Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer-Black
Waiting rooms are places of anxious anticipation. Each week, Aiden’s mom takes him to this psychological office where he expects sometime to be declared insane. Mom looks on hopefully, praying for a relief from the fears and displaced anger that started as Aiden entered puberty.
The waiting room is always tidy, with the plastic foods placed in bins around the play kitchen, but no diminutive plastic pots and pans for use by a pretend cook. Uncomfortable, orange-upholstered furniture rings the room, and in the center, atop a circular globe rug, is an oval table with tiny plastic chairs in primary colors. A bin sits nearby with art supplies and coloring books.
When they come, no other clients await admittance, and because mom believes that to be on time means to arrive at least 15 minutes early, the wait seems amazingly long until the doctor calls him back. Worries and anger fueled by the anticipation give energy, and Aiden nonchalantly grabbed a black, spiral-bound sketchbook from the bin. Colored pencils in hand, Aiden chose a page and began to draw.
The page was not the first nor the last in the book, though it was closer to the back. He drew a scene with shadowy people peering toward the center of the page, incomplete because Doctor Williams called him back before he could depict the object of their attention.
As was his general practice, Aiden did not want to talk about his personal life. Dr. Williams was patient, as was his way. He allowed Aiden to approach sensitive subjects in his own time, preferring a natural progression built on trust instead of a hurried fix to the many psychological ails that afflict his clients.
“What is your first name?” Aiden asked the doctor, biding some time. The doctor looked at him with a smile and replied, “Bill.” Aiden furrowed his brow and asked, “wait, wait, man, your name is William Williams?” Dr. Williams smirked. “Yep. Guess my parents had a sense of humor, huh?” Aiden snorted. “Dealt with a lot of teasing because of their little word play,” the doctor added. Aiden nodded. He knew about word play games from classmates.
When he returned the following Tuesday afternoon, Aiden retrieved the sketchbook from the bottom of the bin, buried under coloring books and loose pages of construction paper. When he turned to the page with his picture, he was shocked to find it altered. There in the center was depicted a young woman, wide-eyed and frightened. She somewhat resembled the illustrations in Louis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, with long pale hair caught in a headband and a bell-shaped dress reaching below her knees. Her hands were clasped behind her back, but there were no legs or feet on the picture.
Aiden guessed that the patient ran out of time while tampering with his picture. There should be no girl on his page! It was not what he imagined at all. Why couldn’t the artist have chosen a page of his or her own to capture the waif, he wondered angrily. While he contemplated the intrusion on his artistic expression, he sketched in two skinny legs hugged by striped hose and maryjane shoes. He added some shading to the folds of the dress and darkened the circles under her pale eyes before he started a new scene on the opposing page.
This had a street light pooling at the corner of a dark alley and a questionable looking street. The scene was entirely abandoned, without even a rat to scurry from trash can to trash can. It was a desolate and unfriendly- feeling picture that he only just finished when Dr. Williams called him back. His mother barely looked up from her novel when Aiden went back to the small office with its over-stuffed wing-back chairs in brown leather. The thin-slatted white shutters on the small rectangular window were pulled mostly shut, allowing a bright cheeriness but not a glare to annoy the eyes.
Although it was difficult to talk about truly sensitive matters, Aiden did disclose a little of what was bothering him. This was great progress in Dr. Williams’ opinion, although when the session was concluded, Aiden did not feel that anything had changed.
Before he left, Aiden removed the sketchbook from the bin and placed it under the play kitchen in the corner. The following week, when he retrieved it from his hiding place, he marveled at the alteration of his latest sketch. In the center of the pool of light was an image of the same girl with the same worried look staring out of the page. Her hands were covering her mouth this time, though.
Aiden nearly crumpled the page in his frustration. How dare this girl be placed on his page again, especially after he had taken the time to hide the sketchbook? Instead, he turned the page and drew the girl who intruded on his art, dead center on the next page. In his picture, she sat cross legged holding a red balloon. The rest of the image was black and white, a combination of pencil and ink. She had a smug little smile as though she knew that she’d got away with her intrusion.
He did not hide the sketch pad at the conclusion of the session, but instead placed it right on top of the coloring book bin.
As he expected, the following week found a good many scribbled pictures in the beginning of the sketchbook, childish depictions of people made entirely of circles or a house with smoke puffing contentedly from a chimney, colorful offerings from much younger visitors to the office. Aiden became a little worried that his sketches would be scribbled over like the line drawings in the coloring books. He wondered why the integrity of the pages mattered to him suddenly when he so obviously set up the potential destruction of his drawings himself. Apparently, though, the kids did not page that far back into the sketchbook.
However, his mystery artist friend did alter the page with the cross-legged girl. From her wide eyes now spilled tears. All around her floated disembodied eyes, also raining their own tears onto the girl. Beneath her feet swirled an eddy which looked as though it would swallow the entire scene.
Aiden took in the eyes, the tears, and he was saddened. He followed the pencil strokes of the oval beneath the girl, pulling from it stems which sprouted flowers, daisies and roses. He widened the garden, engulfing the bottom of the page with springtime. He added colors with oil crayons from a nearby box. Each of the pairs of disembodied eyes he altered, hiding them behind puffy clouds or colorfully plumed birds or a gold-bearing rainbow. In the tearful girl’s hand he added a bouquet of balloons in many colors, hoping that the splashes of brightness would cheer her.
He was so intent upon the picture that he did not respond when Dr. Williams called his name. When his mother leaned forward to tap his shoulder, the doctor motioned to indicate that he did not want to disturb Aiden. She sat back and crossed her legs, curiously regarding the doctor and her son.
When he came into better awareness of himself, Aiden realized that Dr. Williams was in the doorway. He hastily closed the sketchbook and tucked it midway down in the art bin before participating in his therapy. With a nervous little smile and slight blush, Aiden ducked his head and followed Dr. Williams to his office.
Respecting his privacy, his mother did not examine the sketchbook, but she was extremely curious about its contents. Without realizing the change, Aiden opened up to Dr. Williams, sharing his concerns. At the conclusion of the visits, he felt better, lighter, more hopeful and less beleaguered.
Pictures were shared in this way, weekly added to and changed. Aiden no longer resented the interaction but instead grew to appreciate and hope to see what new piece would be added to the black sketchbook. When his mother needed to take on an extra job, Aiden’s weekly session was changed to 6 o’clock on Thursday evening. His Aunt Karen drove him to the office but waited for him in the car.
Aunt Karen was not as prompt as his mother, and when he arrived, the doctor was already waiting for him. Aiden found himself wondering about the sketchbook sitting in the wicker bin in the waiting room. He wondered what new image was captured within the heavy white pages. Dr. Williams noticed his distraction, but he pressed on with the session. At about a quarter before the hour, Aiden asked if he might be excused, feigning illness. He hoped to spend a few minutes in the waiting room examining the evolution within the sketch book and adding to his silent dialogue.
Dr. Williams closed his notebook and smiled at Aiden. “If that is what you would like, we can be done for today,” he said, adding, “but next week, we will talk the whole time, okay?” Aiden nodded, his sandy hair falling into his dark eyes. He wondered how necessary the visits were now that his outlook had changed. He no longer imagined himself in gloom and despair. There was a renewed hopefulness in his life. The doctor, too, was feeling confident that the progress was all positive for Aiden. Smiling broadly, saying, “Thanks, Doc Bill! See ya next week!” Aiden hurried happily to the yellow walls of the rectangular waiting room.
There, sitting in a deep-blue child’s chair at the oval table sat a slight-built girl about his age, unmistakably the girl depicted in the sketchbook. She was smiling at his last picture. With long, pale fingers, she touched the stars that sparkled in a spiral shape from within an inky sky. As though dazed, she looked up at him, the small, bemused grin still on her lips, meeting his eyes with her own shadowed and tired baby blues. She had the delicacy of an antique china doll, slightly damaged and battered.
Although he never depicted himself in the sketchbook, she knew him at once as well. Her grin broadened, and he imagined a rebirth of butterflies swirling around her like a halo.