I'd Like to Make an Appointment?

Lauralee is an American writer based in the South of the USA. Her short story, "I'd Like To Make An Appointment?," was a Finalist (Jury Selection) of the PLA 2018 Short Story Contest and was selected by Richland County Public Library to be published in this Short Story Dispenser.

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story

It’s supposed to be easy. Isn’t it? You pick up a phone, dial a number and then... But it’s not easy. It’s not easy, because the phone has a full battery and you have everything ready to make a call and you actually got up to shower this morning. It’s not easy because it’s about Jim. Jim, who was the last person you gave a ride to. Now, you can’t drive due to panic attacks. Jim makes you think of Jim’s wife and their baby girl.
Jim’s wife saying, “It should have been you!”
You can say I’m sorry to her on a thousand voicemails and a thousand handwritten letters. You can give money to charity, speak out against drunk driving in high schools. You can tell a bunch of teenagers and college kids about Jim. You can tell him about how he was riding shotgun that night. About how the drunk driver’s car was red when he ran you off the road and into the river. About how you wake up and can’t breathe because you are still underwater in your dreams. You can tell them that you still see Jim’s face as his blood mixed with the water. You can even agree with Jim’s wife. It should have been you. But it’s not enough. It doesn’t make it better.
All of that would be easier than asking for help. Asking because you have been forgiven by his mom. It wasn’t your fault. Asking to move on. Asking for help to forgive yourself. Asking for help to get into a car and drive again. To live outside your apartment for the first time in a month. The month after you spent weeks in the hospital recovering. Asking for help to believe that there really was nothing you could have done.

But are things like this meant to be easy?

No. You suppose not.

You look around your apartment. When did you last open the curtains? Your car has been sitting in the driveway since the accident. You were driving Jim’s car that night. The car he remodeled by hand and didn’t want to drive from the bar because he was a little too drunk. So he called you. His best friend.
Sometimes you think that if you just open your car door and sit inside, you’ll be fine. You can start living again. You won’t need to talk about that night. Won’t need to relive it. But as soon as you take the wheel, you feel it jerk in your hands. You see the car, the red one, turn a sharp corner and not stop. You feel the red car, the one the driver didn’t stop, ram into the passenger side. You feel the pain as your leg is trapped. You feel the way the car breaks through the barrier and flips into the flooded river. You feel the cold skin of Jim’s neck as you look for his pulse while you dangle upside down in your seat. You feel the cold rush of certainty that your best friend is dead.

You remember the paramedics saying that they couldn’t help him.

Just like that, you are kicked back to square one, and the car still sits in the driveway.
The memories hurt. What hurts more is that you missed your mom’s birthday and your sister’s graduation. The Dominoes guys know your face and order by heart now. A small pizza that you’ve ordered twice a week even though you hardly ever finish the whole thing. They ask if you’re okay when they see you. Your coworkers sometimes call or come by. They say you are getting thinner. What they don’t know is that sometimes you can’t bring yourself to eat. You called your dad sobbing a few nights ago because of a nightmare. In that one, Jim died over and over again.

You can’t live like this anymore, because this is not living.

So you turn on your phone, dial the Psychologist's office, and then you say something. “I need to make an appointment.” You take a subway to the appointment on Monday. Since when was opening a door painful? The receptionist is polite as you check in and sit on one of the pastel, vinyl couches until your name is called. The Psychologist is an older woman. She sits you down and pulls out a notepad. Immediately, you hate that notepad. She’s going to write down everything. Soon you’ll be hearing about why you feel this way. Some clinical term that takes all the fear and anxiety down to a single point, one that has a definition in a text book somewhere. A definition that no one reads because they know the term and only care that it means that you’re broken.
You bite the inside of your cheek and feel the puffiness from where you’ve bitten it before. There’s a taste of blood but you don’t care because she’s looking at you again.
“Now,” she says. “Could you tell me why you made an appointment?”
“My best friend’s dead.”
“I see.” She writes something down. “What about this event leads you to believe that you need professional help?”
“I was with him when it happened.”
She writes again. “How were you involved with the event?”
“I- I was driving us home. The other car pushed us off the road.”
She looks at you, it’s not pity. She doesn’t look like a person that pities people.
“There was probably nothing that you could have done then,” she says. It’s not unkind, but it feels like a test.
“I know that. In my head I know that, but I can’t stop thinking that I should have died.” There are tears now. How pathetic are you? There’s a hand on your shoulder and a tissue box being presented.
“It’s okay to be upset. There’s nothing wrong with how you’re feeling.” The notebook is on the table now. She’s not writing anything. “Asking for help is always the hardest step, but I’m glad you were brave enough to take it.”

You cry a bit more because it doesn’t feel brave. But she’s smiling and you think that maybe this will work. Maybe you can be okay again.