“You have a very dour demeanor,” the doctor says in a tone that suggests he’s leveling with me. “Do you know that?”
I’m caught off guard, and for a second I don’t know how to respond. No one has ever told me that before. Even if it’s true, what does it have to do with my not eating for days?
The doctor folds his hands and leans back in his chair, letting his statement hang there in the air. We study each other, with his look one of serenity and mine one of bewilderment.
I slowly repeat his statement, my mind pondering and scrutinizing each word. Very…dour…demeanor. Me? Really?
Finally, he begins to speak again. He explains to me that even though I haven’t eaten for four days, I probably don’t have any of the ailments I’d feared: cancer (at 27!), a digestive disorder, a tapeworm, etc.
“Do you ever stare at yourself in the mirror?” he asks.
“Yes.” I don’t think he’s about to make some observation about my appearance, or God forbid, my hygeine. But this is unfamiliar territory, and I am afraid nonetheless.
“What do you see in the mirror? How do you feel?”
I think for a few seconds before responding honestly.
“I feel like I’m looking at a stranger, like I don’t recognize myself. Sometimes I feel like I’ve somehow lost everything that made me who I am. Like I’m just a shell of a person.”
He leans forward again.
“See…the reason I keep coming back to depression being the cause…”
The doc stops himself mid-sentence. Then he reaches over and grabs the hospital tray that he brought in with him.
“Here,” he says, pushing it toward me. “Eat this.”
I take the tray from him and lift the cover to peek its contents. It’s packed with food: meatloaf, corn, broccoli, toast, mashed potatoes, peaches, orange juice, and a diet soda. It smells good, in a generic hospital food sort of way.
As I grab the knife and fork and begin to dig in, the doctor explains the procedure for voluntarily admitting myself “for observation and counseling.” I translate his words to mean he’s offering me a spot in the psych ward. In between mouthfuls I manage to decline his offer.
He keeps talking, knowing I’m too busy eating to look up at him or respond. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a sample of pills in a box. “I call these happy pills,” he says, with a grin. “Follow the instructions, and see if they make you feel any better.”
He holds them out for me. I accept them, but only out of politeness. I’m dead set against taking them, but make sure to show gratitude nonetheless.
He stands up and looks down at the hospital tray. I follow his eyes and realize that all the food is gone, with only diet soda remaining. I don’t drink soda.
I feel his hand on my bare shoulder, and look up at him. He’s shoots me a sympathetic look. “In the meantime, ya gotta eat.”
He takes his hand off my shoulder and offers it for a stiff handshake. “Take care of yourself.”
“Thank you,” I call after him. “I can go?”
“See Mary at the front desk. She can sign you out and refer you to some primary doctors in the area.”
Ten minutes later, I walk out of the hospital, dazed, and clutching a list of area psychiatrists.
During the car ride home, I leave all the windows down, letting my left arm hang out of the driver’s side window so the hot air tunnels through my t-shirt. I’m barely paying attention to the other cars on the road, instead pondering the dissonance between the way I see myself and the way other people see me. Maybe I do have emotional needs that tend to go unattended, I think to myself. But do I really appear gloomy and depressed to the outside world?
I finally get home, and trudge up the stairs to my apartment. When I open the door, I immediately pick up the scent of eggs being fried. Josh, my sometimes-roommate, is hanging out.
As I round the corner, our eyes meet but he quickly looks down at the pot of food on the stove. “Hey,” he offers. “I used all your Egg Beaters.”
I realize that he’s nervous — ready to support me if I have bad news, but hoping there isn’t any.
“They think I’m depressed,” I sigh as I walk around the counter and take up a stool beside him. “Do you think so?”
“I don’t know…” his voice trails off for a moment. “You seem pretty much alright this week.”
I notice that he doesn’t say this in a reassuring, “that-can’t-be-right” tone, but rather, an “I-don’t-know-if-it’s-my-place” one.
“But last week…”
I sigh again, not wanting to think about it.
Finally, I lift my head up. “Let’s go out to eat.”
“But the eggs are just done!”
As he looks down at his handiwork, I slip the spatula out of his hand and turn off the burner. “Let’s go.”
“Alright,” he acceeds, still staring at the pot as I begin to back away.
“But I want pasta then,” he demands.
“And you’re paying.”
“I always do.”
He snickers and I laugh heartily, and each of us shoots the other a glance at the same time. The look we’re exchanging isn’t one of insecurity, wondering if the other person will take offense. Rather, it’s one of mutual pleasure, the kind that says “See? This is why we’re friends.”
In that instant, I feel my spirits lift. I’m in good company, and I feel damn good myself.
We’re gonna go eat a huge, gut-busting meal. I toss the “happy pills” into a drawer and, rushing to catch up to Josh, I grab my wallet, keys and cash.
And a banana.