The Art of Conversing

Dr. Bockis tapped her left index finger against the arm of her leather chair. She seemed unimpressed with my retelling of events. I realized that compared to other people she sees on a daily basis, I was probably the least exciting. I wasn't a drug addict or someone with a sordid past. I was just me, another teenager acting out against parents. It was so common. I suddenly felt almost embarrassed to be here.

It wasn't my choice, though. When I came home the morning after spending the night in the park, before I could even ring the doorbell, my parents opened the front door and dragged me inside while simultaneously asking me ten different questions and telling me twenty different things to do. I was never able to explain to them what actually happened. In their mind I had become an alcoholic and a drug addict in less than a night to help cope with my loss of an uncle. And because of that, I was in need of Dr. Bockis.

Dr. Bockis tapped her left index finger against the chair again. "Why did you decide to go to the party?"

I had a feeling for the remainder of the session I was going to be asked a lot of questions like this one. The answers were all so simple: I just didn't know. I acted without thinking. I told her that repeatedly during the rest of the hour. Dr. Bockis didn't seem phased. She nodded her head every time I answered her questions.

Twenty minutes later, she took one last sip of her tea and told me I was free to go. I thanked her out of habit and walked into the waiting room. My mom was sitting there with Kara, who was reading an issue of National Geographic. After I closed the door behind me, Kara looked up and smiled. "Are you less insane now?"

I figured that if I actually were insane my sessions with Dr. Bockis would be a bit more interesting and would involve a lot less sipping of tea.

My mother ignored Kara's comment. I don't know if she figured it was useless to say anything to her, or if she was wondering the same thing that Kara said. Either way, I didn't really mind.

It is now seven-thirty a.m. and I am in my art class alone. This seems to be happening more and more now. Everyday I seem to end up here at least thirty minutes early. The classroom has become more familiar to me than my own room. I don't have anything to work on, though, leaving me with no reason to be here, except to sit and relax. Sitting is how it started weeks ago. I would get here and sit. It has now progressed to me lying on the big wooden tables. After the second week of being so early I realized there was no one to tell me what I could and couldn't do. I'm sure I was breaking some sort of health and safety code, but I figured if I were caught I could plead insanity. I'm sure I could get Dr. Bockis to write a note excusing my behavior, if it ever came to that.

As I waited for class to start, I heard footsteps around me. Which was odd, because it was twenty-five minutes too early for that. I decided to ignore whoever was in the classroom and kept my eyes shut.

"You disappeared," a female voice said.

My eyes stayed shut. I had a pretty good idea from whom the voice was coming from.

"Mhmm," I mumbled.

"Do you even know what I'm talking about?" the voice replied.

"No," I admitted. I never really knew what Rachel was talking about. She always seemed to make a point of leaving the most important parts of the subject unsaid.

"At the party…and at school. I kept trying to find you last week and I couldn't. Even in the class we have together. I think it's history? I'm not sure. I can't keep my classes straight. It's horrible. I'm surprised I'm not failing. I can't seem to ever really pay attention. Sorry, I'm getting off topic. You disappeared from the party. Then Lucas said he was going to go and find you but neither of you came back." Rachel paused. "You didn't have fun, did you?"

I decided at this point in time during the conversation it would make sense for me to open my eyes and sit up. After doing that I replied, "Not really."

I don't know why I said that. It was so completely blunt and left me feeling horrible. I knew I could add an afterthought and say "I didn't mean that" but it was pretty much pointless.

"Oh. I understand. Not everyone likes parties. I mean, I used to hate them but after joining the cheer squad you're kind of forced into them. After a while it all becomes just another routine."

I nodded my head. "I'm sorry." I had to say it. "It was an interesting experience though."

Rachel smiled. "That's a good enough answer for me." She pulled her pink cell phone out of her pocket and flipped it open. "Oh, um, I have to go. I have to meet up with the cheer squad before school starts. We're having a meeting about new uniforms or something…" Rachel turned to leave. "You know, if I'm not mistaken, I did give you my number. You should call me."

I nodded my head again.

My head nod was a lie. I wouldn't call her. I couldn't call her. The act of picking up a phone and calling someone was completely foreign to me. The last time I had used my cell phone was to call Peter to tell him I had to stay later after school one Friday because I had to talk to my English teacher. The only reason I have a cell phone is because my mother insists I need it for safety. In case I get stranded somewhere, I guess. I've always had the want to sell my phone and see if I would ever actually need it.

Rachel left the room and I continued my lying down. Ten minutes until class began.

In my second meeting with Dr. Bockis, she told me to conquer my fear of conversation. A fear, which until that day, I didn't realize I had. Apparently, I used my unwillingness to converse with other people as a way to alienate myself from the rest of society. I am not entirely sure how true this is, but she is the one with the Ph.D. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that I will actually put any of her advice to use.

I have ignored most of the advice I've ever received. Starting with my Kindergarten teacher who expressed deep concern over my lack of participation in group activities. She advised my mother to sign me up for sports like soccer and baseball as a way to introduce me to "team work". This was also the starting point of my debating skills. Since that day I have learned to avoid any possible activity my mother has attempted to sign me up for. Though, looking back, I sort of wish I hadn't shot down the beginning French class at the local community college.

I was doing this self-reminiscing in my kitchen while attempting to feed Seven, my Chihuahua. I say attempting because can openers and left-handed people do not always mix. He was slowly becoming inpatient and started huffing in a way that might seem scary if he were a few feet taller. After I finally got the can of food open, I poured it into Seven's bowl and left him to eat. Like always, he walked towards the food, smelled it, and left the room. He would come back in ten minutes and eat it. I went to sit on the sofa and thought more of what Dr. Bockis said. She had told me to call someone—anyone—before the next visit. I found this completely idiotic and questioned her methods. The problem was, I didn't really have much of a choice. If I ignored what she said the next session would involve her dissecting just why I chose to not call anyone.

I took my cell phone out of my pocket and stared at if for a few seconds. I opened up my contact list and realized how short it was: My mother, my father, Kara, and Peter. I stared for a moment in shock. I guess it makes sense; his number wasn't going to magically disappear from my phone because he died. I was supposed to delete it. It's part of what people do after someone dies, right? It's part of moving on and growing. At least, that sounds like something Dr. Bockis would say. I didn't delete his number, though. I instead snapped the phone shut and thought. Then, stupidly enough, I finally remembered that Rachel gave me her number. It was still in my backpack, in the front pocket. I went over to the counter where my backpack was lying and took out the torn piece of paper.

Here goes nothing.

"What are you doing?"

My sister's voice surprised me. I turned around and looked at her.

"Nothing," I replied.

"You completely fail at lying, dear brother," she said while she sat down on the chair next to the sofa.

"Dear brother?" I asked, sort of confused at her choice of words.

"It's something I'm trying out," Kara explained. "Anyways, tell me what you were doing."

"It's something for my therapy session. I'm supposed to call someone."

I seriously cannot believe I'm explaining this to my ten-year-old sister.

"Someone? As in anyone? Sounds like kindergarten homework. Why don't you just call Lucas?"

"I don't have his number," I replied.

"You could go next door, ask for his number, and then call him." Kara smiled, apparently happy with her reply. "Or you could call my friend Erin, I think she likes you. It would make her day."

"No, that's okay," I said. "I'm going to call Rachel."

Kara tilted her head sideways. "Who?"

"No one, now can you please go away?" I asked.

"No, this is actually kind of fascinating, as sad as that is."

I ignored Kara and dialed Rachel's number. Twenty seconds later I was greeted with, "Heeeello, Rachel's phone, how may I be of service?"

"Um, hi, it's Michael…you know from um…"

"Michael! You called! This is amazing. I know I told you to call me today, but I never thought you actually would. This is great. What's up?"

Rachel said this all in about a span of seven seconds.

"Um, I was just calling to see what was going on?"

And there it was, plain and simple, my complete lack in ability to just talk.

Rachel laughed. "Nothing really, just sitting in my room. It's kind of boring actually. Well, not actually. It's obvious that it's boring, right? How are you?" I was about to respond when Rachel continued talking. "I just had an idea! How about we do something? It would be great. I'm not entirely sure what though. Maybe we could just hang out—except not at my house. My mom doesn't like visitors. How about your place? I know where it is now."

"Uh, um, sure?" I said—well it was more of a question than a statement.

"This is brilliant! I'm really curious to see how your house looks. I couldn't see much of it from the outside, plus it was dark." Rachel paused for a moment. "I guess I'll see you soon. I'm not entirely sure what we're going to do but I'm sure it'll be fun. Or at least interesting…interesting is always good."

Rachel stopped talking. This is where I assume she wanted me to respond.

"Yeah, interesting. I'm sure it will be…interesting."

I now completely understand why Dr. Bockis wanted me to practice talking to people on the phone. Carrying on a conversation is almost torture for me. I can't just respond to someone. I pause, I mumble, I panic. I say the most mundane things because anything more complex than that I end up thinking I'm going to screw up. I'll screw up the most simple act of talking to someone. This is why I'm so horrible at keeping friends, or even making them for that matter. But this is all off the subject at hand, which is now, what the hell am I supposed to do once Rachel gets here?

I guess I could attempt to be spontaneous, but that might end badly. I was about to ask Rachel what she wanted to do when she spoke yet again.

"You should invite um…Lucas? I think that's his name. You know, your boyfriend."

She didn't actually stress the word boyfriend as much as she did in my head.

"Um, what?" I actually said this more than I asked.

"Oh, oh my god. I'm sorry. I guess I was wrong then. You two just acted sort of close, well as close as anyone could act towards you." Rachel laughed. "I'm sorry—I didn't mean that as an insult. It's just that, you know, you're a very distant person and, well, yeah…" She trailed off.

I had no clue what to say to any of that. I was more lost for words than usual. Which, in a sense, was silly. It really didn't matter that she had thought Lucas was my boyfriend. It was completely unfounded. We didn't act close. I barely knew him, for that matter. Rachel just loved to jump to conclusions.