Polly was supposed to be an expert, but she couldn’t do it anymore. How does one stay balanced and regulated when the world is overflowing with stupid and greedy and your mom is dying and your child just got called mop-boy at school even though she’s a girl and beautiful to you and you promised yourself you would lose weight but you ate three cookies waiting for the water to heat for your first coffee and your phone therapy clients have problems that make your life sound like a dream?
Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
If you aren’t regulated, you cannot teach someone else to self-regulate.
But the chasm between knowing what you should do and knowing how to actually do it was hard to navigate.
It wasn’t unheard of. Not even unusual. Too many therapists had done the same.
Empathize, but don’t get over involved.
Listen, but try to disconnect when you are home.
Don’t take it personally.
Don’t feel too much. Allow yourself to feel.
After conventional wisdom failed, she did what she’d always done. What she’d done since she was big enough to walk across her childhood yard to Aunt Ethel’s kitchen. Since she’d known that joy was finding the last slice of Aunt Ethel’s chocolate birthday cake in the back of the freezer and not having to share it with anyone else because others think store-bought is just as good but you know Aunt Ethel’s is better because she doesn’t use an electric mixer and you can time your words to the strokes of her spoon and she allows plenty of time for thoughts to blend so they come out sounding like more than half-baked ideas.
She called Aunt Ethel.
“How do I do it, Aunt Ethel? How do you do it? How are you doing it now?”
You busy your hands, child. Move your body. Make something. Change something.
When the stories are too big, fold them into kneaded dough.
When the horror is overwhelming, slice it into a fruit pie.
When you cannot fathom the words, listen to the dips and flows of their voice and to the aches and hopes that hide in the silences.
But Polly wasn’t a cook. She burned a cake while Client S.T. perseverated on his wife’s need for their children to have their hands held when crossing the street and managed to explode an egg when Client R.G. cried (again) over the time their child almost drowned because they didn’t know how to swim fast enough to save them both.
She tried gardening like Uncle Bob. But she managed to overwater tomatoes and uproot the flowers she’d just planted, and that’s when Aunt Ethel reminded her that magic lies in leaning into your strengths.
Socks: find pairs and fold tops to connect them.
T-shirts: hold by the bottom and give a firm shake. Pinch shoulder and bottom end. Lay flat. Fold in one quarter of width. Fold sleeve back towards the folded length. Repeat on other side. Tuck in two inches at the bottom, then fold in half.
On the other end of the line, the caller’s voice shifted from angst to thoughtfulness, panic to calm, chaos to clarity. And Polly closed the doors to a perfectly tidy closet and moved on to the next hamper.
Amy Marques grew up between languages and places and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction and visual poetry. She is a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net nominee and has work published in journals and anthologies including Streetcake Magazine, MoonPark Review, Bending Genres, Gone Lawn, Ghost Parachute, Chicago Quarterly Review, and Reservoir Road Literary Review. You can read more at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com.