“I’m staging an intervention,” my husband says. “I miss my wife. I can’t be married to scrambled eggs anymore. You have to see a therapist.”
As the days pass, my husband grows worried that life as we know it is slipping away. He flings the fridge door wide open.
“You can’t live in there forever,” he shouts.
But I am not the only one who has changed. Since this baby was born, his eyebrow hairs have started to curl.
“Sure I can,” I say, sliding behind a carton of cream.
“I’m staging an intervention,” he replies. “I miss my wife. I can’t be married to scrambled eggs anymore. You have to see a therapist.”
The idea of telling a stranger my feelings makes me feel sick.
“What can a stranger tell me that I don’t already know about myself?” I ask.
“Plenty,” he says.
I tell him I don’t want to go, but he mentions something about divorce, and I decide that therapy can’t hurt. A few days later, he drops me off for my appointment. I compose myself just outside the door.
“You’re eggs!” the therapist exclaims, as I come in.
She is one of those performative types. She wears her hair in a loose, floppy bun with a chopstick stuck through the center. She doesn’t want to give off the impression of someone who tries too hard. I feel that I know everything there is to know about her, that I should be the one paid to psychoanalyze her.
I concentrate hard in order to sit. It is difficult to maneuver without any muscles. I squeeze what I think are my glutes and carefully lower myself into the chair.
“Don’t worry,” she says cheerily. “Your condition is perfectly reversible.”
“You’ve seen this before?” I ask.
“Nothing a little cognitive behavioral therapy can’t fix!” she replies, sidestepping the question.
At least one part of me is glad that she is confident in her abilities, even if I would never admit that I need help. She tells me my husband has filled her in on my history.
“Early motherhood is often a time of great stress,” she says. “It can bring up feelings from childhood that can cause terrible physiological symptoms . . . Is there anything you can recall that might be affecting you? Did your parents allow space for emotions? Were they present? Did they attend to your needs?”
“I don’t have issues from childhood,” I lie.
Who does this stranger think she is, asking me such personal questions?
My mother is dead. I am barely in touch with my father, but I didn’t come here to talk about my parents. The therapist chews on the corner of her turquoise reading glasses. She seems to be trying to decide if I am a reliable narrator of my own life.
“You’re holding back,” she says.
“I don’t understand how talking about emotional problems will cure me,” I say.
“The mind is capable of strange things under stress,” she replies. “Unusual symptoms like yours may manifest, but often we find the cause is a repressed traumatic experience . . . Are you sure there’s nothing you want to talk about?”
“I am sure I’m not crazy,” I say, offended.
“It’s best not to think in those terms,” she says.
This back-and-forth eats up the entire session, so the therapist gives me homework. She wants me to write about sad experiences in the hope that I will uncover something I might have repressed. I take the notebook home and make a show of journaling in front of my husband so he will think I am taking the therapy seriously:
1. When I was ten, I threw a rock up into the air and walked back toward the house. I made it just a few steps before the rock crashed back down on my head. Woozy, I wobbled over to my bed and fell asleep in a warm pool of my own blood. My father discovered me and rushed me to the hospital. He told me I was as dumb as the rock that fell on my head. I saw double, so I tried to be smart about it, hanging around things that would bring me pleasure in twos. There were two ice creams, two dolls, two of my summer-camp crush, Patrick, who had whiskers like a cat. But there were also two of my dad, and I was double-scolded until my brain remembered how to see just one angry dad again.
2. When I was twenty-four, I dated a nervous pianist who made sure he always had a weapon in reach. He hid a police baton in the glove box, a brass knuckle in the toilet tank, a frozen lamb shank under a couch cushion. He said the world was a scary place and he needed to feel safe. One night I startled him awake as I let myself in. Thinking I was an intruder, he threw a deer antler at my head and gave me a concussion. I racked up three thousand dollars in hospital bills, which the pianist paid, but as soon as I got home he complained that he could not date someone who was capable of scaring him. I told him this sounded like victim blaming, but he broke up with me anyway.
3. When I was twenty-five, I was set up with an indie rock star by a mutual friend who was his producer. The indie rock star liked women who would put warm socks on his feet before bed. The socks needed to be toasted in the oven—never the microwave. We met at a diner for our first date, and I was surprised to find another woman waiting for him. It was unclear if we were both auditioning for the sock job or if he expected each of us to put a sock on one foot at the same time. I could see Becky trying to work out the same questions as we sipped our Veselka milkshakes and bumbled through an awkward conversation. The rock star arrived half an hour late and didn’t spend much time getting to know us before he asked if we wanted to work together. He said he liked us equally, that we both seemed good at socks. Becky was willing to do a three-way job, but I was not.
4. When I was thirty-two, I met a man who kissed with his eyelids instead of his lips. He made nature documentaries about river dolphins and was rarely at home living among humans. I wasn’t sure if I felt attracted to him, but I wanted to see the dolphins, so I kept seeing him. Then, on our third date, he pulled out a machete. He said he had gotten obsessed with the ninja phone game and was now slicing fruit in real life. He thought the ninja game sounded like a fun date activity. I could see how it might have seemed fun, but the problem was that he pulled the machete out in a secluded parking structure where no one could see us and then brought the weapon uncomfortably close to my neck as he excitedly imagined us slicing bananas, papayas, coconuts, and grapes.
My mother is dead. I am barely in touch with my father, but I didn’t come here to talk about my parents.
When the therapist reads my homework, she asks me if seeing the machete sent me into fight-or-flight mode, if the deer antler damaged my trust in others, if the rock caused brain damage in the part of my brain responsible for processing emotion. I shrug, surprised she is taking my lies seriously. At the end of the session, she says that I might not be in touch with my feelings, that this might be precisely why I have turned into scrambled eggs.
My husband asks how the appointment went. He is eager for any kind of breakthrough.
“We’re getting into a rhythm,” I say.
“Maybe after a few more sessions, you will get some of your flesh back,” he says. “Maybe we can, well, you know . . .”
He trails off and winks at me. He wants to be able to have sex again. I don’t blame him. It has been months. We spend the night binging Yellowjackets and then I retreat into the fridge between the leftover bread pudding and the carton of raspberry yogurt drink.
“Miss you so much,” he calls out.
He eyes me mournfully as he shuts the fridge door. I hear the baby’s loud cries in the other room. They cause me physical pain, make me feel nauseous. I am a useless parent. I cannot help this child right now. It’s a good thing my husband is able to console him, though the baby cries for several agonizing minutes first. The screams make my flesh feel like it’s being torn from my body. I talk myself through some deep-breathing exercises and then give myself messages of affirmation, a suggestion from my therapist.
You are okay. Nothing is wrong. You will be yourself again. One day the baby’s cries won’t hurt anymore.
In the morning, I decide I am tired of sleeping in the fridge. I am sick of not being able to hold my child. I am sick of being scrambled eggs. I would like for my life to go back to normal. I am already at peace with the fact that some things will never be the same: I will not look refreshed in the morning, I will no longer look ten years younger than my age. I will not be able to fly to Berlin whenever I feel like it. I will not be able to have five consecutive thoughts before the baby screams. But I could get my body back. I could have functioning arms and legs. I could scramble up cliffs again. I could recognize myself in the mirror. That’s all I want.
I retrieve the notepad and challenge myself to be honest about the trauma that I have experienced. It takes me a long time to work up to writing about it. I lost my mother when I was thirteen to an aggressive form of cancer. By the time she was diagnosed, the illness had taken over most of her body. They couldn’t tell where it had started. Cancer of the Everything. They gave her weeks to live, but the strange thing was that my mother looked just fine. Strong, even.
“Would a sick person do yoga?” she asked, wiping the sweat off her brow.
“Would a sick person walk ten miles uphill?” she asked, stretching out her hamstrings.
“Would a sick person run sprints?” she asked, lacing up her new high-performance shoes.
One night, she died after her sprints—around midnight, while I was asleep. My father removed my mother from our house so I wouldn’t see her. He had a strange way of dealing with sadness. He never mentioned her again. He communicated through his eyes that I was never to bring her up either. We moved from Portland to Marin County and started a new two-person life. We bought new furniture my mother had never used, went to stores she had never visited, and generally acted as if she had never existed. By the time I was done with high school, I had almost convinced myself that I had dreamed up my mother, that it had always been just me and my father.
I tear up as I think about my mother lacing up her running shoes with stage 4 cancer. I have a few photos of her stored in a box beneath my bed. I pull them out for the first time since I was thirteen and am surprised to see I am now older than her. She has no wrinkles; she glows; her hair is full and her legs are taut. I have never thought of my mother as a person younger than me. It seems even crueler that she lost her life so young, first by becoming a mother at nineteen, then by falling ill at thirty-two. When did she ever get to live? Did she get to scale cliffs or make art? Did she enjoy being a mother? Did she have me on purpose? I will never know the answers to these questions. She will forever be the person who smiled at me moments before she laced up her running shoes and died.
I realize now that I have a baby, I have an irrational fear of orphaning my son. I never worried about dying before I had him, but now I am so worried that I have given myself a condition. What if I am scrambled eggs for the rest of my life? Will I pretend to be okay for his sake?
I bring these concerns into the next session. The therapist breathes a sigh of relief that we no longer have to bullshit and that I am serious about confronting my trauma.
“Now that we know what you’ve been repressing, we can start to work through your unresolved grief,” she says.
“How?” I ask.
She thinks for a moment and I worry I’ve stumped her, that my problems are too big for therapy to fix. But then she suggests I stage a funeral for my mother and for my pre-baby self, since I never got to mourn either of these losses. I bring this idea up to my husband expecting he will laugh, but he thinks we should try it. We wear our blackest blacks—band shirts we have lovingly never washed—and head down to the cemetery. I prepare a sentimental speech that I immediately tear into shreds. I sprinkle the pieces of my speech like flower petals over two nearby graves. My husband thanks Thelma and Felicity for lending us their headstones. Thelma is standing in for my mother and Felicity for Young Me.
Just as I am starting to warm up to the ritual, the baby begins to fuss. He gets bored easily and requires a pace of life I am still getting accustomed to, a life that does not allow me to linger on any thought. My husband takes the baby for a walk around the cemetery loop and gives me a few minutes alone to grieve. I don’t have much time. I won’t have much time for years. I have to make it good. As soon as he turns away, I feel the tears that should have come out decades ago. I have spent my life trying to stay strong. I have not allowed myself to grieve. All of it comes out now: the sadness of being a motherless daughter, of being a motherless mom. It feels good to let it out. I hope that in the morning I will wake up myself again, but I still don’t recognize myself in the mirror. I feel lied to by the therapist, but maybe it takes time and I need to trust the process. A few years pass. My baby is five, then seven, then nine, and I am still waiting to wake up as myself.
Kim Samek is a half-Thai Emmy-nominated comedy writer who studied creative writing at Stanford. She has written and produced over a dozen hit shows including PBS’s WordGirl, MTV’s Catfish, and Issa Rae's Sweet Life: Los Angeles. In a previous life, she worked in marketing at Sony Music. She was a fellow at the 2020 Tin House literary workshop. A native of Seattle, she has lived in Berlin and Brooklyn and calls Los Angeles home. Her fiction appears or is forthcoming in Catapult, Guernica, Ecotone, Southern Humanities Review, and The Threepenny Review.