The Rubber Band

 

Margaret thought she was a rubber band. Her mother, however, thought she was a 14-year-old girl. This discrepancy caused no end of confusion and anxiety between them. Particularly, as Margaret’s father refused to get involved. His name was Albert, Albert Schmeck. Albert would calmly pet his wife’s shoulders and hair at night.

“Don’t worry Patty, it’s just a phase,” he would say. “All girls go through something like it at her age. We ought to just be glad that it’s not drugs, or boys, or something worse. Just look at poor Judy’s girl, now she’s the one with problems.”

Albert was not an authority on 14-year-old girls. But he figured that in today’s society, full of strange complexes and emotional problems, having a child who thought she was a rubber band was hardly worth concern. Why just look at poor Judy’s girl.

Albert’s wife, Patricia, was not so complacent. She cried and cried, and said things like, “Oh, but Albert!” She would sniffle and sigh, and blow her nose. She considered herself to be quite an authority on 14-year-old girls (having been one once herself) and would often refer back to her own youth in comparison.

“Why when I was a girl, I went out and did things with other young people my own age. Of course I was interested a little in boys, but in a healthy way. It is healthy for a child her age to have normal interests, to be normal. Oh Albert, I think there is something seriously wrong. I think we should take her to see a specialist.”

Patricia thought very highly, in general, of specialists (although she had never actually met one). There was just something so old fashioned and trustworthy in the term. She was convinced that a specialist would be able to help them. Eventually Albert agreed. But just so long as they could make the appointment while he was at his work, he didn’t want to have to go along, he didn’t care much for specialists (having met quite a few of them). He also made sure that his wife realized, and fully understood, that this was not to become a regular thing.

“Just one visit, you understand!” He told his wife, “These psychologist types will take you for all that you’re worth!”

He looked over at his daughter as he said this, and asked her what she was doing.

She sat in the corner holding her hair back with one hand, and holding an open bag of frozen peas shut with the other. She looked up at him and shrugged.

“Nothing.”

Albert looked at his wife and glowered, fairly shouting, “Nothing! See! Now I ask you, what on Earth is wrong with that?”

Nevertheless, Margaret and her mother went to see the specialist. The specialist was a white haired older man with a full moustache and wire-rimmed spectacles. While he had never himself been a 14-year-old girl, he had numerous certificates and diplomas to prove that he was an authority on the subject; along with countless other important subjects as well.

The specialist’s name was Doctor Herberg, and he shook hands with both Patricia and her daughter before sitting down. Patricia could not for the life of her understand why a child psychologist should need to be wearing a white lab coat. She found that the more she thought about it, the more she found it creepy and off-putting. Dr. Herberg, however, seemed to be pleasant enough, and Margaret didn’t seem to mind. She just sat there.

“So now, tell me then,” Dr. Herberg said. “How long have we been having trouble?”

His use of the pronoun irritated Patricia, but she put that aside. “About 4 or 5 months now,” she answered, smiling nervously at her daughter.

Dr. Herberg leaned forward and looked over his spectacles at the girl. When he spoke his tone had changed, it was softer and more intimate.

“Your mother tells me that you haven’t been playing with your friends, or helping around the house, or really doing anything at all lately. Is this true?”

Margaret looked at the specialist casually and shrugged, as if to say: ‘I suppose so’.

“Hmmm.” Dr. Herberg leaned back in his chair and continued to look down his nose at the girl while he cleaned his glasses with a handkerchief that he took from his pocket with a flourish.

“I see. And why is this my dear? Why are you no longer doing these things; why are you no longer doing much of anything at all?” He put his glasses back on.

“Because I am a rubber band,” said Margaret calmly, simply, matter-of-factly.

The specialist lifted his eyebrows and muttered “fascinating” under his breath. He gave Margaret’s mother a knowing look. Patricia had no idea what the look meant, and she was growing impatient. She sat on her hands trying not to cry and scream, both at the specialist and her daughter.

Dr. Herberg continued to ask Margaret questions, all the questions that Patricia herself had spent the last few months asking her daughter. The only answer that was given was the only answer she herself had ever received: “Because I am a rubber band.”

Eventually their session time was up, and Dr. Herberg asked Margaret if she would mind sitting in the waiting room while he spoke with her mother.

Margaret shrugged, and then left the room.

“Well, Mrs. Schmeck, it appears that your daughter genuinely believes she is a rubber band.” He seemed quite pleased, “it is quite wonderful! Well, of course, not to you. Most distressing I imagine, yet fascinating all the same.” He once again cleaned his glasses with the handkerchief from his pocket.

“Yes, I know that doctor. But she is not a rubber band; she is a little girl. That is why I brought her to you. What is wrong with her? What can be done?” Patricia was feeling exasperated, and she had begun to secretly loathe the gentleman in the absurd lab coat and spectacles.

“Well, we shall have to see her again, of course. It could be years before we get to the real psychological root, but we shall get there! I will want to meet with you and your husband as well, to see if there is any childhood trauma that could be triggering the complex. Let’s say about this time again next week, shall we? Just set it up with my receptionist.” Patricia felt as though she was being dismissed.

“No, but Dr. Herberg,” she stammered, “my husband Albert will never agree to that. Just tell me please, what I can do to help her. What is wrong with her? Why does she think that she is a rubber band?”

“Oh, my dear, your daughter is a very sick little girl. Why simply look at the fact that she does think that she is a rubber band. Most extraordinary! Why I believe it is a very complex psycho-emotional neurosis that is being expressed, it could even develop into a very interesting psychosis.” The specialist looked decidedly pleased by the prospect, as though that too would be wonderful. “At this stage, of course, I can only highly recommend that you seek professional care. I cannot compel you, of course, or your husband, to do anything. I encourage you, however, to seek a second or even third opinion, if you feel unsatisfied. I can give you the names of some colleagues here in town. I am quite certain that they will all tell you exactly the same thing that I have.”

He looked down and out over his glasses at her, just as he had looked at Margaret during the session.

“Yes, most definitely, bring her back to see me next week. I am sure there is an opening.”

There was a light tapping at the door, signalling that the next appointment was waiting. Dr. Herberg gave Patricia the remarkable look that doctors everywhere seem to have learned. The look said: ‘by all means, please take all the time you need, I am here for you, however, I am also a terribly busy and important person so please do hurry it up! Patricia, feeling flustered and frustrated, got up and left.

Outside in the waiting room, Margaret just sat in a chair. There were many magazines on the table in front of her, Patricia would have enjoyed looking at all of the pictures; at the dresses the women in them were wearing. But Margaret was uninterested.

Patricia told her daughter to grab her coat and said, “Let’s go.” She did not speak to the receptionist about scheduling a second appointment. For a moment, she did consider getting the information to find a second opinion, but thought better of it. Albert would never go for that.

Patricia drove home, with her daughter in the front seat beside her. Any conversation she made was met with a shrug. She felt like crying, but she couldn’t cry anymore; she was all cried out. She felt like screaming, but she was all screamed out as well.

Two blocks from home a middle-aged woman in a hardhat and yellow vest stopped them. She was holding a portable stop sign. There had been construction going on in their area for a week. Patricia was glad that they were finally going to fix all of those potholes.

Patricia looked at the woman holding the sign and chain smoking cigarettes in the hot sun. The woman was about her own age. What a miserable job, Patricia though, and wondered if the woman had any children.

They were parked waiting, in front of a familiar blue house with a pretty front lawn. Patricia looked at it jealously. Judy always did have the loveliest gardens, why just look at that azalea!

A young girl stormed out of the front door, her clothes were intentionally torn, revealing far too much skin in all the wrong places, and they looked dirty. Her hair looked dirty as well and was dyed various odd colours. Her face was contorted with frustration, and tears had distorted the heavy make up that she wore.

I HATE YOU!” She was screaming back at her mother who stood in the doorway, arms akimbo. The girl ran across the street, disappearing around the corner.

Her mother watched her go, and then turned and went back inside, closing the door behind her. Patricia felt sorry for the woman, and embarrassed. She hoped Judy hadn’t seen them sitting in the car, watching it all. She remembered screaming at her own mother, back in her youth. It was a difficult time, a difficult age.

She looked over at her daughter who just sat there, seemingly unmoved by the angry scene they had just witnessed.

Margaret looked over at her mother and pointed to the woman who was holding the sign and telling them to go. The car behind them honked.

Patricia was flustered and drove forward. She pulled into her driveway. Her front yard was not nearly as nice as Judy’s. She just sat in the car for a moment looking at it.

Then she turned toward Margaret and asked, for the first time, “Darling, why do you think that you are a rubber band?”

“Because I am one.” The girl looked tired.

“Yes, I know that dear. But how do you know . . . how did you discover that you were?”

Margaret sat in the car and thought about that.

“Because I feel like one,” she said.

Patricia nodded. She sat in the car and thought.

“What does it feel like?” She asked, genuinely curious.

Margaret looked up at her.

“Well, sometimes I feel tense and stressed, and then other times I feel loose and useless,” she shrugged.

“Oh,” said her mother.

They got out of the car and went inside. Margaret went and sat in her corner, ‘avoiding the vacuum’ as she was want to explain. Patricia brought her over an opened bag of cookies.

“I can’t seem to find a tie for this in the kitchen. Could you hold it closed for me dear?”

“Yup,” Margaret smiled; rubber bands were good for that sort of thing.

Patricia heard the rustle and crunch of some of the cookies being eaten, as she went back into the kitchen. She smiled as she did the dishes.

Albert came home.

“Well my dear and what did the quack have to say about my daughter? What’s wrong with her then?”

Patricia walked over and kissed him on the cheek.

“Absolutely nothing dear, I think it’s just a phase.”