“Do you like pie?”
I answer yes. Really, I’m picturing a meticulously decorated cupcake, its pink frosting rising in a swirling mountain of tiny crests. The white sponge is fluffy but firm, a muffin-shaped house with a creamy strawberry roof. Yes, I like pie, but I like cake better. I don’t mention this. For a moment, I consider making a joke about it, but decide against it. I suspect that the tears now freely flowing in veritable rivers down my cheeks will make it difficult to laugh anyway. It doesn’t matter. I know what he’s really asking me.
“Do you want another piece of pie?”
At my wedding, we have cake and pie. I love cake, of course, and my husband loves pie, so it’s easy to decide. The wedding is still a year away at this point, but we have already made the cake versus pie decision. It is probably the only decision we’ve made. Clearly, we know what’s important. A feeble voice in the back of my mind tells me I should laugh at this subtle irony. I ignore it. It doesn’t really feel funny right now. It doesn’t feel like anything. Nothing does.
“Yes,” I reply instead, tentatively, quietly. I’m faking it. I cover an involuntary eye roll with a heavy-hearted sigh, turning quickly to stare at the wall instead. Now is not the time for that.
He’s the third therapist I’ve seen in just a few short months and he’s the only one who seems to make any sense to me. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe he’s the only one who can make any sense of the disaster that I’ve become. I wonder if he can tell I’m faking it. I wonder if he knows I’d rather be eating cake. I suspect that he wouldn’t be asking if he didn’t already know the answer.
I picture myself alone at the kitchen table, eagerly gripping a fork in one hand and a knife in the other, a sticky mess of crumbs smeared across my face, my plate, the table, the floor – my path of destruction clearly laid out before me. I’m breathing deeply, my heart pounding, pink frosting congealing in my teeth, murder in my eyes. Or maybe it’s not frosting, but blood. I’m not breathing. My heart is not pounding, but slowing to a quiet tick.
I blink back a new surge of tears, eradicating the image as quickly as it appeared.
My sniffling is annoyingly audible now. I’m nervously folding the wet tissue in my hand over and over again in neat rectangles – obsessively in half and in half and in half until it is a tiny square glob. I unfold it and start over. When I’ve decided that it is appropriately sized, I press it to my cheek just below my right eye and then below my left, knowing it can absorb no more liquid. I can feel it starting to disintegrate in my fingers.
He lets me sit in silence for a moment. The quiet is deafeningly loud, truncated only by my choking, snorting, gulping. I hardly notice. I feel nothing. I feel everything. I’m gasping for air, dry heaving, drowning in my own salty waterworks. I want another cake to demolish. He draws back, knowing he has reached my limit. We wait. Tiny wheezing sounds escape my lips as I attempt to regain control over my breathing.
“What kind of pie do you like?” he says.
He’s focused, consistent. I have to give him credit for that. He’s bringing me back to the present. My mind has wandered far away and my one-syllable answers are no longer satisfactory.
I suddenly become aware of his office. Tiny knick-knacks that seem like they’ve been gathered from far-away travels and stacks of books that don’t all have titles like DSM-5, Clinical Psychiatry, and Cognitive Therapy make this room slightly less nausea-inducing than the others. It has a couch, but I never sit on it. We always sit across from one another at the small grey table in the middle of the room, near the desk. From here, I’m hyper-aware of the timer, ticking off seconds one after another as slowly as possible, thunderous in the noiseless room. Tick. Tick. Tick. The sound echoes to the corners of my mind, which has now dissolved into a dark hollow tunnel, and bounces uncomfortably off my temples, penetrating the bones of my skull.
“Cherry?” I venture, still treading lightly. “Or peach.”
When I was growing up, my family had a peach tree. Occasionally, my mother baked the ripe summer fruit into muffins or boiled huge batches with sugar for homemade peach preserves, which I later poured over frozen waffles fresh from the toaster in the morning and store bought vanilla ice cream in the evenings. But mostly, we just ate them raw, hand picked from the tree while we ran freely through the backyard. We were princesses who lived in castles, magical flying fairies, and lost children fighting pirates. We scavenged for food that could be effortlessly plucked from our imaginary kingdoms. It was fresh and sweet and smooth and a little bit fuzzy on the outside, which always made us laugh. Things were easy then, carefree.
My mom never made peach pie. But it must be my favourite. I imagine how delicious a peach-flavoured cake must be.
“I would eat a piece of peach pie.” It’s a whisper, but it’s a full sentence. I manage a tiny sigh of relief.
He nods slightly, almost imperceptibly, with a tiny smile that sits less on his lips than at the corners of his eyes. I feel a tiny flicker of pride.
“Do you think you can hold onto that?” he asks. He’s whispering now too, his words slow, deliberate, and careful. Tick. Tick. Tick.