Ashlynn and Lavena escorted Tadd into a group therapy session. They were clearly in a community center art classroom. The walls were lined with different types of artwork, and various supplies were overstuffed in a closet in the corner. A whiteboard with children’s handwriting rested on the wall by the door. A lot of the desks were pushed against the window-lined walls. The rest were in a circle in the center of the classroom, and all of the seats were occupied except for the three closest to the door. The room was fairly quiet, and so it felt somewhat awkward stepping in.
The man leading the group looked like he normally would be somewhat intimidating. He had the stocky build of a former football player, and he had a military crew cut. But he did not come across as menacing because of his pink polo, reading glasses, and soft voice. He began the session, “Welcome! You’ve taken an important first step to recovery. We are a safe environment, and we will not judge your past or your feelings. We only have one rule here-positive vibes only!”
The group chanted back, “Positive vibes!” They pushed out some would-be vibes from their hearts. Lavena and Ashlynn, even though Tadd was sitting between them, exchanged worrisome looks.
“Let’s introduce ourselves to our newcomers. I’m Frank, and I run group therapy sessions here two nights a week. I also teach psychology at the community college, and I coach my son’s little league team. Let’s go in order.” Frank gestured to the woman next to him.
“I’m Zoe, and I’m a marketing manager for a local bank. I’m here because I lost my my husband in Vietnam.” She blinked back some tears.
Lavena gasped, “He died in the war?”
Zoe reacted, “What? No! Gosh, we were in elementary school during Nam. My husband and I took a vacation last summer, and we were sightseeing around the city. I was taking a selfie by this statue, and I heard him mumble something about cigarettes. When I looked up, he was gone. No idea what happened.”
No one spoke, but Ashlynn found that story to be anti-climatic. A chipper young girl next to her went next. “My name is Hilary. I’m a junior in high school. I’m here to brave through a broken heart.”
Tadd perked up at the idea that he may have an ally. “Did someone stomp on your heart too?”
“Yeah.” Hilary recalled, “It was my dad who did it. For my sixteenth birthday, I wanted a silver Mustang convertible LT, and he got me…” she sniffled, “a red one!” She sobbed. Tadd looked deflated.
A guy that looked very weedy with his skinny arms, thin, curly hair, and wire-rimmed glasses, went next. “My name is Mick, and I collect buys. The bugs took over my house one day, so I’m learning to let go of them.”
A very dignified-looking man went next, “My name is Malcolm. I’m a curator at the Museum of Natural History. I’m trying to get rid of my fear of clouds.”
“Clouds? Seriously?” Ashlynn thought outloud. Frank gave her a stern glare, so Ashlynn fibbed, “I mean, clouds! I totally get that!”
An eccentric man next to Malcolm went next. “I’m Don. I start fires.” Tadd and Ashlynn almost jump from the nasty surprise, and Lavena, who sat next to him, shifts away from him.
Everyone stared at Lavena, who blushed. “Oh, it’s my turn. I’m Lavena, and I’m a mom of two. I’m here to support my friend Tadd here. I don’t really have any big issues. Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t glamorous or anything. Sometimes I get sad ’cause I support my kids by myself. It’d be nice to have a husband, but-”
Don interrupted, “I’ll be your husband!”
“No! Like seriously, no!” She held up her hand to him. She moved on, “But most of the time I’m fine.”
Don leered, “Yes you are!” Lavena had a disgusted look on her face but avoided eye contact with him.
Tadd trembled a little. “My name is Tadd. I run a catering business. Why am I here? Well, I fell in love with a beautiful woman, and she broke my heart. I’ve been told I’m not taking the break up well. It’s true, I haven’t really made any progress!”
Ashlynn defend Tadd against his own put down, “That’s not true! You stopped throwing tantrums in public. That’s something!”
Tadd disagreed, “Last night I was howling on the roof!”
Lavena tried, “You weren’t howling. You just cried, and no one was around. I mean, I heard you, but…”
Frank tried to tie the group together again, “At least you’re here. Admitting that you have a problem is the first step towards healing!”
Tadd’s eyes welled up. “I will never be okay! I have a hole in my heart, and I will never be the same person!” Tears started to flow down his cheeks. “No! I will not make a spectacle of myself!” He started to sob. “Oh god, here they come!” He wailed, “I will never be happy again!”
Tadd’s crying made other people in the room upset. Hilary cried, “Daddy! Daddy, why?”
Mick twiddled his hands anxiously. “The snake owner took them. My bugs! He’s using them to feed the snake! My poor bugs!”
Zoe looked horrified. “The shopkeeper’s husband wasn’t Asian! He kind of reminded me of…oh no! Julius! How could you?”
Malcolm absent-mindedly gazed out of the window. “Oh god, the clouds!” He hid under his desk.
Don threw up his hands in frustration. “That’s it! I’m starting a fire!”
“That’s enough!” Frank’s voiced boomed. Everyone stopped in their tracks. “No fires! Get back to your seats! Please stop crying!” He told Tadd, “I’m sorry, you have too many negative vibes. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Tadd kept crying but non-verbally agreed to leave. Ashlynn and Lavena get up to help him. “Wait, you guys don’t have to leave. Ashlynn, it’s your turn!”
“Hi. I’m Ashlynn, and I’m leaving!” She grabbed Tadd’s arm, Lavena grabbed the other, and they headed to the door.
As they left, Don shouted to Lavena, “Wait, Lavena, my beautiful treasure! You wanna fuel my fire?”
Lavena turned around and had a disgusted face. “‘Kay, I don’t know what that means, and I don’t care!” The three walked out.
In the hallway, Lavena muttered, “I can’t believe Yelp gave this place five stars!”
“I’m hopeless!” Tadd moaned.
They stopped in their tracks. Ashlynn went in front of him and looked him dead in the eye. “You are not hopeless! You won’t fail ’cause I won’t let you! I don’t care how slow your progress is, you are moving forward! It’s okay to feel hurt, anger, depression…you’re human! You’re allowed to have those feelings! Fine, so maybe it’s taking longer than usual to move on, but I will not let you give up! Do you hear me? We’ll stick by your side no matter what! Don’t let anyone make you feel inferior! You will win this! Do you understand me? You will win! I promise!” Tadd nodded, but he had tears flowing again. Ashlynn gave him a hug, and Lavena did too.
Their tender moment got interrupted when Don’s voice echoed in the hall, “I just need some matches…” The three quickly scurried out of the building.