After I’ve finished telling Dr. Sarah about the whole hiding-behind-the-curtain thing, she looks for a while at the tick box questionnaire I filled in when I arrived. All the usual questions.
Do you feel like a failure? Very much.
Do you ever wish you didn’t exist? Very much.
Dr. Sarah calls this sheet my “symptoms.” Sometimes I think, Shall I just lie and say everything’s rosy? But the weird thing is, I don’t. I can’t do that to Dr. Sarah. We’re in this together.
“And how do you feel about what happened?” she says in that kind, unruffled voice she has.
“I feel stuck.”
The word stuck comes out before I’ve even thought it. I didn’t know I felt stuck.
“I’ve been ill forever.”
“Not forever,” she says in calm tones. “I first met you…” She consults her computer screen. “March sixth. You’d probably been ill for a while before that without realizing. But the good news is, you’ve come such a long way, Audrey. You’re improving every day.”
“Improving?” I break off, trying to speak calmly. “I’m supposed to be starting a new school in September. I can’t even talk to people. One new person comes to the house and I freak out. How can I go to school? How can I do anything? What if I’m like this forever?”
A tear is running down my cheek. Where the hell did that come from? Dr. Sarah hands me a tissue without comment and I scrub at my eyes, lifting up my dark glasses briefly to do so.
“First of all, you will not be like this forever,” says Dr. Sarah. “Your condition is fully treatable. Fully treatable.”
She’s said this to me about a thousand times.
“You’ve made marked progress since treatment began,” she continues. “It’s still only May. I have every confidence you will be ready for school in September. But it will require—”
“I know.” I hunch my arms round my body. “Persistence, practice, and patience.”
“Have you taken off your dark glasses this week?” asks Dr. Sarah.
By which I mean not at all. She knows this.
“Have you made eye contact with anybody?”
I don’t answer. I was supposed to be trying. With a family member. Just a few seconds every day.
I didn’t even tell Mum. She would have made it into this huge palaver.
“No,” I mutter, my head down.
Eye contact is a big deal. It’s the biggest deal. Just the thought makes me feel sick, right down to my core.
I know in my rational head that eyes are not frightening. They’re tiny little harmless blobs of jelly. They’re, like, a minuscule fraction of our whole body area. We all have them. So why should they bother me? But I’ve had a lot of time to think about this, and if you ask me, most people underestimate eyes. For a start, they’re powerful. They have range. You focus on someone a hundred feet away, through a whole bunch of people, and they know you’re looking at them. What other bit of human anatomy can do that? It’s practically being psychic, is what it is.
But they’re like vortexes too. They’re infinite. You look someone straight in the eye and your whole soul can be sucked out in a nanosecond. That’s what it feels like. Other people’s eyes are limitless and that’s what scares me.
There’s quiet in the room for a while. Dr. Sarah doesn’t say anything. She’s thinking. I like it when Dr. Sarah thinks. If I could curl up in anyone’s brain, I think it would be hers.
“I’ve had an idea for you.” She looks up. “How do you feel about making a film?”
“What?” I look at her blankly. I was not expecting this. I was expecting a sheet with an exercise on it.
“A documentary film. All you need is a cheap little digital video camera. Perhaps your parents will get you one, or we could find one here to lend you.”
“And what will I do with it?”
I’m sounding deliberately stupid and uninterested because inside, I feel flustered. A film. No-one ever mentioned making a film before. Is that a thing? Is it the new version of cupcakes?
“I think this may be a good way for you to transition from where you are now to…” Dr. Sarah pauses. “To where we want you to be. At first, you can film as the outsider. Fly-on-the-wall. Do you know what that means, ‘fly-on-the-wall’?”
I nod, trying to hide my rising panic. This is happening too fast.
“Then, after a while, I’d like you to start interviewing people. Could you make eye contact with someone through a camera, do you think?”