Once upon a time


In a stark room full of fluorescent light and a single rubber couch a butterfly sat and worried her wings. They were very big and very beautiful and she told me about all the things and people that had hurt her while her iridescent wing lost strips ripped off in her worrying fingers. When she sobbed great big tears formed and made her heavy and she said, “I never do this, I swear – I don’t usually cry.” She wanted to fly south for the rest of forever but she loved her family so she built them something grand to help them forget her by. What she had built for her family was beautiful and delicate, constructed so carefully by a soft person for the people she loved, and what I built for her wasn’t like that at all. It was haphazard and rough, because I had spent the time we were talking just barricading that room full of fluorescent light, trying quickly to make a place for her to stay for a while where she could be safe, even if it meant she couldn’t fly there.

In a stark room full of fluorescent light a teenage bear raged and raged at a universe that had sent him careening thirty feet off a cliff and left him with three broken limbs and great big paws that were swollen and fractured. He still wasn’t sure how he had slipped off that cliff or whether he had ever stood there at all and sometimes he could forget, but when he couldn't he knew that that fall was maybe the worst thing he had ever done to himself in a long list of bad things. At those times he reeled from the shame of it and it filled him up until it overflowed into great big screams and paws pounding at pecs and sharp claws slicing. That's when I would stand up and lift my arms above my head and stretch myself as big as possible in that stark room so I could push against the edges, so I could crash my body against the walls to make the space big enough for him and his raging, and everyone outside of the room peered in but let me push the walls bigger, until the rage passed and the bear’s paws throbbed with new pain and his old wounds had opened and we sat together and stitched them back up, memories of his claws scraping desperately against a rocky bluff fading again into the background.

In a stark room full to the brim of fluorescent light there was an insect. He sat calmly on the gurney until I entered the room and he trained his hundred eyes on me. They glimmered and glistened with something unfamiliar to me as his mother sat beside him begging him to turn away. The insect didn’t listen though and his hundred eyes bulged with that glistening glimmering sickness that started over time to coat everyone that was near him in slime. His mother, soaking the seat of a chair with it in another room, begged me to take her son somewhere else for a while, where maybe that sickness could drip away onto something besides her family.

When I went back into that room the insect turned his dripping hundred eyes on me again. I sat down on the seat across from him to tell him he’d be going to the hospital. I knew he’d be upset but wanted to tell him eye to eyes. I chose my words carefully and handed them over gently, but suddenly wings six feet wide that I didn’t see before unfurled behind him and he launched into the air above me, landing fast to grasp my hands harder than I could stand, harder than I could comprehend for a moment until I wrenched myself free and tried not to pinch the glowing of his wing in the door as I closed it on that stark room full of fluorescent light, sopping wet with his sickness. My heart beat hard outside the room.

In a stark room there was a lioness sitting on a rubber couch under the fluorescent light. She growled angrily every time we walked past, and stood back on her hind legs when she saw us and said, “Oh hey look, it’s the shrink squad.” She was sick, though, and wouldn’t let us take her vitals, and one time I sat down in front of her and looked deep into her deep brown feline eyes and asked her please to let us take her temperature because I was worried about her health. “No!” she said. “You don’t care about my health, you just care about covering your ass. If you really cared about my health, you’d hold my hand, you’d look in my eyes.” I sat down in front of her then and I took her big paw in mine where the claws sat conspicuously in their sheaths and I held it and I looked in her eyes and I said, “Please let us take your temperature. I’m truly truly worried about your health.” Her eyes were surprised and she let me nudge the cold thin rod of a thermometer under her tongue alongside her big teeth. The next day she said if we truly cared we’d bring her flowers, we’d bring her cake. We didn’t do those things but she did stop calling us the shrink squad.


HIPAA Disclaimer: All of my stories are fictionalized and I never share PHI. Details are always changed, added, obscured or omitted. Most stories aren't about a single patient but rather are mished and mashed and sorted for narrative sense.

Photos are taken by myself from the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibit at SAM.