“Dr. Marcie in the Morning,” by Rebecca Anne Nguyen

Dec 20th, 2021 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

The sounds of fervent, vigorous shouting vibrated through the office walls and into the lobby where Sloane sat waiting for her Alternative Therapy appointment. When the shouting reached a rhapsodic zenith, the slapping sounds started. She’d never opted for physical violence as a form of treatment, so she wasn’t sure if the therapist was slapping the patient or the patient was slapping the therapist. Either way, it was unpleasant, and she was relieved when Dr. Marcie’s office door swung open, and she ushered another patient, bald and breathless, from the room.

“See you next week!” Dr. Marcie said as the man hurried to the elevator, head down. “And get your ass to church!” The doctor waited for the elevator doors to ding closed before fixing her attention on Sloane. “You,” she said, narrowing her eyes. Sloane gulped. “Your energy is so toxic today,” she said, clicking her tongue disapprovingly. “Come in!”

Sloane followed Dr. Marcie into her office, which overlooked bustling Georgia Street far below, and plopped onto the purple couch. The doctor sat in a swivel office chair, pulled her legs against her chest, and began removing her shoes, Mr. Rogers-style. Her bleached-blonde hair was pulled into a sloppy bun on top of her head, and she’d draped a low-cut, purple tunic top across her trunk to reveal sagging, pink cleavage. Her skintight leggings were printed with the Japanese painting, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, so the top of the wave tickled the triangle between her legs. Sloane batted away memories of all the other leggings Dr. Marcie had worn to her past therapy sessions—donut leggings, where the hole fell right at her crotch; muscle leggings, which showed all the tendons and bones in her legs as if she’d been stripped of her skin; naked leggings, with printed, peach-colored legs and bright red pubic hair where her actual pubic hair probably was.

Now barefoot, Dr. Marcie began picking at the skin on her big toe. “I can’t seem to get rid of this fungus,” she complained, inspecting her bare foot. Sloane waited patiently; she never got to speak first. “Reminds me of my ex-lover, Satan,” mused Dr. Marcie. “No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get rid of him. Did I tell you that when we first had our affair, we had sex seventeen times in one day? I mean, can you imagine that? Of course, I don’t mean we had intercourse seventeen times. I’m talking about seventeen orgasms between the two of us in a twenty-four-hour period. Huzzah!”

Sloane nodded pityingly. Satan, whom the doctor alternately referred to as The Devil, Evil Incarnate, and Richard, had broken her heart so badly that she’d been forced to begin every therapy session with her own “self-therapy session,” which purged the “trace toxic energy” left in her system by Satan, thus allowing her to unleash her full therapeutic powers on Sloane.

“Mmmm,” hummed Dr. Marcie. She began spinning in slow circles in her chair, her eyes on the ceiling. “How are things with Professor Harry lately?”

“Um,” Sloane said, treading carefully—as always—around the topic of her famous professor father. “Well, I’m working on it.”

Dr. Marcie abruptly stopped spinning and stared at Sloane with an eyebrow raised.

“I’ve been picking up extra shifts at the coffee shop so I can pay him back faster for the student loan debt,” Sloane explained. “And I skipped trivia at his birthday party. It really triggers him if I slip up and get a trivia answer right, especially when he doesn’t know the answer. My brother’s always telling me not to play because using my freak memory—”

Dr. Marcie cleared her throat disapprovingly.

“Sorry. Um, using my…my…” Sloane cringed, unable to say the words she knew Dr. Marcie wanted to hear.

“If you can’t call it your gift yet, just call it your memory, without the judgmental label.”

Sloane nodded, swallowing back the low-grade nausea that swelled whenever people said words like “gift” and “memory” out loud. Her whole life, she’d been trying to hide the fact that she could pull up any memory from any point in her entire life the way other people pulled up restaurant reviews on their phones; she remembered where she’d been, what she’d been doing, who she’d been with, and exactly what they’d said. She even remembered her interior experiences, including what she’d been thinking—and remembering—at any given point in time, her mind like a funhouse mirror, memories within memories without end. If she focused hard, she could keep the memories contained in the back of her mind. But if she was especially tired or got a little too drunk, every past reality could converge on the present moment like too many holograms projected onto the same spot—a nauseating phenomenon for which sleep was the only respite.

“My brother’s always telling me not to play trivia because using my…memory in that way makes me so nauseous. And if Harry calls me out for my freak—for my memory, or if anyone else notices my memory, well. You know.”

“You vomit,” Dr. Marcie said calmly.

“Right,” she nodded, her stomach already swimming. “So, I’m really gonna try and resist when Harry invites me to play trivia again because I just end up pissing him off. But it’s hard because those parties are the only time I get to see him. And when he invites me, I just think, maybe he doesn’t hate me so much after all. Maybe I can actually spend time with him without completely ruining his night. Maybe we can finally talk, and I can finally get him to, like, absolve me. Or, at least accept me. I don’t know.”

She looked at Dr. Marcie expectantly.

Dr. Marcie stared back at her with an expression so solemn and still, it made her face look like the face of a corpse. “Sorry?” the doctor said, her eyebrows knit in confusion. “Can you repeat all that? I wasn’t listening.” Sloane’s lips parted in surprise. Dr. Marcie’s face broke into an enormous, wild-eyed smile. “Kidding,” she exclaimed, slapping her leggings where Kanagawa’s giant wave split across her thighs. She threw her head back with mirth, the back of the chair curving under her weight. Sloane managed a weak laugh.

“And why do you need your father to ‘absolve’ you?”

Sloane’s chest tightened. “He blames me for my mom’s death,” she said quietly.

“Puh-leeze,” said Dr. Marcie, rolling her eyes. “It wasn’t your fault she died. You were just a baby.”

“But my whole life, I’ve just sensed this resentment from him, and I’ve never known why, and the only reason I can think of is that. Maybe he doesn’t want to resent me, but he can’t help it. I took her away, and deep down, he just hates me for it.”

“I think,” Dr. Marcie said gravely, “that what you just said is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Oh!” Sloane grimaced. “Really?”

“He doesn’t resent you because your mother died giving birth to you. He resents you because he’s a narcissist. All he sees, when he looks at you, is someone who threatens his status as the most important person in the room.”

Sloane grabbed one of the sequined throw pillows on the couch and wrapped her arms around it. “But most of the time, he is the most important person in the room,” she argued quietly. “He has three PhDs.”

“Which took him decades to get.”

“Well, yeah. He worked really hard. And now he could have any university appointment he wanted, anywhere in the world.” The upcycled hemp fabric beneath Sloane’s arms had gone damp, and her watch beeped to notify her that her blood pressure had increased. “So,” she continued, swiping away the notification, “sorry, but I just don’t think anyone can threaten that—certainly not me.”

With a tight-lipped smile, Dr. Marcie folded her hands in her lap, a move she made whenever she was about to dish out the harsh truth she was known for. “Let me ask you a question,” she said, her voice eerily quiet. “Can I ask you a question?”

Sloane swallowed nervously but nodded. Dr. Marcie had strange taste in leggings, but she was good at her job; when she said something that was hard to hear, it was usually because it was true.

“How long did it take Harry to earn all of his degrees?” she asked. “Exactly.”

Sloane flashed on a weeknight in the fourth grade. She and Simon had cooked dinner for themselves because Harry was in night school to get his second master’s degree. She could taste the plain spaghetti Simon had made, which came out of the pot in a giant clump. She could smell the burnt crust of the cornbread she’d baked for dessert, stuffing the center of each slice with a Cocoa Puff as a garnish. “He earned two Masters’ and three PhDs over the course of twenty-three years,” she replied.

Dr. Marcie’s eyes shone with a devilish glint. “Are you familiar, Sloane, with the amount of material one has to consume, retain, and produce in order to earn one Ph.D.?” She nodded toward her own degree, which she’d hung prominently above a sculpture of an Aztec double-headed serpent. Sloane nodded, dreading where Dr. Marcie was headed with this line of thinking. The doctor pushed her feet against the floor and catapulted herself across the room in her chair until her face was inches away from her patient’s. “It’s a lot!” she whispered, her breath a bouquet of coffee and multivitamins. “How long do you think it would take you to earn three PhDs?”

Sloane broke Dr. Marcie’s gaze and looked down at her hands. “I never wanted to—”

“If Harry hadn’t financially barred you from going further in school, and if he hadn’t made you so ashamed of your memory that you become physically ill at the mere mention of your abilities, how long would it take you? Just humor me.”

The manageable nausea surged in intensity until Sloane could feel the contents of her stomach sloshing around as if she were on a boat. “Probably twenty years or more, just like anyone,” she said, willing the sick feeling to subside. Dr. Marcie didn’t allow crying in her office, and Sloane was pretty sure she had a similar rule about vomiting.

The doctor sighed disappointedly. “Still playing that game, are we?” She slid the chair across the carpeting until it collided with the corner of the sustainable faux-polar-bear-fur rug. She stood and climbed into her ethically sourced eucalyptus indoor/outdoor hanging loveseat and began to swing, pumping her legs faster and faster.

I think it would take you one year to earn three PhDs. Two years tops.”

Sloane drew in a shaky breath and exhaled slowly, willing the bile back down her throat.

“I think it took your father a lifetime to achieve what you could achieve overnight—if you wanted to. I think he knows that. And I think that, as a narcissist, it drives him absolutely insane to be outsmarted. Especially by his own daughter.”

Sloane shook her head. That’s exactly what her brother Simon always said, but it wasn’t jealousy. It was resentment for taking away the love of his life. Simon’s birth, seven minutes before hers, had gone fine. It was Sloane who’d done her in. It was Sloane who’d required an emergency C-section. It was Sloane who’d stolen her first breath of life just as Thida, her mother, had drawn her last.

“It’s not your mother’s death he holds against you,” Dr. Marcie concluded. “It’s your gift.”

Sloane hung her head. Dr. Marcie didn’t understand. Her memory was a curse, not a gift. And her memory wasn’t the reason her father had resented her from the day she was born.

“So, stop trying to get love from someone who has none to give you. Learn to love yourself. It’s what I’ve said to you from day one.”

“It’s…hard,” she managed feebly.

“It’s hard to love yourself?” said Dr. Marcie, leaping from the swing and sticking the landing. “It’s hard to love yourself enough to revolutionize your life?”

Sloane cringed internally. That was the title of her latest book.

“Well, yeah.”

Dr. Marcie clicked her tongue. “When you look for love from everyone else,” she observed. “you’re expecting others to give you something you’re not willing to give yourself. That hardly seems fair to the rest of us.”

Sloane felt the familiar feeling of shame wash over her. “You’re right,” she said obediently. “It’s not fair to put that burden on everyone else. If I want Harry’s love, I should start by loving him. I should stop assuming that my mom’s death is the center of his life. It was a long time ago, and just because I think about it so much doesn’t mean it’s impacted him in the same way. That’s just me being a narcissist.”

Dr. Marcie nodded and smiled. “Good girl,” she whispered. “And we’re at time. I have a patient now.” Sloane glanced at the clock on the wall, hung between framed photos of Dr. Marcie’s thirteen rescue dachshunds. There were forty minutes left in the hour. “I wish you the best, Sloane. It’s my hope that someday you’ll be able to see past yourself and the limitations of your entrenched ego.” She stood, adjusting the fabric of her leggings, and held out her arms for a hug.

“Don’t we have a lot of time left?”

Dr. Marcie let her arms fall to her sides with a loud slap. She grabbed a tablet off her desk, swept through a few screens, and handed the device to Sloane, who stared down at her Billing Account summary with a past due balance of $1,116 blinking in red.

“I assume you have not spoken with Harry about this ludicrous student loan payback arrangement that requires you to work two jobs just to afford your payments to him and that you are not able to pay your balance with me in full today?”

Sloane’s shoulders slumped in defeat. Dr. Marcie pressed a hand to her heart, her expression pained.

“I hope you know it’s not about the money, Sloane.” She laughed as she gazed around her fifteenth-floor office. “The swing alone cost me sixty-five grand!” She crouched down in front of Sloane and peered up at her, blinking her heavily mascaraed lashes. “You refuse to see your father for who he truly is out of fear. You refuse to let go out of your mother’s death out of shame. And you refuse to work on the core issue that’s holding you back—your relationship with your memory, which is really your love relationship with yourself.”

Sloane pressed the pillow into her abdomen as if it could hold the contents of her stomach in place. Beads of sweat broke out along her hairline.

“I just didn’t want to make a mess in your office,” she said. “Talking about my memory makes me feel sick.”

“So get sick!” Dr. Marcie cried, springing up. “Ask for a bucket!” Sloane hung her head over the pillow and breathed quick, shallow breaths, willing away assorted memories of the seventeen times in her life when she had vomited in a public place. “You’re not afraid to get sick,” Dr. Marcie scoffed. “You’re afraid to get better. Because to get better, you’d have to look at why you feel so bad about having the gift you have. Why you feel so bad about yourself.”

Sloane nodded. Right again. She was afraid to talk about her memory. She knew she’d have to deal with it at some point; she’d just hoped that she and Dr. Marcie could work their way up to that topic gradually. Say, over the course of a decade or three.

“Couldn’t we just keep working on the other stuff?” she pleaded. “The stuff around my mom, the stuff with Harry. Working with you has really helped me get up the courage to talk to him. Not that I’ve talked to him yet. But in my head, it’s less scary now. Thanks to you. And that’s huge, right? The memory stuff just causes problems. It’s usually better for everyone if I just ignore it.”

Dr. Marcie laughed sharply. “Stuff it down!” she cried, making a little leap toward the door. “Ignore it! I think you’re onto something, Sloane Burrows. We’ll call it the Antiquated Psychotherapy Technique. APT. It’s very twentieth century. It’s vintage!” The doctor smiled and leaned against the door, her hand on the knob, shaking her head at Sloane. “I simply cannot work with someone,” she said, suddenly solemn, “who’s not willing to do the real work.”

Sloane nodded, contrite. She stood and glanced at her watch, which was flashing with notifications from work. “Would it be okay if my boss called you if you just didn’t mention that we stopped working together? At least for a little while? It’s just been so nice to actually have a break on Tuesdays, even though I have to use my paid time off for it. If he thinks I’m still coming to see you, maybe I could keep taking an early lunch, just a short one, just once a week…”

Dr. Marcie opened the door. She leaned into the waiting room and told the next patient that she’d be right with her and that her energy was so toxic today. Sloane approached her, waiting hopefully for her answer. “Sweetheart,” said Dr. Marcie, touching a finger beneath Sloane’s chin. “I will not give away my power by being a part of your lies.” She hugged Sloane tightly, spun her around, and pushed her, a little too hard, toward the elevators.


Rebecca Anne Nguyen is the co-author of Where War Ends (New World Library), a 2019 Foreword Indies Book of the Year Silver Award winner for Autobiography & Memoir. Her writing has been published on Points in Case, Mamamia, Frazzled, and in the Military Times. She lives in Milwaukee with her two sons, seven houseplants, and an unquantifiable number of Legos.

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