From a young age, I was exposed to the mental health profession through my parents – who were both accountants.
You see, my parents thought it was a great idea for me to have someone to talk to – as they refused to speak English and I refused to speak Spanish.
Luckily, the bass player in my Dad’s band was a psychiatrist, making my parents really comfortable with the idea of dropping me off at his office every Tuesday after school. The only two places in the world I could be by myself at the age of six were the bathroom (and, really, only at school) and Dr. Reyes’ office.
His waiting room smelled like something I’ve never experience before or since. If the early 1980’s had a specific smell, it would be this combination of Liquid Paper, Aqua Net and Brut that emanated from the moment you opened the door.
The waiting room didn’t have a table in the center. Just a few chairs against the wall. Masculine, leather chairs, like from a cigar bar that closed down a decade earlier. He organized magazines in a rack against a wall. And, upon walking in, I would always choose the one with the most colorful cover (The New Yorker) and thumb through it. Now thinking back I must’ve been a sight: Sitting in a psychiatrist’s office with my orthopedic shoes barely reaching over the edge of the seat, holding up The New Yorker over my face, so you can only see my Strawberry Shortcake (A.K.A “La Estrahberri”) hair clips.
I wonder if he kept any tapes of it off of his surveillance camera.
Oh, and the music. He played the best music. Jazz mostly. It was the first time I heard that style of music. I loved sitting there and listening to it with my face buried in a magazine that I was probably holding upside down. Loved it.
But that was short-lived. He would eventually open the door from the inside and call me into his office.
Inside, it was a very dark room decorated in oak, leather and books. There was a bust of a man with glasses, who later I learned was Sigmund Freud, but at the time thought it was an homage to Dr. Reyes’ grandfather.
Dr. Reyes was a heavy man with a salt and pepper beard. He spoke softly and at a slow pace. Exactly like the bass guitar he played. Get this, when he’d play with my Dad, he required a stool to sit on and everyone would make fun of him behind his back. Well, while he was playing Doctor, he would lean back into his chair, in much the same way, except his instrument was a pad and pen.
So, I’d sit there and tell him about my day. Tell him about my fear of vampires. And tell him how crappy I thought it was to be born into a family of Republicans that didn’t speak English.
I would tell him how horrible it was that my Dad would immitate a duck’s quack sound like, “Cwah, Cwah, Cwah,” instead of “Quack, Quack, Quack.” And how my Mom would make me translate everything in real time. Everything. Even inside one of those fancy elevators that would announce the floor we were on.
“Eighteenth Floor,” the automatic voice would say, making my mom look at me in panic. “Piso 18,” I’d answer.
I would search Dr. Reyes’ face for sympathy, but instead he’d scribble and scribble. Like if we were playing secretary and boss, only he would’ve been too butch to be my secretary. A nice pair of fish nets would’ve done the trick.
From the television monitor in his office I knew when our hour was up when my mom would walk into the waiting room. This was fascinating. Probably the best part of the whole appointment. And why I’m obsessed with reality TV. Dr. Reyes and I would watch my mom on TV like some weird social experiment. One time we watched her fidget and go through her purse and then, mysteriously pick up the same magazine I had just been thumbing through.
Dr. Reyes turned to me and said, “Look at that! You guys have a lot more in common that you realize.”
Reluctantly, I agreed.
Neither of us could comprehend The New Yorker.