Gladiators

by Kyle Bowman

How is your relationship? 

Good.

Enveloped by plush carpets, dark hardwood, a pervading mustiness, and the lavish brown leather of a chair. Arms folded in a defensive posture.

Why do I need to be here? I’m not the one with problems.

Silence is my ally. I am prepared to evade any question. All I have to do is sit here, nod my head a couple of times when she speaks and I will be out of here in no time. One hour. That’s all I need. One hour, and I am out of here.

Are you sure about that? 

Yes.

Le Club du Hockey Canadien. Blue lettering on a pure field of white cotton. A simple phrase, on a simple shirt, with more than a simple significance. As I fold the shirt for college the memories come flooding in. I place it in the bag, the last item I pack, and zip it shut. My sister’s gift is coming with me to college, a constant reminder of how far I’ve come.

Would you care to elaborate?

No.

My sister sits on the edge of the chair next to me, spine fully straight, a lion preparing to pounce on its prey. With eyes on the doctor only, her tirade begins.

I am horrible. I am rude. I am selfish. I do not love her .

The accusations pile on. She feeds off of my quietness. Gaining confidence as she goes, my silence serving as affirmations. A politician speaking before a pack of supporters, she fills the silence with her rhetoric. Her voice fills the void my one-word answers leave, but I do not elaborate more than is required. I will not play her game.

I sit with arms crossed, a deep frown coloring my face. I make eye contact when appropriate, nod my head when needed. I still do not speak.

Complaint after complaint fills the room––an infinite torrent of grievances lobbed in my direction. To get away I stare at the pendulum in front of me, watching as the force of one ball transfers to the next, and the next, and the one after that, and the one after that, until it reaches the last ball and is forced to return in the direction from where it came. Eventually it loses energy. Stops. Eventually I can no longer resist. This is not a court of law––the doctor said it himself. There are no judgments here. It is not about defense; it is about survival. I gather my thoughts, calm my emotions, jump into the fray. The duel begins..

Hello, I’m Dr. X. Do you know why you’re here?

 Yes.

Why are you here?

Because my parents think I need to be nicer to my sister.

Do you?

We’re fine.

I walk down the hallway, my sister to my right. Just ahead a secretary guiding us. Side by side we walk in lock step without a glance. Step by step, with eyes staring straight ahead we march, two competing gladiators about to enter the Coliseum. Thoughts hurtle through my mind.

This is normal, right? I mean everyone has a rough patch with his sister every once in a while. Our relationship is fine.

The synapses of my brain shooting electrical signals a mile per minute.

It is normal. I am normal. We are normal.

Everything is the same. Beige walls, wooden doors, brown crown molding, cheap fluorescent lights. Right turn. Beige walls, wooden doors, brown crown molding, cheap fluorescent lights. Left turn. Beige walls, wooden doors, brown crown molding, cheap fluorescent lights. Stop. We are here. We have made it halfway down the last hallway. We turn to one of the nondescript brown, wooden doors. Tap. Tap. The secretary knocks on the door. After a few moments, the whispering of rustling paper and the screech of a moving chair from within, the door opens. We enter the combat arena.

Have you done this before?

No.

This was my first time going to a therapist. It scared me. As an eleven-year-old boy I knew nothing of therapy except the stereotypes: the big couch, the feelings, the crying. To me going to therapy was what sick people did. But I was not the one who was sick. I could not see any reason for me to go. I yelled the entire car ride to the office.

I’m not feeling well.

I tried every excuse I could think of to get her to turn around.

Can we reschedule it?

Nothing worked. Mom kept driving, I kept yelling. But eventually we arrived and I was dragged into the front door of the office, up the stairs, and into the lobby. There I was, a terrified eleven-year-old boy wondering why he needed to go to therapy.

What do you have to say for yourself?

I’m not the one who causes the problems.

Who does?

It’s all her.

I yell at my sister.

I don’t know what I did to you. We used to be friends, sitting on the beach, making sand castles, watching movies at home. What happened to that?

She does not respond. She wants to, I can tell. I can tell she remembers the times I am talking about: the times of innocence, of joy. I can see it in her eyes but I can also see something holding her back. Maybe there is nothing for her to say, so she does not.

The problems of our relationship were not my fault, but they were not her fault either. They did not not stem from choosing different life paths or from our age gap. They came from a darkness that grew inside of her, a mental illness I had watched take over for months as my sister withered away, losing her weight and identity. She was not the same person that I had known my whole life. She no longer had time to play, to talk, to relax. Family became a burden, just a group of people that held her back from living her life. The darkness twisted and warped her into something cruel and vindictive. Looking back, I see that she noticed too. I see the fear in her eyes. She saw the changes, she felt the changes, but she could not fight them. She could not stop them. She needed help, and in my selfishness I ignored her pleas. My failure to realize that her actions were a disease’s caused tremendous damage. She needed help. She needed a friend. She needed me.

Do you want to help her?

Yes.

Do you think we can work out methods to improve the relationship?

Yes. Yes, I do.

And so we talked. We laid out plans. We discussed methods of communication. Minutes, which moments ago had felt like hours, fly by in seconds. Soon we are planning, laughing, crying. We are bonding. The room is not as constricting as it was. It is brighter, freer. It is comfortable, warm, inviting. We talk. We go past our time, and continue talking. Tap. Tap. A gentle knock on the door interrupts our work.

“Dr. X, your next patient is here.”

It is time for us to leave. With a groan and a hint of sadness, we walk down the never-ending hallways: beige walls, brown doors, brown crown molding, cheap fluorescent lights. But it is different. Two gladiators walk down the hall, not as enemies but allies. We two gladiators, we two siblings, we two friends depart the office, step by step, arm in arm, onwards to the next battle.