The walls and carpet perfectly match. They are both green but a faded green. It is a color that results when a picture painted with pastels is left out in the rain too long. A water dispenser stands in the corner with no cups. The fluorescent lights beat down on my forehead as I sit down in the dull brown chair with aging wood.

    The woman with the chewing gum walks out into the lounge. Snapping her gum she says, “Lilly Shanna, the doctor is ready for you.” I follow the green carpet into the doctor’s room.

    “Hello,” he says, standing up from his chair. “I am Dr. Johnson. Nice to meet you.” The doctor stretches his hand out for me to shake. I look up at him. He towers over me at about 6’4”. Stretch lines are scribbled around his eyes and gray hairs poke out from among all the black.

    “Hi.” I shake his hands and wince at the dryness.

    “Won’t you sit down?” Dr. Johnson points to a couch resting against the back wall. I look around the room. Same walls, same carpet, same green color. The fabric on the couch is also fading and is dotted by watery coffee stains. The room smells like a mixture of overripe fruit and cigarette smoke. Dr. Johnson sits down behind his oak desk, slouching back in his chair. He plays with the slight beard on his chin. I just sit.

    “Before we get started, I just want to tell you not to be nervous. Nothing said here leaves this room. Understand?” He waits for my response. I simply nod.

    “Good. So, tell me a little about yourself,” he begins.

    “What do you want to know?”

    “Anything you like.”

    “I wouldn’t like to tell you anything.” On the wooden table in front of me sits a Zen garden. I pick up the little black hoe and begin tending to it.

    “All right then, I’ll decide. What school do you go to?”

    I don’t look up at Dr. Johnson but remain engrossed with the millions of tiny crystals before me. “Middletown High,” I reply.

    “Do you like it?”

    I shrug my shoulders. I try to draw a perfect swirl in the sand but can’t seem to get it right.

    “Do you like your teachers?”

    “Sure, they’re okay.”

    “What is your favorite class? Do you do anything outside of school? What are your friends like?”

    I sigh. “I don’t have a favorite class. I play the flute in the band. I like my friends.” I amuse myself by making mounds with the little black hoe and then making
    them crumble back down.

    “Lilly, I need you to look at me.”

    I do as I’m told and look up. Dr. Johnson looks more tired than he did before. Perhaps a lot of his patients are like me: unresponsive. He stares directly at me and once again plays with his beard. He is waiting.

    “Well?” he asks.

    “Well what?”

    “Do you know why you are here?”


    “No idea?”

    I don’t answer. The garden needs attention.

    “Lilly.” Dr. Johnson gets up from his chair, walks over to the couch I am sitting on, picks up the Zen garden, and carries it back with him to his desk. Slouching back down in his chair, he begins again. “Now, let’s try this one more time. Do you know why you are here? Answer the question honestly.”

    “Because it’s broken.” I don’t look up at Dr. Johnson.



    “What happened?”

    “I don’t know.” I look over at his desk and spy the Zen garden. I keep staring at it rather than looking at Dr. Johnson. Dr. Johnson plays with his beard and then
    brings the Zen garden back over to the table. I pick up the little black hoe and begin making my mounds again. I feel his eyes on me.

    “Because they failed.  They ruined it. I don’t know why.” Using the end of the hoe, I knock the mounds over and watch the tiny grains rush down to the bottom.

    “They failed? How did they fail?”

    “They argued and argued and just gave up.”

    Dr. Johnson pauses. He is thinking about what to say next. “You said you didn’t know why they failed. Does that bother you? Do you think they shouldn’t have failed?”

    “Of course it bothers me. Why wouldn’t it? It’s never been okay for me to give up, but it’s okay for them?” I look up for just a second as I hear the tiny bit of anger leak out from my words. I quickly suppress it and return to my garden.

    “So how are you feeling right now?” Dr. Johnson asks.  

    I don’t say anything.  I don’t have anything to say. I try to draw a heart in the Zen garden but can’t. I look at my watch. 12:30. Another half an hour. I smell Chinese food and the door of the office building opening. Dr. Johnson stays slouched in his chair. I know he’s looking at me, but I keep my eyes on the Zen garden. “It hurts. Of course it hurts.”

    “How can I help? That’s why I am here.” His voice sounds genuine, and I decide to look up. Dr. Johnson is leaning forward on his desk. His head is tipped to one side. His lips are pressed together and slightly drooped while his eyes are wide in sympathy. I know he is waiting for a response.

    “You can’t help.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because it’s broken. And it can’t be fixed. It won’t ever be fixed.” I turn away again. Dr. Johnson doesn’t say anything else. He just sits and watches me as I make
    the little mounds in the Zen garden and watch them crumble down. I can hear the clock tick the minutes away. Still no words from either of us. Maybe he too has given up. It wouldn’t surprise me.

    After a few minutes, I can hear Dr. Johnson opening his desk drawer. I hear his shoes gently swish on the carpet. He sits down next to me on the couch. Out of the corner of my eye, I see another Zen garden placed onto the table. I turn to face him, and he does the same. He gives a slight nod of his head. For a few seconds, we hold each other’s gaze. Then, together, we build our gardens. Up they go, and then they tumble back down to the ground.


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