“Mrs. Rinaldi? This is Justin McDermott. I’m Griffin’s counselor at First Flight Middle School. Have you got some time for us to talk?”
Shelley was in his office forty-five minutes later.
McDermott couldn’t have been a day over twenty-five, and the framed diploma displaying his master’s degree had been awarded the previous May. His hair was long and rather unruly, with sun-bleached remnants. His office decorations and artwork suggested a surfer, which fit his appearance.
“Griffin and I thought it would be a good idea to let you in on what’s been going on.”
Griffin sat motionless to the side, staring at the carpet. Shelley didn’t know if she should corral him out of the office for a private talk or remain passive and let this stranger take charge. By default, she chose the latter course of action.
“This is the second time Griffin and I have met. He’s been having some—” McDermott paused, seemingly weighing his choice of words, “—emotional problems that’ve really thrown him.”
Oh, God, what? How come she hadn’t seen them?
That wasn’t true, though. She had seen things. It was easier to go along, hoping for the best and thinking that things would iron themselves out.
“Griffin,” McDermott said. “Ready to tell your mother what’s been going on?”
On cue, Griffin raised his head. Shelley was momentarily stunned to see that he was crying. Not hysterical but soundless, with only one tear trail on each cheek. Somehow, this was more agonizing than if he’d fallen to the floor sobbing.
Griffin didn’t open his mouth for the longest time. His silence probably lasted only a few seconds, but it felt like she was waiting for minutes.
Exactly what he said was quickly lost. There were brief references to spacing out and not remembering events. More distressing, though, Griffin talked about feeling separate from himself as if he weren’t real. Often he felt like he was watching himself do things, that his bodily self wasn’t him but someone else—or worse, something else. The sensation got so bad that he felt like he was dead.
Shelley couldn’t imagine how she got through that meeting without vomiting. Her stomach was doing somersaults, and she had to grip the arm of the chair to remain upright. Evidently her external behavior didn’t reflect her inner turmoil. She talked with the counselor about next steps and assured Griffin that things would be all right.
“I think it’s a good idea that you bring Griffin to see a community therapist. I can help a little bit on this end, but we don’t have the resources for long-term counseling.”
“Long-term?” Shelley never knew of anyone who’d sought counseling and had no idea what constituted long-term.
McDermott nodded. “At first I was thinking Griffin might be having problems with anxiety. Now …”
“Now, what?” Shelley interjected after the counselor’s pause went a heartbeat too long.
“Mrs. Rinaldi, I think I’m way over my head here. We’ve talked, Griffin and me, about something called dissociative disorders. As I said, this is out of my daily experience, but what Griffin describes sounds like one version to me.”
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