Therapists were pretty shitty.
At least, all the ones that Jess found herself talking to. Each one trying to psychoanalyze her and call her delusional, disregarding the fact that wendigos were real and telling her she had dementia and prescribing her to medication that didn’t fucking work, because-- not to Jess’s surprise-- she didn’t have schizophrenia, and insisting that she did was fucked up and lazy. She had PTSD and anxiety and depression and other things that didn’t make any sense to her before because Jessica Humphrey was a healthy, beautiful, strong girl that didn’t deserve to be this broken.
And yet here she was, sitting in an uncomfortable leather seat in a stuffy office while a prim-and-proper woman with poorly taken care of cuticles examined her file, flippant and skimming, not really taking the time to read what the last six doctors wrote about what she told them. Hopeless.
Jess read the little golden name tag that sat on the corner of the woman’s desk-- Dr. Theresa Hawthorne. The woman suddenly cleared her throat, looking up at Jess over her reading glasses, eyebrows knit in concentration.
“Jessica Humphrey,” the way she spoke was drawled out and tired, and Jess instantly knew that she was just like all the others. “How are you feeling today?”
“The same,” Jess stated simply, staring down the old doctor. “You know, like a fucking trainwreck.”
“Why a trainwreck?”
“Well, if you bothered to really read my files, you know exactly why.”
An irritated sigh. “I did read your files, Jessica, and I have to say, it’s certainly…”
“A trainwreck?” Jess sounded hopeful, smiling sweetly at Dr. Hawthorne. She frowned at her, folding her hands.
“I was going to say ‘odd,’ but yes, a trainwreck.” She paused, scanning over the files again. “You never saw a therapist before 2015.”
“That’s because I was a normal human being before that. It’s all their fault.” Jess relented.
“All of them. Those bitches I knew in high school. Theresa, is it cool if I ask you for a drink?”
“I’m afraid I can’t offer you alcohol, Jessica, as you are only 20 years old.”
“That’s fair, I guess.” Jess eyed the woman as she scribbled something down in her notes. “So what’s up, doc?”
“Well, I guess we can start with what happened that year with your high school friends.”
“Alright,” Jess leaned closer to the desk, smiling widely at Dr. Hawthorne. “In 2014 my friends and I played a prank on this girl in our little gang, and that night she and her sister disappeared and we declared them dead. Their brother invited us all back for a friendly get-together, but he’s an even bigger trainwreck than I am and tried to get us all killed. And there were fucking monsters. Big, ugly fuckers that dragged me by my hair through the forests and into darkness and they left me to die.”
Jess leaned away from the therapist, pleased with herself, still smiling. “My boyfriend at the time told me they were called wendigos. Go google them. Then feel free to diagnose me with schizophrenia, just. Like. Everyone. Else.”
Dr. Hawthorne was silent, peering into Jess’s face, pondering her next move. “These people were your friends?”
“Yeah, and they ruined my life.”
“When was the last time you spoke to any of them?”
Jess bit her lip, thinking.
“That morning, when helicopters showed up and carried us away from the mountain. I cut ties with all of them. Except Mike, I guess. Not for another few weeks.”
“Ah. He was the aforementioned boyfriend?”
Jess nodded. “He really tried to be strong for the both of us. I wasn’t pulling my weight.”
“He broke it off.”
“No. I did.”
Silence filled the room as the woman stopped to take notes, every now and then looking up to watch Jess, which made her wildly uncomfortable under the scrutiny of the therapist. After a moment of writing, Theresa looked up again, smiling faintly.
“Well for starters, Jessica, we aren’t going to diagnose you with anything.”
Dr. Hawthorne earned herself brownie points for being an angel.
“But I’d like to cooperate with you on a bit of an experiment.”
Jess quickly took back the points. She hated the way doctors said “experiment.” Like she was some sort of caged rat that needed to be poked and prodded to be understood.
“Alright, Theresa. What’s your little experiment?”
Theresa looked down at her notes, pressing her lips together in a thin line. “I think you need closure. You lost your friends in 2014, and then in 2015 you were traumatized by some sort of…”
“We all just call it The Incident,” Jess interrupted, and Theresa let out a sigh to conceal her snort.
“ Incident,” the doctor paused. “You cut off ties from people you called your friends and haven’t spoken to them in years. Maybe you’re just struggling to move on with your life, Jessica. Always stuck in the past.”
Jessica raised her eyebrows at the analysis. “I guess.”
“Would you be comfortable if I asked you to get back in touch with all these people?”
Jess felt her blood run cold, remembering the echoing screams from the wendigos, the chill from the mines, the feeling of hopelessness and terror as she was dragged away from Mike by some sort of demon. She wanted to run. To scream.
“Why the fuck not,” Jess found herself saying with total confidence to the doctor while the little voice in her head pushed her to say no. “You’re the expert.”
Theresa smiled at Jess. “You can start by calling Mike.”
“I can do that.”
“Fantastic. I want you to come see me next week so we can talk about your call with Mike. Stay positive, Jessica.”
Fucking fuck fucker.
Jess found herself outside the therapist office moments later, holding the woman’s business card in her hands, mouth slightly ajar.
I did not just agree to talking to those people again. After all that happened that night. No. What the fuck, Jess?
She crumpled the card, dropping it onto the pavement and kicking it away with the tip of her sneaker, briskly walking to her car, memories that she had once locked away beginning to leak into her medicated mind.
Jess needed a drink. Two drinks. Some liquid courage to force herself to call up seven assholes and find some closure. She drove herself home, back to her older sister’s house who was gracious enough to take her in when their busy and important daddy didn’t have the time to care for a girl whose world was shattered and bleeding dry. Jess stopped in the driveway, bitter to see that her sister was home, hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles turned white. Jess let out an irritated sigh, turning off the ignition and walking confidently through the front door, not stopping to pet Lauren’s cat.
“I’m back from the shrink,” Jess announced to the empty living room, dumping her purse unceremoniously onto the coffee table. “Lauren?”
“Here,” the older Humphrey sister walked into the room, blonde hair tied up in a messy bun, scrutinizing something on the screen of the laptop she carried. She set it down clumsily on the kitchen counter, flicking her blue eyes up at her sister with a small smile before turning to grab a glass and filling it with juice in a few fluid steps. Jess watched Lauren bounce around the kitchen for a few moments, the young realtor’s mind obviously occupied. She downed the glass in a manner of seconds, setting it hard against the counter before returning to face her laptop, its blue glow highlighting the small acne scars on the woman’s chin, reflecting across her rectangular glasses in steady concentration.
“Wow,” Jess said, striding up to her sister, watching the young woman’s face as she scrutinized whatever was on her screen. “You look even worst than I feel.”
“Not funny, Jessie.”
“Were you laying in bed all day? No young newlyweds looking to buy a home today? Bummer.”
“Jessie,” Lauren’s head snapped up, suddenly, her eyes narrowing. “I’m kind of busy right now. Can’t you lay off the bitchy comments until after I’m done dealing with bitchy clients?”
“Service with a smile, Lauren. You can’t sell a house until you turn that frown upside-down!” Lauren let out a scoff as Jess mocked her personal motto, lifting her laptop and steeling away from the kitchen counter to sit at the dining table, nudging her chin in the direction of the seat across from her, inviting Jess to sit down. Jess obliged, scooting in her seat as the older typed away at the keyboard, chewing on her lip in concentration. Neither spoke for a good few minutes, not until Lauren let out an irritated sigh and shut the laptop close. She looked at Jess for a moment, frowning. Jess returned her frown with a grin.
“Client suddenly changed his mind and doesn’t want to close on the house,” Lauren said simply, plucking lint from her Avengers t-shirt and flicking it away. “Total blow. How could he just pass up on an open-concept twenty-three hundred square feet home? The neighborhood was perfect! I paid attention to every last detail, and suddenly I’m doing a shitty job?”
Jess snorted. Lauren glared at her.
“Sorry,” Jess apologized, sincerity in her tone. “But I’d kind of like to have a conversation with my big sis that’s not about foreclosures and home proximity to schools for a few minutes.”
Lauren gave her an apologetic look. “Right. Sorry, Jessie. How was your first day with the new doc? Daddy said a friend of his recommends her highly, so she must be pretty great.”
“She’s not terrible, that’s for sure.”
“Not terrible’s better than being a, and I quote,” Lauren straightened her back, pouting her lips and speaking in a higher tone. “Piece of blasted fucking garbage that deserves to be shot into the Sun before I kick him a good one in the nuts.”
“Hey, he totally deserves it.”
Lauren let out a laugh, leaning back in her chair. “Alright, so what did she decide for you?”
Jess shifted then, uncomfortably in her seat, looking away from Lauren and feeling suddenly more aware of her phone in her back pocket than she was before.
“She, uh,” Jess was aware of her voice dropping in volume at each word. “Told me I probably needed some closure, you know? It was a hard night.”
“Yeah, I can see that.”
“She wants me to, like, talk to everyone again. Call them and make my peace or whatever.”
Lauren raised an eyebrow at her. “Like, reunite?”
“Even after all the shit they put you through?”
“I know, right?”
Lauren fell silent again, standing up suddenly and walking towards Jess, wrapping her arms around her in a comforting hug. “Hey, don’t be scared, alright? If you want, I can be right here next to you when you think you’re ready to call them.”
“No, that’s okay. I think this is… something I have to try myself. I guess.” Jess leaned into her sister’s hug, grateful for the support. “Thanks, though.”
Lauren patted her shoulder, smiling widely as she stepped away from the girl. “Hey, I’m gonna go and order us some pizza or something, give you some privacy. Brave face, bitch.”
Jess laughed, waiting for Lauren to turn and walk out of the room before withdrawing her phone, looking down at it like it was a stick of dynamite ready to explode. Was she really ready to do this? Talk to Michael Fucking Munroe again? After she just left him with only a lame breakup text and no returned calls for the next two years?
Looks like it.
She scrolled through her contacts with trembling thumbs, waiting until her eyes fell on his name in her phone, which was still “<3 Mikey <3” followed by the heart-eyed emoji three times. She never changed it. Never had it in her heart to make the change. It was funny, actually, the way she saw it. Jess wanted so desperately to close that chapter on her life and yet every contact in her phone was the way she left it. She scrolled down the list of contacts further until her eyes caught “Bethy-Boo!!!” and “Little Han-Han,” her chest aching with a new sensation of guilt that she had been avoiding all these years.
Maybe she really needed closure.
Mike was the first step.
Jess tapped on his name, watching the screen slide to reveal his number. Jess let out a sigh, feeling a weight in her chest that crept its way up her throat, the feeling of tears welling behind her eyes.
She pressed ‘call.’
She held the phone up to her ear, pressing the device hard against her face as she listened to the ring. Once. Twice. Thrice. She held her breath, waiting for the tone dial and Mike’s voicemail to kick in, but suddenly there was a click and she heard noise on the other side. Her heart leapt to her throat.
“Hello?” His voice was shaky. Her hands were shaky.
“Michael,” Jess somehow managed to say. There was silence on the other end for a long time, and Jess wondered if he went and hung up on her.
A short, pained laugh.
“Holy fuck, Jessica. Is this… is this really you?”
Jess returned with nervous laughter. “Unfortunately. Missed me yet, asshole?”
“I was starting to, yeah. I heard rumors that you went and moved to Iceland or something.”
“Really? That’s all you have to say?”
“Nah. Actually, I think I’d rather be in Iceland right now than sitting here talking to your insufferable ass.”
More laughter. Jess smiled, satisfied. If there was one thing she was glad to have kept a part of herself, it was the ability to make Michael Munroe laugh.
“Wow. The queen bitch still hasn’t changed her colors, I see.”
The satisfaction faded, his words twisting in her gut like a blunt knife. Jess forced herself to laugh at that.
“Yeah, haha. Still lil’ ol’ me under all these meds.”
An awkward silence followed, and Jess had half a mind to hang up and go drown her sorrows in tequila until she forgot she ever called her old flame.
“Hey, Jess? You still there?”
“I am. Are you disappointed?”
“Wh-what? No. I’m not. It’s… it’s really good to hear your voice. Sorry. Did I say something?”
Yes. You said everything.
“No. It’s fine. I was just mulling over some things.”
“That’s good. How are you? Holding up okay? It’s just been a while and the last time we…” Mike’s voice faded away, and Jess realized he was too afraid to say what she’d been thinking about so deeply the last two years. She bit her lip.
“I know. I wasn’t in a good place, then, Mike. I’m trying really hard this time, though, okay? Like, I wanna fix it. I wanna fix myself.”
She could almost hear Mike frowning into the speaker, looking at the missing fingers on his hand as he waited for Jess to say more. She didn’t. He spoke quietly.
“Thanks for telling me, Jessica.”
“Well… You’re welcome.”
Jess wanted to hang up, she realized, but something in her head pushed her to talk more to the guy on the other end of the line. She coughed.
“Hey, uh, Mike? It’s been awhile since we’ve hung out, yanno? Just us?” She paused. “I was wondering… hoping, really, that you might want to get lunch with me or something? As two friends that haven’t spoken in a long time and need to get some closure, you know.” Nothing less, nothing more.
Mike was quiet again, and Jess pressed her ear harder against the receiver, listening intently for his quiet breathing and the quiet babbling of his television set.
“Sure. How does Sunday sound? Remember that little diner we all used to like so much? Let’s say, eleven-ish?”
Jess felt the weight of two years of nightmares and days spent alone lift a smidge, causing her heart to palpitate rapidly in her chest as her lips broke into a wide grin and she agreed to the plans with eagerness, hanging up and dropping the phone on the table in a wave of glee. Mike always came through for her, Jess realized, remembering the way he ran to her when the helicopters landed, wrapping his arms around her small frame in a tight embrace and spinning her, his voice coming out hoarse and in-between sobs as he broke down into her shoulder. She remembered not being able to feel anything in that moment, her chest feeling weightless and dead as he gripped her in his arms. She had wanted to thank him, to hug him back, to cry and kiss him and tell Mike that she loved him.
But those things don’t just come easy to people when they feel like they want to die.
The numbness in her fingers came back as Jess stared down at the phone, remembering every line of her conversation with Michael and soaking it in, desperate to keep that moment in her memory, that one little reminder that Jess was healing and it was okay to get closure from people she thought she hated.
She pressed her face into her hands, feeling wetness between her fingers as she broke down into tears, sadness and happiness tumbling through her like she was in a washing machine, steady and consistent and so very appreciative.
Jess realized, with giddiness, that Dr. Theresa Hawthorne was onto something about Jess and needing to heal.
The first step was closure.