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Author: Sherrie Cronin

Chapter 7
MAY 2009

72

Word spread quickly throughout the neighborhood that the spirits were once again talking to Somadina, who everyone clearly remembered now had been most certainly touched by the spirit world as a small child. When the first girl showed up the next day at Somadina's doorstep wanting her fortune told, Somadina, at first, did not even consider it. Somadina was an honest woman. She had never had a vision of the future in her life; she had not the faintest idea of what was going to happen tomorrow.

But as the girl pleaded, Somadina realized something odd. The girl really did not want to know the future as much as she just wanted reassurance now about the things she was feeling today. It seemed to Somadina that what an adequate fortune-teller needed was compassion, common sense, and a strong ability to know what the seeker was worried about at the moment. And she, Somadina, was very good at telling what was worrying somebody. She already knew what was worrying this girl. So in return for a very small contribution, she told the girl she was willing to give it a try.

She seated the young lady in the simple main room of her little house, in wooden chairs that she moved close together and facing each other. She grasped the girl's two hands in each of hers, as she had seen others do. “I am totally making this up,” she muttered to herself. She closed her eyes like she was concentrating, when in fact there was nothing on which to concentrate.

"You are concerned. There is a boy you like." She began tentatively, opening her eyes. The girl nodded eagerly. "You are afraid he does not like you." The girl nodded again. This is not a particularly impressive performance, Somadina chided herself silently. This opening would probably work with most of the unmarried young women around. But now was the part that required the compassion and the common sense, which was harder. Make no predictions. Reassure. And say what was most likely to achieve positive results.

"You must understand that you are a pretty and fine young lady. And confidence is attractive to others. Whether this boy will care for you or not depends on your own actions going forward. If you are kind, but also behave like you are worthwhile and not to be easily had, then it is more likely that he will be yours. Your fate here is undetermined yet, but if you believe in your own worth, then it is more likely that he will believe in it as well."

The girl thanked Somadina with genuine gratitude in her eyes and Somadina felt just a bit guilty for taking the money. Relax, you may have helped this child, she told herself. And advice that is paid for is valued far more than advice that is free. Charge just a little and say good things that cause no harm. So Somadina thus allowed herself to become a fortune-teller.

The girl told others of Somadina's impressive abilities and soon a small trickle of worried souls was making its way to Somadina's door. Those with ailments were comforted and advised to take better care of their health and to consult medical experts as this would provide the best chance that all would end well. Those with conflicts were calmed and told that the future would be bright if they just forgave both themselves and others. Those with money troubles were charged even less than the rest and assured that if they continued to work hard their luck would change. And every sort of problem resulted in the prediction that being truthful and kind improved the probability of a good outcome.

Azuka and his mother both spent more time caring for Kwemto, as Somadina's reputation grew and she became almost a full-time fortune-teller. Although this was not the sort of profession he had envisioned for her, Azuka found that he did not mind. Somadina seemed to be less worried about her sister, now that she was more occupied, and now that she was doing something that would give her the means and power to help. Somadina's cell phone fund was growing in tiny increments every day. And, oddly enough, something else was changing as well. Azuka could not help but noticing that as Somadina told more and more fortunes, the village itself seemed to be becoming just a little more happy, a little more healthy, and a little nicer place to live. Odd how that was working.

 

Nwanyi's life had never been particularly happy, and it was hard to tell whether problems sought out Nwanyi or, in hope of attention and comfort, it had become the other way around. Certainly the girl was a gentle soul who wished no ill to others, but she desperately wanted to be liked, or at the very least noticed. But now her life had changed dramatically, and it was filled with nothing but misery.

At first Nwanyi had wallowed a bit in her mistreatment, storing indignant stories to share with those back home. But as contact with her relatives was reduced to almost nothing, she found herself even deprived of the small joy of daydreaming about sharing her troubles. The day after the incident with the handle of the shovel, as her face throbbed horribly and she threw away with sadness the tooth that had become dislodged completely, it finally registered with Nwanyi that she was actually stuck. Not stuck in a bad situation, but stuck in a horrible situation. For the first time in her life she thought about running away. True, she knew that life was not generally kind to young women in her world who did such. This made such an attempt, for her, an act of courage and defiance beyond anything she had ever done before.

She toyed with elaborate plans that would brand her as brilliant as well as brave, but in the end she simply waited until the others were all busy, and then she walked out the servants' entrance in the kitchen, where she had sometimes been allowed to do chores. She closed the door behind her quietly and left quickly, before someone could see her go. Then she took a deep breath and purposefully walked as fast as she could several hundred feet without looking back. She noticed as she walked that she was in a more affluent area than any which had existed in her hometown, with big houses with beautiful red clay roofs and yards surrounded by high and ornately decorated adobe walls. The yards themselves were so large that she had only passed three homes before she paused for a moment to rest on the far side of a large flowering bush. She sat on the ground.

"What am I doing?" she asked. " I have absolutely no money. I do not know where I am. I do not have the means to reach anyone who could help me. I could ask a neighbor for help and they might let me use a phone but then again they could be Djimon's best friends. How does one find help in such a quiet, pretty place?"

She decided that as soon as her heart calmed down, she was going to get up and just start walking as fast as she possibly could for as far as she could possibly go. That would be best because at least she would be far away from Djimon. But before she arose, she felt a child's arm slip around her shoulders and she looked up into a young boy’s grinning eyes. "Here she is mama. I caught up with her."

Running down the street after the boy was the heavyset cook with whom she had occasionally done chores. The woman must have seen her leave after all. "Nwanyi. Nwanyi," the woman ran towards her. "It's going to be okay child. You don't want to do anything stupid, dear. There there." The woman got close enough herself to put her arm around Nwanyi. "I'm a second wife too. I know it is not always easy. Sometimes it takes awhile to fit in. These are good people. I've worked for them for years. I know it has been a rough start. But you're going to be okay."

The large woman began herding a confused Nwanyi back to the house. "You'll see. It will all work out fine. Things always do." The sympathy worked to bring Nwanyi back to her usual compliant self, as the woman walked her back home with the eager, fast little boy following behind. "Here. In you go. You just needed a little air. Of course. You need to spend more time outside."

And before Nwanyi could sort out her thoughts there was a warm cup of fragrant tea in front of her. "This will help."

Ibrahim, the gardener, watched Nwanyi's return with apprehension. He almost wished that the girl had gotten away. He had worked for Djimon and Mairo for years now and never seen either treat anyone the way they treated this young woman, supposedly part of their family now. He had always considered them good people. But this new second wife was worked like livestock, barely fed scraps, kept in a servant's room, and hardly spoken to. For the life of him, he could not imagine why she had been brought into the household. He almost felt like Djimon and Mairo were having some sort of warped contest to see who was capable of treating her the worst. He shook his head helplessly. It was not, of course, his place to intervene. As he watched the cook, a fine and caring woman, offer comfort to the girl, he suspected that her simple act of kindness would cost her dearly.

Djimon just shook his head as he watched the women return through a front window. It was a shame but perhaps to be expected. Every plan had its minor bumps. This was a good warning that Nwanyi needed to be secured more carefully. Perhaps the servants and neighbors could be told she was trying to run away because she wasn't quite right in the head. Please alert us if there are any, you know, problems. Something like that.

The real shame was the cook. She had been with him and Mairo since their marriage, and was particularly competent and helpful. Damn. Too helpful. She would have to be fired tonight, before Nwanyi felt she had even the slightest chance to develop a confidant.

 

Lola found herself oddly haunted by the vision of a thousand Igbo slaves walking into the sea. As the days passed she had to face the fact that besides her fascination with the heroic self-sacrifice intended to protect those still back home, she was also oddly absorbed with the idea of the drowning itself. In fact, as the week wore on she realized that she got a strange sensation from the very sound of running water and that she was spending a lot of time thinking about being submerged.

Her first solution was just to be particularly gentle with herself. For the next couple of weekends she spent all of her time planting flowers in pots on the porch, which now overflowed with geraniums, begonias, and salvia in pinks, whites, and especially in her favorite, reds. After work, she sat on the porch in the evenings, looking at the flowers and sipping wine, generally for hours. Most evenings she thought for a while of her mom as she sat and wondered what dying had felt like for her mom.

A few times she called Summer, who was often out, or just heading out for the evening, but who a couple of times felt like a sisterly talk and seemed to be doing better herself these days. Sometimes Alex would come out and join her, bringing chips and homemade guacamole with him, drinking a beer as he sat next to her on the porch swing. Other times, Alex would fall asleep on the couch waiting for her to come in, giving in to the general exhaustion that seemed to overtake him by the end of every school year.

Sometimes Lola stared at the flowers and thought about her children. Zane, who had finally found a job in the science field with just a bachelor's degree, but remained somewhat underemployed now in Chicago with his Ivy League diploma, struggling with his lack of contacts in a job market filled with so many young people. Few had stepped easily into the impressive entry-level positions they had all expected.

It was painfully apparent now that his public school education in Texas had not in the least prepared her son, socially or academically, for his future. Zane had survived, it seemed to Lola, by befriending the kids in his class who were there on a scholarships. They had filled the Zeitman's home on two spring breaks now, his junior and senior years, and it was ironic to Lola that in a school filled with the children of the rich, Zane had managed to find the one possible group of friends who actually considered the Zeitman family to be wealthy.

Luckily, Zane was coming home for a visit in June before his entry-level training program rotated him into a new part of the company. He would temporarily leave behind washing Petri dishes and organizing lab equipment to do a stint in the marketing department, something she would have guessed that Zane would have hated.  However, her low-key son seemed to be rather eager for the change of pace.

Meanwhile, highly driven Ariel had just finished her junior year at a prestigious private school, and while her proud daughter would not have dreamed of complaining, Lola knew that she had struggled as well. She had landed in the middle of a very different crowd than Zane, and so had joined a sorority along with all of her dorm mates and hung with girls who, Ariel herself had laughed, would not dream of borrowing her clothes.

Lola suspected that her enterprising daughter had traded help with homework for the use of her friends' expensive make-up and accessories, and even if the exchange was an unspoken arrangement, Ariel had also shown herself to be adept at finding ways to thrive in a world for which she was not well prepared. Internships had been almost non-existent this year, so Ariel would be home for the whole summer again, looking for some sort of routine job at the mall.

But the one having the toughest time at the moment seemed to be Teddie. A born hugger and listener, she had always been the one to reach out warmly to her mother, particularly when her mom was having a difficult time. It was only in the last month or so that Teddie had become aloof and irritable. "She just turned fourteen," Lola reminded herself. "You ought to know by now that this happens and usually sooner." Yet, Lola missed Teddie, the old Teddie, almost as much as she missed her other two children.

For part of each evening, Lola allowed herself to just sit on the porch and imagine the sound of rushing water and to think about how she now had trouble washing her hair without cringing. This puzzled and even intrigued her a little. She would never have guessed a brief experience like the one she had, which ended perfectly well with no harm done, at least once all the minor cuts and bruises had healed, could linger on in her mind with such intensity.

The sense of panic could be set off by sunlight glistening on a liquid the way it had glistened through the water on the unreachable other side of the canoe, or even by just feeling trapped by riding in the back seat of a two-door car. To a woman who, for most of her forty-nine years had reacted to the idea of mild mental problems and syndromes of all types with "why don't you just get over it?" it was, well, informative to discover that some things were surprisingly difficult to get over.

When all those doubts and fears would no longer keep her mind busy, Lola's thoughts would invariably wander off to the strange woman with whom Lola had agreed, bizarre as it seemed, to listen. In spite of that, she had not acquired much more useful information. The woman seemed to be younger, less educated, and probably more superstitious. She also seemed foreign and based on her not wanting Lola to leave Lagos, Lola was assuming she was Nigerian. She had a younger sister, of that Lola was certain. She was very worried for the sister and lacked the means to help her. Lola supposed that meant resources, maybe money, but also the woman seemed to lack the knowledge to help as well. Was the sister lost? Kidnapped? Had she run-away from home? Certainly she was gone and could not be found.

Sometimes Lola tried to sort of mutter comforting things back to the woman in her head, but that never seemed to help. Lola had not a clue what else she could do.

Other times she just sat and thought about nothing at all. It was one of those times, when her mind was sort of on water and sort of on nothing, when she heard an elderly gentleman's voice clearly in her head.

Lola? Little Lola Conroy? Good heavens dear, is that you?

She searched her mind for knowledge of any older man who might have known her by her maiden name.

It's okay honey. You're fine. I didn't mean to startle you. It's okay. She could almost see an elderly man backing out of her mind with great care.

Good grief, she thought. Now what?

 

Mairo spoke to him less after the incident with the garden shovel, and he saw the change in her eyes. Good. A little fear of him would be beneficial. Nwanyi's face had swollen horribly and turned awful colors, and the servants had to be told a story about an accident. Djimon largely avoided both women and turned his attention more and more to the planning of the "big event," as he had come to call it in his own head, and much more importantly to the handling of the aftermath, that brief period when he would be able to command attention and even, in some circles, respect. The importance of that time, and the wise use of it, could simply not be overstated.

So he was caught off guard when Mairo informed him that she was going to visit her ill mother, who had moved down from the North a few years ago to live outside Lagos in a nearby town with Mairo's sister and family. Her mother was ill?

 "Fine, just take Nwanyi and the children with you," he muttered in dismissal.

"The children, of course. But Nwanyi? I cannot. My sister is a nurse and she will know what sort of thing happened to Nwanyi's face. It will raise questions. About you. About Nwanyi. It is not a good idea," she responded. Djimon realized that Mairo also wanted the break, probably just from looking at Nwanyi's damage. Okay. She had earned it.

"Fine. Can I lock her in her room?"

"There is no lock on it. We discussed it. Remember? The servants would talk."

"Right. Look, I do not have a lot of time to watch her. Send the servants home, make sure they do not come back until you are back here, and take the kids, and I will think of something."

When Mairo left early the next morning, driving herself like the modern woman she was, Djimon headed straight into Nwanyi's room. Nwanyi pulled her covers over her body in surprise. Then smiled shyly. Of course, she thought, the first wife has left.

She had been expecting this moment ever since the marriage day. Sometimes she had dreaded it. Early on she had also, occasionally, hoped a little for it. Somadina had made it sound not so bad.

But as Djimon had ignored her, a third reaction had come into play. For all that she had no affection for him, she resented Djimon's complete lack of interest in her. What was the matter with her anyway? She was healthy. Young. Female. She needed to get pregnant like any other woman. It was time. That was his job. He should do his thing already. Making her wait seemed like a particularly cruel rejection that she did not deserve. Frankly, for all that she thought he was a fairly awful person, she resented his lack of interest in her even more than she disliked him.

So she stood, slowly let her nightgown fall to the floor, and smiled as seductively as she could manage with her swollen face.

Oh no, Djimon thought. She actually wants me to, to … With her he could not even find a word for it. Finally. She wants me to mate with her.

He was as horrified as if a female monkey had presented herself to him. And then, just as if a female monkey had presented herself, he was a little amused. Okay. Who could understand women? But wait. Under no circumstances could this one be carrying his child when she was forced to do what she had to do. He could perhaps have anal sex with her? No, even that sometimes … backfired.

Well, it was probably time that he began phase three anyway, he thought. And that meant that he needed to begin to cause her physical pain, to beat her regularly. He looked clinically at her backside. He could think of no reason for keeping the beatings from being somewhat sexual. His bare hand. Her bare body. Maybe occasionally crossing that fine line between pleasure and pain. Perhaps it might be crossed for her, which could be helpful. Certainly he could cross it a little for himself and make this less of a burden. In the end she might come to love his rough touch. Or to hate it. It did not matter. Everything he had been able to learn on the subject left him believing that confusing her inexperienced budding sexuality with naked beatings would increase his physical dominance of her, and that would only, ultimately, help his cause.

 

When people asked Lola if she "believed" in global warming, as they often did, the tone of the question always reminded Lola of being asked if she believed in Santa Claus. As someone who worked in the oil industry, she was aware that the questioner, like this neighbor who had just wandered over to interrupt tonight's porch ritual, usually had a preferred answer that he or she was hoping to get, one way or the other.

Lola preferred to stick to what she believed were the facts. I believe that the earth's temperature is slowly rising and we are seeing changing weather patterns due to that temperature increase. Check the rates of glacial melting if you do not believe me. Yes, I believe that the earth's temperature and weather patterns vary naturally over time and it is hard to isolate a single cause for the changes. I know that burning hydrocarbons emits carbon dioxide. I know that that the emission of significant carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will affect the earth's temperature. I believe that we are now emitting a significant amount. Yes, I believe it is possible we are overestimating the effect and the earth's ecosystem is more stable and healing than we give it credit for. Yes, I believe it is possible we are underestimating the effect and the earth's ecosystem is more delicately balanced than we understand and we are all already doomed. I do believe that it is sensible to plan for something in the middle and make a realistic but rapid transition to burning fewer hydrocarbons. Yes, I work in the oil business. No, I don't want to turn an uninhabitable world over to my children or theirs. No, I don't want to go broke and yes, I'd like to more or less maintain my standard of living. But seriously, having a world economy largely based on extracting a messy, even toxic nonrenewable resource that we are going to run out of sooner or later was probably a bad idea anyway, wasn't it? So what am I doing about it? I'm working hard to keep the lights on, the computers running and the coffee pots full, while those trained to find better solutions find them.

"From what left wing radical groups are you getting your facts?" the neighbor asked, shaking his head.  Lola was guessing this meant that the man had not gotten the answer he had wanted.

"NOAA. National Geographic.  The New York Times. The Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry.  I can get you a complete list of scientific references," Lola offered cheerfully. It didn't surprise her that he declined, and as he left she heard him mutter something about how those very people were going to eventually put both him and Lola out of business. To which Lola muttered back, we better hope so …

 

Nwanyi had not called now in weeks. Somadina knew that her father was avoiding her, because he did not want her to know how worried he was. She, for her part, felt better only because she was now doing something concrete to amass the resources to tackle the situation on her own. Somadina managed to stay calm and hopeful during the days, but sometimes at night she still became agitated, swearing she could hear Nwanyi whimpering in her sleep like Nwanyi had done when she was a very small child. When this happened Somadina would try to whisper comforting things to Nwanyi as she herself fell asleep.

Meanwhile, Somadina did her best with those who came to her for help. Today it was a woman who had yet to conceive, who wanted reassurance from the new fortune-teller that a baby would come soon. Or at least eventually. This was a difficult problem for a well-intended fortune-teller like herself. "Eat well. Rest. Spend time outdoors. Relax. Have sex often. Don't worry." It frustrated her that there was nothing she could actually do to help. Some days the banal advice she gave seemed so inadequate. So many troubles in the world. So very little she could do about them.

 

Finally, as the end of May neared, Lola realized that she was soon going to have a husband off work for the summer and a college-aged daughter home. She also had a young teenager to whom perhaps she should be paying more attention, not less. Sitting for hours every night on a porch starring at flowers and sipping wine was maybe not such a good long-term plan.

She needed information. She needed it about a couple of things. So the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, Lola poured a particularly large glass of her favorite pinot noir and took her laptop out to the porch with her. Alex raised an eyebrow at this new development, but said nothing. With a determined air, she opened two tabs. Her search engine tried to direct her towards geology, or Africa, or others items of peripheral professional interest. But tonight one window was going to be devoted to post-traumatic stress, and the other had already provided her with 1,350,000 results for "research facts telepathy" in under 0.23 seconds.

Apparently telepathy means distance feeling, and the term originated in 1882. Feeling. That explained why it kind of sounded like empathy and sympathy and other feeling words. And like telephone and television and telecommunication and, enough, Lola told herself, keep searching.

It turns out that post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly called PTSD, is a type of anxiety disorder that can occur after you've seen or experienced a traumatic event that involves the threat of injury or death. It is classed as "acute stress disorder" if it only lasts fewer than thirty days.

Been more than thirty days now. Damn, I have official post-traumatic stress disorder. Go figure.

It turns out that people really like to deceive each other concerning psychic powers even when no real money and only minor notoriety are to be gained. The internet provides a long list of ESP scams over the last couple of hundred years and details ways that charlatans have used non-verbal signals to discretely communicate, while giving the appearance of psychically transmitting information. The list includes looking up, down, right, and left for the four suits of a deck of cards, coughing, sighing, yawning, sending Morse code with jingling coins (now that cannot be easy), and gesturing to various body parts which have been given a prearranged meaning. (Now that could be funny to watch.)

People with PTSD re-experience the event again and again in at least one of several ways. They may have frightening dreams (nope), may feel as though they are going through the experience again (okay, I got that one), or they may become upset during anniversaries of the event. (Oh great, something to look forward to.)

One particular type of modern research into telepathy particularly intrigued Lola when she came across it. It involved something called the Ganzfeld ("total field") effect and it used a person designated as the receiver, who was placed in a calm soundproof room filled with white noise. Another random person was selected as the sender and placed in another soundproof room. Instead of using playing cards or sheets of paper with easy to classify but emotionally sterile information like blue circles and yellow squares, the sender was given a packet containing a group of related pictures and/or short video clips which had a certain emotional theme or feel to them, and the sender was asked to try to telepathically communicate the feeling of the images and sounds from the packet to the receiver. Then the receiver was shown copies of four such packets, each with a very different theme, and asked to rate the degree to which each packet matched what he or she had just experienced. If the receiver assigned the highest rating to the actual packet which was used, it was scored as a "hit." Okay, this at least makes more sense, Lola thought, because it involves feelings people might care about sending and receiving.

Those who analyzed the results of such experiments run over many years found a hit rate of somewhere between twenty-eight and fifty-one percent, depending on what was thrown out or included, which depended mostly on the analyzers predisposition to the subject. Lola was surprised to read that even twenty-eight percent, while not impressive, is, if accurate, statistically significant for such a very large number (over six thousand) of tests.  However, The Straight Dope explains how this hardly constitutes “amazing ESP proof” and The Skeptics Dictionary,  which they reference,  goes on to concludes that  "the actual size of this psi effect is so small that we can’t detect it in a single person in any obvious way. We have to deduce it from guessing experiments. What hope do we have of isolating, harnessing, or expanding this power if a person who has it can’t even directly recognize its presence?"

And what, Lola thought, if a person who has it recognizes it all too well?

There are no tests that can be done to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder. Though at the far end of the spectrum its existence cannot be denied, it appeared to Lola that in any one particular case it was basically in the eye of the beholder. Treatment to reduce symptoms appeared to include encouraging one to recall the event and express one’s feelings about it, in hopes that one might gain some sense of control over the experience. It was noted that support groups could be helpful. Medicines that act on the nervous system could help reduce anxiety and other symptoms of PTSD. The best outcome depended on how soon the symptoms develop after the trauma and on how quickly one got diagnosed and treated. One should call one’s health-care provider early. Got it.

According to a 2005 Gallup poll, thirty-one percent of people in the U.S.A: believe specifically in telepathy and forty-one percent believe in some sort of extrasensory perception. Most amazing to Lola was that the poll showed no statistically significant differences about this belief among people by age, gender, education, race, or region of the country.

 

Djimon was not cruel; he told himself that over and over. He did not delight in death like the thugs who had brought such embarrassment to his beloved religion. He did not even wish harm to the pitiful woman he was now beginning to train so that he could confidently use her to send his message. No, he was just doing what he had to do. In the name of his beloved country. His mother. His children's future. And if the feel of her fresh taut skin under the palm of his hand brought him a glimmer of pleasure now and then while he did what needed to be done, well then didn't even a hero like him deserve a bit of joy in the middle of a such a laudable struggle?

After their first weekend alone, Djimon sent Mairo and the children off almost every weekend there after to visit relatives, so he could have the house to himself for "training" Nwanyi, which, as he pointed out to Mairo, was best done in isolation after all. Mairo went willingly and said little. Nwanyi soon had visible sores around her wrists and ankles, which Mairo could only assume had come from struggling against restraints. Mairo shuddered. Djimon could do this?

After the first weekend alone with Djimon, Nwanyi became so withdrawn that she often appeared to be sleepwalking. But occasionally, Mairo would catch Nwanyi's alert eye with a look that was, what … victorious? That was it, Mairo thought. Nwanyi looked at Mairo like she had just beaten her in a contest. And, Mairo thought sadly, in a way she had.

 

The receptionist gave Lola a clipboard of paperwork to fill out while she was waiting, and along with the usual requests for medical history and contact and insurance information Lola found herself with a personal questionnaire.

"Have you gone through a divorce, separation or break-up in the last year?" Thank heavens no.

"Has anyone you are close to died in the past year?" Well, yes my mother. May of 2008. It seemed like forever ago, but it was really almost a year to the day. "Was it unexpected?" Yes, a heart attack at seventy-two had been unexpected. Working in her yard, doing what she loved. But still too young. Not yet old.

"Have you lost a job in the past year?" Hell yes. December 2008. Along with what had seemed at the time like half the country.

"Do you have any serious physical illnesses?" No, healthy as a horse. "Do you have any chronic health problems which, while not life threatening, affect your quality of life?" No, healthy as a horse. "Have you experienced any traumatic events that involved the threat of injury or death in the past year?" Yup. That is why I am here.

Dr. Walker was a small middle-aged man with a kindly face. Lola's primary physician, who she almost never saw, had referred her to this particular Ph.D. psychologist, assuring Lola that if a prescription was recommended he could prescribe it himself. As she entered the small, comfortably furnished but not lavish consultation room, she saw that Dr. Walker was glancing over her questionnaire.

"Lola, right? You've had quite a year Lola. Hmmmm. Mother passed away suddenly about a year ago. Recently let go by your employer of twenty-four years? Hmm. How were you doing before this car accident?"

"Fine. I was doing fine. But I wasn't in a car accident."

Dr. Walker squinted at the paperwork. "I see. A canoe accident." He gave her a puzzled look. "What were you doing in a canoe that could possibly have killed you? The other canoe was going too fast?" He chuckled a little.

"It's a long story. I'm here because the sound of running water kind of sets me on edge these days and I get a little frantic if I cannot easily get out of where I am physically."

"You mean you get upset if you are trapped in an elevator?" He smiled again, clearly enjoying his own streak of wittiness.

"No, I mean I have to now sit at the end of the row in a movie theater. If it is a booth at the restaurant I have to be on the outside. And these days you can absolutely forget about me sitting in the middle of the back seat of a car."

"I see. Some people are like that. It's a control issue. Do you feel like you lack control in your life?"

"Everyone lacks control in their life. I just never used to care at all where I sat and the change is a little, odd." Lola was having an exceedingly hard time getting this man on her wavelength, getting him to understand.

"So it's not really causing you a problem?"

"Well, I don't wash my hair as much. Is that a problem?"

"I don't know. Do you think you used to wash your hair too often?"

Lola decided that if she gave Dr. Walker the benefit of the doubt, she would agree that he was well-meaning. But she had seldom met another well-intended and alert human with whom she could communicate less. And she was paying him how much for a fifteen minute appointment just so she could communicate to him?

Dr. Walker must have felt the same way. "Lola? Lola. Look, you don't need to talk to me about everything that has happened. It is clear that you have had several stress-inducing events of varying severity over the last year. So, I am going to recommend that we treat you for a mild anxiety disorder and that we start you on a low dose of a common antidepressant. It is the one I think is most often prescribed for anxiety issues. It's very safe, it's been around for years, and I and Dr. Hayes will monitor you closely."

"But I am not depressed."

"These types of medications are called antidepressants, but they are actually used to treat a wide variety of conditions. I just read somewhere that more than half the time now they are prescribed for something other than depression. There is no stigma here. You should know that at least ten percent of Americans now take some sort of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which is the type of medication which I am going to ask Dr. Hayes to prescribe for you."

"But I don't want to be medicated."

"You need to let us help you Lola. Give the receptionist information on your preferred pharmacy on the way out. I'll have Dr. Hayes' office call the prescription in now. You should know that this is not like taking aspirin. You have to take it consistently and let it build up. So it will take several days before you start to feel an effect. So let's say I will schedule you in again in two weeks. Call Dr. Hayes' office if you experience any side effects."

"There was one other issue I thought I should maybe mention," Lola said hesitantly. She saw Dr. Walker glance at his watch.

Lola took a deep breathe and exhaled with deliberate slowness. "I've kind of been experiencing this sort of, uh, affinity for this other woman."

"You are having lesbian sexual fantasies?"

It was Lola's turn to chuckle. "No, no nothing like that. This isn't anybody I even know."

"Fantasies like this are not uncommon, even among otherwise completely heterosexual women," Dr. Walker assured her. "And fantasies about people one does not know are much more common, especially in women, because they feel much safer."

"I'm not having fantasies about her."

Dr. Walker looked at the watch again. "Lola this is very interesting but unless you are actually hearing voices in your head," he smiled, " I am going to ask you to defer this topic to our next meeting, okay?"

Lola looked at him oddly.

"You aren't hearing voices in your head telling you to do things, are you?" he said in a mostly amused tone.

"No. No one is telling me to do anything."

"Okay. Good. We will talk again in two weeks then and I think you will be surprised at how much more calm and in control you will feel. Thanks for coming in Lola," he said as he stood up and shook her hand warmly and began walking her to the door.

 

The next morning before work Lola sat at her bathroom vanity for a while staring at the small green pill with the product name on one side and the 25 mg dosage on the other. She had never been on medication in her life except for the occasional antacid tablet, head-cold remedy or over-the-counter analgesic for a rare headache. And now she was expected to take this every morning point forward and had been warned by the pharmacist absolutely not to stop taking it once she started without speaking to her doctor lest she suffer withdrawal. (Withdrawal??) That alone was giving her a slightly claustrophobic trapped feeling.

Let's not over-react here, Lola told herself. You were on birth control pills at two times in your life for years. Probably would be now still if Alex had not volunteered to get a vasectomy after Teddie was born. So you can take medication if you need to.

Thanks to all the commercials on television, she expected the laundry list of unpleasant side effects that would be printed out for her to read, and she was not disappointed. Particularly alarming however was the instruction to tell her doctor immediately if she experienced agitation, hallucinations, or coma among other things, as this might be a symptom of a life-threatening condition called Serotonin Syndrome or Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome. Coma? Call my doctor if I go into a coma? Okay.

She was also expected to contact her health-care provider if she experienced thoughts about suicide or dying, attempts to commit suicide, new or worse depression, new or worse anxiety, feeling very agitated or restless, panic attacks, trouble sleeping, new or worse irritability, acting aggressive, being angry, or violent, acting on dangerous impulses, mania, or other unusual changes in behavior or mood. Great. And she was taking this medication to prevent what?

The kicker came when she read that the medication could affect her ability to make decisions, think clearly, or react quickly, and finally that drinking alcohol while taking it was not recommended. Lola almost threw the whole damn bottle in the trash at that point, until she thought of Ariel coming home that night and how Lola truly wanted to be more like her old self for her daughter's sake. Okay, she thought, I'll give it one chance. This little green pill gets four weeks.

 

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