“What makes you special?” He asks as he pushes his eyeglasses back that are perched on his nose.
“Nothing,” Gwen answers as she gazes out the window of the room where they sit across from each other. Her arms are clasped around her legs. She unconsciously pulls them closer to her chest as she answers his question. Gwen’s bare feet rest on the leather couch and the coldness caused from the air conditioning blasting makes her shiver. Such a cliché: her sitting on a leather sofa and him sitting over there. It’s what you would expect.
“What makes you different? Unique?” he asks again.
A small smile crosses Gwen’s lips and she says, “One breast is larger than the other.”
Dr. Tadani nods his head and replies, “That’s not that unusual.”
“Great. Even the things that I think, make me special, aren’t.” Her chin lifts up a little, and there’s something in her eyes. She’s challenging him, trying to prove he’s wrong, and he knows it. But she hasn’t won yet.
“I noticed a scar on your elbow. How did you get that?” he asks resting his pen on his notepad.
“Oh,” she says turning her elbow over and looking at the scar again for the first time in years. “Fell off my mountain bike cycling down this big-ass hill,” she says smiling at the memory. Hot sun, wind, and dust flew up from the dirt path making it difficult to see. But she’d done that path and hill so many times without one scratch. On that day though, she raised one hand to brush the dirt away from her eyes at the exact moment her wheel lifted up into the air. It was the way she started coming back down. She saw that spikey rock that she should have cleared before her tire nose-dived. It was too soon. She knew it. When she crashed to the ground and skidded along the rocks it hurt. There was lots of blood. Gwen picked herself up, dabbed the wound with a finger for a little bit, laughed it off, got back on her bike, walked up the hill, and took on that downhill slope again. That time she didn’t let anything distract her: she landed perfectly.
“You like to go mountain biking?” the doctor asks.
“I did, when I was younger. I haven’t done it in years now.” Gwen’s eyes turn towards the window again, turning away from the present, and the future. She’s fixated on the past: the good ol’ days.
“So, the scar,” Dr. Tadani says, “is it special to you?”
“Yeah,” she says. “It reminds me of how brave I was and how much fun I had when I was a kid. When…” her voice trails off and a then a few moments pass. “When-n-n thin-ings were good,” she finally finishes through splintered words.
“Does anything else make you special?”
“No,” Gwen says. Her mind is blank. There’s nothing else.
“I already told you, there’s nothing.” Her lips purse together locking in words she doesn’t want to say to him. Her cheeks flame hot with rage. Why is he asking these stupid questions?
“What about your paintings?”
“What about them?” she says stubbornly. “I’m not Vincent van Gogh.”
“He was never successful in his lifetime,” Dr. Tadani says.
“I know,” she says miserably at her blunder. She needed a name and pulled the first one out that she could think of. But she knows his story.
“You don’t think you’re paintings are special?”
Gwen doesn’t want to play this game anymore. “I don’t know,” she huffs with annoyance.
“Then why do it? Why paint?”
The hair on Gwen’s arms stand up straight. Muscles around her shoulders tighten. What does he want her to say? Her work sucks? No one will ever buy it? She’s wasting everyone’s time?
Just like a lioness with her cub, she’s protective of her work. It might not be perfect, but it’s hers. She bore it, nurtured it, and continues to work at it.
“Gwen?” Why do it?”
Gwen releases her legs and plants her feet on the carpet. Back straightens. She sits taller than she’s sat in a long time. “Because, I think maybe I can reach others through my paintings. Maybe I will awaken something in them, and they’ll see what I see. I won’t feel alone. And other people won’t either.”
“That’s the reason for your painting called, Aftermath?” Dr. Tadani asks in a soft voice.
Gwen stares at him. Mouth drops open. She’s mentioned she paints in passing. But, how does he know about that painting? Sure, it’s in a gallery, one of the few she’s sold. But she’s never mentioned it to him.
“It’s a beautiful portrait of what people leave behind,” Dr. Tadani announces. “The woman at the front of the painting seems to be sleeping. That is, until you notice the empty bottles of pills that are beside her. All around her, above her, beside her, are people crying, some shouting, and many of them dressed in black with tears streaming down their faces. It’s brilliant.” He pauses and answers her unspoken question, “I’ve seen it at the new gallery that just opened. My wife likes art.”
Gwen’s head bobs up and down. Her throat fills with mucus. She takes a deep breath in, and drops her chin so she doesn’t have to look at her doctor. Muffled words come from her as she sniffles and says, “My mom – she left us a note, said we’d be better off without her. She was wrong.”
Gwen hears the doctor reach for something. A Kleenex box appears before her still downward cast eyes. She glimpses up at him and takes a tissue.
Dr. Tadani smiles at Gwen as gently as he can. Gwen never mentioned her mom’s suicide before. But now a lot of the other conversations they’ve had make sense.
“Have you ever read, Hector and the Search for Happiness?”
Gwen giggles and says, “I saw the movie.”
“The movie was similar. Message was the same. As you probably remember, the basic premise is that we’re always looking for happiness. Hector goes off to find it in the usual places. Studies have been done that show data that you’ll be happy if you exercise, if you’re rich, if you’re not rich, if you do what you love, if you have a family, etc., etc…the list is really quiet endless. Sure, many of those things may work. But everyone’s different. Having a family may not make some people happy, and running marathons every weekend may not work either. After all, no two people are the same. But the book and the movie both say that you need the bad stuff, as well as the good stuff, to be happy and that those terrible experiences allow us to better recognize happiness. That sadness is a necessary emotion too. Not that anyone deserves to be miserable,” he finishes with one eyebrow raised and with one of his rare chuckles.
Gwen smiles back at her spectacle-eyed doctor with the frizzy curly hair and the eight o’clock shadow. She’s still uncertain how the book/movie ties into how she’s special.
Dr. Tadani places his book on the coffee table. “I would go further and say that it’s the sum of all our different parts of who we are that make us special. Sure, physiological differences in pairs of body parts make you unique. But that, in combination with the scar-clad, mountain biking woman, who paints to raise awareness about difficult issues and tries to connect people through her paintings, well – that’s what makes you special, Gwen.”