I wasn’t thrilled about going to group again. When I walked in, Dane didn’t look too impressed either. He covered it with a smile pretty fast, though. “Good morning, Jim. How are you today?”
I pretended not to notice he chanted it like my kindergarten teacher always had. “Good.”
“This morning, I’d like you to answer a couple of questions again.” He glanced at his clipboard. “You’ll be seeing Dr. Hernandez before break. After break, I’ll ask you to participate in the discussion. Is that okay?”
“Sure.” I didn’t exactly have a choice.
“Cool. Have a seat.”
I took the same chair as the day before and ignored everyone else in the room.
I only had to sit through about fifteen minutes of group before Dr. Hernandez came to get me. “How’s group going?” he asked as we walked to his office.
“Dane isn’t my biggest fan,” I said. “He decided to talk directly to me so I’d participate. He said he was only going to ask me one question, but after I answered, he kept asking me stuff.”
“He told me. He was hoping to have more of a discussion.” Dr. Hernandez glanced at me. “You don’t have to participate. We don’t force people to do things around here, for the most part, unless it’s a safety or health issue. But it’s going to help you if you are willing to speak up at least a little.”
“I did,” I said. “I answered him. He didn’t believe I don’t have any hobbies. That isn’t my problem.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“He said he’s going to ask more than one question today.” I rolled my eyes. “I feel like a little kid. Do what the teacher says or stand in the corner.”
Dr. Hernandez chuckled. “I understand. Unfortunately, around here, sometimes we have to do it that way.” He stopped in front of his door. “Delia called and said she’s running a few minutes late. Before she gets here, I have something to ask you.”
That didn’t sound good. “Okay.”
We went inside and sat down. “What do you want to know?” I asked.
“The man you told me about yesterday. Can you give me his name?”
My mouth went dry, and I started coughing. I hadn’t said his name in ten years, and I really didn’t want to start now. Dr. Hernandez didn’t need to know it.
It took me a few seconds to be able to speak. “Why? I said I don’t want to report him.”
“I’m not going to,” he said. “I’d like to check into something. Besides, names have power. That’s something you usually only hear in fantasy stories, but it can be true in real life. If you turn someone into a monster in your mind, sometimes saying their name makes them seem more human. When someone hurts you, they take away your power. If you see them as just another person, you can take your power back.”
I thought about it. My mother’s boyfriend had definitely taken away my power. And for ten years, he’d been a monster as far as I was concerned. Even though what Dr. Hernandez said sounded kind of stupid, maybe he had a point. It was worth a try.
“Pete Foster,” I said.
As soon as I said the name, the room spun. Something roared in my ears, and everything in front of me turned gray. I tried to breathe, but his face was right in front of mine, and the oxygen couldn’t get through.
“You’re safe. He isn’t here.”
Dr. Hernandez’s voice barely cut through the noise. I reached for the voice and tried to believe what the doctor said. I’m safe here. He isn’t here. He can’t hurt me.
“Try to breathe slowly,” Dr. Hernandez said. “In and out. Look around. Tell me what you see.”
I sucked in some air that actually made it to my lungs, then turned my head. “Your desk is messy.”
He laughed. “Yes, I’m not good about cleaning it. What else?”
“You don’t have a window.”
“Tell me what you do see.”
“Your chair. My chair.” I blinked a couple of times and focused on him. “You spilled something on your shirt.”
“When coffee attacks,” he said. “How do you feel?”
The room wasn’t gray anymore, and it was holding still. My lungs were working. Best of all, his face was gone. “Better.”
“Good. I’m sorry that was so difficult for you.” He scribbled something in my folder. “If you struggle like that again, the technique I just used is called grounding. You look at your surroundings and say what you see, smell, and so on. It’s best if you can say it out loud, because sometimes the sound of your own voice helps too, but thinking about it will work. I’m going to tell Delia about it as well, so she can help you if you need.”
“Thanks.” I definitely wouldn’t say anything out loud if I had to use the technique, but it had helped.