Annual Therapist

“Shouldn’t you be careful about getting into cars with strangers? What if I kidnap you?” He said.

She laughed as she got into the passenger seat of his white sedan. He was mimicking her. She had said the exact same thing to him a year ago, a whopping 36 hours and two random but very brief encounters after they’d first met. He had shot back with, “What’s 5ft you gonna do to 6ft me?”.

He had truly been a stranger then. In some sense… even now he was. A year ago, working graveyard hours (overnight), they had ran into each other by chance in the huge maze of a Hospital they both worked at. Specifically, around the stressful circumstance of a mutual patient’s flip coin chance of living… or dying.

The first time, they had exchanged a few formalities and then had gone their separate ways. Their professions usually didn’t make an effort to get to know one another. 24 hours later, they had ran into each other by chance again. This time randomly in a dimly lit, seemingly deserted hallway. They were going the same way, so they had walked together. Just a few hours later, these chance encounters and a connection over a mutually stressful life had led to him getting into her car. She had then asked the now humorous question out of semi-concern but mostly amusement. He was, after all, a freshly graduated doctor to her 6 years of being a practicing inpatient pharmacist. 5 years younger than her, she had felt responsible. He had trusted her so easily. But then again, she had too, hadn’t she? Before they knew it they had talked about everything over a 4 hour breakfast. A spontaneous move, completely contrary to her personality.

Then, they never really spoke ever again. Irrelevant to one another’s lives.

Until…

Two nights ago – again on graveyards – as chance would have it they unexpectedly had ran into one another again. Again, under the same circumstance – a patient’s emergency resuscitation. The next 48 hours were a blur. Then, this morning as the sun rose partially hidden behind rainy clouds, this time she found herself getting into his car to drive exactly 2 minutes across campus for a 15 min de-stress walk.

As they started walking, he noticed that she was extremely tense. Was it because of the young patient who had as expected passed away? No. Not exactly. It dawned upon him that it was more so because she had broken her routine. Sleep. Work. Go home. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Would her sleep loving husband wake up early today? Would they do something together before she had to go to bed? Husband this, husband that. Husband. Husband. Husband. Of course, there was nothing wrong with that! But somewhere in revolving her life around him, she had put her own independence to the side.

Now, suddenly she had broken her routine life/thought cycle to take a 15 min walk. He had pushed her to let loose, to be spontaneous… and because of it she was now on the verge of a meltdown.

Why though? She wasn’t doing anything wrong. He knew she was happy in her marriage. Loved her husband. The two of them were purely platonic stranger friends. Her husband wasn’t expecting her to report to him every morning. Half the time he didn’t even know she had come home! Her husband had a healthy independent life of his own too, exclusive of her. So why was SHE so tense?!

She too noticed, and rather, was shocked by the realization. She questioned herself, how habitual had her mundane daily routine become during this pandemic that breaking it was able to cause so much anxiety? Here she was finally breathing in outdoor fresh air instead of indoor stale air and yet all she could think about was going home. Shower, eat, watch tv, sleep. Husband.

“I really need to go home!” She exclaimed. They had walked for approximately 5 seconds. “It’s only for 15 more minutes, come on, you can do it!”. Her shoulders tensed. She looked at the rose gold Apple watch strapped onto her rather small left wrist. 10:16. Tension. What?! Where had the past hour gone?!

“Stop” he said. They had found themselves in an isolated courtyard, with a single dry bench under the walkway bridge that stretched above them connecting two sides of the u-shaped building they now stood between. “Sit”. She sat. “What do you see?” She looked around herself and noticed the beautiful vivid dark yellow color of the leaves that had gently landed on the ground, surrounding the now naked trees they had once lived on. Even through her mask, she could smell the recognizable damp wet smell the rain had left behind. The cold breeze was harsh against her anxiety wrecked body… precisely why at this moment it seemed to be calming instead of delivering its usual stinging, intolerable bite.

Truthfully, in all her routine breaking anxiety, she had failed to noticed the beautiful scene that now lay in front of her eyes. Actually, when was the last time she had smelled the rain? The smell brought back memories of her highschool soccer playing days. The women’s season was always in the early spring. Her childhood, a pleasant, stress-free time. She smiled, lost in her thoughts. He cracked a medical joke. She laughed.

“You’re such a nerd!” She exclaimed between a fit of giggles.

“And you’re relaxed!” He said with a smile.

She was. Just like she was a year ago, at the end of their spontaneous breakfast.

He had reminded her of the importance of spontaneity. That structure was good, but too much structure wasn’t. He had reintroduced her to the peaceful comfort that could only be found in nature. He had helped her understand how necessary it was to break routines once in a while to avoid losing one’s sanity.

“Thanks Doc” she said, the doc part jokingly. She knew he hated being called that. He feigned a scowl. “For what?” He grunted.

They had met barely 2 times in their lives. He was, in that sense, just a stranger. A stranger who had somehow managed to ensure that at least today she wouldn’t waste these early morning hours she loved so much! A stranger who was such a great friend! A stranger who had twice now come along unexpectedly whenever she needed a reminder to actually live her life to the fullest. Mind you, always running into her in the presence of a third person who was actively trying not to die. Like a reminder. She wondered on what occasions in the future she would unexpectedly run into him again.

She smiled at him, “well it appears that…” she started as her light brown eyes lit up and she realized that the tension in her muscles and the frowning eyebrows on her face had completely disappeared… he looked at her quizzically.

“You’re my annual therapist!”

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