Life bumps, how to correct

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Chapter 1 – Introduction

The last person left the audience. And it became quiet. At last the nightmare was over. Director was very excited today and, like always, demanded unrealistic tasks, telling off teachers for non-existent mistakes. Robert was not going to leave, or whether he simply didn’t want, or didn’t have the strength to make at least one step in the direction of the house. What was the reason for that? He could not give it to himself. Still, one thought compelled him to gather his papers into his briefcase and get up from the table. His daughter was waiting for him. It must have been twenty minutes since classes had ended, and she was certainly still there. How else could she be? He had to hurry. And he tried to walk quickly, as much as possible without glancing at the fidgeting teachers, the guard, who was discussing something loudly with the superintendent, as usual. The last thing he wanted, surely, was to come across Mrs. Marble, the principal, who was not herself at such moments, setting many tasks, most of which would lose their relevance the next day, but she was always spoiling his mood.

Finally the front door was behind her, and there were no meetings, which Robert was undoubtedly pleased about. Of course, the director would find a moment to call him, but to talk to her on the phone is better than to look into her fat eyes, nervously smeared lipstick, unironed jacket, listen to her husky voice, spoiled by smoking, the fact of which she carefully hid from everyone … But…

Generally, I didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to think about anything else at all. So the cold that hit him all over the place right after he left the school was an escape. Robert wrapped into his coat and stopped for a minute. He looked at the light shining dimly, breathed in the fresh November air, and walked to his car.

He knew he would be late, that his daughter’s class was already finished. He imagined her sitting on the couch in the dark lobby of the Social Center, where the vocal lessons were being held. This picture was constantly in front of Robert’s eyes, for he had been late very often.

“Oh, poor girl, she’s used to it,” he thought, remembering how just a week ago he’d been delayed in the same way. Unfortunately, it had been happening very often recently, work took up too much time and, most disgusting of all, took away a lot of energy that could be spent for communication with his daughter. As an educator and as a father, Robert was clearly aware of this, but there was nothing he could do to change it. This time he humbly turned the car key and, to the quiet roar of the engine, turned out of the parking lot and drove down the dark street. It took about half an hour to drive.

My daughter was sitting in the same place where she usually waited for him many, many times. The lobby was completely dark, and all girls had gone out. However, she wasn’t bored: with a dreamy smile, she was looking out the big windows overlooking the road. Robert always discerned her figure in the dim room of the hall, her hat with a pompon, a pink jacket with glitter. Sitting quietly and obediently, she was easy-going. Robert typed in her phone number:

— Alice, I’m here, you can come out. I’m sorry I’m late again, I have to work. Anyway, come out, I’m here,” said Robert in an upset voice.

Even his own voice was terribly irritating. Robert frowned, closed his eyes for a second. “One… two… three… four… five…” he began to count. And, as if through a mist, it came from the speaker:

— Okay, Daddy, I’m coming out…

Robert felt not only a shame, but also anxiety. It was important not to show his emotions, it was important that she should not think anything bad about him. She loves him, of course, and joyfully rushes home, but as an teacher he knew that this love would be eclipsed by disappointment and anger. It shouldn’t last that long, but right now Robert had no strength to change the situation. He was late very often, and he was worried not only about the situation with his daughter, but also about what to expect at home: how his wife would react once again, what his mother-in-law would say, whether there would be another scandal or everything would be settled by the regular lectures.

Robert was lost in these anxious thoughts even as his daughter sat in the back seat of the car and hugged him. The warm little arms around him were the only joy of the day. How could he keep from smiling? Who can’t remember that he is the father of such a wonderful clever daughter, that tomorrow is a new day. Besides, there’s a road ahead and we have to go home.

— How was your day? – he asked, trying to see the girl’s face in the mirror, though it was dark.

— I got an A in spelling. Didn’t do well in the singing today, actually…

— That song about butterflies? – Robert remembered how last night his daughter and his wife were practicing it very loudly and prevented him from filling out electronic forms.

— Yes, I could not do it… Sally over-sang me…

“Cheer her up?” – the thought flashed. Yes, he could tell that everything was all right, that she was wonderful.

They stood at a traffic light. The last intersection before the turn to the edge of town, there would be no more crossroads. Thirty seconds to go… How slowly time dragged on. Robert looked to the right, a girl in a blow-up jacket, with headphones on her head, was walking along the sidewalk. Slim, fit and fast. She was smiling, and her eyes, even in the dark, seemed to glow with joy. The girl’s face seemed very familiar… Where and when could he have seen her? Where?

— Dad…

He was awakened from his thoughtful mood by his daughter’s voice and the annoying horn coming from the car behind him. He needed to go forward and faster. He pushed on the gas, but didn’t go straight ahead, turning right instead.

— Would you like some pizza? Or ice cream?

— Me? Of course I would. What do we tell Mommy? It’s cold, right?

“Silly girl, you’d better think about exactly how and which one of us your mother will scold first when we get home,” Robert thought sorrowfully. But one thought could not help but warm him up: in about an hour they would be able to be together with Alice, at least for a while, but together. And even though it was Tuesday and the whole week was ahead of them, they would still have a good time.

The phone on the seat buzzed, and in the blink of an eye, the director’s picture popped up on the screen. Mm… that was to be expected. I should answer it, of course, but I didn’t want to, and now they were near the cafe. She had to get out of the car. The phone stopped ringing, and the screen turned off.

“I’m fed up with everything…", thought Robert. And then he opened the door, helped his daughter out of the car, and they entered the spacious hall of the cafe, found a table near the window.

Pleasant music played. There were almost nobody in the hall. The waitress went straight to their table. The waitress came over and smiled. They didn’t have to think too long before choosing something from the menu. Her daughter immediately blurted it out:

— We’d like a chicken pizza and some chocolate ice cream, please.

“Business-like… Just like me,” Robert thought to himself as he paid the waitress. The daughter was smiling. And she was really happy today. He, on the other hand, not so much. In general, the state of joy and happiness was practically unfamiliar to him in recent days.

The pizza was warm, the hot slices reminded me of some beautiful, unknown, as if from childhood, pleasant event. Robert was hungry, because at work in the abyss of endless school cares he sometimes forgot to eat. And today, enjoying a delicious pizza, he was glad he was in a cafe. His daughter sat next to him, greedily devouring the treat. The thought flashed through his mind: “Beautiful picture: father and daughter eating pizza together in a cafe. With each bite he ate, his hunger began to recede, and Robert felt good. He was already able to look at the problems from the outside, they would have to be solved later. For now, he felt satisfied and peaceful.

The phone buzzed: Damn it, it’s her again. The director’s face blinked on the screen again. “You’ll have to answer it, it can’t help it,” Robert thought, answering the phone. The girl put away her unfinished pizza. She knew that unpromising look on her father’s face during the phone conversation with the boss. Director was calling again, to indicate a problem, to talk about plans, and meanwhile to load her vice-principal with some annoying information that would become irrelevant by the next day. But what was most disturbing was how the principal, finding free ears, shared her impressions after the faculty meeting. “I’m dragging work not only to my house, but also to the café where I’m currently enjoying pizza with my daughter. Why? Why can’t I refuse to talk and, referring to family circumstances, say goodbye to her? Why do I, as a slave, have to listen to her bullshit and waste my private time on it?” – These questions were keeping Robert in suspense.

After 15 minutes, the dialogue stopped, the pizza was already cold. My daughter was indifferently was on the phone and playing. Robert was confused and, looking at Alice and the pizza, gathered his thoughts: “What was that? And most importantly, why?” The already disgusting mood got even worse. Like an arrow, the thought pierced him that they had sat too long. It was getting late, and he had to go home. And there is waiting, apparently, a scandal, and Robert, although he didn’t want such a development, but was mentally prepared for it. He was used to it.

In the cafe, as bad luck, there was not a single waiter, although it was time to get ready and pay for the half-eaten and cold dinner. The bar desk, behind which was looming the head of either a barman or a waiter, was far away, and there was neither the strength nor the desire to shout and call him to the table.

— Я сейчас оплачу пиццу, и поедем домой, солнышко, – сказал Андрей, вставая из-за стола

— Hmm, – Alice mumbled and yawned.

He quickly made his way to the cash register, where there was a woman reading something.

— Can I pay for dinner? We were sitting over there, at the table, where the girl is.

— Okay, one minute, – said the waitress, pushing a button on her tablet. – By card or cash?

— Robert, hey! – A loud and resounding satisfied voice sounded from the back of my head. Robert turned around and saw George. It was a friend, or more exactly, a drinking companion of Robert, who supported him at the most difficult moments of his life. It’s a small world! Robert clearly didn’t expect to see his friend in such a nice place.

— Hello, – Robert smiled, trying to imitate at least a little cheerfulness on his face. But he knew that he could never hide anything from George. – What brings you here?

— Same question, – the guy smiled, as he always did, nervously going through something in his hands. This time it was a small notebook with a matte cover. – I just stopped by to grab some pizza, I’m going to work the night shift, and this is the closest cafe. Mmm… By the way, why are you and your daughter here so late on a weekday? Are you on vacation?

George glimpsed the girl sitting at the table, and looked intently at Robert. He, as always, incredibly quickly put all the facts together and immediately gave out:

— It wiped you out? – George’s eyes light up with pleasure, mixed with barely perceptible bitterness. – What is it this time?

— Yes, as always… At work overload after the fall break, things to do, as usual, the wife with her complaints … Come on, I don’t want to… I don’t want to whine.

— Well… – George missed a strong word, – Come on. I’ve known you for years. You can talk about whatever’s on your mind. Besides, we don’t see each other that often lately. Although I can see… I can’t talk now, Alice is almost asleep there.

Both turned to the table. And really, the girl was sitting with her arms around her backpack, smacking her lips, blinking her eyes sleepily.

— Yes, – Robert stretched out, – it’s time, the beginning of ten on the clock.

— Well, good luck to you guys, – said George, but suddenly he stopped himself and took out a blue card. – Here, take it.

— Hmm?

— It’s rare to meet people like that in our town. And I was lucky enough to get a couple of seats for a group session. They’ll be going on until the end of the month, – my friend twinkled and smiled again. Quite encouraging this time.

Robert held up a business card. Hard blue paper, various contacts, and large letters were written: “JESSICA HIGHLANDER – psychotherapist, motivational psychologist”.

There was an impatient exclamation:

— Have you ever heard about Jessica Highlander? A fat cat. In our city for only a month. She was born here, studied here, and now, as they say, we were lucky to see her.

George lifted his eyes up dreamily, and then looked intently into Robert’s eyes.

— Well… I don’t think I’m one of those.

— Which one? Don’t make it up, and don’t even dare disagree, – George smiled. – It’s all prejudice. Therapy, and innovative ones at that, are needed not by those who have mental problems, but by those who want to change their lives, to look at problems from a different angle.

— Already you talked as a psychologist, – Robert also smiled, but didn’t return the business card, and clutched it tighter in his hand and together with the credit card and the check slipped it into his wallet. – Well, maybe I’ll have a look at her.

He patted George on the shoulder and got up from his chair.

— Well, good luck on your work shift, and say hello to Sam. I’ll call you later.

— And don’t disappear, because I know you’ll get caught up in all these meetings, gatherings, appointments. It was like a business center, not a school…

Soon Robert and Alice were back in the warm interior of the car. Alice was silent and, to all appearances, very sleepy. They were driving home. It was fifteen to ten on the clock. Robert turned off the engine and stopped the car near the entrance of a five-story apartment building. The cozy courtyard, once green, now looked as gray and unsightly as everything else in this, though located in the resort foothills, but still a small and backwater town.

Apsheronsk… He didn’t choose this town by chance immediately after graduating from university in Moscow. Once upon a time long ago, as a schoolboy, he visited this town, rested in a comfortable sanatorium with mineral springs in the summer. The memories have remained very warm. And so, as soon as they began to actively promote programs for the development of education in small settlements, it was Apsheronsk that came to his mind as one of the enthusiasts. Then everything somehow worked out by itself. Looked through the vacancies, they were, of course. I signed all the documents, in spite of my mother’s protests, packed his bags and left to meet his professional dream. Everything started out so well. And he met Mary eight years ago. Now a family, a daughter, a cozy two-room apartment…

But my thoughts were not cheerful, but increasingly sad, and even angry. Because from the work Robert ceased to expect what he once strived for. The bureaucratic machine of education, luring him with the ideal of saving children under the slogan “Who else but me?”, in many ways had disappointed him and gradually began to break and change his mindset. Now he didn’t understand as clearly as before why he was here and what he was wasting his precious time for. Eight years had been devoted to education, but it was useless. The annoying thoughts he had had over the years remained thoughts without any action to change his life for the better. Robert, however, still had a path he had once elected, which was no longer a source of enthusiasm. And now the road was leading him to home, to his wife, and to a logical scandal. “I wish my mother-in-law wasn’t here,” – he thought.

More and more clearly the algorithm of excuses formed in his mind. First of all, he was late at work, and secondly, he was late picking Alice up from her vocal lesson. However, such excuses would irritate even more, not so much his wife, but her mother, a cranky and unfair old woman, who was always looking for an excuse to blame Robert. Third, instead of going home, they stopped at a cafe and ate pizza when dinner was probably waiting for them at home. Robert was already aware that unpleasant conversations could not be avoided. What else could he expect from his family?

In front of the door, Alice grimaced and wiped her sniffles with her sleeve. It wasn’t winter outside, but it was windy, and they must have been blown out of the car by a draught. “Here we go again, the fourth joint, as long as the girl doesn’t get sick,” Robert thought, catching himself thinking that he was more concerned about how his family would react than about his daughter’s health.

Meanwhile, the door slowly opened. Conversations could be heard in the apartment. The word “came”, spoken in a husky voice from the kitchen, let Robert know that another woman traditionally lived in his house – his wife’s mother, the agile and offensive Elizabeth. She often criticizes him, interferes in their family affairs and treats Robert unfairly. And everything is understandable. His mother-in-law is the kind of woman who had tasted all of his economic characteristics and moral values back in the Soviet Union, carefully transferring them into the family life. For example, now Robert was sure that Elizabeth again rubbed her daughter the wrong way, teaching her to save money and cook more homemade food, to feed her husband and child. Alice became the main object of the so-called “pedagogical” disputes between his wife and mother-in-law. This was invariably annoying.

And Elizabeth’s favorite subject was Robert. Conversations in the way like “…what a strange husband you have, my daughter… Where did you even find him?” had become a tradition.

“No one meets him. A bad sign,” thought Robert, hanging up his coat.

The house slippers, like speedboats, carried him along the standard route – to the kitchen. There were two women sitting around the table. One was a young woman, though she didn’t look too young, but a beautiful and pleasant woman – his wife Mary. And directly opposite her, looking directly at Robert, sat an older woman – her mother, his” beloved” mother-in-law, Elizabeth. The gazes piercing, the displeased faces. In their faces I could read condemnation, rather than the usual indifference. It was clear from their faces that they were both extremely disappointed in the situation.

— Good evening. We are here! – confidently said Robert.

— We can see, – muttered the mother-in-law haughtily. – Why are you so late? It is already dark outside, my granddaughter has to eat, to do homework, and to rest after school. You are a teacher, and you should know that.

His wife was quite, as usual. You could assume that she was afraid of her mother. But having lived with her, Robert could clearly see that she was only using her to keep herself from saying what she was thinking. And now they were probably thinking the same thing.

— I have a lot of things to do at work, today was the faculty meeting. I picked Alice up, and we went to a pizza place. I wanted to relax with my daughter, – Robert made excuses.

He knew that this passage would add additional fuel to the fire. Going to cafes and other leisure activities had an effect on the mother-in-law, like a red flag to a bull. That’s why he said it, to drive her out of her mind. Robert didn’t care anymore. However, his behavior was contradictory. He was not ready for a scandal, he didn’t want it, but the anticipation of a future quarrel, which was inevitable, gave him strength, and, despite his fatigue, he was ready to attack first.

— He fed the child outside again, – my mother-in-law said in her usual indignant voice.

That phrase was already standard in this situation. “He fed the child outside…". Even if he took the whole family to a restaurant and served a fancy dish, she would still consider it the street.

— I made you borsch, there is goulash, mashed potatoes, meatballs. Here’s the salad I chopped, and you have interrupted the child’s appetite. We have been telling you all along that she should eat at home, not outside. Why are you doing this?

A scandal was inevitable. Sometimes words and the energy they carry overflow the cup of patience, and even the kindest and relatively calm person who does not like to quarrel and always tries to compromise, can explode and respond. Robert felt that now or never, he had to show these women who was the boss here. And it was too late to compromise, or he just didn’t want to, or he didn’t know any other more effective way.

— I’m doing what I think is right, – I said, my throat feeling treacherously dry. There was a pause.

— Do you think we don’t know anything? – my mother-in-law shrieked unnaturally loudly.

— Robert, again you … You’re doing it again, – said the wife as she rolled her eyes and leaned her right hand on the tabletop.

“Playing the show again…", Robert’s mind raced. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his daughter close the door to her room tighter. Here we go.

In the same breath his wife blurted out, still covering her eyes and trembling finely:

— You’re always away at work, you don’t answer my messages or phone calls, you don’t listen to our advice, it’s like you’re in your own world. And here we are asking you twice a week to pick up Alice from the studio, and you can’t even do that… there are those words again… You’re being arbitrary again, unforgivable, – she suddenly broke into a high-pitched falsetto, but she has not yet burst into tears, which was to be expected.

This hail of completely undeserved accusations made Robert shudder: “I must, I must, I must… Once again, I… I… I…”

The mother-in-law didn’t interfere so far, looking now and then at him and at her daughter with a troubled look and a disgruntled frown. Meanwhile, Mary, continuing to get more and more wound up, said:

— I have a lot of work every day, and you can’t rely on anything at all. I have no strength anymore,” tears came to her eyes.

Mary looked at her mother demandingly. The mother-in-law all tensed up and prepared for a decisive “throw”.

— Mother… why don’t you say something! – cried at last.

“A forbidden trick,” – thought Robert sadly, but there was nothing he could do about it. Almost always all scandals ended this way, especially with the participation of the “esteemed” Elizabeth. His wife would wail and accuse him without letting him speak, then she would turn to her mother and begin to cry, and then…

— What a poor man he is now, – immediately and harshly, as if at the command, gave out his mother-in-law. – Thee isn’t any support in the family, but only a burden. And Mary cries again, Alice’s lessons aren’t studied again, and it’s very late, and soon it will be bedtime. But what, I … I will not interfere, but you, Robert, think about what you do!

She shook her hands in frustration and, pretending not to interfere, backed away, but very slowly, toward the exit of the kitchen. Nevertheless, Robert knew that she was anxious to continue, and if either of them said one more word, the scandal would surely drag on. But on this occasion, apart from a sense of guilt, there was no harm done to him. Robert, whether from fatigue or frustration didn’t want to say anything, and Mary, suddenly sobbing convulsively, slipped out of the kitchen, even slightly pushing her mother. What happened stopped the “fury” and really made her go home at last. But she didn’t fail to zip up her coat and sting one last time:

— All families are like families, living palsy-walsy… Ah, and yours… I didn’t expect that yours – who goes to the woods, who gets the wood, everyone is on his own.

Robert was frozen in perplexity, not knowing what to answer. Anger was boiling in him and he could not find anything better to say:

— You’d better go to rest, Mom.

And, of course, that phrase was a mistake. Elizabeth, theatrically sighed: “Ah!” And, slamming the door loudly, left. She would not speak to him now for a few days, but would come, of course.

It was quiet in the apartment. He stood in the middle of the corridor, listening to the silence. It was as if time had stopped. A few minutes passed like that before Robert regained his composure and the realization that he needed to end this day somehow and finally cut off the tangle of problems.

He slowly walked to the bathroom, undressed, and stood on the cold plates of the bath, pulled the curtain, and turned on the water. It was cold, and now and then Robert shuddered, but he had no desire to change the temperature, he didn’t want to relax. On the contrary, the cold shower brought him back to reality. And as he dressed again, stepped out of the bathroom, and proceeded to his usual spot, the chair on the balcony overlooking the kitchen, everything that had happened during the day flashed through his mind. An exhausting meeting, dinner with his daughter, a conversation with a friend, an altercation with his wife and mother-in-law, hurtful words spoken during an argument, his usual fatigue, anger, and impotence.

It’s the first quarter past twelve on the clock. The time flew by so quickly, and tomorrow is a new day. And again everything is the same, the familiar script, everything is tasteless and boring, incomprehensible and, characteristically, unsolvable. Outwardly, everything seems fine: there is an apartment with an almost paid mortgage, a wife, a healthy and intelligent daughter, and in general terms, a stable job. But there were gaps in this puzzle: the lack of progress in his career, annoying and stupid management, endless quarrels at home, lack of time for the child, his wife’s problems at work and constant fatigue. Suddenly Robert caught himself thinking that for about ten minutes he had been mindlessly reviewing the list of contacts in his phone. Yes… It was obvious that he wanted to speak out, to tell about all his worries and dedicate someone to his thoughts, maybe together in a conversation to find a way out. But who would he talk to? George – he is, of course, very perceptive, but still a man isn’t family and is unlikely to understand his problems. Mrs. Laura is one of the head teachers at school, the only one of his colleagues with whom he had a warm, trusting relationship, always advised him the same thing: divorce, take your daughter and go to Moscow. But he knew that was not the answer. Mom… No, calling his mother in the middle of the night and talking to her about what was on his mind was out of the question. Margaret, who from the very beginning had been against his going to the countryside and had only visited her twice in all the years he had lived here (the rest of the time he visited her in the capital himself), naturally would have reacted emotionally. And so Robert didn’t want to disturb her.

He fumbled for the lock button, turned off the phone screen, and thought again, “It really was a good idea to talk. Suddenly it hit him”. Turning on the phone screen again, he typed in the search box the name that he remembered well after the conversation in the cafe: " Jessica Highlander. Yes, she was a well-known psychotherapist, motivational psychologist, practicing Gestalt techniques, five years of experience, author of scientific articles and the acclaimed book “Through Life with a Smile” with a circulation of more than a million copies. The book was presented a year earlier, and the book was sold out.

Rising from his chair, Robert, without turning on the light, proceeded to the hallway, fumbled for his briefcase, took out his wallet and business card with an invitation, and then hastily put it behind the phone cover, so as not to lose it. And smiled to himself. He reminded himself of a schoolboy, who is hiding some secret from everyone in the dark. He felt better. Robert looked into his daughter’s room, she was already asleep. Mary, despite the rift that had occurred, still took care of her daughter, as usual. Kissing Alice on the forehead goodnight, Robert thought of his wife: “She’s a good girl, after all, I’m just confused and don’t know what to do, don’t know how to fix the situation.”

It was quiet and dark in the matrimonial bedroom. Mary was already asleep, and that pleased him. Maybe he had done wrong by not talking to her, but now he didn’t want to see her tears and hear her reproaches again. Robert lay quietly beside her and fell into a deep sleep almost instantly.

Chapter 2 – Conflicts to conflict

A week had passed since that altercation. Robert reconciled with his wife, but his relationship with his mother-in-law still left a lot to be desired, and there was still a residue from the words spoken that night. It seemed to everyone that the evening was somehow strange, incomprehensible to anyone and a turning point. Something was gradually dying away, like fog with the first rays of the sun. His love, tenderness, affection for Alice, for Mary, his wife, the mother of his child, was gradually receding into the background. The daily grind at work, the routine of his relationships became a burden that hung like a weight, preventing, as it seemed to Robert, to lift his spirits. From time to time it occurred to me that perhaps the family was the factor that not only killed Robert’s desire to change something in his life, but also fueled his despondency.

Of course, he kept these thoughts to himself, tried not to succumb to them, didn’t want to believe that any of it could be true. But the thoughts, like tectonic magma, were breaking through and would one day have to come out with a deafening force and roar. But right now it was easier for him to get away from thinking and immerse himself in the endless routine of work and family affairs.

“Beloved” mother-in-law, an uncompromising old woman, both after the scandalous evening and on this Thursday morning as if nothing had happened, came to help her daughter around the house. When she saw that the borscht had been left on the stove uneaten by anyone, she burst into a storm of emotions, expressed her displeasure to her daughter by telephone, and, since dinner was ready for the evening, she began to sweep and scrub the floors in her daughter’s apartment. Elizabeth perceived cooking and cleaning her son-in-law’s and daughter’s apartment as her immediate duty, not realizing that by doing so she was interfering with normal family life, not only for her daughter, but also for her young husband.

Everything was as usual. The scandal was just background noise that had no effect on what was going on. The mother-in-law would come to their apartment, cook dinner, help with the cleaning, give instructions about her granddaughter’s upbringing, and babysit her. And then she would take Alice to vocals or art school and then go back to sit in the kitchen until her favorite son-in-law arrived. It may even have seemed that there was a second wife in the house – a kind of caring altruist. But no. Every night in the kitchen sat not a kind angel, but an old, nervous madam, which more and more irritated Robert. But he could not cope with her negative influence.

All week Robert came home from work, listened to the conversations of his mother-in-law and could not be alone with his wife. After leaving Elizabeth, there were only a few minutes to have a few phrases with his wife about the upcoming plans, take a shower and sink into a sound sleep. Robert even began to think that it could not be otherwise. The routine of family life had brought the man to automatic behavior. Sometimes his emotions ran high, and sometimes his wife even thought he was hugging her, but he was hugging her, rather unconsciously, in his sleep. She, too, was no longer expecting anything, and seemed to be guided by a sense of duty – after all, they had a child and responsibilities. The relationship had become a kind of quintessential mutual obligation.

Yes, and the job is just as strange, but even more ridiculous routine, which was even more annoying than the old mother-in-law. The head teacher of the school was a “shitwork”. Robert was constantly making the other teachers do the work that, in his own opinion, was not really good for a teacher. Every day filled a lot of papers: reports, curricula, documents for preparation for contests, examinations, attestations. Paperwork, work with scholarly tables, schedules, checking and rechecking teachers’ reports, calls, letters, administrative duties, trips to meetings, and all that stuff had long ceased to be activities that brought satisfaction. It became obvious that this kind of work was disappointing to the young principal, and was gradually killing off the fervor of his idealism. Where had his desire to change the school system, to put it on a normal human footing, gone?

What struck Robert the most was his colleagues’ indifference to his innovations. Recently they had been asked to convert most of the teachers’ documentation into electronic form. But to do that they had to literally force all teachers to work in the electronic system. Young teachers had no problem accepting the innovation. But older colleagues reacted skeptically. Oil in the fire poured and the principal, who not only didn’t want to help Robert, but sometimes even interfered, played a double game, thus undermining the authority of the head teacher in the school community.

Recently an unfortunate incident happened at work, which not only caused a storm of indignation in Robert, but in general, as it seemed at the time, exposed the hopelessness of the system of education in the school.

Everything happened, as always, unexpectedly. Robert’s daughter Alice, a creative person, began to take her studies more than responsibly in first grade. On the one hand, it was influenced by the fact that her father worked as head teacher at school, but on the other hand, the girl understood with all seriousness the importance of learning, which she liked it. One thing only hindered her from school: the girl had certain problems with the teacher about her appearance. Alice always dressed like a creative person. Even at the age of six, she learned how to make herself fashionable hairstyles, was interested in extravagant skirts, colorful T-shirts, etc. Not to say that the girl’s appearance was excessively flamboyant, but caused some attention not only from teachers, but also from classmates. But Alice liked to be special, and most importantly, her father supported her desire to be a person, to show her individuality, to develop a sense of love for her desires, hobbies, and values.

One day after a meeting at the principal’s office, when Robert was left to deal with other tasks with the supervisor, Alice’s teacher walked into the office and arrogantly said:

— Oh, how good of you to be here! I would like to talk about your daughter’s appearance. This is unacceptable!

— What is unacceptable? – Robert clarified calmly.

— The way she dresses. You as head teacher understand us perfectly well, – she stressed the word “us” defiantly. “What did she mean? Us, the teachers, or me and the principal?” – flashed through Robert’s mind.

— I see nothing wrong here, my daughter’s appearance does not interfere with her studies, on the contrary, it reflects her creative personality. She is the most responsible student in the class, and you have never made any remarks about her.

— What do you mean – it wasn’t? I had comments about her appearance all the time. Back in kindergarten I brought her hair and clothes to your attention. Children in the class and their parents wondered if others could dress the same way. And if they follow her example? – the teacher continued indignantly, glancing at the principal, who at that moment had definitely chosen the side of the indignant teacher, but was waiting for the right moment to make her final word.

— They won’t dress like my daughter, the parents don’t have the will, and the children don’t have the intelligence or imagination. Now they just have to accept my girl for who she is. I’m not going to forbid her to dress the way she wants, – answered Robert confidently, turning away from the principal toward the teacher standing by the door.

— Mr. Robert, I don’t like the way your daughter dresses either. This is an educational institution, not a brothel. We have white tops and black bottoms. Your daughter should understand that and dress according to the school charter, – said the principal, leaning on the table with her elbows. Her decisive word was more than offensive and unfair and inexorably led to an increase in the degree of scandal. Robert had to defend his principles and the honor of his daughter.

— In the brothel, too, they can dress in school uniforms. The only difference: it isn’t children who work there. My daughter has been dressing like this since kindergarten, she has a taste for all things creative, she plays skits, sings beautifully, draws constantly and is engaged in modeling new dresses. I find it useful and I’m not going to change anything! – was the adamant response.

The disagreement with the principal’s opinion caused misunderstanding on the part of both the principal and the elementary school teacher. However, Robert had a strange desire to rebel against his superiors, as well as the educational system as a whole.

The scandal escalated. The trio argued for a long time about how to dress Alice. The principal immediately recalled not only all the miscalculations of the young head teacher, but also the unfulfilled work tasks. It seemed that the abyss opened up and out of it poured out all the bile, pain, and frustration. Robert was on edge, defending himself, protecting his daughter, responding to the director’s aggression with no less stinging aggression. In the end, when he came out, the feeling of disappointment in his work and a desire to quickly get out of the school didn’t leave him. But there was no way out, the second shift had begun, and he had three more classes in high school. The conflict had to be swallowed and he had to go to class.

A new conflict with the principal didn’t take long. Literally the next day at the same time the vice principal came into his office with the information that he had to talk urgently with a 10th grader who was a candidate for expulsion from school because of her appearance. Unlike his daughter, who dressed decently, though creatively torn skirts, complete with embroidered T-shirts, the tenth-grader had an indecent appearance.

Diana (that was her name) stood in the principal’s office in a cathouse outfit: black fishnet tights, a leather short skirt, and a tattered gray T-shirt. The candidate for expulsion was frightened to look around. She knew that Mr. Robert, though not a supporter of such clothes, but he didn’t consider it a disaster.

The conversation began with the director:

— See, that’s what the creative nature can lead to. We warned Diana, as you know, many times, we called her mother, and you remember, even you participated in our conversation last week. But to no avail, we will have to take measures. This kind of appearance is unacceptable in our school. What do you have to say about it, Robert?

Robert understood everything. It was a stone in his own backyard as well. The principal had created conditions under which he had to agree with her. And then the girl would be expelled. But by agreeing with the principal, he would lose, and the whole exchange yesterday would become meaningless. Robert preferred not to play this game:

— Mrs. Marble, – he began to answer the director, – I can understand why you invited me here. I think: it is unprofessional, using the precedent with Diana, to hint at my situation, thereby humiliating me. My opinion about my daughter remains the same. As for Diana, I will say the following: I would not want her to be expelled from school because of her appearance, especially since she has leveled off in her studies and is making significant progress in history and social studies.

Mr. Robert’s words produced a mixed reaction. The principal was extremely unhappy with her vice-principal, including the way he harshly answered her and thereby raised his credibility in the eyes of the student. Mrs. Marble had long wanted to expel Diana from the school, and now she needed Robert’s consent, which she didn’t get. As for Diana, she sat silent, looking at the floor, and it was obvious that she was very bad and ashamed right now. Ashamed, in part, because she respected her teacher very much and didn’t want to cause him any trouble. But it was his words about her success in her studies that really stuck with her. She had already made up her mind: if she was not expelled, she would dress differently and study hard.

But Diana was expelled. The girl is now in the gymnasium, where she is supposed to spend her free time with her classmates, who are going to take her to the kindergarten for the rest of her life. Robert found out about it the next day during the lesson, when the children told him everything. Rage, anger – these were the feelings that were eating away at the good soul of Robert. He no longer thought about the lesson, about education, about upbringing. He wanted to rebel, he wanted to be angry, he wanted to show the principal, the teachers, the whole educational system his indignation. To work not for the good, but in spite of it – that’s what this whole situation was pushing toward.

Consumed with these feelings Robert was sitting in his office, thinking about the absurdity and stupidity of what had happened, when the phone beeped, announcing the arrival of a text message. Robert read the text message and smiled. The message was from Diana: “Thanks for believing in me. I’ll get better at another school.” “There’s still hope,” – Robert noted to himself. And he felt a little better.

Robert’s defeat in this story was defining. He was angry at everything: at the principal, at the education system, at the teachers. But the most disgusting feeling he felt for himself. The disappointment, the senseless waste of time at work, the nervous atmosphere at home – all of this combined to upset him even more. He still had a few days of work left before the end of the week, but he felt no desire to do anything at all. He had no energy for anything. Everything seemed pointless and empty.

Tonight Robert wanted to spend time in a bar, and for some reason he remembered the times when he used to drink with friends, or rather with one friend. And it was him that Robert decided to call.

The conversation was short and brief:

— Hi, George. How are you?

— Hi, fine, and how are you? – The voice of an old friend inspired and cheered up a despondent Robert.

— You know, I don’t want to burden you. I’d just like to meet you the other day.

— Great, I’m all for it! Listen, let’s do it tonight, if you don’t have work.

— Yeah, tonight’s really good. Then let’s do it at our place.

— All right, it’s a deal, buddy.

Robert’s friend George was happy to meet them and was clearly in a positive mood. Apparently, something had really changed in his life. Robert and him often “hung out” in different bars, and most often in three. But this time the choice fell on a small and quiet place in the center of the city.

The bar where Robert and his friend spent their evenings was what they called “the colorful place. Robert was a teacher at the time, and George worked part-time somewhere from time to time. The bar was called “Solo Rock”. It occupied the ground floor of a big house on the main street and had a really racy and brutal design. Its dark walls reeked of a pleasant smoky smell. There was a stage in the bar, on which from time to time some youth groups played. The owner was a fan of rock, so there was never any quiet music in the place. And this was not necessary for men who came here to have a “cultural rest”, to listen or tell stories, pour out the soul of an unfamiliar drinking companion … And in general Robert, as a capital intellectual, liked the fact that visitors didn’t get drunk here. And the aura of this bar with a male character was full of empathy and solidarity.

The music of the 90s was playing tonight. As usual, Robert was the first to arrive at the bar. He bought two bottles of beer, asked about the local alcoholic ration, and waited for his buddy. “Hmm, nothing changes, how nice that many things remain, and that’s a good thing,” – he noted to himself. The bar was indeed the same, and had hardly changed in the three years since he and George had last met, except for the revamped stage, where teenagers, apparently a local amateur band, were already bustling about. So, it will be interesting. Robert’s mood brightened up noticeably.

Here comes George, he, as usual, made his friend wait a little longer. “And that doesn’t change,” – Robert noted with a smile as he watched his buddy swiftly descend the stairs straight to him.

— Hey, buddy, good to see you. Our place, as I see it, has not changed, – George looked around, and an enthusiastic smile appeared on his big red face. – So, tell me what happened. I could smell the negativity coming from you last week. Tell me, Robert. Beer is just the beginning, as I remember.

— Yeah, you’re right, George. I’ve been having a hard time lately, no, it’s so fucked up that I can’t digest it all in peace anymore.

— Tell us, buddy,” George said loudly, and then he swallowed his foamy drink and looked directly at Robert, as he always liked to do.

Sometimes it’s hard for a man to complain about life, and this stereotype does not allow to get rid of problems. On the contrary, pain and aggression only accumulate and lead to despondency. Robert was just in that state, when a black streak in life seemed to threaten to turn into a prolonged depression.

That’s why he told his friend everything. About the disgusting psychological state, which was connected with work, or rather disappointment in it, about the aggression toward the principal and teachers. He told about his daughter and about that girl from the tenth grade. About his wife, whose relationship with her was on the verge of total discord and, possibly, divorce. About the talented daughter who was forced to hear the scandals at home, see the sad father and the angry mother. He told, of course, about his mother-in-law, who he felt was causing a lot of trouble in his family. He would have gladly forbidden her to visit them and, in order to see her less often, was already ready to move to another part of town, closer to his wife’s work. Only this would have led to the apparent collapse of the relationship, because his mother-in-law had a very strong influence on his wife and daughter. The planned conversation with his friend turned into a solid monologue, in which Robert poured out and poured out his soul, while George, finishing his third bottle of beer, listened to him attentively with an unflappable expression, which inspired confidence and joy that understanding and male solidarity in everything would be provided for Robert.

— Yeah. That’s a dead end, no, I’d even say it’s a trap, and you’re in it, my friend. But I’ll tell you this: there’s a way out of everything. And you can look at all the stories that have happened to you now from two angles. This is a crisis, and there is a way out of it. I was listening to you just now, and I realized one thing: you have to get out of this pit by changing your thinking. Look at me. You remember what I was like before.

And it’s true that George has changed a lot. He’s become a businessman, he wears a suit. And this is only two years after they stopped communicating for some unknown reason. Now George has an active life position, he is engaged in his favorite occupation, he has a positive attitude and is very friendly with those with whom he didn’t communicate for two years. But it could have been different. Robert finally swallowed the already warm beer and looked at his friend. Yes, George, the convinced drunkard and weirdo, had changed noticeably. Now Robert wanted to hear his story.

But George wasn’t much of a talker; he got right down to business:

— Remember, I told you back at the pizzeria about the psychologist. Well, she helped me a lot, or rather her methods. Training and communication with her changed me. In a short time I pumped up and now with pleasure go to counseling. Maybe you should try it, eh? It can’t hurt. She’s a cool chick, believe me.

Robert agreed that it did make sense to go to training sessions, or at least to try. In any case, it would not be worse, and George had shown by his own example that a non-serious drunkard could well turn into a businessman and a positive person. It is definitely necessary to dial the number from the business card and make an appointment. Especially since she will be in town for another month.

They drank another mug of beer and parted ways in the evening. Everyone went about his business. George, apparently, went to visit that interesting lady, with whom, judging by the conversations, he had met quite recently. And Robert went to his wife. He remembered her unhappy face, the dull kitchen with all the things going on that he absolutely didn’t want to go back to. “I’ll call the psychologist’s office today and make an appointment,” – he decided.

At the same time, everything around him was so in tune with positive thoughts. It was dark outside, but so unusual, as in principle does not happen in the first days of December, – without precipitation and clear. Normally disinclined to romance, Robert drove leisurely, and from time to time he looked up at the starry sky. “Yes, placers of stars can only be seen so well in a small town, which you can’t see in a stuffy metropolis,” it thought. And he remembered his high school and college days, when Robert walked irrepressibly toward his dream, participated in dozens of projects, tuning in to the frenetic pace of the big city. How active he was then and didn’t know what depression was, which could have been about to consume him, and maybe already had.

With these thoughts, with thoughts of a possible visit to his mother in Moscow alone or with his family during the winter vacations, he parked the car, fumbled for the intercom keychain, and headed confidently toward his apartment. Yes, definitely more confident than usual. But confidence was quickly replaced by confusion, as from behind a tightly closed door he heard the commanding sound of his mother-in-law’s voice. She was doing what she called “pedagogical work” with her favorite granddaughter:

— It isn’t good to watch cartoons for a long time! And don’t mind!

Alice’s voice could not be heard, but that was not what angered Robert so much. He was literally dumbfounded by the next words:

— She must have learned from Daddy to argue with everyone! He may soon be fired because of his constant arguments! You, too.

When the coat was hung up and the briefcase was put in its usual place, Robert was already boiling with anger and indignation. Of course, he realized that his attacks on his mother-in-law were akin to pinpricks, but still he saw no other way to fix the situation, or simply didn’t know about it.

— How can you say that! – he blurted out as he swiftly entered his daughter’s room, where the action was unfolding.

And, most surprising of all, Elizabeth was only for a moment embarrassed, realizing that she had been caught unawares.

— What? – she began, gathering all her confidence and arching her back a little. – Your daughter is restless and wants to have fun all the time when her mother isn’t home. No, of course, I understand Maryenka, she works hard, and she has a night shift tonight. But the remark I have to make, who else …

“A favorite trick,” – thought Robert bitterly. His mother-in-law very skillfully avoided answering, moving on to discuss the shortcomings of other people. And, as always, didn’t pay attention to his objections.

— And so tonight, since I’m staying overnight, I’ll make sure that the lessons are learned.

Alice looked pleadingly at her father. And he also looked directly into her eyes. Father and daughter knew perfectly well that who but Alice deserved a vacation, especially on a Friday. Maybe the beer, maybe George’s words, maybe the special atmosphere of the evening, maybe the resentment that had been repressed for many months against the malicious interference of Elizabeth in the upbringing of her first-grade daughter made itself felt, and he answered rather rudely:

— That isn’t for you to decide.

“One missed opportunity is enough,” – he thought of the expelled student. And Alice, hearing the sudden words of support, even squirmed, pulling up her legs in pink tights on the couch and wrapping her arms around them. Robert continued:

— She won’t be doing any homework today. And you’d better go home and get some rest, it’s been a hard day for everyone.

— How? – That’s all the mother-in-law could say. – As if you, Robert, were able to take care of her, as if you could cook… – But she could not finish as he raised his voice at her for the first time in her life.

— Yes, I can, very much so! Stop treating me like a boy!

And suddenly Robert took the remote control from the TV and made the sound in the cartoon about the Three Heroes even louder, so that the roar of the battle with the Dragon Gorynych began to fill the room.

Elizabeth’s chin trembled, she shrank somehow, squinted. Robert barely knew what came over him, but in his heart was aware that the battle he had won would certainly be lost, because there are two women in the family and one actively supports the other in everything.

— Stop talking like that! I have done so much for your family! If it weren’t for me, you would have split up long ago, and Alice wouldn’t be so talented and clever!

— No, – in Robert’s voice became steely notes, – it’s not your merit. It’s late, it’s time for you to go.

The TV rattled across the room, and everyone in it was silent. The mother-in-law didn’t recover from such aggressive and unaccustomed treatment so quickly. It took her three minutes to digest what had been said, to realize that she had just been kicked out of the apartment. Afterwards, taking her favorite shawl from the couch, leaving the room, she said one last word, as always:

— Black is your ingratitude, Robert! You have no conscience.

He was silent. There were no more words. Gathering up her things and dressing hurriedly, Elizabeth disappeared behind the door. She was gone. But it didn’t become calmer. It didn’t become calmer even when he returned to the room, drank tea with his daughter, looked at the new outfits she had made for the dolls, and then, after bathing her, put her to bed. Everything seemed to be going well. A perfect evening. And he acted like it was the right thing to do. Or did he? Many questions swirled in Robert’s mind, even then swirled, when, going to bed, he dialed a number from his business card and wrote it in the phone book.

Already in Saturday morning, just a couple of beeps later, a cheerful and pleasant female voice answered:

— Jessica Highlander’s office, listening. Are you on a trial training?

— Yes, that’s right, for training.

— The appointment will take place tomorrow at 11:00. We will be glad to see you. Please state your name and patronymic.

— Mr. Robert.

A few seconds later it was registered, the recording was complete. With a feeling of slight uncertainty Robert returned to the room to his daughter, who, hugging a stuffed rabbit named Venya, was watching a cartoon with interest. He sat down next to her, sat like that for a while, but after a while he went to the kitchen. He wanted to do something to occupy himself, to kill time. He boiled the kettle, cut a loaf into small slices and smeared them with melted cheese. His daughter loved such a simple and tasty treat. He varied the treat with a couple of sugar cookies left over from the day before, and, as soon as the tea was brewed, he took them all into the room. Satisfied that she could rest, her daughter happily took up the food and ate everything he offered her with unprecedented vigor.

— Daddy, may I sleep in your room with Mummy tonight? Please, – Alice asked, smiling and bouncing slightly on the couch. – Your blanket is so soft, and Venya really likes it, too.

Asking for something, the girl always slightly squinted her eyes, which made her incredibly similar to her mother. The striking resemblance to Mary always somewhat amused Robert, as my daughter became at such moments isn’t in a childish seriousness. Almost nothing so he could not refuse her, and Alice so rarely asked for something with such enthusiasm.

— Let’s go, of course. And we could even read before going to bed.

The rest of the evening was wonderful. As cozy as it’s rarely been. No quarrels or scandals, no unsolvable problems, no difficult thoughts. They drank tea, then read “The Wizard of Oz” at bedtime. Surprisingly, Robert fell asleep easily and easily. Tomorrow was going to be a hard but interesting day. Deep in his heart he hoped that everything that was happening would be resolved very soon.

Chapter 3 – A first introduction to the Method

The frosty Sunday morning, sunny and piercingly bright, was invigorating. Shivering from the cold and holding hands, she and her daughter walked briskly toward the district art school. A still-life drawing class was to begin by 10:00, during which he could attend a session and then return for Alice and drive home. The plan was very simple and clear. And, in general, since yesterday evening he was doing very well, which could not help but create a certain positive mood. For example, for the first time in a long time his daughter went to her Sunday class with gusto, which was undoubtedly to his credit.

— I’m going to try very hard today, Daddy. And I’ll show you what I could draw. When are you coming? – Alice quickly chattered, putting rolled-up A3 sheets, crayons, and a still-life model out of her backpack on the table.

— As soon as class is over. Today I have things to do in the center of the city, but I’m not going to be late, don’t worry, – Robert stroked her head and smiled. – If anything, you know you can always call Daddy. And I’ll pick you up if you get off early.

Normally his wife and her mother didn’t approve of the phone in class, but to spite them, Robert let Alice take the new smartphone he’d given her a month ago for her eighth birthday today.

— Okay, Dad, – the girl nodded.

— Come on, good luck, – he smiled again, waved at her, and left the classroom.

According to the navigator, the office, where the group therapy was to take place, was within walking distance. Besides, there was still a whole hour before the start of the consultation. Therefore, Robert briskly walked through the familiar streets of the city. After passing a few uniform two-story apartment buildings, as can be found in every small town, he turned into a square, built, as far as he remembered, before the revolution. Farther down the path were a few benches along a circular plaza, adorned by a sheltered winter bed and the crowns of old ash trees that only grew in mountain latitudes. He loved the shadows cast by the bare, massive branches of these powerful trees. They formed a whimsical pattern on the old gray sidewalk tiles. Robert involuntarily slowed his step as he walked past. But the square was quite small, and as soon as he crossed it, he almost immediately found himself in a busy neighborhood with several stores. That’s where most of the city’s residents regularly shopped on weekends.

The stores were just opening. A guy brought fresh baked goods to the bakery in a van. Discussing something with the salesman, he unloaded tray after tray, bringing them into the store. A florist, for some reason unkindly looking at him, intensively sprayed the flowers exposed on the open showcase. So, grinning slightly, Robert turned his gaze to the glass windows of clothing stores. They were habitually displaying almost all the available costumes, put on mannequins. Such is the naivety of provincial marketing masters. In general Robert should have bought himself a new purse long ago, and on another day, had he been freer, he would certainly have gone into a small store with accessories. His salesman, an old haberdasher, who five years ago had been selling in a flimsy stall at the market, had now set up a pleasant “salon. He was always able to find the right option for Robert, smoothing out the pain of choice with up-to-date gossip.

The city lived its quiet and unremarkable life. He was a part of the city that tended to take part, even if timidly, in everything that was going on. However, in Robert’s opinion, it was quite insignificant. Immersed in his thoughts, he almost bumped into a jeep that had parked sharply in the middle of the sidewalk. A stocky man in a black down jacket fell out of the car and without any explanation attacked Robert shouting:

— Watch where you are going! Don’t you look under your feet at all, – followed by a couple of swear words.

The words fell like snow on my head and made me angry – after all he was not breaking anything, was not disturbing anyone.

— Hey! Watch where you’re going! Standing on the sidewalk! I’m going to call the traffic police and see… – Suddenly for himself Robert blurted out, stopping for a second. The blood rushed to his head instantly.

— The cleverest one has appeared.

The careless driver practically walked right up to him and apparently completely ignored the threat that came his way. The tension was building:

— I’m going to hit you before you get your phone out.

— Watch what you’re saying! There’s a lot of people here. What, you want to go to the station? – He wouldn’t let up, and didn’t move from his seat.

The prospect of a fight right before the consultation with a therapist didn’t particularly inspire him, but he was really angry. His recent frustrations were showing, and he didn’t feel much like holding back. Clenching his fists, he waited for the reaction of the boor, who, nervously twisting the keys in his hand, stared angrily at Robert.

Robert was plucked from oblivion by the ringing of the phone. It triggered a reminder of the consultation that was about to begin. The sound had a sobering effect on both of them, causing the driver to stop and shut up, and Robert to walk further down the sidewalk. He did, however, allow himself to wag his finger at his temple, in response to which his accidental companion shouted something rude in his wake. However, Robert didn’t hear what it was, because he was again immersed in his thoughts, thinking about what he would see and hear in the next hour and a half.

The consulting room was decorated in pleasant light colors. Fortunately, it didn’t have the main irritant that Robert was inwardly afraid of – the semi-darkness and the smell of incense, which caused him only melancholy. On the contrary, every detail of the interior tuned his thoughts to active work. Here is a freakishly curved vase by the window, composed as if of pieces of broken glass, paintings in the art nouveau style … All these nice nuances made up the general composition and remained distinctive separate elements at the same time. The furniture was laconic without fussy details. The guests were seated in soft brown sack chairs, and there was no space at all for a lecturer. A standard glossy white board hung on the wall, and above it a clock of the same white color with black strokes in a circle that conventionally denoted the numbers of the dial.

“Nothing taxing on the mind, nice, – Robert’s mind raced. – Nothing to be distracted by.” He looked at the people. The consulting room was filled with all sorts of clients. This fact surprised and intrigued him at the same time. To Robert’s right sat a young, moody-looking girl with a notebook in her hands. The closest to the board, with his back to him, was a man in his fifties, looking through something on his smartphone. Two middle-aged women, dressed as if for a dinner party, took seats near the exit. They were talking animatedly. Right next to Robert sat a young man about his age, dressed in a simple but cozy brown sweater and black worn jeans. The young man was jotting something down on a clipboard, but at the same time he looked frequently at his guests, and at Robert as well. It was not difficult to guess that it was this young guy, noticeably different from the inhabitants of this provincial town, who was an psychotherapist’s assistant.

So when he once again stared at Robert, the latter, without taking his eyes off him, asked:

— I’m here for the first time, maybe you can tell me what format it’s going to be in?

— Um… – The guy hesitated.

Then, with a slight furrowed brow, answered loudly, no doubt attracting the attention of everyone present:

— Jessica is now writing a new book that will be devoted to testing a new method for dealing with negative emotions and attacks of the ‘outside environment’, as she says. To ensure that the method receives sufficient support among readers, clients and practitioners alike, she has set herself the goal of gathering a group of test subjects, who will then become the protagonists of the book, so to speak… And… I’m on the team.

— This is the first time I’ve heard of this approach.

Robert could not help but admit that what he heard clearly interested him, so he moved his chair closer to the young man and asked:

— In the team?

— Ah, well… – Robert’s interlocutor grinned.

Tapping the tablet lock screen and looking at Robert again, he continued:

— That’s what I call those who Jessica has already selected to her group. By the way, I’m Mark.

— Nice to meet you, Robert.

Introducing himself, Robert said that Mark looked not only a very agile, quick-witted and enthusiastic man, but also incredibly cheerful and energetic, animatedly taking part in everything that was happening and as if charged with something from inside.

— And how is the selection process carried out? – Robert asked a question that naturally arose.

But he didn’t get an answer, because a young woman entered the room, where about 15 people had already gathered, and with a springy gait, looking at everyone present one by one, approached the blackboard. She didn’t seem to lose sight of anyone, and the attentive gaze of her dark eyes also stopped on Robert and Mark. She fit wonderfully into the interior of the room. There was nothing pretentious about her appearance: a dark blue woolen dress with a closed neck, high booted boots without heels, brown hair pulled up into a bun above her head. And absolutely no jewelry, not in his ears, not on his neck, not on his wrists. An absolutely calm and laconic image. Nothing about her could distract the listener from the penetrating gaze, the half-smile that almost never left her face, and the highly entertaining conversation that captivated everyone in the room from the very first seconds.

— I am very grateful to all of you that on this Sunday morning you decided to spend some time talking to me, – the coach began her speech, and Robert immediately understood why there was no chair or chair for the psychologist: she didn’t stand still, but walked tirelessly around the room. – I will introduce myself to those with whom we have not yet met. Jessica Highlander, psychotherapist and motivational coach.

Highlander didn’t make a pause in her speech and, stopping right in front of Robert and Mark, continued, slightly lowering her voice:

— In fact, each of us is a pretty good motivational coach for ourselves, aren’t we? I’m sure that last week, and the week before, was not without its difficulties for all of you. I confess that I did too: a heavy flight, having to prepare a place for a meeting, negotiations with representatives of the local administration.

Jessica smiled, defusing the situation. And Robert noted that for the first time in his practice the confidential tone was used so successfully. No tedious introductions, no boring enumeration of their own achievements. A relaxed and open conversation was immediately initiated. Therefore, the revelations expressed by a complete stranger previously he wanted to respond with a conspiratorial tone: “Yes, and I had a hard time this week, and last week, and in the end, all the previous ones, too! But Robert didn’t have time to say it out loud. The girl seated by the window answered on behalf of all those present, whose despondent look, which had previously touched him, was now truly despondent:

— I can’t get over my sadness at all. Can you help me deal with the loss I have experienced?

The girl’s eyes instantly moistened. Robert was struck by the reaction to what the specialist had said. Immediately Jessica walked over to the speaker and sat down next to her. In a low, trustworthy voice she said:

— You and I are in the present moment, here and now. Your sadness is perfectly normal, and my task is to help you not only learn to accept it, but also to cope with the negative consequences of the experience.

Then, turning to the whole group, Jessica continued:

— All the emotions we experience are perfectly normal, but we are often ashamed, unable to accept them, suppress them and as a result get trapped, constantly reacting to the same stimuli. We walk like a rounded corridor, discovering traces of the same experiences. For example, sadness leads again and again to depressing thoughts…

Jessica rose from her chair, again looking trustingly and warmly into the eyes of the girl, who smiled in response, albeit faintly, but still. The therapist continued her monologue:

— But you don’t live your life to the fullest, constantly coming back to the guilt that owns you, you don’t see ways to cope with what haunts you. And there are ways out, take a look.

Taking a marker, Jessica quickly drew a straight line and two circles on the board from the beginning of the line to the end. And then, after some pause, a curved line, going away from the second circle, and another curved line, opposite, approaching it like a boomerang. The explanation was not long in coming.

— The circles drawn on this board represent events, words, and facts that you encounter every day, – Jessica said. – You react to events in different ways. Take, for example, aggression. You can express your dissatisfaction directly…

In this case, the coach pointed to a straight line. In such a situation, she explained, the aggressor immediately gets a response in the form of no less rude words to his address. And most importantly – the situation causes negative emotions, which affect the person negatively. In some cases, on the contrary, people prefer to walk away from aggression directed at them. Such behavior is indicated by a line going away.

— Here, for example, you are criticized undeservedly, someone rude and harshly responded to you, and you kept silent, – said Jessica, and it was clear to everyone that she knows firsthand what she is talking about. – But the offender and the critic won’t benefit themselves either. They will realize their impunity, they will not be able to develop their perception. And remember…

Then she opened the marker and hastily wrote a few words on the board over the chart. Robert, looking carefully, read: “AGGRESSION THAT HAS NO EXIT, CLOSES IN ITSELF”.

Jessica then briefly described various approaches and concepts of understanding aggression and practical ways to struggle with its displays in psychology and psychotherapy. Having finished her speech, she again turned to the chart, pointing to the line that curved up to the circle from below:

— But you can change the situation, you can offer your attention and support to someone who opposes you. You will ask: “How? After all, I have been undeservedly offended, unjustly accused, I am again being attacked for nothing. I have to respond, I have to get even”. It is complicated, but it is possible to extinguish the conflict with the help of excessive support. It should be active, without negativity, and even with a touch of humor, which naturally follows from the context of the position taken.

Jessica Highlander, a young girl, so cheerful and energetic and seemingly far away from such problems, nevertheless inspired confidence with her wise thoughts. It was impossible not to be involved in the conversation, and Robert himself didn’t notice how he began to talk about cases from his life related to aggression.

— Just now, about an hour ago, I had an argument with a driver who was parked on the sidewalk. And he started it first, I just defended myself, – said Robert, which instantly attracted the attention of all present.

Jessica smiled and looked at him with interest and said:

— A very common case, and no less interesting because of it. Can you tell us more about it…

She paused and raised an eyebrow.

— How can we address you?

— Mr. Robert, – he introduced himself and continued his story. – I was walking along the sidewalk just in time for the session. He ran straight under my feet, almost knocked me down, and, most importantly, immediately attacked me with accusations that I was walking too fast, getting in the way, interfering with the traffic. I, of course, told him back. What’s there to say. And that was it. We almost had a fight.

The psychotherapist gave an answer right away:

— But the situation could have been resolved differently. How? I’ll give you a hint. With your support for the aggressor, of course.

All present impatiently waited to hear the cherished formula for the resolution of the conflict. Jessica wrote three short instructions on the board:

“1. Support isn’t given as a directive;

2. Neither advice or counseling are given in the first place;

3. Contains a statement of fact.”

And then I asked a question:

— How can the situation be resolved according to this method? Try to model it!

— How? – grinned Robert and, of course, wished his offender to fly into a tree. – Advise him to learn the rules of the road?

Jessica shook her head slightly, smiled and replied:

— Here you are generating advice, but you should strive to support unobtrusively but confidently, with humor and straightforwardness.

There was a whisper from the audience:

— Let’s tell him he’s a confident driver.

The speaker was Mark. He must have had time to learn the lessons Jessica taught him, and from the looks he exchanged with Jessica, it was clear that they knew each other.

— It’s a good one, but it could be better,” she urged. – The important thing is that you have to be as benevolent as possible, you have to be sensitive to your attacker, to anyone who’s aggressive toward you. The greatest involvement.

Jessica turned to Robert:

— What did you say to the driver in response to what he said?

Robert shrugged his shoulders:

— Threatened that I would appeal to the traffic police. Yes, I got angry.

He smiled at a loss, realizing that the answer within the method is clearly inappropriate. And Jessica, maintaining eye contact with the whole group, said:

— I’ll give you a hint. A variation on the answer might be as follows. In response to his rudeness, say something like “You drive so actively, with your skill you could well get a job in a cab service and earn a lot of money there” or “Such a quick driver like you would better teach courses of extreme driving, try it”.

So the conversation entered a new phase. The audience was more actively engaged in the conversation. Jessica Green asked again:

— How many of you have experienced aggression in the last few days? Tell us.

One of the women, who previously had seemed very distant, was the first to join in the discussion. She spoke with a slight raise of her right eyebrow, stretching her vowels slightly. “Maybe she holds some official position,” thought Robert, looking at her haughty face, tall hair and a strict three-piece suit, noticeably worn, but still made of expensive fabric. Rolling her eyes meaningfully and sighing, the woman began her story:

— My situation probably cannot be called original, but I would certainly like to find a way out of it. In general, I live in an apartment building, and the problem is related to my neighbors. On weekends I usually have after-hours night shifts, and on weekdays, on the contrary, weekends. So I rest and try to sleep it off. But the howling and barking that my neighbor’s recently puberty dog gives me absolutely no way to do that. And it is useless to argue with her. My neighbor breeds dogs and does not seem to do anything wrong. So don’t go to the building or call the police.

— Will you try to model the answer yourself? – the therapist joined in the conversation, taking a marker and getting ready to make notes on the board.

— Willingly, – answered the woman, still keeping a slightly haughty expression on her face, but with enthusiasm and even some excitement. – Instead of scolding, I could have told my neighbor the following: “I really like that you care about all living things, you care a lot, but you should also take care of the mundane life, and don’t give a damn about the neighbors!”

After these words, the woman smiled and continued with a smile on her face:

— It even came out a bit in rhyme. One might also try to say, “I suppose the dog’s singing pleases you, and the concerts go on for quite a long time, but the repertoire and the times they choose to perform aren’t always to the liking of those listeners who wish to rest.”

Jessica Highlander, nodding her head approvingly, wrote down briefly the answers offered by the listener, at the end of whose speech she asked:

— How can I call you?

— Zara.

— That’s great, Zara. Closing the locus of aggression, you can also resort to a reciprocal gesture of politeness – to treat the dog with a couple of bags of food or give a bone with vitamins to the fluffy artist.

Not hiding her satisfaction from the consultation, slightly squinting, Jessica Highlander continued the conversation:

— Now I will give you an example, and your task will be to give an answer that is fully able to meet the requirements of the method. Look. Here is the situation. You have a long-awaited receipt from the post office, which says that your parcel has arrived. Naturally, in high spirits you rush there and finally entered the buildings and came to the delivery point, you find a long line. Naturally, you wait your turn patiently. But then a woman walks in who walks quickly and very confidently to the operator and tries to ask her questions. Her behavior can’t help but irritate, and the aggression that you and the people standing in front of you in line will inevitably be discharged somewhere else. And so… what will you do?

Jessica looked at the audience questioningly. There was silence for a brief moment. Everyone was pondering the situation. Robert also ran through all the possible options in his head. But the girl to his left was the first to give her answer:

— Maybe I’ll say to her, “Woman, you are so fast and confidently ahead of everyone. Careful, they might find a doping in your blood called “And I just have to ask. And disqualification will follow!”

The therapist approved of her answer, but asked for more options. Now Mark spoke up:

— Woman, you move so confidently. That’s commendable, of course, but your place is here, behind me.

— Fine. The choices you have made are undoubtedly appropriate,” Jessica nodded approvingly. – The conflict will be averted. Any other thoughts, perhaps?

Robert gave a sign that he was ready to answer. The psychotherapist caught his gaze and let him speak:

— No doubt I see your leadership qualities, woman. You are very confident and move very quickly. We wouldn’t mind inviting you into our line!

Jessica just as approvingly nodded back at Robert.

— Definitely suitable. I think you, Mr. Robert, can easily apply this skill in life.

After the therapist’s comment, the conversation continued, and Robert sat and thought about what he had heard. And indeed everything could be resolved differently. You could be nice to the mother-in-law, and you could be nice to your colleagues, and to any other boor you came across. Everything was complicated and simple at the same time. He was determined to talk to the therapist after the session, which he actually did when their group conversation ended.

— А… Robert, – she said with a smile, – it was a pleasure to talk. Thank you for coming to my consultation. I think you found something of my advice useful.

He didn’t hide his interest:

— Unfortunately, I haven’t read your book… but a friend of mine advised me to come… very interesting, I really need it. I would like to sign up for an individual consultation. I would really like to ask you some questions about my life.

The specialist’s penetrating gaze caught the confusion on his face. Jessica frowned and nodded sympathetically:

— Surely, I’ll be in town for a couple of weeks, we can work. Ask my assistant in the waiting room for details…

— Thank you. And your method… it certainly deserves attention, – Robert tried to express as much gratitude to Jessica, because while he was in counseling, he realized that a lot would depend on his attitude to the situation. Moreover, her manner of talking, her literacy and her ability to explain clearly showed that she was a good specialist. That is why I wanted to get more answers to my questions.


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