Welcome to week three of Serial Sunday. If you have missed the other chapters, you can grab in the link at the top of the home page. Thanks for reading along, and feel free to let me know what you think so far – it is fun for me to write.
Chapter 3 – Ben
“Spa? Honey, that is great, but you don’t need a spa, you need a Ben.” Sara’s voice came through the speakers as Claire drove from the spa to their office.
“Who’s Ben?” Claire asked as she merged over in order to catch her exit.
“My therapist. I’ll give you his number when you get here.”
“Nope,” Claire chirped. “I don’t need a Ben.” Sara’s laughter filled the car and Claire had to turn her down.
“Oh Claire, there is no doubt you need a Ben, the question is how soon.”
“How about never?”
“Hmm, I have to go. I will talk to you when you get here.”
“Don’t set me up an appointment, Sara.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, darling. Tootles!” Sara hung up and Claire knew, full well, she would have an appointment lined up when she reached the office. She considered going downtown to look at fabrics, but decided against it, it was inevitable, so she might as well face Sara and her plan.
The snow fell, light, as Claire stood, arms crossed, waiting for the receptionist to finish setting up another patient’s follow up appointment. She was the only other person in the waiting room, when the man finished with the receptionist he smiled briefly at Claire and looked away, clearly avoiding eye contact. Was that respect? Was that shame? Claire turned back to the window and allowed the man to wait for the elevator in peace. Each flake glided, fluffy, huge, toward the ground. A scarce breeze pushed the flakes here and there, but there was no care where they landed or where they gathered. The cars below shook them off course and scattered them. The constant whoosh of cars churning up the salted mush on the streets saddened Claire. “There is the end place, Frosty,” she muttered.
“May I help you?” The receptionist asked over the tall desk. Claire turned from the window and walked to the desk.
“Yes, I am here to see Ben Brown,” Claire said, softly, as to not disturb the quiet in the waiting room, though no one else was there.
“Are you Claire Dunnar?”
“Okay, I’ll let Dr. Brown know you are here.” The receptionist reached for the phone and nodded at Claire. Claire nodded and walked back to her place by the window. The elevator dinged and opened and another man walked in. His long black coat, open, revealed his black suit and bright red tie. He saw Claire, curtly nodded and headed to the desk. Claire pulled her arms closer to her, wishing her sweater was a little thicker, even though she knew she wasn’t cold. The man muttered with the receptionist, soft but with authority, and then sat in the line of chairs under the windows. He took out his phone and started scrolling through email. Claire wished for that sense of normalcy in this place, but the quiet hurt, the closed emotion was stiff, even though she knew that well. It seemed abnormal, strange, and completely unlike her to be here. She couldn’t figure it quite out. She turned back to the window and watched flakes drift and swirl. One caught her eye as it seemed to dive to the ground. There was determination, there was weight, and there was the car.
“Claire?” a man’s voice behind her called her name. Claire spun on her heel and faced the voice. She smirked beside herself and tried to mask it by biting her upper lip. He stood, young, stylish, with a paisley green bowtie and a vest. His jeans, dark and slightly tattered, hugged his form perfectly. He reminded her of a younger Greg. His dark rimmed glasses and slightly wavy hair made his smile gorgeous, and young. Young, Claire shook herself back and released that he had to be ten years younger than she was, and she glanced at his finger – no ring. How could he possibly understand her? “I’m Ben Brown,” he extended his hand. Claire unwrapped her arm long enough to shake his hand and give him a nod. “I’m glad to see you, come on back.” He released her hand and opened his arm to the hallway. Claire nodded again and gathered her coat and purse. She considered bolting for the elevator, but found her feet following her young Doogie Howser, MD.
Ben led her down a hall with heavy wooden doors and glass walls covered with curtains and blinds, all closed. She counted as she walked, one, two, three, Ben’s was the fourth door and two more followed. His blinds, a soft faux wood, tilted upward so no one could see in, but the movement of the hall was visible from inside. His office, softly lit with two floor lamps, had a thick rug over the hardwood parquet floor, His couch, a chocolate traditional over stuffed flanked the back wall. His outside wall had vertical blinds pulled back so the natural lighting and the skyline of Minneapolis were visible and bright. On his desk he had a goLITE, a stack of books and files, and an ipad. He motioned for Claire to sit down. “I can take your coat,” he said. She gave him her coat and he hung it on the coat rack by the door.
“Did you decorate?” Claire asked as she sat on the edge of the couch, afraid to appear too comfortable or too awkward.
“Oh no, Sara told me what to do when she started coming, so I eventually told her just to change it, and she did.”
“She did?” Claire asked, surprised that Sara hadn’t mentioned it to her. “Huh.” Claire looked around and took in the pops of green that came out in knick-knacks and pillows. “It’s nice.”
“You two do great work,” Ben replied and smiled. “Do you need something to drink? Water, tea, coffee?”
“No, thanks. I had some before I came.” Claire said and slightly shook her head, “Sorry, that was stupid.”
“No, it seems a reasonable explanation to me. So what brings you here today?”
“Oh?” Ben opened a new document on his ipad and started jotting notes.
“She made the appointment, I didn’t.” Claire said.
“Sure, but you came. You could have canceled anytime between the call and the appointment.”
“Yes, but then she would be all over me, and it was just easier to come in order to tell her I did and move on. Not to say you aren’t great at your job, I’m sure you are, but I’m just fine.”
“And how is fine working for you?”
“Right, is this where I’m supposed to break down and tell you that my childhood was horrible, my marriage is a mess, and my children are out of control? Because that isn’t my life, buddy.” Claire pulled back her hand that was now pointing at this child prodigy across from her, and snapped back into her awareness. “I am so sorry, that was so out of line,” Claire said, shocked at her own reaction.
“It’s okay, Claire.” Ben replied. “These first appointments are tough when you initiate them, I’m guessing they are even harder when you feel forced to be here. I just want to reassure you that I am not forcing you to be here, at any time you are free to leave. If I say something that upsets you or confuses you, you need to let me know so we can have open communication. I am here to talk, offer advice if you want it, and help you through whatever it is that brought you here today.”
“So you’ll help me through Sara? Please, you know her; there is no help through her.” Claire smiled.
“Sara didn’t bring you here today, Claire. So why don’t we talk about what did.” Ben took a drink of her water and waited for Claire. Claire stared at him, trying to figure out exactly how old he was. She started doing math and figured if he had a PhD, he had to be at least in his late twenties. “Claire?”
“What? Oh, right. Why am I here.” She looked out the window again, and turned back to Ben. A flash of her leaping over the rug and kissing him entered her head and she shook herself back to reality. What was that? She thought. ‘Uh, I’m just not myself.” She said.
“Not yourself, how?”
“I’m a really put together person. I live by my listed, I feel accomplished when I finished everything on my list. I have a great job, house, kids, husband, and life. I like myself, I like my work, I feel great at the end of the day. I call my parents every weekend; we get together once a month. We have a solid community of friends and neighbors. My kids are respectful and have friends. Grace is starting to drive with her permit and Conor, struggles a little in science, but is working through it. We have a good life. No, a great life.”
“So what brings you here?”
“Seriously? It is going to make me sound trite.”
“I left my apron on the back of the couch.”
“See? I told you. A damn apron brought me here, are you satisfied? I just need to work through this and go hang up the apron.”
“Wait, your apron is still on the back of the couch?”
“How long has it been there?”
“Why haven’t you moved it?”
“I don’t know. I figured Sylvia would move it when she cleaned, but she didn’t.” Claire furrowed her brow. “That’s weird, isn’t it? That it is clearly out of place, and the cleaning lady doesn’t put it away?”
“Did you take that as a sign?”
“I don’t know. I just think it is weird that no one has moved it. There it sits, this black and while tulle print apron on the back of the cream over-sized chair. It hasn’t moved for almost a week.”
“In many houses things stay out of order for weeks or months. People walk by the same thing that served its purpose weeks ago but never put it away.”
“Yes, that’s life.”
“Clutter is life?”
“Or life is cluttered.”
“What? It doesn’t have to be. There are lists. There is order. There are organizational tools for that. Even a basket where things can be stored until the set time to clean is better than leaving them out of place for weeks.”
“So why hasn’t your apron ended up in a basket?”
“I don’t know; that’s why I’m here.”
“But you have the answers, Claire. You have a system. You have order.”
“But do I have a life?”
“Do you have clutter?”
“Then you know your answer.”
“What do I do?”
“Get some clutter.”
“Don’t move the apron.”
“No matter what, if Sylvia comes to clean, leave a note that says to leave it. If the kids or your husband try to move it, tell them to leave it. Do you have pets?”
“Do you want clutter?”
“No.” Claire shook her head and started to second guess Ben’s sanity. She fixated on the goLITE. “Wait, do you have SAD? Are you being treated for something?”
“What?” Ben followed Claire’s pointed finger and looked at the light. “Oh, the light? Sure, I use it. It is a great way to keep my mind healthy through our long winters. Personally, I think if you live in the upper Midwest it should come as a standard housewarming. ‘Welcome to Minnesota! Here is your winter cure’ and hand them a light.”
“Oh, sure, yeah.” Claire calmed down. Ben had a point, and a reasonable one at that. “I can’t get a pet, Ben. I don’t have time to train it, or clean it, or make sure it gets the love and care it needs. I wouldn’t know what to get that wouldn’t tear up the house. That would throw me for a loop.”
“No, an apron is throwing you for a loop.”
“Sure, right. But I can just put that away. I can easily manage that.”
“But you aren’t.”
Claire was starting to get annoyed by Ben’s responses. His calm demeanor and ability to state the obvious was both aggravating and irritating. Claire wanted now to jump over the rug and deck him. “Look, I can go clean up the apron. Thanks for your time.” She stood and grabbed her purse.
“You’re welcome. I hope you find your balance.” Ben stood and extended his hand. Claire stopped, stared at his hand, and shut her agape mouth.
“What did you say?”
“I hope you find your balance. That is what you are seeking, right? You are feeling loose, but completely wound up at the same time? You are good at structure, but are waiting for it to collapse and trap you? You wonder, as you walk by the apron, why it hasn’t snatched you into a whirlwind of chaos and dirt, because it is merely a slippery slope, right? You hug yourself tight around the middle because if you don’t, who will? And if you let go, you will melt and come undone. I can only imagine how hard that must be.” Ben said, letting his hand release to his side.
“Who, who, what.” Claire sputtered, and released her hands clutched into fists, hugged around her sides. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’m a doctor of psychology, Claire. I know who I am. The question is, who are you? Are you a to-do list? Are you order? It is okay if you are, but ask yourself, is that who you are?” The last thing Claire wanted to consider was that question, that answer. And she didn’t know why. “I think this has been a great session, and I’d love to see you again, if you would like to continue, Claire.” Claire looked confusedly at him.
“I really think we are starting to get somewhere, don’t you?”
“Where are we getting? I’m still stitched together and you are still, well, you.”
“See? When you came in, you made it sound like you were couture, and now you just admitted you feel safety pinned together.”
“Right. Well, I would suggest we meet every two weeks. Karen can get you set up in the calendar. I have one assignment for you in addition to leaving the apron.”
Claire sighed, “What?”
“Have sex in every room of your house before I see you again.”
“Do you really want me to expand on the reasons why, or do you know them.”
“Right. Do I call you Ben? Dr. Brown?”
“Ben is fine.” He extended his hand again, and Claire shook it. Exhausted, she took her coat off the rack.