Marilyn strolls through the 3–6 months clothing section carrying a basket full of bibs, socks, and a soft, pink sweater. It’s Saturday; her favourite day of the week. Between work, therapy, and housekeeping, this is the only day that Marilyn has to herself. She isn’t told what to do, where to be, what to think, or what not to think. Saturday is Marilyn’s day of freedom.
She begins her day the same way every week. She knows her husband will sleep in late, so she gets up at 6 a.m. and makes a list.
As she approaches the cash, Marilyn sees the display of pacifiers. She picks one up to examine it as the cashier begins to process her basket’s contents. “Neat, huh? They’re supposed to feel more natural to the baby – easier on their gums.”
Marilyn doesn’t look up from the display. “Yeah, I’ve heard a lot about them…I think they’re a little pricey for me, though, and my Sophie doesn’t seem to like her soother anymore. She’ll just spit it right out any time I try to give her one. She’s a smart girl.”
The cashier smiles. “That’s a beautiful name, Sophie. I’ve always loved that name. How old is she?” Marilyn returned the pacifier to the display shelf and took out her wallet.
“Just turned 4 months.” She smiles proudly and shows the cashier a photo.
Sophie’s car seat is purple, with white polka-dots. Marilyn pushes it aside to fill her back seat with groceries. She places the watermelon inside the car seat and buckles it in.
When she gets home, her husband is awake and reading the newspaper by the kitchen window. He removes his glasses to look at Marilyn when she walks in the door.
“Marilyn,” he speaks softly. “Dr. Baird called an hour ago; he said you’d rescheduled for today, after last Friday’s hiccup. Is that true? Were you supposed to see him today?”
Marilyn lowers her groceries to the floor and begins untying her boots. “Oh, crap, that’s right. You know what, I completely forgot. I just had so many things to do this morning,” she says, speaking to the cold tile floor.
Her husband is quiet for a moment. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’ll call him in a bit, love. I’ll reschedule for this week sometime. Could you help me with these bags?”
“Sure, honey.” He walks over and gives her a kiss. “But I really think you should see him today. He needs to know you haven’t been sleeping. I tried to tell him over the phone, but he wouldn’t let me. He wants to talk to you.”
He picks up the bags and entered the kitchen. Marilyn follows.
“Well I don’t have the time, Eric. I just got home. I’d like to start cooking dinner, and we planned on watching the debate tonight—remember? I just don’t have the time.” She watches him unload the groceries.
“Marilyn, it’s only noon. Dr. Baird will still be at his office if you’d like to go in today. I really feel like you sh—”
He pauses, staring into the grocery bag. He withdraws the baby Tylenol and places it on the counter. Marilyn looks down at it.
“Marilyn. Please.” He looks at her with heavy eyes.
“Ok,” she whispers. “I’ll go.”
After she pulls into the parking lot, Marilyn shuts off her car and sits in silence for a moment. She turns around and looks at her watermelon, still harnessed into the car seat, and takes a deep breath before heading inside.
Dr. Baird has been waiting for her. “I’m glad you could make it, Marilyn. I’ve been looking forward to talking with you today.” He gently closes his office door behind her and offers her a seat.
“Thank you. I’m so sorry about this morning… I’m easily distracted these days.”
Dr. Baird takes his seat across his desk from Marilyn and presses a button on his watch. “That’s all right, Marilyn. I understand. Now, there are a few things I’d like to discuss today, and if you’re comfortable, I’d like to have you participate in a writing exercise.” His eyebrows raise with the proposal. Marilyn, as usual, seems hesitant. “Writing can be a useful and effective way of communicating. It allows us to carefully parse our thoughts, fears, and emotions. It’s a healthy process, Marilyn. Would you be willing to give it a try?” He pushes a fresh notepad and pencil towards her.
“I suppose it’s worth a shot,” she says, accepting her new tools. “But what do you want me to write about?”
“Well, first I want to ask you about your sleeping habits. Your husband told me that you’ve been tossing and turning all night, sometimes until the early hours of the morning.”
“What’s going through your head when you’re trying to sleep? Could you tell me?”
After a long stare at her empty notepad, she looks at him. “Everything. I think about my day, what I did, the conversations I had, the people I saw… the people I didn’t see.”
Her eyes turn down again to her notepad. “When we have trouble sleeping, it can be due to an unpleasant thought, feeling, or memory. And sometimes, not all of those things are immediately available for us to access. Do you know what I mean by that, Marilyn?”
“I’m not sure that I do,” she responds.
“Let me give you an example. If I walk by a homeless person on my way to work, and he looks me right in the eye and asks for change, and I deny him, I’ll probably feel guilty about it. That feeling of guilt will bother me for the rest of the day. And since I know it’ll bother me, I’ll try not to think about it. I’ll buy myself a coffee with my spare change instead, and I’ll feel guilty about that, too. I’ll do other things throughout the course of the day, to distract myself from thinking about my guilt. This is how we repress unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Does that make sense?”
“Okay, good. Now, all of us have these repressed thoughts and feelings. It’s normal, and when we repress them, they become almost like secrets. Secrets to ourselves; we want to hide them, bury them under other thoughts. We distract ourselves from them, and deny them. All this work, to protect ourselves from feeling unpleasant, or whatever the secrets are capable of making us feel. Are you still following?”
“Great. So when we can’t sleep, or we do sleep and have terrible dreams, that’s our repressed thoughts, trying to escape our subconscious. Our bodies know we can’t rest until we face whatever it is we’re trying to forget. So, I want to ask you a question, Marilyn, and I want you to write an honest response. We don’t have to talk about it afterwards, and you don’t need to tell me or show me what you wrote, unless you’d like to. I just want you to write an answer, and you’re welcome to take this notepad home with you to do some more writing later. Okay?”
“Alright, I’ll try.” Marilyn takes her pencil in hand and places her notepad on her lap.
“Wonderful. Now, as we’ve agreed, everyone has secrets. Some are big, some are little. Some are much heavier than others. Marilyn, how heavy is your biggest secret?” Dr. Baird folds his hands on his desk and glances at his watch. Marilyn closes her eyes.
A few minutes later, they’re open again and she is writing. She looks like she’s in pain. When she’s finished, she wipes tears from her cheeks and thanks Dr. Baird. He hugs her and she leaves him her notepad. She tells him she owes him at least that much for all of the work he’s done, and goes home.
My biggest secret weighs 12 pounds, 8 ounces. She’s my baby girl. Her name is Sophie, and she left this world in her sleep at four months old. The smell of her hair keeps me up all night. I’ll never forgive myself for losing her.
Paulina is an aspiring writer with an interest in philosophy, cultural criticism, journalism, and creative non-fiction. She also enjoys music, film, photography, and astronomy. On a good day, you might find her eating pizza and enjoying an amber ale, or listening to very loud music while driving too fast. She is a true lover of life.