Bonus story: Stone Cold
Shane shifted in the waiting room chair. Air hissed out of a pinprick hole on the right side of the vinyl cushion. He leaned left for a second longer this time, then shifted back. The hiss was a little louder. Where was the air getting into the cushion? Certainly not through the tiny hole.
His mother sighed beside him. “Shane, sit still.”
Shane obeyed. Sitting still had been easy for a while now.
One of the beige doors in the beige waiting room opened. A balding, middle-aged man whose suit was a little too tight stepped through. “Hello Mrs. Myers, Shane. I’m Dr. Reis.”
Mom stood, and Shane followed suit. “Thank you for working us into your schedule, Dr. Reis.”
Dr. Reis smiled at them both. “It’s my pleasure.” Then he focused on Shane. “How about we talk for a little while, Shane?”
“Okay. But I’m not crazy.”
Dr. Reis’ smile didn’t falter. “I didn’t say you were.”
“Mom thinks I am.”
The doctor was unflappable. “Your mother’s worried about you, Shane, that’s all.”
Shane nodded, then looked up at Mom. She was worried, and it was his fault. “I’m sorry. I’m okay, really.” He held up his bandaged right hand. “Hardly hurts at all anymore.”
Mom bit her lip and squeezed Shane’s shoulder. A hint of her concern penetrated the cool calm enveloping him. “That’s good, honey.”
Dr. Reis gestured at the open door. “We’ll talk in here, Shane. Mrs. Myers, feel free to turn on the TV if you’d like.”
Mom nodded. Shane gave her a requisite smile before following Dr. Reis into his office.
Shane looked around as Dr. Reis closed the door behind them. The room was small and spartan. A bookcase dominated one wall. The only other furnishings were two armchairs with an end table between them and a desk near the bookcase. Shane frowned at the doctor, who sank into one of the armchairs. “I thought shrinks had leather couches for people to lay on.”
Dr. Reis chuckled. “TV shrinks, maybe. Do you know where the term ‘shrink’ comes from?” Shane shook his head. Dr. Reis motioned at the other chair, so Shane took it. “Head-shrinker. In my 25 years of practice, I have yet to reduce the size of patient’s head.”
Shane grinned. If not for the cold inside he’d have laughed. “Are we going to talk about the fight?”
“If you’d like.” Dr. Reis picked up a notepad from the end table, then pulled a pen from an inside suit pocket. “Is there something you want to talk about?”
“Not really. But I think Mom wants me to tell you about the fight.”
“Okay, then.” Dr. Reis frowned at Shane’s fading black eye. “Is that how you hurt your hand and your eye?”
“Yeah. But I hurt Aaron lots more.” Thanks to the calmness he didn’t sound like he was bragging.
The doctor wrote something on the notepad. “Who’s Aaron?”
“He’s a fifth-grader. Just because he’s tall and fat he thinks he can boss everyone around. But not me.”
Dr. Reis grinned as he jotted notes. “I can see that. What grade are you in?”
“Do you fight fifth-graders a lot?”
“No. Mostly third-graders.”
“I see.” Dr. Reis scribbled some more. “What starts the fights?”
“The usual stuff. Them being jerks. Some kids try to pick on me because I’m skinny and smart, but I show them.”
Dr. Reis nodded. “It sounds like it.” Shane frowned at the doctor’s notepad. He really wanted to know what the man was writing. “Do you like fighting?”
“No,” Shane replied. “It hurts. But some people don’t listen otherwise.”
Reis gave Shane a bemused smile. “You know, you sit very still for an eight year-old.”
Shane shrugged. “Not usually.”
“Oh? Then why are you now?”
“It’s easy when I don’t feel anything.”
Dr. Reis’ pen stilled. “‘Feel’ as in touch?”
Shane pretended he hadn’t heard the question. Instead he studied the abstract painting on the wall behind Dr. Reis. It looked like someone had thrown blue and green paint at the canvas.
Reis’ pen scratched on paper. Shane saw its faint reflection move in the picture frame glass. “Did Aaron start the fight?”
Shane gave Dr. Reis a little smile for changing the subject. “Yeah. Tried to take my backpack.”
“I guess he didn’t like that you fought back.”
“He didn’t. Even though Aaron’s bigger, he was easy to hit. He’s slow, and does dumb things because he’s angry.”
“Do you get angry, Shane?”
“At first. Then I get cold and it’s easy. Fighting, I mean.”
“I see.” The doctor was writing a lot now. “What do you mean by ‘cold?'”
Shane bit his lip and turned back to the paint-splatter picture. He should have known better than to talk about it.
“It’s okay, Shane.” Dr. Reis didn’t sound upset, so Shane met his eyes. The older man seemed curious, not uneasy like his parents. “By ‘cold,’ do you mean ‘not hot?'”
Shane frowned at the doctor. “Promise you won’t tell my mom.”
Dr. Reis pursed his lips. “I can’t promise that, Shane. If it’s something that will help you and your mom, I have to tell her.”
Shane looked idly at the picture, thinking. Reis could have lied. Most everyone did, especially to kids. The doctor had been honest, though. “I don’t feel anything,” he admitted, keeping his voice low. “Inside.”
In the picture glass Reis’ pen twitched, but didn’t connect with the paper. “Thank you for telling me, Shane.” Shane nodded, and silence stretched. Reis finally broke it. “Are you cold now?”
“Yes.” Shane watched the pen mark squiggles on the reflected notepad.
“Since the fight.” Despite Reis’ messy handwriting, Shane could make out the backwards words. He’d written the date at the top of the page, and Shane’s name–
“Does that usually happen? You feel cold after a fight?”
Shane kept reading, glad for the distraction. “Not for this long.” The doctor had noted Shane’s black eye and bandaged hand, history of fights at school–
“How long is it normally?”
“A few minutes.”
Reis dutifuly noted Shane’s reply. “And this time?”
After noting that, the doctor scrawled three more words: “PTSD” and “blunted affect.” The former was the thing that soldiers got at war. That didn’t make sense for a kid, so Shane disregarded it for now. Instead he faced Dr. Reis. “What’s ‘blunted affect?'”
Reis blinked with surprise. He looked from Shane, to the picture, to his notepad, then back to Shane. “You are smart,” he smiled.
“Thanks.” Shane returned the smile; he liked being called smart. “What’s it mean?”
“It’s a psychological term meaning lack of emotional reaction.”
Shane frowned. He should have been upset, but the cold prevented it. “So I am crazy.”
“No, Shane, it’s just a term. A description.” Reis set the notepad aside, then laid one hand on Shane’s shoulder. Shane felt the man’s honesty, concern, and curiosity. The combination nibbled at the calmness.
The doctor started to pull his hand back, but Shane caught it with his first. “Don’t. That’s…” Embarrassment warred with the cold calm. Shane looked away, confused.
“Okay.” Leaving his hand on Shane’s shoulder, Dr. Reis continued. “Was there anything different about this fight?”
“I don’t think so.” Shane struggled to remember. Being kind of embarrassed and scared and numb made it hard. “Aaron has braces. That’s why my hand got cut so bad.”
Approval pulsed from Reis, further shrinking the cold. “Was there a lot of blood?”
“Yes. From his face and my hand. And my hand hurt a lot. Needed stitches.”
Dr. Reis’ sympathy pushed the last of the cool calm aside. Shane almost missed it. Emotions filled the void it left: chagrin, worry, and resentment. The doctor didn’t feel uneasy like Mom and Dad often did. Parents weren’t supposed to feel weird around their kids. Why did his?
Shane shrugged off Reis’ hand. He felt the doctor’s eyes on him. “Better now,” he mumbled, picking at a loose string in the chair’s upholstery.
“Good.” They sat in tense silence for a few moments. “You’re not cold anymore?”
Shane shook his head, then forced himself to meet the doctor’s eyes. “What’s wrong with me? It can’t be PTSD, ’cause only soldiers get that.”
Reis blinked again, but recovered quickly. “First of all, there’s nothing wrong with you, Shane. I think that something’s bothering you, and we’re talking to find out what it is. As for PTSD, anyone who’s been through a traumatic experience can have it. It’s too soon for me to know if you do. We need to talk some more.” The doctor smiled warmly. “In any case, I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
“Me too,” Shane lied. Normal people didn’t have a “blunted affect” for three days, or Mom wouldn’t have brought him to a psychologist. Without the emotionless cold the thought tied his stomach in knots.
“Can we talk about the other fights you’ve had at school?”
Shane’s fingers found the loose string. “Okay.” He’d play along, even though he doubted that more talking could fix him.