shell of a woman

She is a young, lovely shell of a woman. Exhaustion has painted tawny circles under her eyes. I am intrigued that her coloring is a palate of pale shades of bisque and faint peach. Though in her mid-twenties, she comes to my office in the company of her father. A sense of slight confusion rises in me, for it is as though a strange optical illusion is at work. At first glance she seems tall and sturdy, yet in the blink of an eye there is strange sense that she is small and fragile. My eyes shift to her father. He stands at her side, cautiously guarding her. Her eyes dart from his face to mine. She seems embarrassed by his presence, yet it is clear that?for now?he is her rock. I smile in warm welcome. He has done his job; he brought her to me. Our eyes meet briefly, and I can see his weariness and anxiety. He searches my face quickly and astutely as I greet him. I withstand his gentle scrutiny, delighted to have such a caring father before me. We share a deep, silent understanding as our eyes meet again. A hopeful smile arises, and a hint of relief comes to his face. He offers to stay, yet his daughter?showing a sudden small burst of life?shakes her head and bids him to leave. Having done all he can do, he turns and is gone. I smile at her knowing that she has been studying me. She has been probing me with her eyes. It is good sign, this probing. It means that she is invested, at least to the degree of caring enough to see what manner of woman stands before her.

She is lanky and youthful, yet a haunting timidity seems to saddle her heavily. Her presence is evocative of a skittish Palomino colt fading away in a dark, stifling barn. Despite her young, fresh beauty, there is a downtrodden quality about her that warns of pain and knowing beyond her years. I offer her tea as she seats herself on the smallest corner of the couch. I have seen this posture before, this edgy stance that seems to allow for a fast bolt. She shakes her head and declines my offer. I offer water. Another shake of the head follows. No tea. No water. Just silence. She works to size me up quickly. I smile. There is so much more taking place than meets the eye. The space is filled with so much thought and feeling that cannot be described or defined.

I continue to absorb her presence slowly; it is important to take my time. There is much that I cannot see behind her strong fa?ade, yet that worries me not at all. I treasure the unfolding, the slow revealing and telling nuances. I silently wonder if she will be able to take a step toward me, to trust me in some way. Her beautiful eyes search mine then race to scan the room. What is here that she can trust? What is here that offers hope? Through the silence I can feel, quite palpably, her pain and anguish.

Closing my eyes, I take a whiff of my steaming brown rice green tea. This is my first cup of the enticing, special blend. The tea is too hot to sip, so I content myself with nestling my fingers in the cradle of my handcrafted cup. The unique stoneware piece, a gift from a treasured friend, reminds me of this young woman. It is beautiful and strong on the outside?such a pretty, multi-hued delight for the world to see?yet the contents inside are yet unknown and, as yet, untouchable.

Her wide hazel eyes lock onto mine. There is some fierceness at play here; she does not want to let down her strong front. I understand. It is frightening to sense that one word, one exposed fracture, will lead to a downward spiral far worse than the deep inner turmoil that has already been found. It is terrifying to feel that, as bad as ?this? is, speaking about it might make the situation worse. The current abyss pales by comparison to the black depths of the unknown. I understand this fear. I know this fear.

As my voice reaches out to touch the very edge of this fear, her eyes drop to face her lap. I continue softly, ?It seems you?re here because you?ve been depressed for some time and that it has become so bad that you can?t get out of bed.? She shifts slightly forward to the very edge of the cushion as her eyes search the room again. There is safety in knowing the escape routes. She shifts again, unconsciously wrestling with herself. Fleeing would take the pressure away. She captures my eyes on her, and my gaze is warm and steady. Something in her softens ever so slightly, and she relaxes back just a fraction. She pulls a jade-toned pillow from behind her and locks onto it tightly. The pillow is her new ally in this place of uncertainty.

My tea has cooled enough, and I bring the cup to my lips. It is warm and fragrant, a delicious and soothing elixir. I smile and tell her the simple story of how I came to serve tea to all my clients. I share a piece of myself, a glimpse into my humanity and my past. I tell her of a time, long ago, when I went to see a therapist. I was cold, always cold, and tired after a long day of work. ?This therapist,? I told her, ?was a good, dedicated man. Yet, I could never understand how he could drink these large, steamy cups of tea and never once? not even on the coldest of nights ?did he offer me a cup.? The lovely young woman stared at me. She wanted to know more. ?Well, at some point, I said to myself, ?He?s never going to offer me a cup of tea, but someday I will have my own therapy office, and I will offer every client a cup of tea?maybe even hot chocolate.?? Her eyes brighten at this last sentence. I had hit some chord. I took another sip of my tea, and she smiles, her eyes alive. I smile warmly in return and ask, ?Are you sure you wouldn?t like a cup? I really do have hot chocolate, too.? She smiles broadly, the very beautiful smile of child, and shakes her head.

I bend forward to place my tea back on its resting place, and, with my eyes averted, her words fill the air. Her words flow through the cracks in the dam. Her sentences come in paragraphs, her tone devoid of feeling. She is detached, remote, and confused. She seems confused that she is talking to me and that she cannot seem to help herself. I listen. Her words are far more important than anything I might have to say. Her soliloquy is filled with ?I don?t know? and ?I?m not sure,? yet it is clear that she knows many things. She knows that she is desperate, lifeless, and filled with fear. She knows, too, that she wants something more, that she does not want to live this way any longer. She knows that she?s screaming in silent agony to find purpose and value in herself and her life. Gently, I offer her the idea that she does, indeed, know a great deal. She stares at me, confounded. I explain that she knows what she does and does not want, and that there is a voice inside her screaming to survive. An incredible, unexpected rush of relief comes to her face and settles into her. She relaxes for the first time, her back barely resting against the sofa?s wide arm. She smiles again. I smile back in warm delight.

The sun is setting behind her head. I see the soft glow of warm, golden light reflected against her hair. She is weary, yet not as drained and crumpled as when she arrived. There is a hint of energy in her presence and I wonder if the embers of hope have been lit. A belief in the promise of the future, no matter how fragile and flickering, can cultivate renewal. I offer her an essential oil, an encouraging symbol to keep her spirits lifted until we meet again. She accepts it with sweet gratitude, and I am heartened. Despite her exhaustion, there is courage in her face and a glimmer of hope in her eyes. She departs, and I listen as the outer door closes with its firm, gentle swoosh.

My office is quiet, and I relax into my chair to ponder. This space, this sacred space, is where clients come in search of something. I forever marvel at how we are each so very different yet also so very much the same. We seem to be united by our desire?be it conscious or unconscious?to find peace, hope, and love. We seek and we search not knowing how to find these gems, and we often search for them on some distant horizon. Yet, in truth, they are closer than we might expect. I hear my father?s voice quoting Milton, and I smile. ?Daughter,? he would say, ?The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell and a Hell of Heaven.? I was too young to comprehend his words when I first heard them as a young child, but I have a greater understanding now.

As I turn off the lights for the evening, I notice that the faint rays of departing sunshine have brought the stained glass windows and lights to more vibrant life. I cherish these moments, these simple times of bliss and knowing. In deep gratitude, I bid my office farewell until the new days begins. I take the steps, as I most often do, and walk out into dusky warmth of the early night. As I prepare to leave one sacred space to return to another, I know?deep within?that I am already home.

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