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Signs

This story is a meditation on a drive I took with my parents. It traces my inner monologue that day and the themes, questions, and preoccupations which were and still are often flooding my head. It is about me on a bad day. And me fighting my way to a better one.

Photo credit: Jakob Owens
8 min read

It’s late afternoon as we climb into my father’s gray Mercedes. As we stay stationary in the garage, I lean my fro against the pane and stare out of it and above into the cobwebs collecting in the far corner; a bee lands briefly on the hood my mother’s Lexus named Sky (since she’s light sky blue) next to us. My father clicks the remote which opens the door and we back out, the bee swiftly following.

Father pauses in the driveway and asks me which general direction we should go in. I am in a surly mood, like I usually am when I ask my parents to drive me somewhere—everywhere—anywhere—for no reason, a cultural reset of sorts. A privileged, mournful excursion. A grotesque carnival ride, since I get car sick every time. Since I am surly, I pause when father asks me, before grumbling, “I don’t care”, meaning I do not care, because I can’t be bothered to care about anything except leaving this place and to leave it in any way. But right as I say that I quickly change my mind and say, “North,” decidedly. I do it for metaphorical effect. Perhaps a better explanation is that I believe in signs and I either take them or make them. In my head, I think “forward,” “the northern star”…It feels right.

As we travel down the curvy back roads in the mountain preserve, I sink into the gray leather, anticipating the houses, that one pothole, as music— I forget whose—plays and tells me I can relax now. As we drive, everything is green. My mother comments that it has been raining off and on the whole day and that she misses the sun. Everything is so lush it looks like I imagine Washington state does. A recurrent topic of conversation in our family is “boy does New Jersey look different from the inside” aka Central Jersey is not what we thought it would be. We’re from the suburbs of Philly, but where we live now is either farmland or the mountain: hay and wheat and cows and goats and even peacocks or green and forrest-y, with deer and their fawns, and big boulders and trails and so many squirrels. And which is rich in both senses of the word.

My first wave of nausea hits 10 minutes in. I put the window down slightly like I always do when it happens. Mother turns around and asks me if I feel sick. My father checks the rearview. I nod. She asks me if I want gum. I say, “Yes,” like every time. She hands me a short stick, I mutter, “Thanks,” and chew. Sweet mint. Orbit. Like always.

A few minutes later, my mother asks me how I felt about the therapist options she had sent me via email a couple of days earlier. I tell her that no one will be good enough. No one has the right criteria. That no one has the complete package. She asks me to explain further, and like with most things, I don’t really add much but reiterate and say something along the lines of, “They all look fine. I don’t really care.” She tells me she needs me to put more effort into the search myself since it is for me and I am 21. She doesn’t say that I am “21” and am a “legally drinking adult whose last privileged milestone is being able to rent a car at 25.” But I am 21. And I should probably be more involved. I tell her, “I’ll try.” She asks me for my specifications. I tell her that I want a woman or non-cis person, someone who specializes in what I need, someone I can trust. She asks what I need. I divert the question and tell her that the people I can find specialize in anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and ADHD. She reminds me that I in fact struggle with anxiety and depression (and OCD). I tell her she’s right in a way, but that I need more than that. I don’t explain further. I think back to earlier when in my search I selected anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, OCD, PTSD, self-esteem, and women’s issues.

She asks if I definitely have a preference for a Black woman. I hesitate and say that it matters less than them being a non-cis-male, but that, “I’d prefer a Black… or Brown therapist,” and that “I’m not completely opposed to a white one.” She tells me that it’s okay I have preferences. My father and she have a brief exchange about reaching out to their “networks” of people again to help find me someone suitable. During this, I imagine a conversation with a made-up non-cis-male therapist in blue separates, whose face I can’t even make out—it’s blurred. I imagine them asking me, “What are three things you would most like me to know about you?” I imagine responding staring at their legs overlapping with furniture, “I have a history of lying, I don’t like to do anything and I am a terrible person.” Mother says something to me. I believe something about doing some more thinking about who I would want as a therapist. “Mhmm,” I say, reiterating that I will do more research, as the nausea returns in a wave that surges and lingers like ocean tide seeping into a sandpit, down and then back out and gone.

We stop at this stoplight I have never been at. That’s not surprising since we don’t go North much and today is different. At it, on the corner of a cute cape cod’s front yard is a dark brown squirrel. Black maybe. The light feels like forever and I take time to stare the creature down. In its grasp is a half-chewed something. Probably an acorn. Turning and nibbling, gnawing and shuffling in place. For a moment it looks at me I think. I predict it will bolt, but it doesn’t. It stays playing with its food in the body’s small square patch. It is looking, it’s aware, it’s eating. I start feeling like it’s a sign, but for what I don’t know. Maybe not a sign like usual, but an omen or maybe a beacon or maybe ya know just a squirrel eating in grass barely sentient. I tell myself maybe I’ll write about it. The light turns green and the cars including ours go “go”. I watch the squirrel till we pass it and I can no longer see it. It never moves. I secretly hope that on our way back, I can check to see if it’s still there. We don’t end up going back in a symmetrical fashion, but it’s a squirrel and I feel they don’t stay in one place too long anyway.

As we drive through the heart of Morristown, I start thinking about my girlfriend. We’ve been doing long distance for almost 3 months. In a day, we’ll celebrate our 4 months. She’s the most interesting person I have ever met. She always surprises me. I don’t know why she likes me. I think back to one of my bad depressive episodes in which I asked her via text how she would feel if I made an Onlyfans to which she replied, “Aww baby, I would never judge you for that. I support you. It doesn’t bother me.” She didn’t know it was an episode, but for some reason, her answer did bother me. The other week, we got into a fight because I told her I was unhappy and I didn’t see it getting better and that I was accepting it. She had told me she didn’t know where our relationship was going if I didn’t want to better myself or get better. I was used to her having these feelings. She’s a very morally strong person. She’s also pretty confident. I think of a world of mine in which her confidence didn’t infringe upon my own, wondering if ours would soon become another one of my famously unhealthy, unstable relationships. And with it, what it would mean to know I was the reason for all of it. I hated that I felt this way. That I was this way. I want to fix it but I don’t know how.

We approach a stone church with a gate outside of it and on its lawn is a banner pinned on two stakes which reads: “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter”- E.E. Cummings. I read it twice, since traffic is slow and remember that I haven’t today. Laughed, that is. I think about The Real Housewives of Atlanta, the show that has been providing all of my late-night laughs recently. I briefly wonder why such a message is outside of a church. It’s not because it’s a bad quote, it’s just not a churchy one I guess. I decide it’s good. It’s a sign. Maybe not a sign sign, but ya know, it’s an actual sign. I smile as I am sprayed by a mist through the crack in the window and it starts to rain again.

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Bria Dinkins

Bria Dinkins is a rising senior at Swarthmore College outside of Philadelphia and grew up in the surrounding suburbs. She is currently pursuing a major in Sociology/Anthropology and minors in Art History and Film & Media Studies. She finds herself writing about mental health, queerness, and romance.