FILLMORE MIDDLE SCHOOL
NATURAL HELPER END-OF-SEMESTER REPORT
COUNSELOR VALERY MCMANNIS
Dear Mrs. James,
Hello, I hope that this letter finds you and your family well. My name is Valery McMannis, and I’m a Natural Help Counselor at Fillmore Middle School. I trust that you received a take-home notice at the beginning of the semester about the request for your daughter, Mackenzie, to attend weekly meetings with her assigned counselor in order to help her to cope with the difficulties in her home environment caused by your ex-husband’s unfortunate incident.
I want to begin by telling you that you have a very special little girl. Mackenzie is clearly a strong-willed and intelligent young mind. She shows keen awareness of the circumstances surrounding your ex-husband’s arrest and subsequent incarceration, so congratulations to you on making sure that she is informed of the predicament that you all find yourselves in. I understand that this must be a very difficult and turbulent time at home, and I hope you know that you and your daughter are in my thoughts and prayers.
My concern, and the reason for my letter, is that Mackenzie seems to have adjusted to a place of, and I don’t say this lightly, unfeeling.
This term “unfeeling” is one I use to describe a student who I believe has evolved into a place of emotional distance that will ultimately, without intervention, become his or her normal. In our sessions, Mackenzie maintains a detachment that is surprisingly steadfast for a child of her age. She is unable to discuss her emotions openly, and she gives very measured and minimal responses that are barely enough to get by on.
I know that counseling is not the right path for many, and it’s possible that Mackenzie is simply not the kind of child who wishes to talk. However, her extreme reluctance to engage with me suggests that, more than not being a “talker”, Mackenzie is struggling with severe trust issues. We are nearing the end of a whole semester of meeting together, and still she remains so guarded that every session is a battle of wills. This kind of relationship with one’s “natural helper” is exceptionally uncommon, even for students with the most significant emotional disturbances.
What has become clear is that Mackenzie is a very angry child. She is holding onto a lot of resentment toward both you and your ex-husband for the ways that both of you have failed her, and this resentment is causing her to “grow up” at a rate that is unhealthy for someone her age. My concern is that Mackenzie’s anger is so deeply seated that she’ll begin to lash out at others. I am sensing some of this behavior in her already, towards myself especially, as well as toward other faculty members who have mentioned incidences of back-talking and disregard for their authority.
The imprisonment of your ex-husband seems to me to be a single layer in what is a much more complex onion of difficulty, to use a metaphor. I would be sorry to see Mackenzie grow into a woman who struggles with intimacy and emotional attachment, and yet I fear that this is the path she is already traveling down.
Perhaps it would be fruitful for you and I to sit down and discuss the options for Mackenzie, so that she might continue counseling, maybe even on a more routine basis. For me, the best outcome is an emotionally healthy student, and I feel there is still much work to be done before your daughter is out of the woods for future trauma and dysfunction. If we intervene together, we have a chance to help Mackenzie be the best young woman that she can be, given her situation.
I hope you’ll be in touch soon. Again, you really do have a very special little girl, and it has been my pleasure getting to know her as best I can.
Mel is already up and making us egg white omelettes when I wake up. On her bedside table she has laid out a tall glass of water and two Advil. She has even left a hot pink Post-It note on the glass of water that says “DRINK ME”. Adorable.
This morning is so peaceful that it’s surreal, and I can almost convince myself that the last two days were just bad dreams. Outside is the distinct sound of rain hitting the window, and every once in a while you can hear the cars slicking down the street in front of our building. The one very Seattle thing I got from growing up here is my love of grey weather. Rainy days are my favorite, they put me at ease. I like nothing more than a rainstorm I can listen to from my bed. A day when I can imagine that no one is going outside if they can avoid it.
Mel brings in the omelettes on her special breakfast-in-bed tray. “I love this thing,” she says, setting the tray down over my legs as I sit up. “Okay, so,” she points at the plate with a fork. “Egg white, scallion, pancetta, and fontina. I went a little heartier because I figured you’d be hungover, yeah? And then just some fruit. Nothing weird, just grapes and a little melon.” She smiles in this way that makes me think she might be about to cut up the omelette herself and feed it to me. Luckily she does not. “What are you doing today? Anything?”
“I have to write the Alice-trology shit for this week, but otherwise not a whole lot. Sleeping off the last couple days.” Mel flashes a judgey face that I decide must have been unintentional.
“Well, I’m gonna go for a run if you wanna come with?” She stands up and starts changing into running clothes. I laugh as a way of saying “obviously not” and then focus in on my breakfast because I’m not in the mood to look at naked, super fit Mel. She is wriggling into her spandex when she adds, “And then, Luke gets in tomorrow afternoon. I told you about that, right? I’m picking him up at the airport at 3:12? If you don’t remember, that’s okay. Because of everything that’s going on, you know. I wouldn’t expect you to remember.”
I glance up from my omelette. “No, I remember.”
Luke is Mel’s long distance boyfriend. They’ve been together for almost three years, and have lived on opposite sides of the country for two of them. Luke is getting his masters or PhD or something studying Forestry at Yale.
I have asked a few different times what it means to study forestry, and whether Luke is going to graduate and become a park ranger like Yogi bear, but Mel always says that you can do a million different very important things for the environment with a degree in Forestry, and that of course it’s nothing like Yogi bear who she’s convinced was addicted to pot and probably never graduated from anywhere. And then she goes, “I mean, what does an American Studies degree mean? Not everything has to mean something.” I think that really Mel actually has no idea why Luke is studying Forestry, and maybe that Luke doesn’t know either.
“Well I wasn’t sure, and I just wanted to check and make sure that like... Is that gonna be okay? I know it’s weird because of everything that’s happening with you.” I wish she’d stop saying “everything” like that. It’s not “everything”, it’s just one thing. And I’m dealing with it.
“You can’t exactly ask him to cancel his flight because my dad’s dead.” This makes her flinch and I don’t know why. It’s not her dad. “Mel. It’s fine. I like Luke.”
She sighs, “Well, all right. I’m just checking.” She laces up her sneakers and heads for the door and then turns around and says, “You know, it’s okay to not be okay. The world won’t end or anything.”
I roll my eyes at her. “I know it’s okay. The thing that doesn’t seem to be okay is that really I am fine.”
“That’d be completely okay if you weren’t so full of shit,” she says. “Eat your omelette.”
ALICE-TROLOGICAL HOROSCOPES FOR THE WEEK OF JAN. 3RD
CAPRICORN (DECEMBER 23 - JANUARY 20)
Happy new year, Capricorn! You’ve been feeling more stimulated than usual at work, and it’s all about to pay off. The way you interact with coworkers is especially vital now, especially when working overtime to get what you want. Be careful that your stubbornness doesn’t slow you down, so that you can stop putting your goals on the back burner. This is your time to shine; a year when all your hard work and determination will finally see rewards.
AQUARIUS (JANUARY 21 - FEBRUARY 19)
Happy new year, Aquarius! Stop selling yourself short this year. It’s time to break the pattern of undermining that has kept your true desires at bay all this time. Can you feel the winds of change coming your way? Relax, and give up the rebellion. Open the floodgates and let yourself be. See what’s in store when you are allowed to be truly yourself without fear.
PISCES (FEBRUARY 20 - MARCH 20)
Happy new year, Pisces! Listen to me when I say that what happened last night, last week, last year, wasn’t your fault. Don’t dwell on the past! Now is a time for forward movement. Take some time in the mirror to forgive yourself for things you couldn’t help. Remember to breathe. It’s time to let go and believe that better things are on their way.
ARIES (MARCH 21 - APRIL 20)
Happy new year, Aries! Take the time to listen, really listen, to others in the coming weeks. You’ve been dedicating time to your own needs, which was right for the spirit of last year, but now it’s time to remember your friends and loved ones. What they’re saying to you now will be important for you in becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be.
TAURUS (APRIL 21 - MAY 21)
Happy new year, Taurus! You’re feeling the stress of the new year heavily now. Perhaps you felt that you were finally getting into your groove last year when it came crashing to a close. But instead of focusing on the uncertainty of change, think instead about the possibility of finding a new and better groove this year. Open your heart and mind. Only then will the things you want come rushing toward you.
GEMINI (MAY 22 - JUNE 21)
Happy new year, Gemini! You’re not wrong to remain cautious in this coming year. While there is lots of good in store for you, you will need to stay alert to the possibility of evils lurking behind a friendly facade. The good news? You have honed these skills of perception and will more than likely reap the rewards of this heightened awareness in the coming months.
CANCER (JUNE 22 - JULY 22)
Happy new year, Cancer! You’re easily overwhelmed now by your feelings of attachment to someone or something in your life. This isn’t because of the usual desperation to commit on your part, but because your intuition is protecting you from harm. Get some space and clear your head. You don’t want to start this year tied to someone or something that doesn’t have your best interest at heart.
LEO (JULY 23 - AUGUST 21)
Happy new year, Leo! You’re on a lucky streak. You’ve met that special someone who attends to your needs and makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. Allow yourself to be swept up in the frenzy of it all. The stars have aligned, and it’s not an exaggeration. You’re at your sexual peak now, and you should take every opportunity to open yourself up to all this new person in your life has to offer.
VIRGO (AUGUST 22 - SEPTEMBER 23)
Happy new year, Virgo! Did you make resolutions this year? Take a second look at them and choose the ones you’re actually going to accomplish. Stop second-guessing yourself where self-improvement is concerned. Only you can effect the changes you want to see, especially in matters of love and friendship. Take the reigns!
LIBRA (SEPTEMBER 24 - OCTOBER 23)
Happy new year, Libra! Take the time you spend looking in the mirror and cut it in half this year. What should you do with that extra time? Look deep into the eyes of a friend or partner and tell them what you truly feel. This year isn’t just about you, and there’s a lot to be learned from seeing yourself through the eyes of others for a change.
SCORPIO (OCTOBER 24 - NOVEMBER 22)
Happy new year, Scorpio! What would happen if you weren’t in control of everything this year? Give it a spin. You’ll be surprised, I think, to see that the world keeps turning. If you loosen your grip on everything around you, things might find a way to iron themselves out. And guess what? They could still go your way.
SAGITTARIUS (NOVEMBER 23 - DECEMBER 22)
Happy new year, Sagittarius! It’s possible that your luck will change this year, and that for the first time in a while you’ll have to work to make your dreams come to fruition. If you rest on your laurels you may find yourself falling down the rabbit hole. Take the time to assess what you want and how best to make it happen. Hard work is the key to keeping your optimism intact this year.
I spend the rest of the day asleep or half-asleep watching infomercials and daytime soaps in Mel’s bed.
I can’t help but admire the people on the soap operas. Every episode someone else dies, or is dying, or is revealed to be sleeping with their brother’s ex-wife’s cousin’s former lover, and no matter what, everyone always deal with it with such precision and grace. One woman, Evelyn something, who found out that her son was dying of pneumonia he contracted from his ex-wife during a brief affair they had after she married her current husband, cried for precisely 45 seconds before gathering herself together and writing the most beautiful eulogy you’d ever heard. I text Mel that I wish I were exactly like Evelyn because she is perfect, and she texts back that she doesn’t know who Evelyn is and I should get out of bed.
My favorite infomercial is one for a pot that somehow magically cooks every different kind of food perfectly. It’s the only pot you’ll ever need ever again, the woman in the infomercial keeps bellowing. She threw away VIRTUALLY EVERY OTHER POT IN HER KITCHEN. “Imagine the time I save on dishes! I finally have time to spend with my husband!”
I don’t believe that she really has a husband, but I am excited about the idea of only ever having to wash one pot for the rest of my life. So, when she takes a third, perfectly cooked casserole out of the oven, I call in and order one.
I have completely glazed over.