“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The answers were as expected. “Princess”, “Astronaut”, “Fireman”, “Pop star” but then the teacher’s eyes landed on me.
I remember thinking I was going to die in that moment. I glanced around the room, noticing dozens of pairs of eyes on me. I shifted in my spot.
“Clarissa? What do you want to be?”
I stuttered. “I want to help people.” I had finally said. Tommy laughed. I sunk in my spot on the mat. The teacher said that was a great thing to want to do and moved on to the next student.
Later that year, my friend Eric was crying during recess. His eyes were a deep red and his cheeks were sticky with tears. Tommy and his friends stood across from Eric, watching him and occasionally giggling. I glared at the boys, passing them to sit next to Eric. I reached out with my small hands and pushed his hair back. He said his parents were getting a divorce. I didn’t realize at the time quite what that meant but I knew it was bad. So I whispered encouragements and he leaned into my hug. We sat there all of recess while he cried.
Twelve years later I’m moving into my dorm room in college, remembering Eric’s small smile from that day. I hung a picture of us on our wall.
“What’s your major?”
“Psychology. I want to be a therapist.”
I shrugged. “I want to help people.”
A girl in my class was cheated on. We went to a cafe.
“I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied.” I read out to her. I discovered quickly she responded to art. Whether it was a surreal photograph or a well-written poem, they helped her feel. That day I read her “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop and then got her to paint with me.
We roomed together the next year. Today, she’s happily married.
Six patients a day. It’s tiring. I’m emotionally exhausted. But I love it.
I walk home, drop my bag on my dull yellow couch and fall asleep before eating dinner.
Eric dominates my dream that night, carrying a torch, covered in stitched up wounds. The stars sing all around him. The torch scares away all the shadows. His wounds start to heal. I reach out and receive his hand with a smile. “Thank you.”