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Molly Sharp is like a goth-girl who isn’t trying to be one. Moon-shaped face, white skin, big brown eyes with an upward-crescent tendency, and thick black hair cut in a line across her forehead. Her mouth seems small, but her smile blossoms unexpectedly, as if she is in a constant state of being charmed. Not the cool neutrality one expects of a psychologist, and I know right away that she’s the woman for the job.
“Is it all right that we’re meeting in public?”
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s fine.”
“Good. I get a little cooped up in the office. So. Ava gave me a briefing on this. Pretty scary stuff.”
“Are psychologists allowed to be scared?”
The charmed smile. “I operate in the real world, honey. Truth be told, I hate psychologists. They spend so much time being aloof and brilliant. I’d rather be human – and yes, I’ve got some trepidation about this. The layman’s understanding is that I’m supposed to go into this poor girl’s head, yank out all this stuff, spread it on the ground like a freakin’ yard sale and read the entrails for signs from the gods. Problem being, just a tiny dose of that stuff apparently caused her to carve up her arm. So tell me, what’s your understanding of the life story?”
I take a sip of lemonade and clear my throat. “Pretty horrible. Her parents were killed in a bombing in Sarajevo. Moved to New Jersey to live with an uncle who molested her, then ran away to Minneapolis, where she became a prostitute. Friend of hers was killed by a john, and she moved out here.”
“Hmm. Any prostitution here?”
“Yeah. A paid-mistress kind of thing. She quit three months ago, when she and I became involved.”
Molly reaches into her bag for a pad, and makes a few notes. “Hell of a story. Have you considered the possibility that she made it all up?”
“Well, yes. The name Kelly Copper does not exactly evoke Yugoslavia.”
“But why make the cover story so awful?”
She taps the pen against her cheek. “The bombing erases the parents pretty effectively. And consider this: if you make your cover story horrible enough, no one questions it.”
“You are good.”
She smiles. “I am. But of course this is all conjecture. I do want you to understand, however, that even if I’m right about this, it doesn’t mean that she’s lying to you. It’s more likely that she believes the story herself. That she has placed a protective shield over her real past. Self-mutilation is usually caused by a bad self-image. If the mere sight of that flyer can cause this much damage, we’re really tossing around some nitro-glycerine.”
“So what’s the approach?”
“I will start very slowly, and attempt to build up trust. When the time feels right, I will guide her through this life story and let her do the work of untying the knots. I assume that you will be playing detective?”
“I think I’d better.”
Molly leans forward. “Be very careful. And for God’s sake, don’t make any contact with the family.”
“I will skulk in the shadows.”
She hands me a card. “Keep me up on any new info. I may be able to use it.”
“A couple other things. How forthcoming was she on these stories?”
“The bombing and the uncle, pretty early in our friendship. The Minneapolis stuff – the prostitution - not till we were about to have sex. Also, when she told me about Sass, her friend who was murdered, she was much more emotional.”
“Good. Okay. Now, she first came to you in the interest of becoming an atheist?”
“Yes. She was pretty up-front about it. I get a lot of, um…”
Molly lets out a laugh-breath. “I used to work retail.”
The specter of my first session is making me a little jumpy, but I think I’m in love with Molly’s office building. I am sitting on a bench in the courtyard before an enormous mushroom cap made of blue-gray granite. Water burbles from the top, coats the cap in a fluid skin, then drops from the edges into a pool filled with gold-and-white koi.
Soon it’s time, so I climb the steps and announce myself to the receptionist, a young Persian with her hair in a scarf. She shows me to an office that’s surprisingly spare: a glass-top desk with a phone and one picture-frame, a leather chair, the classic backless couch, and three paintings that I don’t recognize. (This is good; if I see another Limt I will puke.) I sit on the couch until Molly makes her entrance wearing a loose black pantsuit, laughing at someone’s joke. She turns and spots me as she’s pulling out her lipstick.
“Oh well. May as well ruin the illusion right away.” She takes her time with the application, then extends a hand. “I’m Molly.”
“Jasmina.” I take her hand and receive a shock. Molly emits a one-syllable laugh.
“Ha! I’m sorry. The carpets in this place should be hooked up to the power grid.” She settles into the chair and crosses her legs.
“Aren’t you going to take notes?”
“Do you remember the first day of school, when your teacher would just talk, and pass out the reading sheets, and not give you any homework?”
“I love that.”
“That’s today. Indulge me in a little small-talk, and maybe that way we’ll get to know each other.”
“Should I… lie down?”
“No. Today I’d like us to be face-to-face. In fact…” She opens a closet and pulls out a folding chair, aluminum with a padded seat. “We use these for group. Please, sit.” She waves me toward the leather chair.
“You’re the guest. I want you to be comfortable.”
“Thanks.” It’s a very comfy chair. It reminds me of the chair in Paul’s store.
Molly leans forward and laces her fingers. “So what kind of music do you like?”
“Really. Music matters.”
“I’m a rocker. Indie rock. I can appreciate other stuff, but… no passion.”
“The Killers. Black Keys. Muse. Weezer, old and new. Oh, and Radiohead, always. Green Day. Alas, Dave Matthews.”
“Burned myself out. I can’t really hear him anymore.”
“Oh! I hate that. I don’t think I’ve consciously processed a Beatles song for twenty years. So what about Paul’s band?”
This makes me smile. “Big relief.”
“Bunch of near-forty-year-olds in a band? I was deathly afraid they would be, like, a Steppenwolf tribute band.”
The one-note laugh. “Ha!”
“They’re very cool, because they don’t try to sound like anybody. And stylistically, they’re all over the map. Right now, they’re working on a psychobilly song.”
“Rockabilly with trippy, twangy guitars like you hear in surf bands. Buck Owens. Dwight Yoakam.”
“I love Dwight Yoakam. So Paul passed the coolness test?”
“He passed that ages ago. I have put that man through an enormous amount of crap.”
Molly leans back and puts a finger to her cheek. “Oh, that reminds me. I should tell you that I had a brief discussion with Paul, just to gather some basic info. I may meet with him in future, but I will not share with him anything that is said in this room. Oh, and Ava gave me the rundown on the medical situation.”
“Listen, Jasmina. I know I promised you an hour of small talk, but I do want to make a few things clear. Jasmina? Could you look at me please?”
I realize that I am staring at the carpet, my vision going all fuzzy. I force my gaze upward. Molly wears an expression that is friendly but intent.
“Thank you. I know this is embarrassing for you, but you are far from being alone on this. Self-injury is an increasingly common behavior, especially among women, and there are distinct reasons for its appeal. Self-cutting releases dopamines and endorphins that provide a chemical rush, as well as a pronounced sense of relief. It enables you to claim a control over your body that you may have lost. It’s a way of calling out for help, of relieving guilt by physically punishing yourself, of providing a release for overwhelming anxiety. I guess what I’m saying is, there are bona fide reasons you’re doing this. Which means that you’re not helpless, and you can find better ways to deal with your feelings. It’s a long, difficult process, but when I say I know what you’re going through, well…”
Molly lifts the hem of her pantleg all the way past her knee, revealing a storm of faint red lines on her lower thigh.
“I stopped a dozen years ago, when I was getting my Master’s. I worked my way through it by doing a thesis on myself.”
There’s something about Molly, already, that brings out the sass in me. “That was a pretty stupid thing to do.”
Molly gives me a charmed smile. “Says the kettle to the pot.” She claps her hands together. “Onward! So what kind of movies do you like?”
Photo by MJV