Chapter 2. Kay
I am totally out of my depth. I didn’t expect to counsel a child. I have spent most of my life avoiding children. Now here sits this boy, expecting me to help him. I saw him on the CCTV when he buzzed. I assumed he was the son of one of the cleaners. My initial shock when he walked into the counselling room was masked by habit. I introduced myself and asked him to sit down.
Now what? He is supposed to give me his name and tell me why he came. He sits silently, tense like a spring under pressure. His eyes dart around the room, lingering on the open box of chocolates and on my photo. I wonder briefly if he has come to beg for food but he looks too well dressed for that. He is wearing school uniform with long grey trousers and a white shirt. A black and mauve striped tie is knotted neatly around his neck. Even his shoes look recently polished. Beggars usually wear their oldest, most torn clothes and have an obsequious friendliness. This boy looks terrified, like a klipspringer caught in a car’s headlights. I estimate his age to be maybe eleven or twelve.
Should I say something more or just wait quietly? My eight week training course in counselling didn’t quite cover this situation. “Listen and reflect,” they told me. Listen. I can’t listen to nothing. I feel my neck muscles tensing like ropes in the rain. I take a deep breath and shrug my shoulders. That helps. I cast my mind further back to my experience at a psychologist after Peter died.
My mother had insisted I get professional help. “Katherine,” she said,” Losing a child is not an everyday experience. It is not something that you can just get over by an effort of will. You need to go and see someone. I will make the appointment.” She hugged me. I just put my head on her shoulder and cried and cried. I was like a broken doll, lifeless and flaccid enough to be moved in any direction. She drove me to the appointment and sat in the waiting room with me. She couldn’t talk for me though.
I walked into Doctor Viljoen’s room and looked around. I had expected to see the iconic couch and to lie down. Instead we just sat facing each other in red plush arm chairs. I sat there and said nothing. He waited with his fingers steepled together in front of his nose, his thumbs supporting his chin. He waited. His spicy aftershave harmonised with his well pressed suit and his white cuffs. I felt intimidated. I hadn’t taken trouble with my clothes or even put on any make-up. The days of dressing to fit a professional environment were long past. It was effort enough to get out of bed!
How could I admit to this well-dressed man that my husband, who was supposed to be my support and protector, had left me when I didn’t snap out of my depression like he kept advocating?
I heard the second hand of the clock marking the passage of time. Tick, tick, tick. No tocks, I thought idly. Every now and then a sporadic sentence would form itself in my mind but the words just wouldn’t get out of my mouth or even past my breathing. After the hour he told me my time was up. My mother paid for the session and we left.
In the car on the way home I was overcome with more guilt. I had wasted my mother’s money. I realised that nobody could help me but me. I had to do something myself. I had to take steps. The next appointment I booked and paid for myself. I forced myself to dress smartly in an outfit that was forgiving of my extra weight. I put on makeup and did my best to make my hair look presentable by clipping back the over-long fringe with a pretty turquoise barrette.
After six months I was glad I had persevered and made the effort. Dr Viljoen helped me learn to cope with a new reality.
He taught me three things.
• Bad things happen but life must go on.
• I am a valuable person and need to treat myself as such.
• Sometimes the best way to find healing is to help others.
That was how I first came across this church. I resigned from the upmarket plastic surgery clinic where I was on compassionate leave and got a job as an anaesthetist at a government hospital in Edenvale. I was happier where my lack of glamour and fashion sense was not a drawback. The church was on my way home from the new job and I noticed one evening that they ran a soup kitchen. I began helping out before work. For two years I served soup to homeless people and Dr Viljoen was right – helping others was a great way to heal.
In my case silence had helped me take responsibility so it might be the right strategy. Or it might not. It feels stressful. I am not sure I can take it much longer. My heart goes out to the boy in front of me. I wish I could help him. I long to make a difference. Perhaps my original introduction of myself was too short. I decide to expand it a bit.
“I help out at the centre three times a week. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” I tell him. I look into his eyes, hoping for a reaction. I can feel my smile stiffening at the corners. Still no response. “I retired in July. That’s why I have time to sit here during the day.” I don’t tell him that I was booted out.
I had expected to work until I was 65. A month before my 60th birthday a letter arrived on my desk. “Dear Mrs Thomas, you will be retiring on the 31st July. Please contact the HR department to fill in the appropriate forms.” Just like that!
I read the letter again. I couldn’t breathe. I needed to get out. I took my handbag and walked out of the building. The garden was a little untidy but there was grass and there were trees. I sat down and started pulling up weeds. I suppose it is never a good idea to think you are indispensable. I had thrown my life into my work. I had worked late hours and done extra research on the cases we had been involved with. Many days I had worked 14 or 16 hours without a break. I had visited patients after their operations to check on them. Did all that count for nothing? I knew doctors and ...