tagNovels and NovellasThe Outsider Ch. 05

The Outsider Ch. 05


Chapter 5 -- Counseling

The alarm went off just a few hours later. Ruthie was dead-tired and it took her longer than normal to rouse herself. She heard Shannon mumble a complaint about the noise before she finally managed to sit up and hit the "off" button. She got up and made her way to the student center across a campus that still was totally dark and cold. She set up as usual, but did not bother turning on the news. She preferred to be alone with her thoughts.

Her vague hope about Mike having paid attention to her and her ongoing hatred of Shannon were jumbled up with a bunch of other worries and concerns. Her mind was wandering more than normal; she was completely unable to focus on any topic for more than a few seconds. Had she been forced to think or engage in an activity she was not accustomed to, she would have had a very difficult time concentrating. However, there was nothing new or challenging about setting up the coffee shop for the day, nothing to tax her already overly-stressed brain.

That morning there was a very unfortunate coincidence when Ruthie's co-worker showed up early and Mike came in a few minutes later than normal. He had slept very deeply because the rare silence in his room and had woken up just before 7:00. He ordered the first coffee of the day; Same order as always, black with a small amount of half-and-half, no sugar. With her co-worker present, Ruthie was not very communicative. Mike interpreted her behavior as hostile: he assumed that she was angry at him and that he had offended her in some way. He nervously drank his coffee, said good-bye and put his usual dollar in the tip jar.

Ruthie's anxiety turned into despair as she watched Mike depart. Resentment built up inside her, directed at both Mike for showing up late and at her co-worker for messing up her morning with his presence.


Mike left the coffee shop almost as upset as Ruthie. His atrocious luck with women was holding up. He had hoped that maybe, just maybe he could connect with that weird girl in the coffee shop. But obviously something was missing, because he was convinced that he had offended her in some way and had no clue what it could have been.

Following his morning classes, Parking Enforcement Officer # 36 picked up his ticketing machine and 400 envelopes. He knew that there would be just as many idiots parking in Econ-A and not paying the meters as the day before. It would take several days of hard-core ticketing before the lot started to clear out. In the meantime he could work on his ticketing stats and vent his anger on all of those arrogant shit-bags who thought they were too cool to pay the meters. BMW's...Jeeps...Escalades...yeah, he was gonna get 'em all.


Ruthie passed an unpleasant morning, not only because of her disappointment over not being able to talk to Mike, but also because she was starting to dislike her co-worker more and more. There were numerous petty disagreements over things such as what music to play and how loud, whose turn it was to clean out the coffee machines, and finally a fifteen-minute smoke break that lasted a half an hour. Towards the end of her shift, Ruthie experienced another unfortunate incident that soured her mood even further. An arrogant sorority bitch, of the sort that Ruthie stereotyped with the bleached hair and huge tits that could not possibly have been natural, ordered a six-dollar mocha-latte. She took back her change and separated the pennies. The bitch put the coins in her purse except for the pennies, which she put in the tip jar. There were three pennies and Ruthie heard them...clink...clink...clink. The sorority girl flashed Ruthie a neutral glance and took her drink. She displayed the same emotion that she would have shown if she were taking something from a vending machine.

Suddenly all of the resentment Ruthie felt towards the rich hit her full force. At that moment she was holding a coffee pot full of hot water. The urge to flip up the lid and throw scalding water into the customer's face was overwhelming. She actually did flip up the lid. Her hands began shaking, so much so that boiled water began spilling out of the pot. She felt a sharp pain on her ankle as some of the water splashed on her leg. The pain made her jump and brought her to her senses. Already the sorority bitch had turned and was leaving. However, Ruthie's nerves were on edge, because she realized that she had just come very close to committing a serious crime.

It was only 10:00, but Ruthie realized that she needed to leave work. In less than 12 hours she had seriously contemplated suicide and come very close to throwing boiling water at a customer. Her hands were still shaking. She turned to her co-worker.

"I need to go."

"Well, you can't. You've still got another hour."

"Then you can't take 30-minute smoke breaks. I'm leaving, and the deal is I don't say anything about your smoke breaks and you don't say anything about me leaving. Anyhow, it's just for today."

Before her co-worker could think of an answer, Ruthie took off her apron and pulled her cash drawer.


Ruthie's mind normally housed a muddle of thoughts at any moment, but she was unusually focused when she left the student center. She realized that she needed help. The thought of committing suicide did not bother her, because she had toyed with the idea for several years. However, the thought of doing something that would send her to jail did scare her. She wouldn't mind dying in the least, but the idea of sitting in jail and having a criminal record was enough motivation for her to take action.

Fortunately the university counseling center was not crowded. She was handed a form in which she had to provide her personal information, followed by a long list of questions, including:

Do you feel you have trouble expressing your feelings? -- yes Do you feel that no one understands you? -- yes Do you feel that other people treat you unfairly? -- yes Do you have problems getting along with your family? -- yes Do you have problems getting along with co-workers and/or classmates? -- yes Do you have any friends on campus? -- no How often do you go out with other people just for fun? -- never Do you have a roommate? -- yes Please rate your relationship with your roommate from one (lowest) to ten (highest) -- one Please explain -- she's a total bitch and treats me like shit Are your parents divorced? -- yes Do you have regular contact with both parents? -- no Please think of one word to describe your life before you entered college -- sucked Please think of one word to describe your life now -- sucks Do you worry about your financial situation? -- yes Do you have trouble concentrating in class? -- yes Do you have trouble sleeping? -- yes Do you feel lonely? -- yes Some of the time, most of the time, or all of the time? -- All of the time. Do you feel hopeless at times? -- yes Some of the time, most of the time, or all of the time? -- Most of the time. Do you feel depressed? -- yes Some of the time, most of the time, or all of the time? -- Most of the time. Please rate your happiness from one (lowest) to ten (highest) -- one Have you ever thought about hurting yourself? -- yes Have you ever thought about hurting others? -- yes Have you ever considered suicide? -- yes If you have considered suicide, do you have a specific plan? -- yes

Fifteen minutes after she turned in the form, the receptionist asked her if she could come to an appointment at 3:00 that afternoon. No problem. Ordinarily that was the time that she'd be sitting under the shade in her "private spot". However, Mike had ensured that the "private spot" would not be so private anymore and she had nothing else going on at that time of the day, so...sure...she could make it.


Shortly before 3:00 Ruthie returned to the counseling center. By that time she was starting to have doubts about actually going to her appointment, but she could not work up the nerve to cancel. She nervously looked around the waiting area. There were two guys waiting as well, one of them somewhat overweight and the other very ordinary-looking. My fellow psychos, she thought to herself.

A counselor who introduced herself as Lynn Hartman called Ruthie's name. Hartman was in her mid-30's. She was well-dressed and only slightly taller than Ruthie, with medium-length brown hair done up in a casual style that would have been fine had she been a bit younger, but looked a bit out of place with the rest of her professional appearance. She spoke with the usual soothing voice that it seemed all counselors used with their clients. Ruthie vaguely wondered if they taught counselors to talk like that as part of their major, or if for some reason the soothing way of talking came naturally.

When the two women entered Hartman's office, Ruthie plopped herself into the most comfortable chair she had ever sat in. Hell, she thought to herself; I'd come here just to sit in this chair. The office had some props to help calm clients' nerves: a couple of misty landscape photographs, one of those small desktop waterfalls, and a side table with a couple of paperweights that a person could fiddle with while talking.

In the background Hartman had some music playing. It was a strange but very soothing song in a foreign language Ruthie did not recognize, sung by the most beautiful woman's voice she had ever heard. As nervous as she was at the moment, Ruthie was curious about the music. Hartman responded that it was from a European group called "Socrates' Mistresses".

"Her voice is addictive, isn't it?"

Ruthie nodded.

Hartman looked over Ruthie's questionnaire and asked her new client to talk about herself and what she was doing at the university. Quickly she found out that Ruthie had no trouble talking about impersonal topics such as her majors, but was much more reserved talking about herself. As the hour progressed, Hartman slowly worked her way towards finding out how close her client really was to "doing harm" to herself or someone else. It was obvious the girl was dealing with plenty of other issues as well, but those would have to wait. The main worry for the moment was the suicide issue.

Even when Ruthie talked about general topics, Hartman could tell that the student had been brutally honest on her form about her difficulty connecting with other students and that failure had left her both very depressed and very bitter. Hartman also realized that Ruthie was very literal and that she gauged the world by what people said to her, not by how they acted. What that meant was that if the counselor wanted Ruthie to tell her something, she would not elicit any information by dropping hints. She would have to ask directly. At the same time she could not be overly direct for fear of intimidating her client. She talked in general about the questionnaire and then got to the point.

"Ruthie, I'm seeing from your form that you've given suicide some thought."

Ruthie looked at the floor and started fidgeting.

"I 'spose that's true, Dr. Hartman."

"Is that why you came here? To talk about that?"

"Not really, Dr. Hartman. If it was just that, it really wouldn't matter. But I did something else today...or almost did it, and it kinda scared me..."

Ruthie suddenly became very talkative, rambling on about how close she came to throwing boiling water on a client just because she put three pennies in the tip jar. At first she felt ashamed of herself for being so infuriated over something that was much more an act of thoughtlessness than an insult. When she finished Hartman totally surprised her with her response.

"I'm going to tell you that you had every right to be so angry with that customer. I don't think you were imagining things. She was trying to insult you. Had I been in your shoes I would have wanted to do exactly what you wanted to do. To be honest, I think you exercised remarkable self-control in that situation. The fact that you were able to do that says a lot about the strength of your own character."

Ruthie looked up, because that was not what she was expecting to hear. Hartman continued:

"You have feelings, and there's nothing wrong with that. You should never feel guilty about your feelings. What you need to do is accept your feelings, and then come to terms with what's going on. It sounds like you have a tough life, and maybe we can work on making it less tough for you."

Ruthie nodded.

"Here's a question for you. Do you think that customer is more important than you? Is she a better person or more worthwhile than you are?"

Ruthie thought for a moment. Finally she answered: "I don't think she's better than me. She's worse. I mean, I don't do shit like that to other people."

"Then I'm a bit puzzled why you think so little of yourself that you wouldn't come in here to talk about your desire to hurt yourself, but you are willing to talk about hurting someone who insulted you."

"It's just because I got scared of getting in trouble. It's not because I think she's more important than I am."

"So dying doesn't scare you, but getting in trouble does? Don't you think you have your priorities a bit mixed up?"

"No. That's not it. It's just that my life sucks enough as it is. I just don't want it to get any worse."

"Ruthie, I want to get back to something you said. When I asked you if you came in here to talk about suicide you told me that 'if it was just that, it really wouldn't matter.' Is that how you look at your own life, that it really doesn't matter?"

"Pretty much. I mean, if I had any friends, or anyone who gave a shit about me, or at least I could have some fun, or I had some money to buy what I wanted, then my life would matter. But I don't have any of those things, and everyone hates me. My life sucks, it always has sucked, and it always will suck. So if I kill myself, what difference does it make?"

"I'd like to think that our time together can help you see that your life isn't pointless, and really is worth living, and that it does make a difference."

Hartman looked at her client hoping for an answer, but the only response Ruthie could come up with was to shrug her shoulders. The counselor was not surprised, because the student was dealing with a lot of issues. She suspected that they had only touched the surface of everything that was bothering Ruthie and that it would take several sessions before she could even come up with a preliminary diagnosis. What was most important was that Ruthie had someone to talk to, which hopefully would forestall any crises until Hartman could come up with a strategy that would help her pull herself out of her emotional abyss. Communication was vital.

"We'll set up an appointment for next week, but in the meantime I want you to keep two things in mind. I'll give you a couple of my cards, and if you need to get a hold of me you can reach me through the emergency counseling line, or you can e-mail me. There's another thing I'd like you to do. I want you to keep a journal. Write whatever you want in there, but of course it would help us the most if you could talk about your feelings or about stuff that is bothering you."

Noting the skeptical look on her client's face, Hartman elaborated:

"I know it's more work for you, as though you don't have enough as it is. But you're going to forget things if you don't write them down; stuff that you're dealing with throughout the week, maybe memories from high school, your family...it's all important. And always remember that what happens to you does matter to me."


Ruthie left the counselor's office in a somewhat better frame of mind than upon going in. She was looking forward to having someone to talk to, even if that person was paid to listen to her and viewed her with the detached label of "patient". I suppose she's seen plenty of us psychos over the years. I'm probably nothing special compared to some of the others she's had to deal with.

Out of curiosity she passed by the sidewalk of the economics building to see what was going on in lot Econ-A. The majority of the cars already had red envelopes on their windshields, except for a handful of people who had wised up and already started paying the meters. Ruthie knew that if Mike kept at it, the next day more meters would be paid, and more the day after that. He had explained that eventually non-compliance in the lot would be reduced to about 30-40 hard-core violators, students who would continue to challenge him until their cars got towed.


Ruthie wanted to talk to Mike, but she was too full of self-doubt at that moment, in spite of the slight emotional lift that Lynn Hartman was able to give her. Instead she wandered in the direction of her next class in the Foreign Language Building.

The usual muddle of thoughts returned to Ruthie's mind as she approached her class. She saw a street preacher arguing with a couple of Hari Khristnas. She resisted the urge to scream:

"You're all full of shit! You and you stupid imaginary friends and your money-grubbing bullshit! That crap doesn't exist!"

She remained lost in her internal world as she walked around to the other side of the building and crossed the bike path.

Just as she approached the main entrance of Foreign Language Building she heard a sudden screech of bike tires and felt a very hard blow against her arm. She saw a bright yellow flash as she fell on the cement. The young woman on the bicycle who had just hit her struggled to regain control and not crash.

"Watch it, you stupid bitch!"

Ruthie was sitting on ground where she fell. The wind had been knocked out of her and for a second she was too shocked to react. The girl on the bicycle, seeing that Ruthie was not much of an opponent, decided to circle back and confront her.

"What the fuck is wrong with you? You fucking stupid or what?"

"I...I wasn't looking...sorry..."

"I nearly got fucking killed because of you! I oughta kick your fucking ass! Dumb-ass bitch!"

The bicyclist dismounted and gave Ruthie's backpack a tremendous kick that sent it rolling into the grass. Still in shock over the blow to her arm and having been knocked down, Ruthie struggled to get up. The bicyclist pushed her to the ground.

"If I ever see you walking in the bike lane again, I'll fuck you up, you stupid piece of shit!"

Having established her dominance, the bicyclist mounted and rode off. Several students were looking at Ruthie, but none offered to help her. She struggled to her feet and noticed that one of her knees was skinned. Her t-shirt had a tear on the side where she had been hit.

She reached for her backpack and with dismay noticed that it was wet. Even before she opened it she knew why: she had a carton of apple juice in with her books, and it must have broken open when that girl kicked the pack. She pulled out several very wet books and dumped out what was left of the juice.

Ruthie's eyes welled up with tears as she went into the women's bathroom and tried to wipe off her books. She wrapped them in paper towels, hoping to sop up as much of the juice as possible. She put some soap on her scrape and winced at the sting. Then she looked at the shirt in the mirror. It was badly torn under the arm and could not be fixed.

She forced herself to go to class, even though she was late and feeling very sick to her stomach. Fortunately the professor realized by looking at her that she had just been in an accident and said nothing as she sat down. She spent the rest of the class trying to listen, but with the trauma of the bicycle crash fresh in her mind there was no way she could pay attention.

The shock and pain of the accident faded as the class wore on, but those emotions were replaced by frustration, anger, and eventually, self-loathing. Ruthie mourned her ruined books and torn shirt, but what truly upset her was the fact that she had been totally unable to react when that bicyclist accosted her. The other student was the one who had run into her, and yet it was Ruthie who ended up taking the blame.

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