Challenge Submission grandiose

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Challenge Submission grandiose


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She reaches for me, and my flinch is instinctual, automatic.

"Don't touch me."

The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. They hit her like a physical blow. I can see how she tries to hide it. They are three words, but they hold the power and might of three titan gods instead of three syllables.

"I'm sorry," I say quickly, a peace offering. But they are two words—two peace offerings—and it is the might of three that has wreaked incomparable damage. It is not enough.

She smiles at me, expression watery. She is trying to hide her tears from me. I can see it in the way she tilts her head up so that the moisture in her eyes does not pool along her bottom eyelid; does not slice down her face.

Even in pain, she is beautiful.

"I'm sorry," I say again, as much for my last thought as what caused it.

She shakes her head as though dismissing this entire terrible situation and says, "Our first therapy session is tomorrow."

She says it with the sort of hope one might expect to hear from a priest as he asks when the Pope will stop by for a visit.

I do not admit that I have no faith in what tomorrow will bring.

He is younger than I expect. His face is unlined, skin as clear and unblemished as the models in skin care commercials. There is not a single grey hair on the man's body as far as I can see.

He is a baby.

Is he younger than me?

How can I trust my mental health to someone who is younger than me? Surely, he should be as experienced in this world as I am to understand my thoughts and emotions?

My thoughts spiral into an abyss. I follow them.

"Tell me why you're here," he urges us as I float in limbo. I don't think I can feel my fingers. He talks in such a soft, soothing tone. Almost like a lullaby.

I look at her for support. I plead with her with my expression to explain for me, please. Because I don't know how to take the chaos inside of me and shape its infinity into the shapes and noises of speech.

Her expression is just as pleading, begging me to try. Begging me to take this first step on my own.

I look at the therapist. He is peering at me curiously. His eyes flick towards her, and then away, back to me.

He really wants me to be the one who starts this.

I try.

"I don't like being touched." I clear my throat. I correct myself, "I cannot stand to be touched."

He can see in my expression that that is merely the tip of the iceberg; that there is more I need to admit.

"It affects my personal relationships—all my relationships," I amend. "I can't… I can't have any sort of intimate relationship."

He has a clipboard. He marks something.

I look at her, sitting on the couch next to me, beaming at me with pride. Her look—her belief in me—is what nudges me to continue further, "It's ruining my relationship with my wife."

The therapist's pen pauses abruptly. His head is still bent over his writing. Only his eyes flick up to look at me.

"Your wife?" he asks, and then his gaze flickers to my left, where she sits next to me.

I cannot tell what those two words carry, but they feel weighed down by something. Judgement? Curiosity? Is he upset that I brought her along even though I never clearly stated I would not be coming alone to this first session?

My stomach is cold with nerves. "Yes," I say, but my voice cracks the word down the middle; splits one syllable into two.

He senses my distress. "I'm sorry," he says, and he sounds sincere. He lifts his head to fully gaze at her and says, "I didn't greet her properly, did I? I'm glad to see you here…"

He drifts off the way one does when one is not sure how to address the person before them. I see his eyes flick down to the sheet on his lap, as though hoping it will be there among his notes.

I look to her, but she is giving me a look that is oddly stubborn. She is proud of me for how much I've accomplished today, I can tell, and she wants me to go further. To do even more.

The therapist does not find help in his notes and looks back to me, one eyebrow raised in silent question. He wears a small, polite smile as he glances from me to her, and back to me, waiting for an answer to his implied question.

I don't know why this makes me panic, but it does. It's just her name. Surely, I—

But now that I think about it, I can't remember her name. Oh, God—what is her name? I have lived with this woman for more years than I can remember to track, and I can't recall her name?

My breathing stutters, and I feel the beginning of a panic attack come on.

Her name. What is her name. Surely, I know this. Obviously, I know this. I know this and I'm useless because I cannot think because I cannot fucking breath.

She reaches for me. It's instinct, I know—she cannot help but reach for me when I'm in this kind of treacherous pain. Even so, I flinch. I recoil.

"Alex," the therapist says, his voice firmer now; firm enough that it reminds me of my father, who only knew how to be firm, who only said my name and followed it with an insult.

I suddenly am afraid of what the therapist will say next. I do not want to hear it.

"Delilah," I blurt, interrupting him before he can say another word. "Her name is Delilah."

The therapist examines me closely. I can see him evaluating me, but for what, I am not sure.

I mean. I know I'm nuts. I know I failed that test, if that's what he was even grading.

"Delilah," he says finally. "It's nice to meet you."

She smiles at him, tight lipped but polite. Her eyes never leave me, though; her concern evident in her tense body language.

She is too worried about me to properly answer him. I see him frown and note something down.

It is too long to only be her name.

The pills shouldn't surprise me.

I let my phone clatter to the kitchen table where I sit, not even bothering to black out the screen. I stare down at my search results. My newly emptied hands are the perfect size to hold up my head. It feels so heavy right now. Too full of thoughts.

"They're anti-psychotics," I whisper.

She sits next to me—close but not touching—and soothes me with her proximity in a way her physical touch never will.

"They're for your depression," she soothes me.

That's what the therapist said, too, wasn't it? Except now I'm not entirely sure. At the time, it sounded like he was implying it was for depression, but maybe I misunderstood him. Maybe he meant something else. Maybe I got lost.

"I'm fucking psychotic," I tell my hands bleakly. Through my fingers I can see the name of my perscription in the search engine on my phone, a prescription which came with too many syllables from a pharmacist who couldn't give me a description without looking away.

She is the one crying, distressed by my distress. "Don't take them," she tells me through a sob. "Don't take them if they're going to make you feel this way. We can go back, and we can ask for something else."

I agree, and pretend it makes me feel better when I sneak the bottle into the bathroom and flush them down the toilet, one by one.

"How are you feeling? How are you and Delilah doing?"

This has become the standard intro into our sessions. He glances between us, his gaze sliding off of Delilah as though she is made of oil.

I shake my head. "No change."

"And the pills? Are you taking them every day?"

I remember drowning them, one by one. I want to tell him that I'm not crazy—that I don't need anti-psychotics—that I want to fix myself with my own power, and not be forced to change because a pill rearranges my chemical makeup.

Is it illegal to flush pills? I think it is.

Panic settles over me and I blurt, "Good. Yes. Yes, every day."

Delilah looks at me. Not sharply—nothing as obvious as that—but keenly.

He doesn't notice. He is staring at me too intently.

I am irritated that he doesn't offer this same level of interest in Delilah, but swallow it. I know that I deflect by growing distracted, redirecting the focus to other inane details that do not matter. Perhaps I am hyper focusing. Perhaps I am projecting.

And yet, the entire session, he mostly addresses me. He rarely even looks at Delilah.

I didn't notice it before, but now that I have I cannot unnoticed it. It can't be only my hyper focusing for a means of deflection. I may have only just noticed, but now that I have, I can't unnoticed it.

He asks me questions about my family and friends and workplace and wants details or for me to clarify things. He wants so many details about my every day life, and yet does not seem to care about my relationship with Delilah despite the fact that she is why I agreed to be here at all.

Maybe he notices my agitation. Maybe I do something that gives away that I am not taking the pills he wants me to swallow to tranquilize myself.

"I think we should increase your dose," he tells me in farewell.

Delilah is a never-ending pillar of support.

Through the rough seas of my life, she remains constant. Her patience is never ending.

How she can put up with me for so long, I cannot fathom.

She fills me with such tender adoration, and I hate that I have no way to physically show her my affection.

Before bed one night, I kiss the space around her face without touching it. My lips move from her cheeks—left, right, left—in a mockery of an embrace. Her expression is glowing with pleasure when I pull away. She thinks this is progress.

It is the closest we have come to actual intimacy.

"When is the last time you were physically intimate with a partner?"

My eyes move immediately to Delilah, nervous. She is smiling at me, encouraging.

Even so, I deflect. "I don't know what you mean."

He is willing to play my game and elaborate. "Holding hands, kissing, sexual intercourse, anything of that nature. When was the last time you engaged in any of these activities."

I'm silent.

"Can you remember?" he presses.

Delilah plays with the hem of her skirt, eyes on the floor. Uncomfortable with the line of questions. But wanting to encourage me however possible. Hoping I will improve. Even if it means dissecting our personal lives right in front of her.

I say nothing.

He marks something in his notes.

I want to punch him.

Plop. Flush. Plop. Flush. Plop. Flush.

One by one, they drown and are dragged down in a whirlpool, flushed away where I do not have to see them anymore.

"When did you two meet?"

I'm the first one to speak. "Excuse me?"

"When did you meet Delilah?"

It's a straight-forward question, and yet it feels like I'm peering into the distance through a thick fog.

I try to remember a specific day or time of our meeting. It's a vague outline, to long ago to be anything other than a hazy blur. I glance at Delilah hopelessly, but she doesn't far any better. She looks perplexed as she chews her lip.

"I've basically always known her," I finally reply.

"You two were childhood friends?" he persists.

"Yes," I answer.

"Okay, but how old were you when you met?"

More silence from both of us.

"Or where? Where did you two meet?"

I have so many memories with Delilah, it is hard to figure out which ones came first; their chronological order. I can tell which ones aren't the first time I spoke to her…

The therapist takes my contemplative silence as refusal to answer.

"You mean, you don't know?"

Is that judgement in his tone? Is he judging me that I cannot remember the first time I laid eyes on my wife, despite my continual declaration of adoration for her?

Is he thinking, what kind of person cannot remember the first time they met someone so important to them?

"I was fourteen," I blurt, fueled by irritation at his probing and embarrassment at my failure.

"Fourteen," he repeats, not quite a question.

I shuffle my memories around in my head as though they are Polaroid photos with the dates written on the back; as though I can discern time stamps on each one should I only look close enough.

My mother died when I was young, and my father died when I was a teenager. I cannot even remember what my father's face looked like. Somewhere in between, I met Delilah.

The truth is, I always had a terrible memory.

"Fourteen," I decide.

He notes something down.

I feel like this is just another test that I cannot pass. How dare he turn my marriage into a test? I have already failed Delilah enough.

For the first time in a long time, I try to recall my father's face. I try to cycle through memories of him. I remember how he would talk to me. I remember the disgust and hatred in his tone. I remember one time he said, "I will never want a child like you under my roof." I remember there were times when I slept outside on a spare blanket, just to get away from him.

But I do not remember his face.

The more I try to remember, the less certain I am that I want to remember his face.

I bring myself to tears, torturing myself with memories.

It is Delilah who finds me. It is Delilah who sits with me silently, waiting for my tears to spend themselves. It is Delilah who offers to cheer me up with my favorite movie and a bag of popcorn, the two of us sitting next to each other in the dark living room.

I hold my hand flat on the couch next to hers, the closest I can come to holding her hand. It is more than I offered in the past, and still not enough.

And yet, it leaves her smiling.

"If you aren't going to take your pills, why do you fill the prescription?"

I stare at the therapist in mute shock.

"I know you aren't taking them."

Something in my expression must harden because he goes on and says, "Your behavior is erratic. You continue to hold paranoia about your workplace. You exhibit classic signs of manic depression. You continue to regale me with fantasies about Delilah—"

He says more, but I stop listening. I stare at him, wounded into silence.

He thinks my relationship problems with Delilah are fantasies? Does he not see how we struggle? Does he not notice the tension between us when we come in? There are days when it takes all we both have to come in here together and sit down.

Of course he does. He has to see. It's his fucking job.

My hurt gives way to anger, a red hot fury that is so consuming, I don't know what to do with it.

"How dare you," I say, interrupting him. My voice is no more than a whisper, but with how he abruptly cuts himself off to listen, you would think the words were a shriek.

"How dare I what?" he asks politely—so fucking politely—when I say no more.

"How dare you not take my relationship seriously. Delilah and I—we—"

My voice becomes choked. I want to stand and rush out of here with Delilah. I want to never see this man's face again.

He leans forward and peers at me intensely. "That's how I know you aren't taking your medication."

That doesn't make sense. "What?"

"I know that you are not taking your medication," he says clearly and slowly—so slowly that he gives off the impression that he thinks I am a child who barely has a grasp of the English language and must use enunciated syllables to help me understand, "because you still see and speak to Delilah."

Of course I still see her. Why wouldn't I? I can't understand anything this man is trying to tell me.

"What?" I say.

"Delilah," he continues in that same slow, enunciated manner, "is not real."

"What?" I say, my voice no more than a shattered whisper.

I am a broken record, skipping skipping skipping over that phrase on repeat.

Delilah is not real
Delilah is not real
Delilah is not real

I try to assess it from every angle, but no matter how many times I try to dissect it, I spiral into confusion.

I look at Delilah. She looks at me. We are too perplexed to be offended by this comical accusation.

"Delilah is not real," he says again. He sounds like he's ready to repeat this phrase until I blindly accept it.

How could he think I would agree?

"Yes. Yes, she is," I say, my voice growing more and more firm with each word.

"She has never been real."

"Yes," I say, growing angry now, "she is. She's sitting right here! How dare you—"

"What is her middle name?"

His question short-circuits my fury with confusion. What does that have to do with anything?

I open my mouth, ready to retort, and stop short. I blank. Have we ever shared middle names?

"Rose," I say.

He checks his notes.

Fuck those fucking notes.

"Her middle name is the same as your mother's first name?" he asks. He sounds calm about it, as though this could very well be the case. But I can tell from his expression that he doubts the coincidence.

My thoughts scramble.

"You made me panic," I accuse. "Sometimes I get confused when I panic. I didn't mean Rose—you're right. That was my mother's name. It was just the first name that came to me because you made me panic."

"There's no reason to panic," he tells me, even though he's also trying to tell me that my entire life is a delusion and I'm psychotic. "Take your time and think about it: What is Delilah's middle name?"

"Why don't you ask her?" I demand. "Ask her and let her answer."

I look at Delilah. She hunched in on herself, tense at the antagonistic atmosphere. At my insistence that she speak for herself, she straightens, gives me a small, encouraging smile. She opens her mouth but before she speaks, she is interrupted.

"I cannot see her," the therapist tells me. "You are the only person in this room."

Delilah shrinks in on herself again, looking small and miserable. She is always there to support me. This time, I need to support her.

"She doesn't have one," I say desperately, knowing I've already discredited myself.

"I see," he says even though he sees nothing—he can't even see Delilah, sitting right in front of him. "Describe her to me."


"Describe her," he repeats.

"She's right in front of you." I am aware that my voice has pitched into a hysterical octave, and make an effort to lower it. I am not psychotic. I am not psychotic. "Why should I describe her?"

"I cannot see her," the therapist says almost sadly. "Please try to describe her to me."

"She's beautiful," I say without thinking, an automatic response, a reflex—because she is, and that is how I will always think of her.

"So you have told me before, but how?"

"Everything about her is beautiful," I say defensively.

He tries another line of questions. "Is her hair long or short?"

I look at Delilah. She is openly weeping, face in her hands.

"She's crying," I point out, upset at her upset. I reach for her but stop.

I am watching my wife being torn apart by a toxic character who is discrediting her value as a human, and still I cannot lay hands on her to offer her physical comfort.

He notices.

"You cannot bear to touch her," he says gently, "because your subconscious recognizes that if you do, you will not touch anything solid. Should you try to touch her, you will realize that she is not real."

I watch her weep, and have a strong desire to weep with her. If I cannot give her physical comfort, at least I can help her bear her misery.

"Alex," the therapist says in an all-new tone of voice that I do not like. It's too urgent to be the bearer of anything good. "Your father was extremely abusive. His violence caused your mother's death. When she was gone, he turned his rage on you. As you got older, his violence turned sexual in nature."

"No," I say. Try to say. But it's weak. I don't want this narrative. I don't want to listen to him. I want to disprove him.

I try to remember my father's face. All I remember is his hands—inflicting pain—and his voice—hurling insults.

"I'm not a marriage therapist. I'm not sure where you got that idea. Your doctor recommended you to me after noticing your obsession with Delilah. You agreed to see me. You signed off to have your previous psychiatric records released." He checks his notes. Those goddamn notes. "I have in your file a few records from a therapist you saw in your early twenties. You talked about one particular incident. Your neighbor called the police when you were fourteen. Your father was caught physically assaulting you. You were taken to the local hospital where the trauma therapist talked to you. Her name was Delilah. Do you remember?"

No. And I don't want to.

Why would I possibly want to remember something like that?

"Your mind needed to cope with the trauma. You developed a delusion of a person who would love you unconditionally, and without touch. Someone you could emotionally devote yourself to without any sexual—"

"No," I say, barely a whisper. Shit, I think I'm going to cry. "I love her."

"You might love her, but that does not make her real."

If I let myself follow the current of my emotions, I am going to disintegrate into tears. I don't want tears. I don't want sorrow.

I'd rather be angry.

"YES, SHE IS!" I snarl.

I stand.

Delilah is sobbing now.

I will not let him speak of her like this any longer.

We leave. I do not tell him I will not be back.

At home, I offer her comfort as best I can through words alone.

"He doesn't know what he's talking about," I say.

"He never took you or your pain seriously," I say.

"He wasn't even a marriage counselor," I say, "and was never honest about that."

"He knew we were there for marriage counseling," I say.

"He enjoyed watching us suffer," I say.

"I'm so sorry you're suffering," I say.

Her tears finally subside. She is never one to be down for very long. She is my guiding light, the warmth that always cheers me.

She's making jokes within minutes, bringing impossible laughter out of me. And then she reaches for me, gaze tender. My flinch is instinctual, automatic.

"Don't touch me."

Some things, it seems, will never change.
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