I got some nice comments on my video through e-mail; it seems since I started serializing this short story, no one sees fit to comment here, which is fine--I just wish I knew if anyone was actually following the story.
"Positively Bud" Part VI
Bud luxuriated in a long, cool shower with frequent swallows from the stream. He lathered and shaved and afterwards dressed in his best chinos and a golf shirt, combed his sparse gray hair straight back and walked to the mess, cradling his hunger.
The mess hall was empty except for Troy sitting in a blue-and-white rugby shirt and tennis shorts looking marvelously tanned. He sat on the bench of a long rectangular table with a bowl in front of him and a glass of water.
"Hi, Bud. How was your shower?"
"You must be very hungry."
"I am, I am."
"Well here's your first meal." Troy shoved a large bowl of cold oatmeal in front of him with a spoon and a glass of water. Bud paused for a minute, surveying the gelatinous gray mound that confronted him, cognizant of his life-long hatred of oatmeal. How could they have known that? And there was no milk or sugar. Should he ask for them? That might be perceived as a criticism. If he didn't it might be interpreted as a lack of self-esteem. In the end his hunger silenced the debate so with a rictus smile he began to shovel the bland pabulum into his mouth, occasionally taking a sip of water to thin it to gruel. With pretended gusto he scraped the bottom of the bowl and did not look up at Troy until he was finished.
"How did you like it?" Troy asked.
"It was wonderful," Bud replied.
"Would you like more?"
"No thank you, I'm quite full now."
"Is that a pleasant sensation?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, it is."
"Glad to hear it. You may wash your dishes in the sink over there."
Bud did so then returned to the table. He said nothing and Troy said nothing. The silence stretched out like a deserted highway until he felt obligated to say something.
"So what do we do now?"
"What would you like to do?" Troy asked.
Like to do, like to do. Preferences without implied criticism. "I'd like to go back to my room and lie down for a while since I didn't sleep so well last night."
"Very well. Group therapy is at 7:30 tonight and your attendance would be appreciated. I'll see you then."
Bud lay down on his covers, grateful for food and drink and air-conditioning. His only worry before dozing off was that he might miss group therapy if he didn't wake in time. But that last worry, frightening though it was, couldn't keep him awake any longer, and he dropped into a deep sleep.
He woke fuzzily to someone rocking his shoulder.
"Bud, wake up. Time for group."
Someone stood over him, hairline of receding red, freckled, forty, thin, blue-eyed and frail-appearing, with a round face that looked like the air had been let out of it, wearing gold wire-rimmed spectacles.
"I'm Ken, your roommate. You don't want to miss group."
Bud hauled his frame to a sitting position and put his face in his hands. He felt like he'd just fallen asleep.
"Here, get up, I'll show you the way."
Bud forced himself to his feet and followed in a fog behind Ken to the meeting room. A circle of orange molded plastic chairs with chrome legs was half-filled with strangers except for Troy. Docilely he followed Ken to a chair. He looked at Troy, who did not so much as acknowledge him. The whole group was silent until the large school clock on the wall struck 7:30. Then Troy began.
"I am the counselor taking group tonight. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Troy. The rules of group are simple: you can talk about anything you want and anyone else can talk back. This is the one place where your distorted versions of reality are allowed, however perverse. From time to time I, or one of the group members, may make a therapeutic attempt to change your misperceptions, but you are welcome to resist such suggestions as much as you want. I want to begin by going around the circle and introducing ourselves. Please state your name and the number of days you've been here, starting on my left."
"Ken, eight days."
"Bud, this is my second day." He heard someone whisper "fresh meat!" to muffled chuckles.
"Janine, two weeks."
"Eric, twenty days."
"June, thirty days."
"Armando, four days."
"My name is Lisa and I've been here three weeks," announced a young blonde, brushing her straight hair from a mousy face.
Troy eyed the circle. "Who would like to begin tonight?" Silence. "If no one volunteers, I'll pick someone." Silence. "All right, Armando. How are you doing?"
Bud watched Armando's olive-black eyes drink in the room as his jaw tensed and his receding chin trembled.
"Better than when I came in," began Armando.
"How so?" asked June.
"I don't know-- I don't feel quite as down anymore. I think things are beginning to change for me."
"You think or you know?" said June.
"I think. It's hard to trust the process, you know, I'm so new here and I've been sick so long-- I'm just beginning to grasp some of the concepts they're teaching us here."
"Like trying to frame things positively. You know, the glass is half-full or half-empty kind of stuff."
Eric interrupted. "Why would you imagine a glass that was only half-full to begin with?" he demanded. "That's negative. My glass is full," he said.
"And mine is overflowing," June added.
"I see your point," said Armando.
"Are you asking for our approval?" said Eric.
"No, I just meant . . ."
"Your approval must come from within," Eric reminded him. "How do you feel about yourself? How do you feel inside?"
"Unsure," replied Armando. "Nervous. Is that OK?"
"Is it OK with you?" June asked.
"Not really. I would like to feel calmer."
"How would you do that?"
"I don't know. Can anyone help me?"
Suddenly the room burst into applause. "He asked for help," Janine noted. "What a positive step!"
"Way to go, Armando."
"That's the spirit!"
Armando smiled in spite of himself. "Thank you."
"Who can tell Armando how he might feel calmer?" Troy asked. Eric raised his hand. "Go ahead."
"Armando, you will only feel calmer when you believe you are calm. Right now you are nervous because you think you are nervous. What's the difference between anticipation and anxiety? Merely the object of your expectation. If you expect something bad, you experience anxiety; if you expect something good, you experience anticipation. You are in the mental habit of expecting something bad. To free yourself from this trap simply imagine something good is going to happen to you."
"Yeah, just like Oral Roberts says," Ken cracked. Bud began to laugh at the sarcasm but quickly quieted when he noticed no one else did.