Tea Break Read
A serialised short story
By Allan Hunter
I think this prof may be a mind reader or something. He hands me back my paper from last week and he says he thinks there’s a lot more to explore and that I’m holding back. How did he know that? Anyway I’m not really holding back. I’m reserving the right to remain silent about certain things. I don’t have to tell him about my mom’s name and how she insisted I should have it as a middle name, and how proud I am of it since she got sick. That’s none of his business. And she’s really strong, my mom. She may have cancer but she doesn’t let it run our lives. She just says that it lets you care less about the small stuff. She doesn’t worry about stuff. If you’ve got cancer, why fill your head with chicken shit worries? I like her attitude. I like that she listens, really listens, when I want some advice. I’m gonna call my first girl Ann.
Anyway – he says we’ll do another writing exercise, and that’s fine because he’s said that right from the start. We’ll write every week, he said that in class right on the first day, and then we’ll talk about the results and that’ll be your homework, to write more. Sort of a reflection on what we already did. I don’t think this course is going to be hard, so I reckoned I’ll stay, even though it does mean writing each week.
He tells us the next exercise. It goes like this. We have to close our eyes and think of a place we like, of a house or a home we like. And then he says that money isn’t a problem and we can have any kind of home we want. He calls it the dream home, asks us if we can visualize it, and lets us get on with it. We can write about it if we want, he says, but he’d like us to see if we can draw it first.
Well that gets a big groan from the whole room. Drawing. Most of us hate drawing. I’m no good at it, though I quite like doing it. But I’m no good. Anyway, it’s only a house, so how hard can that be?
So I draw a house with a big yard, room for a few dogs and a cat and some ducks, because I like ducks, a lot. They make me smile. And I’ve always wanted some dogs. We couldn’t have any when I was growing up because my mom said it’s cruel to keep a dog in an apartment with nowhere to run. We had cats, though. My house drawing isn’t that good but it has three floors, lots of trees round it, but just three big ones in close. And a pool that’s fed from a natural river. That’d be really cool. Natural water, not some stinky chlorinated puddle. The kid beside me drew a little house in the woods and in the middle of a rainstorm. The kid on the other side of me, the nerdy one who looks a bit like a refugee, had a couple of horses in his yard and a huge barn, bigger than the house. I wish I’d thought of that. I don’t like horses that much, but they’re classy, y’know? That kid I like, Jesse, drew a house inside the walls of some town he likes in Puerto Rico. It looked really cozy.
So we do all this drawing and everyone’s quiet. That’s weird to me because in class most of the time no one’s ever really quiet like that. I guess everyone was absorbed by what they were drawing. At least for 10 minutes or so.
We show our pictures and I’m kind of blown away by how different they all are. Then the prof says that when we draw a house we are probably not just drawing a building but sketching out a whole series of values, values that we’d like to live our lives with. He says they may be clear to us or they may be unconscious. The thing is to know what our values are, consciously, so we can own them as ours.
Then he says that we were the ones who chose what would be in our pictures, and so every choice we made could indicate something about us – what we value, who we are and what we want in our lives.
Then he asked to see our pictures. He said a bunch of stuff to everyone but I couldn’t really listen to that as I was wondering what he’d say about my drawing. I was a bit nervous, actually.
He points out the long driveway up to my front door and says that it indicates a desire to keep people at a distance until I know them. The front door isn’t just available to anyone strolling by. They have to want to come to the door, especially as I’ve got the dogs out front, sort of guarding things. Having a house in the country, like mine, suggests (he uses that word suggests a lot) that I like my privacy. Then he points out all the windows I’ve drawn and says that might indicate that I want to let light into my life and also be seen – but not by just everyone. So I’m getting interested now. It feels right. I don’t let people close too easily, but I do want them to know who I am. But doesn’t everyone? Then he points to the trees, which he says are sheltering, and so may indicate the supportive people in my life and how close I want them to be. I was spooked when he said that. There are three trees right close to the house; my three best friends are my support system. How did he know that?
Then he starts talking about the water. I’ve got this natural pool, with a bit of a water fall from a river, running right by the house into a rocky basin. I could see me basking in that pool, plus a few friends. A few beers on a summer evening.
He says that the pool might just indicate something about the emotions, and how comfortable I am with them. The water was calm, he said. Some other kid, the one from New Hampshire with the stupid haircut that he covers with a Red Sox cap, well he had a raging ocean storm, which might say that he’s used to turbulent and dramatic emotions and really likes them. Not me. I like that calm space.
The prof says that water in dreams and in life tends to reflect how we respond emotionally (something like that) and since when we go swimming we usually aren’t wearing much (like the time I went skinny dipping with GooGoo and Andy, and we couldn’t find half our clothes afterwards because it was so dark. And how me and Andy got really close to something and we haven’t talked about it since. Perhaps we need to. I don’t know.) So he says that the water might just indicate how we feel about the emotions and about sex. That made a few of us sit up, I can tell you.
I’m not sure how I feel about sex and the emotions. I mean I can tell you how I feel about sex. And I can tell you a bit about my emotions. But the two haven’t got much to do with each other. Not yet anyway. You hook up and maybe something good happens. But maybe it’s just a one nighter. And that’s not very classy. Plus I have a hard time trusting people. They always want to stab you in the back somehow. I think Andy feels the same way. That’s why we don’t talk about the swimming. GooGoo just went back to the car, but we stayed until we got cold.
Anyway, the prof said that calm pool, just off the waterfall and the river, seemed to suggest I liked calm and private and even deep emotions with a possible playful aspect to them too, shown in the waterfall. Hmmmm. Then he said, look, your pool is behind the house. People have to get to know you before you invite them into your pool, your private space, where all the fun is. You make them work for the privilege.
And he’s right about that.
The first few times I met Andy I made him work. We kind of squared off like we were going to fight. Then somehow we reached a truce. He told me about his sister who is autistic, and after that something changed — we were real friends after that. I think he expected me to push him away because of his sister, but really, with a brother like mine I wasn’t even thinking about any sort of judgment or prejudice about Andy or his family. I mean, his parents are still together, which is pretty impressive.
I left class with my head a bit fuzzy and I went to find Andy right away. He was talking with GooGoo and I told them all about the class. Then I showed them my house picture and said what I could remember about it. I think they were impressed, somehow. I don’t know what I said, really. Then Andy said, yeah, that sounds like you drew you, and he laughed. I think he may be right, though.
Later, though, I couldn’t get the prof’s words out of my mind. I think he’s right, but in some spooky way you can’t put your hand on.
So this week in class we start with a review of last week, the house drawing, and the prof asks us how we got on. No one wants to say anything at first, of course, so eventually the dorky kid says that he felt the drawing was spot on (that’s what he said “spot on”. I think he’s from England. He’s got a funny accent.) and he talks about how it sort of explains him. I don’t say much. Last week Andy and GooGoo said they thought my picture told them a lot about me they hadn’t really known before, but could see now, but I wasn’t going to share that with the class. Actually it was a bit weird because there were things there I didn’t even know until I started to talk about them. Like that bit about the dogs. The prof said that the dogs could indicate how I felt about love, because dogs love you unconditionally. If that’s what you want in your life, unconditional acceptance, he said, then dogs will give it better than anything else. Cats he said, tend to suggest the other side of things because cats loved to be loved, but are choosy about who they let close. I know that from my cats. Marley is a tough cat, a tortoiseshell, but she loves me and no one else. She’s more like a dog than a cat.
Sitting in class like that, listening to the others, made me see that I wasn’t the only one who’d made a real connection with this house drawing. And it got me thinking. If I’d done that the way he said, if I’d drawn out on paper a whole series of values about myself that I didn’t really know I had, then what else don’t I know? I thought I knew a bit about me already, but this was like detective work. This was like the profiling you see on the tv, where the cops look at a crime and conclude all kinds of things about the murderer form the smallest details, things that not even the murderer really knew about.
It got me thinking about my emotions, though, and who I let close, and why. And how I feel about love. I‘d like to trust love, although I can’t say my father’s exactly a great example of trustworthy love, so may be it doesn’t exist, or doesn’t exist for very long. My mom’s sort of given up on love. Perhaps I have, a little. But then this drawing says that I have longings in me. Or perhaps it’s just me saying I have and finding them in the stupid drawing.
So this week he says we’re going to do a guided visualization. He gets us to close our eyes and then he says he’ll take us through a scenario, asking us what we see or hear at certain points, and we then write it all down afterwards. It sounds a bit like one of those meditation DVDs you get.
I don’t much like closing my eyes in a room full of strangers, let alone a class, but I look around and they’re all doing it, so I do too. I hope I don’t fall asleep, is all. It’s been a heavy week again. I’m not sure if college is really for me. I thought it’d be more relaxed, somehow. I don’t get to bed until about 2 most mornings. I’m not really sure why. It’s not like I’m doing anything important.
So the prof takes us on this imaginary walk. First we have to see what we’ve got on our feet. I’ve got my sneakers, and I’m walking on a grassy path. Then he asks us to look down and I see a key, he says. Except mine isn’t really a key, it’s a can opener. I pick it up. Then we walk a bit further and see a cup and mine’s a red solo cup, which I leave. Then there’s some water, and mine’s a stream with stepping stones, and on the other side a steep slope. I turn round and look back over rolling hills and there’s my grandmother’s house. Moving forwards I see a small hut, and inside it’s like a day care center, except deserted and all these little chairs, and dust.
When he asks us to open our eyes it all feels a bit like I’ve been asleep, dreaming. But I write it all down.
Then has asks us for our responses and after he’s heard them all he starts to tell us what they might mean. He uses the word “perhaps” a lot. Did I mention that? He says that there’re no hard and fast rules about what “means” anything, because we’re all different. He says this is the language of our Unconscious, of dreams, and so it takes some care to hear it right. The Unconscious speaks to us in pictures, he says. So then he starts.
The shoes, he says, can let us know what we think the world will be like as we venture into it. Did we have heavy boots? Or were we barefoot? What we wear on our feet tells us how welcoming or difficult we feel the world will be. I suppose that makes sense because I always wear my sneakers, because you never know if you’re going to have to walk a lot (and with this campus sometimes it means you have to) so fashion boots aren’t that practical. Plus I really hate those girls who have those smart heels and stuff but can barely walk. What do they think they’re doing?
Then I’m walking down a grassy slope. Not a path. That’s because I’m making my own way. And then I see the can opener. The prof says that sometimes it’s just whatever it is, but keys and can openers open things, but they’re also symbols of power. Specifically it’s about male power, because men still dominate the power structures of our world. And that’s true enough. You look anywhere and it’s always some man in charge. So then he says that the key could be seen as a phallic object. I know what he means because we did all that in high school but I could see that a couple of kids were taken by surprise by that one. So I stick up my hand and say, what about a can opener? And he says, well let’s think about that. It’s like a key because it opens things, but a can can’t be locked up again afterwards. It’s still a powerful tool. And I stop being able to pay attention right there because if this is about sex then it’s a bit too much just now.
So he goes on about the key, and then about the cup we were supposed to see. I saw a red solo cup. The girl across from me did too, which was weird, and the blond girl with her iphone under the desk who’s always texting, said she saw a white plastic cup, all dirty, a piece of trash. And he says, well now, a cup is a way we drink, and it reminds us at an Unconscious level of being fed when we were babies (something like that) so a cup is perhaps a symbol of the female, of how we see women in our society. Are they treated like trash? Are they treated as one night’s use only? The guys sniggered about that. It may suggest the way you think women are treated, or perhaps even the way you feel you’ve been treated, if you’re a woman.
And that’s when something goes off in my head. I don’t say anything, though. I’m not that dumb. But I see it, so clear I could shout. That red solo cup? That’s what they always have at parties, where the girls are looking to find a guy and the guys just want a hook up. That red – that’s the passion, isn’t it? Red’s always passion in lit courses. But then I start to get it. When you’re at the party it feels like that cup is your reason for being there. You’ve got a drink, you’re getting drunk, that’s what it’s all about. But it’s also about us, women, getting drunk, being used for sex, and we agree to it. And the next morning we’re trash. They’re talking trash about us. We’re the ones on the walk of shame. Not them.
So I’m getting kind of agitated at this point, and we’re not even close to the end of class yet. I could get up and go to the bathroom but everyone’s sitting there, kind of riveted and kind of afraid, and I can’t leave. I think a panic attack might come on.
And then he starts talking about some other part of this exercise, saying we should write about what feels true for us. And he’s talking about the little house we see at the end of the walk and how it might reflect how we feel about death. And my house is a small shack. Actually almost everyone’s is, except for the blonde who has a lighthouse, and she uses the key to open the door, which was a bit weird. But it got me thinking about my can opener again.
You see it was like he knew, already, what the can opener meant. I just wrote the first thing that came into my head, but, yeah, I can see that can opener has kind of betrayed me. It’s not just random. I don’t think he can know all that much about me. But perhaps he does. Does he know about that night? I mean it’s not everyone who’s nearly raped and gets beaten up. But I they didn’t get me. I was like a sealed can, I guess. I got dented but not raped. God, this stuff is weird.
That night I have a few flashbacks, or something, in my dreams. I’m fighting and I get free (just like I did for real) then I try to run but I can’t move my legs. My roommate tells me I shouted in my sleep. Well, I did get free, that night. I ran to the road and I could do that because I didn’t have my pants anymore, and the bastard who was trying it on had his pants around his ankles, for all I know, and his drunk friends were too drunk to do much. I don’t remember all that happened after that, until I was in Jody’s car and we were getting the hell out of there, and I was crying so hard I couldn’t speak or breathe. I was crying so hard I threw up.
I can’t write any of that stuff to the prof, though. I know he says that no one but me and him will see the papers but still, I can’t. I just can’t.
Instead I write about how symbols can be misleading and how sometimes a solo cup is only a solo cup. Then it hits me: “solo”. I wouldn’t have got into the trouble I did get into if I had been with someone I knew. Instead I went outside with some guys I didn’t know to share a joint. That’s what they said. And I was alone, solo. And they did have a joint, those fuckers, (but I can’t write about that to a prof) and some coke too, which I didn’t want, but that wasn’t what they were after.
If I’d had a boyfriend, a real boyfriend, then none of that shit would have happened. Those fuckers wouldn’t have dared to mess with me. Instead I had a sort of thing going with Brett, who was nice and all but not a real manly guy.
So I write this crappy paper for the class and I try not to say anything I’ll regret and I feel like shit. It’d be such a relief to share this stuff, just say it, blurt it out. But I can’t do that.
So instead I write about my grammie. She was the one who was always there for me. But she died. And I remember that in the walk visualization I look back and see my grammie’s house, and then it hits me. She was always the one who protected me, and I could have used her help about that stupid party. She’d have told me not to go, and I’d have fought her, but I’d have known she was right all along. She was my protector, she knew me best, and if I ever told anyone about that night I’d have told her. Anyhow, know what? She wouldn’t have told me any of that “I told you so” crap. She’d have understood and she’d have known that I’d been through something. I miss her so much.
Then it hits me that this prof has brought up two of my biggest issues (that’s what they call them: issues. Stupid word) which have to do with being nearly raped and losing my grammie, and, oh number three, why I’m a bit scared of men and why I don’t really trust anyone. Plus my anxiety. That’s a shit load of stuff.
I’m wondering if I’m going to make it through this semester.
That can opener. Piercing and ripping the lid off cans. Destroying the can in the process. But then I think about the can opener I visualized as one of those old style ones that just makes a diamond shaped hole on one edge, then you do the same on the opposite side of the lid. And I wonder about that. Doesn’t seem that bad when you look at it that way. Then it hits me. My God. I mean it really hit me, hard, so hard. If I’d not managed to get away, if I’d been too drunk or stoned, then I’d have been raped, and probably they’d have made me have oral sex, too. Two holes. I didn’t make this connection til later and I nearly threw up.
I don’t tell GooGoo or Andy about this. I call Jody (because she was there that night) just to check I didn’t imagine stuff, and she’s good. She calms me. But you can tell she’s scared about it. She’s afraid I’ll go off the deep end, or maybe she’s scared I’ll tell people and she’ll have to explain to them what she was doing that night. I don’t know. I don’t know anything much any more.