“Nope, sorry, I don’t recognise you.”
It’s not until I hear your words, until they solidify and sink inside me, that I realise how much I’d relied on a warmer welcome. As if the miles I’ve travelled and the money I’ve spent, along with the time I’ve wasted dreaming, would earn me something, if only a grudging prize for effort. But the world’s not fair, I know that. That’s one thing you taught me.
They warned me you might deny it, just as they warned me you might try to deflect me as you’re doing now, with that sheepish smile that reminds me of my son. The smile that declares you no worse than the lovable rogue who steals from my purse only to buy me a present. Rebuttal and mind games; they warned me, but it doesn’t make it any less of a shock. I gasp, and through air tinged with stale cigarettes and disinfectant, rage seeps into my soul. The man who has monopolised my mind for a quarter century doesn’t remember me? The man whose shadow has followed me through marriage, childbirth and divorce doesn’t see who I am? I want to kick back my chair, reach across the table and throttle you.
The chaplain shoots me a glance; I can’t decide if it’s meant to console or constrain, but it grounds me. Focus on the concrete. Articulate the external. Name what you can see. Techniques from the therapy group that saved my life.
Table. Chairs. Walls. Window. Hands. Shirt. Men. How many men? Only three: one standing; one sitting across from me; another seated quietly at my side.
A stainless-steel rectangle with bolt-down legs. Three metal-framed chairs with wooden seats not styled for lingering. Four walls stained institutional beige. A single barred window positioned so near the ceiling only strips of cloud show through. Your hands flat on the table as per instructions; mine on my lap in white-knuckled fists. Your shirt, pale blue, your number stamped on the breast pocket; mine, starched white and buttoned to the chin. A uniformed figure immobile by the door. Man at my side channelling another kind of restraint. Man sitting across the table: that shirt, your thinning hair, sallow skin and smoker’s teeth embodying your debasement, yet you retain the power to menace my mind.
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