Chapter no 39

If He Had Been with Me

My mother sits down on my bed. I am lying on my side, facing the window. If I ignore her, she might go away.

“Autumn?” she says. Her voice is low. She thinks I am sleeping. “Autumn, we need to talk.” She runs her fingers through my hair and I let her; it feels good. She keeps stroking and the bristling resentment relaxes. I sigh.

“About what?” “Can you sit up?” “I’m tired.”

“I’m worried about you.” I shake her hands from my hair and sit up. “I’m fine,” I say. “I’m just having trouble sleeping at night. It will be

okay when winter is over. I just have to get through winter.”

“I think it’s more than that, honey,” she says. “I’ve made an appointment with Dr. Singh.”

At first, the statement is so ordinary that I do not know why she is telling me. Dr. Singh is her psychiatrist. She sees him every few months. But she keeps looking at me.

“For me?” I say. She nods and tries to touch my hair again. I flinch away again.

“I’m not depressed,” I say. “You are.” “I know the symptoms,” she says.

“No. You’re just projecting on me. Everything is fine. When it’s warm again, I’ll feel better. That’s the only thing that’s wrong.”

“I’ll be picking you up early on Thursday,” she says, and she starts to get up.

“I don’t need drugs,” I say. She closes the door behind her. Her footsteps going down the stairs are the only sound. At dinner she says nothing, and the next day she lets me sleep.


The call from the office comes fifteen minutes into English class. I begin to pack my bag as soon as the intercom beeps. I want it all to be over already.

“There isn’t any homework,” Mrs. Stevens says. “Is there somebody you can get notes from?”

“Yes,” I say. I am standing now.

“Who?” she says. This is why I do not like her. I suspect her of suspecting things of me.

“Finn,” I say, and then I remember Jamie and Sasha have this class too. It wouldn’t help to take it back now. Mrs. Stevens looks surprised. She likes Finny; perhaps she doesn’t think he would associate with someone like me. The scattered whispers I hear tell me that a few of my classmates are surprised too.

“I can drop them by tonight,” Finny says. I wonder if he is sort of defending me. I don’t look at either of them when I leave.


My mother is sitting in the office in a tailored suit with leather pumps and a clutch purse in her lap. Her ankles are crossed and the secretary is laughing with her. She rises when I open the door and smiles at me.

“Have a nice day,” the secretary says to her, smiling too. I’m sure she could never imagine the rest of my mother’s life, the medication and the fights with my father, her times in the hospital. Sometimes I admire my mother’s ability to appear perfect; today I hate it.

My mother’s shoes click evenly on the linoleum as we walk down the hall.

“What class are you missing?” she asks. “English.”

“Oh. Sorry. Too bad it couldn’t have been math,” she says. I shrug. “I love you,” she says.

“Mom,” I say. She doesn’t say anything else.


The office my mother brings me to has the smallest waiting room I have ever sat inside. It reminds me of my mother’s walk-in closet, the small, windowless room where Finny and I turned out the lights and told ghost stories in the middle of the day. I sit down on one of the padded plastic chairs and my mother tells the nurse my name. I flinch at the sound; I do not belong here. Two chairs down from me, an old man is bouncing his left leg, then his right, back and forth. Every once in a while, he snaps his fingers as if someone just called bingo before him.

“Damn,” he mumbles. Across the room from us, a large black woman is weeping silently. Both of her fists are stuffed with tissues. Still sobbing, she reaches in her purse and takes out a piece of gum, scattering tissues over the gray carpet.

My mother sits down next to me and crosses her ankles. “It’ll be a bit,” she says. “He’s running a little late.” She picks up a Newsweek and begins reading.

I look down at the table. Most of the magazines are for parents or golfers. While I’m looking, a man gets up and takes a kids’ Highlights magazine off the table and sits back down.

“Mom?” I whisper. She looks at me and raises her eyebrows. “All these people are really weird.” My mother covers her mouth and laughs silently.

“Honey,” she whispers, “what did you expect? And what do you think they would say about the girl with the tiara and ripped knee socks?” I scowl

at her and she goes back to reading.

“Aw, shucks,” the old man mumbles.


“Autumn?” a nurse in blue says. I stand up, suddenly feeling exposed in front of the others. The old man and the crying lady have been replaced by a girl my age and her cranky baby.

“I’ll be waiting,” my mother says. I do not look at her. The nurse leads me to a narrow hallway. A small Indian man is waiting for me.

“Autumn?” he asks. I nod. He pronounces my name “Ah-tim.” “Ah,” he says, “come with me.” His accent is thick, like a character in a movie, like I’ve never heard in real life before. We walk to an office even smaller than the waiting room, and crowded with a desk, a bookshelf, a filing cabinet, and a small chair. He motions for me to sit in the small chair. I’m disappointed that it isn’t a couch. He sits down at the desk and opens a file.

“So, Autumn,” he says. “What brings you here today?” “My mother.”

“Mmhhm, and why is that?”

“She says she’s worried about me.”

“Hmm,” Dr. Singh says. I look back at him. “Why do you wear the tiara?”

“Because I like it.”

“I see, and how long has this been going on?” “I don’t know. A couple of years.”

“Are you frightened to be without it? Anxious or worried?”

“No.” We stare at each other for another few moments. He writes something down.

“How is your appetite, Autumn?” “Fine,” I say.

“Really? What did you eat today?” It sounds like “et” when he says it. “My mother made me oatmeal for breakfast—”

“And did you eat the oatmeal your mother made you?” “Yes.”

He makes some notes on his papers. I watch him. His handwriting is too small and messy for me to read.

“Autumn,” he says. He stands. “Come over here and I will check your weight.” He leads me over to a small scale. The scale is covered with the name of a drug I’ve seen advertised on TV. I stand on the scale and he makes some notes.

“I don’t have an eating disorder,” I say.

“Mmhhm,” he says and makes more notes. We sit down again. “Why is your mother worried about you?” he says.

“She thinks I’m depressed,” I say. “Like her.”

“Like her?” He gives me an intent look as if I’ve let something slip. “She’s one of your patients,” I say.

“Ah,” he flips through some papers in the file. He reads something, looks at me, then reads again. Finally he closes the file.

“And so tell me about your depression, Autumn.”

“I don’t think I’m depressed.” He cocks his head to the side. “Are you sad?” he says.

“Well, yeah.”

“What is making you sad?” “I don’t know,” I say.

“You do not know?” he says. I shake my head and look at the floor. He writes something down and keeps talking. It is the longest he has looked away from me this whole time.

“How long have you been sad?”

“A few months,” I say. “It’s winter.” “Are you sad every day?”

“Pretty much, but that’s not that weird, right? I mean, it’s not that big of a deal.”

“Do you have increased feelings of anger, Autumn?” “I don’t know.”

“Are you finding yourself irritated more often?” “Well, yeah,” I say.

“Are you anxious or worried?” “No.”

“How are you sleeping?”

“Okay, I guess,” I say. “I sleep a lot, but I’ve also been waking up early in the morning.”

“And you cannot get back to sleep?” he says. “No,” I say.

He nods. Dr. Singh lays his pen down and looks at me. “Have you had any suicidal thoughts? Do you wish to die?

“No,” I say.

“Are you sure, Autumn?”

I nod slowly. The question frightens me.

He continues, “Depression affects the sleeping patterns. Some sleep more and some sleep less. Very often, the people who wake up very early in the mornings are the ones who have suicidal thoughts.”

“But I’m not depressed,” I say.

“You think you deserve to be sad,” he says. There is a moment of silence as we look at each other. “You think it is okay for you to be sad every day. But it is not okay. And you do not deserve it.”

I look down at the floor, even though I know he has already seen the tears stinging my eyes.

“It is not shameful,” he says. “It is okay.”

I nod. I hear his pen scratching against the paper as he writes again.


My mother takes the prescription from me without saying anything and we drive by the drugstore before we go home. At first, she is constantly asking me if I took my medicine, then it drops off and no one says anything about it ever.

After a few weeks, I start to feel better, but whether it is because of the pills or because spring has finally come, I am not sure.

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