Laughter came from the other side of the psychologist’s door. Dad’s deep-stomach trombone-like chuckle and Mom’s broken kazoo giggle. Dr. Goldstein smirked and scribbled. His blue sweater vest was attracting all the lint from the room. I watched small animal-like patterns form under argyle arches. I ended my pause to finish my story.
“What I’m saying is I don’t understand space.”
“Daniella, what don’t you understand.” Dr. Goldstein was behind a desk that smelled like cherries and what my mom cleaned my plastic Fisher Price dollhouse with.
“I know what it is and stuff. But I don’t get why people like it so much.”
“Have you met a lot of people that like space a lot?” His Mr. Rogers Hair was only slightly distracting.
“Well, yeah. My cousin, he always always talks about space. He makes me sit and listen for hours. Well, actually, maybe he really talks about Star Trek. Whatever. He believes in aliens.”
“Do you believe in aliens, Daniella?”
I didn’t like something about the way he said my name. “Do I look crazy?”
My parents were still laughing. Later, when I came out of the room they asked why I spoke so much about space and assorted family members. “Why didn’t you tell him anything about yourself, Daniella?” I was five. I told them I had nothing to say. They let it go. Really I was just nervous.
The Shulamith School for Girls wanted each entering first grader to be evaluated by a psychologist. It would be the first and last time I ever met with a shrink. My parents thought the all-girls Jewish private school would be a step up academically. My old school had a dilapidated charm to it. The building looked like it got lost on it’s way to the Amish farm and instead ended up on a tree-lined street of Canarsi, Brooklyn. During naptime I could peel paint off the sea-foam green walls without anyone noticing. My smock had it’s own hook and my finger paintings adorned the hallways. But, recently I had broken up with my boyfriend. We met over shared blocks. I gave him all my blue ones for all his orange ones. The teachers separated us into different classes at the start of the school year. The distance of one sneaker-marked sticky alphabet rug was too much to bear. No more secrets and whispered hums of adoration over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Nothing left for me there. A change of school didn’t seem so bad. But first I had to have my duel with the psychologist. He started off in the lead when I couldn’t climb onto the chair. Leaving me the small porcelain doll in his enormous dollhouse. He the creator, and I the doll model supposed to come with a smaller play set.
My parents still seemed to be amused by my rambling. In between muffled cackles, though, they listed off other possible schools I could attend. They didn’t think I would pass the evaluation.
At the time I slept with a metal spoon under my pillow to protect me from kidnappers. A knife would have been better, but those were in a childproof drawer. A fork would have been the next best thing but that might poke me in the eye during the night. I never had my parents check for nonsense like monsters in my closet or creepy trolls under my bed. Instead I had them phone Sloman’s Sheild. Before getting into bed, I needed to know the functioning status of our security system. On one particular night I picked up the other cream-colored phone only to discover a dial tone on the other end. My parents were deceiving me. So, I ran up the phone bill with operator charges asking for the number to Sloman’s Shield as well as nearby adoption agencies. I also demanded a nightly ritual of waving candles in front of smoke detectors, to see if they were working properly.
My childhood was very tiring.
The shrink cleared me. Dr. Goldstein probably described my visit as “exhibits normal patterns of childhood behavior.” It’s possible the school had very low standards or the psychologist wasn’t very bright. I fooled him into believing I was “normal,” rather than just “functioning.”