“No, I’m fine now, let’s continue.”
“Ok, where we left off.” he pointed and clicked on his machine.
“So, we… um… I wasn’t ready and I am really ashamed of how I reacted when she brought this boy to our home.” I sighed deeply.
“Does, ‘this boy’ have a name?” he asked.
“He does… “
“Then you should use it, that’s respectful.” he said in a matter of fact tone.
“David.” I think I spat again. “David.” I said once more in a softer, kinder tone.
He looked at me briefly before turning toward his desk. “Tell me about David.”
“He just showed up one day.”
“Like a stray cat?” he said this flatly, but it made me laugh. When he looked at me I swear I could see that same little imp I saw in my daughter, but perhaps I was just projecting.
“No, she told us she was going out with ‘friends’. That they were going to pick her up. We were ok with that, we know all her friends from high school – Sasha, Dina, Hixxy; I think he’s gay… “
“Does that matter?” he interrupted me.
“No, irrelevant I suppose.” I squirmed a bit. He kept hitting touchy spots. “We hear a car pull up and she squeals and goes flying out of the front door. My husband said, ‘what was that all about?’ so we went to the door and see her in the arms of this boy… “
“David?” he interrupted again.
“Yes, David, and we see her, them, in an embrace on the sidewalk!”
“Scandalous.” he said with a faint grin.
“Look” I said sharply, “We had no idea she was even interested in boys let alone seeing one. It was a shock!”
“A shock?” he stopped and straightened up. “Why would you be shocked? You describe your daughter as a beautiful, vivacious, smart and talented woman; certainly, she has emotions, desires and needs!”
“Whoa, whoa!” this time I interrupted him. “Who said anything about desires and needs?” I was starting to feel clammy.
“Want to take a break?” That’s what I loved about this guy, he knew when to push me just to the edge of my comfort zone and when to back off.
“No, let’s continue” I said taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly. “So, she told us she met David in class; they were both a part of a group project in physics.”
“Ok, he’s smart. And the problem is?” he pressed in some.
“Yes. He’s smart and funny and charming and goal oriented and she adores him…” I know that I sounded disappointed and I hoped that he didn’t pick up on it.
“And?”
The question hung in the air a bit too long so I blurted out, “He has tattoos. Tattoos all up and down his arms.” he visibly stiffened, our eyes locked and he looked pained. Now I was really uncomfortable, but then his face softened and he began to laugh.
“Do tell. And the problem with this is?”
I’m sure the question was rhetorical, but I answered anyway. “Me, I’m the problem. That’s why I’m here!” It felt good to say it, to own it. “My husband said basically the same thing. In fact, we had quite a heated discussion about the subject.”
“About you being judgmental?”
“Ouch!” I jumped a little as he hit another tender spot.
“Sorry, but I had to go there.” he said sweetly.
“I know.” I continued “It’s ok. So yes, my husband told me that I wasn’t giving David a chance; but you know, when you have kids.” I tried to defend myself. “You want the best for them. You want to save them from hurts and disappointments and… “
“Making mistakes?” he finished my sentence, then paused and looked at me. “Edison said that he didn’t make any mistakes when working to create the light bulb, he discovered 10,000 ways not to do it. Your daughter is discovering the ways that make her light shine brightly and you need to step back to give her room for this discovery; which will include some mistakes, but these will be a part of valuable research in her life.” He paused to let that sink in. “Ready to continue?”
I nodded.
“Did you happen to ask David why he chose to get tattoos?”
“I didn’t, but my husband did. David told him that they were ‘outward expressions of the things that were important to him’. He has one tattoo on his forearm of a paper with creases and a coffee stain. There are equations written all over the paper. He said that tattoo was for the time he spent all night cramming for an exam. One is the phases of the moon and another is of a beaker being heated over a Bunsen burner, it’s black and white except for the flame under the beaker, it’s blue. They really are very well done.”
“So, you can appreciate the art?” he asked, then adding, “Do you know who the artist is?”
“No, no I don’t.” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “To be truthful, I’ve never considered tattoos ‘art’.”
“Narrow minds limit art to canvas.” he said this without malice.
“I am discovering this.” I smiled then continued, “Well, then I received an e-mail from my daughter with an attachment. It simply said, ‘Mom what do you think of this?’”
“What was attached?” he scooted his chair a bit closer.
“A sketch of eleven hearts each with letters in them. There were two rows, six in one row and five in the other and they were all connected.”
“Someone’s name perhaps?” he turned to look at his notes.
“No, the letters didn’t spell anything so I asked her in an e-mail reply, ‘What are you sharing with me?’ “
“Her reply?” he asked while writing.
“Her reply shocked me! ‘A tattoo I’m getting.’ I am sure I swore out loud. I mean, what was she thinking? I just knew that boy… “
“David.” he corrected me.
“Yes, David was going to influence her.” I realized that I was gritting my teeth and had to work to relax.
“Did you talk to her about it?” he reached for a paper from a stack on his desk.
“Not right away. I needed time to process all this and I wanted to talk with my husband about it.”
“Good move.” he mumbled and made additional reassuring noises.
“When she called on the weekend, I thanked her for sharing and asked her to explain the sketch and her thought process.” I stiffened and closed my eyes.
“And she said?” he prompted me.
“She said that it tells her story. The hearts represented love, and inside of the hearts were the symbols for eleven of the elements of the periodic table that were found in our bodies and this speaks to her love of science.”
“And where is she considering placing this tattoo?” he sounded intrigued.
“On the inside of her left bicep; and I quote, ‘On the heart meridian between the Highest Spring and the Cyan Spirit’.” I rolled my eyes for emphasis.
“She broke up with David.” he said, the corners of his mouth turned up and he shook his head knowingly.
“Yes, but according to her, they are still friends.” I rolled my eyes rolled again.
“And you are relieved.” he paused to look at me. “So please explain the transition in your perspective and why you are here?”
“I needed to understand and to be able to let go while still keeping her close.” I was getting very emotional.
“I’m sorry, but we are just about out of time.” He sat back and stretched; then looked at me thoughtfully, turning his head from one side to the other, his brows furrowed in contemplation. “We’ll wrap this up for today, but I think we will need one more session, in about four weeks?” he asked while reaching for one of the folded papers on his desk. They were soft and cool and felt good as he applied them. Then he gently rubbed ointment on my raw skin. “Want to see?” he smiled handing me a hand mirror.
There, on my chest, just to the left of my heart was the black and white image of my daughter. He had captured her 1000-watt smile and the sparkle in her eyes. Her hair was pulled back off her face into a loose bun and around her head was her signature pink bandana with a repeating pattern that was the exact replica of her tattoo; two rows of hearts connected and each displaying symbols of the periodic table. I allowed the emotions that had been building to escape and roll freely down my cheeks. I can’t wait to see my daughter when she comes home for Spring Break, I want to show her that I have been on a discovery of my own and how I’ve realized just how therapeutic art can be!