Never Came Back: Chapter 5
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"Boy, do I have a story to tell you," I said the next afternoon as I strode into Janine's office.
Janine sat across the room as usual, her feet tucked at the ankles and pencil skirt straight over her knees. I'd never once caught her with a run in her pantyhose. Maintaining composure her composure would have exhausted me—even on my good days.
She lifted her eyebrows. "Oh?" she asked and motioned to the couch. "Have a seat. Do tell. I assumed it would be something interesting when you called me for an emergency meeting."
I plopped into the couch with a sigh of relief. When I’d stepped into Janine's office for the first time, I'd never imagined I'd look forward to speaking with her. Or feel safe in her manicured walls with a light scent of potpourri. But now her walls meant safety. Connection. A stable base when everything bucked around. Trying to sleep last night had been torture. My stomach growled. I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten.
Janine peered at me expectantly. I opened my mouth and the words fell out.
"My dad showed up."
Her eyes widened. She leaned forward.
"He did what?"
Although gratified by her surprise, I frowned. "Yeah. Crazy, right? Just pops up out of nowhere after no contact for twenty years."
She blinked. "Well," she said, waving a hand. "Get on with it, then. I can't wait to hear this story."
Recounting the last twenty four hours took almost half an hour. Janine didn't interrupt me once, but her silent communications—wide eyes, sharp intake of breath, sympathetic downturn of her lips—all set me at ease. She couldn't have said anything more comforting than the shock and empathy on her face. Just seeing her reactions validated the intensity.
"So that's it." I shrugged. "The whole story."
She shook her head. "Goodness. That is quite the story. I would never have expected this to happen. I can certainly see the emergency in it." Her eyes narrowed slightly. "What I want to know is how you're feeling right now. What's on your mind the most?"
The question sent me into the same swamp I'd been paddling through all night long. What now? What am I supposed to feel? Where do I start? How could I even sort through all the mush brewing inside?
"I don't know," I said. "That's why I'm here."
"Shock can make it difficult to work through emotion. Let's start with the anger you spoke about. Are you still feeling it?"
I pursed my lips and nodded. "Yes. Maybe not as strong, but it's still there."
"What does anger mean?"
She asked without guile; her attentive face showed no sign of disapproval or frustration. I swallowed. My emotional intelligence had come a long way, but today my mind felt like a blanket slate.
"Uh . . . "
"Anger means that we want something we aren't getting."
My shoulders relaxed. Oh. Yeah. Never would have come up with that in a thousand years. Although, now that she said it, a bell rang in the back of my mind. Hadn't she said it before? Janine pulled in a deep breath, threading her fingers together on her lap.
“Your job now is to decide what you needed that you didn't get when you saw your father."
"I have no idea. I mean . . . that list could go on forever."
She tilted her head to the side. "No idea yet, maybe. But think about it. Give yourself all the time you need. Think back through the reunion. Maybe establishing the moment you felt the anger the strongest will help."
The day swam through my mind like a mud pot. Everything seemed to simmer and bubble in the same great mass.
And all of it stunk.
"I . . . I guess I was the most angry when he said that he didn't know where to start. And then he referred to me as his daughter."
"Ah." She tilted her head back. "That's interesting."
My brow furrowed. Now that I'd found the track, moving along it felt easier. The emotions warmed in my chest, spilling out with surprising speed.
"I mean, why does he get to say that I'm his daughter? He didn't contribute at all, right? Well . . . beyond the obvious, anyway. And why do I have to belong to anyone? Why can't I just be my own person?"
"You can. You are.“
My reply stalled, then faded. I hadn't expected her to agree with me right away. "Right," I said. "Of course."
But I still felt something unsettled inside of me. Could I be my own person? Isn't that what I had been fighting for all my life? My mind skimmed back over all my old cosplay outfits that I’d been slowly selling online.
Janine shifted. "What's interesting to me is that you call him your father, even called him Dad, but you don't like it when he calls you his daughter. Why is that?"
"I hadn’t thought of that,“ I murmured, then pleaded, “Can’t you just tell me?”
Janine shook her head. "No," she said quietly. "Rachelle, I don't actually have the answers. You do. You have the answers, we just have to find them. Helping you find them is my job."
Tears welled up in my eyes. "I don't want to figure it out." My voice cracked. I pressed my palm to my chest. "I just want someone to tell me what to do to make all this pain go away. Just tell me how to make it stop. Then maybe I can think."
Her expression softened. The honest compassion in her eyes broke my last guard. I buried my face in my hands and let the tears fall.
For a full ten minutes, I couldn't speak. My shoulders trembled. The silent sobs poured out of me in long, heavy waves. Janine crossed the room and put a warm hand on my shoulder. Distant memories flashed through my mind at alarming speeds. Dad and I by the pool. Mom and I laughing at a late night episode of Saturday Night Live when I was ten—and should have been asleep. Laying in my room by myself, wishing Mom would just turn off the TV. Playing softball without any family watching me in the stands. Watching Lexie and her Dad laugh together while barbecuing on their back porch. Once it all subsided, I swiped the tears off with my fist.
"Why did he have to leave?" I asked, straightening. "Why wasn't I good enough for him? That's what hurts. That's what I want to know. Why wasn’t I worth fighting for?“
Janine's face swam when I looked up at her. Every time I wiped the tears away, more replaced them. She sat on the other side of the couch now. I'd never sat this close to her, and her comforting presence calmed the painful flares.
"There's a common belief amongst abandoned children that they caused the parent to leave. At such a young developmental stage, there's no way to comprehend anything outside of egocentricity. So let's try something new, okay? Let's teach little five-year-old Rachelle that it wasn't her fault."
My shoulders stiffened. "I wasn't abandoned."
A scathing reply stuck in my throat. I wasn't some victim. I wasn't left behind like an orphan. Saying abandoned made it sound so . . . serious. But the thoughts faltered. If Dad hadn't abandoned us, then what had he done? My chest shuddered when I pulled in a deep breath. Instead of fighting the tears, I let them fall.
He had abandoned me.
"I guess I was," I whispered.
“You were, Rachelle, and there’s no shame in understanding that.”
Tears swam in my eyes, blurring the image of her. I let out a long, shuddering breath. Right then, I knew exactly what to say.
“I wanted the meeting to go better,” I whispered. “I wanted it to be easier to see him, because I can see me in his face. That’s terrifying. How can he be part of me? I wanted there to be happiness, not rage. I wanted to feel like I knew him, but he’s a total stranger, and I can’t reconcile that in my head.”
Janine nodded. “Yeah,” she whispered. “You did.”
I swallowed, feeling morsels of control slipping back into my hands. “What now?” I asked.
“That’s a question only you can answer.”
“Do I have to forgive him?”
“You don’t have to do anything."
“Will it be better if I do?”
The edges of her face softened. “What do you think?”
Something hot spread through my chest, like heated magma. “I think I’m not ready.”
“Then I think you should give that time.”
“I think . . . I think he’ll want to see me again, maybe. I don’t know, maybe he’ll just up and leave whenever he wants again. Maybe I’ll never see him. There’s no way to trust him.”
Janine reached over and laid a hand on my shoulder. “You don’t have to trust everything right now, Rachelle. Give yourself some time and space to grieve, to process.”
I met her steady gaze and felt the shaking parts of my heart still.
“Yeah,” I whispered. “I will.”
She smiled. “Maybe take a break, see how you feel. Then, if it feels right, you approach him again. The control is in your hands—you can leave it there.”
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