Placebos

April 18, 2019

 

 

 [Content warnings for homophobia, racism, and transphobia]

 

“Dad, do I have to take these?” I ask as I hold the bottle of pills in his face. “They always make me feel sick.” He doesn’t even look up from his phone to answer. Instead, he grabs at one of the newspapers sitting on the coffee table. It is a few weeks old, but it’s a prop that would do the trick.

 

“I can’t believe that they let them get married,” he spits. “Now that they can marry who’s to stop more radical groups from manipulating the government and pushing their own agenda?” He must have heard me. It’s been months since same gender marriage was legalised and the newspapers have moved on. But my father hasn’t. “What’s next, huh? Muslims having multiple wives? Pedos marrying little children?” He finally turns to look at me.

 

His beard is starting to grow back. Patches of white now show in what was once a beautiful dark shadow. His small, slim glasses are somehow able to mask his thick eyebrows. He has a habit of picking them when he’s stressed. One of them is almost bald.

 

“Promise me you will never marry a man, son,” he tells me, “Promise me?” 

 

It is a promise that I couldn’t make. I open the bottle and pour some of the pills into my hand. From my hand, they travel to my mouth, where they hide underneath my tongue while I pretend to swallow them. He gives me a smile and goes back to doing whatever it was he was doing before I disturbed him.

 

His smile is actually quite pleasant, a smile that would make anyone else feel comfortable and loved. I used to love seeing my father happy.  He once took me out for a celebratory ice-cream after my first soccer game when I was nine. We had lost, but he knew that I was having fun and that made him happy. He used to be a kind person, but hatred and bigotry made him ugly. I understood why Mum left him, though he used to make me think that she was a horrible person for leaving.

 

I walk into the bathroom and spit the now half-dissolved pills into the toilet. They are simply placebos, something the doctor gave me to get my father off my back. He is a nice doctor, always trying to help me. He gave me placebos when I moved to him instead of the old doctor I was seeing. My father made me see him, and he gave me actual drugs to try and ‘fix’ me. Dad allowed me to change to my current doctor, as long as I was still taking my ‘medicine’. 

 

I look at the few pills left in the bottle and pour them straight into the toilet too. With one flush, and they are gone. Now I have the opportunity to talk to the doctor again.

 

I put on my jacket and head towards the door. My father didn’t look like he had noticed I was leaving, but he did.

 

“Where are you going son?” I feel the same spear of pain that I always do when he addresses me directly.

 

“I’m heading off to the doctors,” I answer. “I ran out of my ... medicine just now.” 

 

I don’t turn to face him, but I hear as he lifts himself off of the couch and walks towards me. I feels his hand firmly grasp my shoulder. This is a signal that he wants me to face him. I begin to feel twitchy and heated as he steps closer to me. I try my best to mask any fear I may have been showing as a turned to him. He looks me up and down and then cups my face in his hands. He is so gentle, his calloused hands lightly touching my face. He looks so nice and comforting, as if I were nine all over again. But I know what lurks within.

 

“Okay,” he softly says. “Make sure to be home before it gets dark, okay? There are some scary people around here.” 

 

I give him a reluctant hug and walk out the door. I head onwards to the doctors. I hate the fact that he makes me feel so awful with such loving acts.

 

I walk into the doctor’s office and am instantly greeted with caution by the receptionist. Once some time has passes and she is certain my father isn’t coming, she greets me with her soft and beautiful voice.

 

“How are we today Emily?” she asks, her calming aura spreading throughout the waiting room. “Do you want to see Dr. Mahony?”

 

“Yeah,” I say as I nod in response, “Thanks, Melissa.”

 

“No problem. I can squeeze you right in. He will see you in a bit.” 

 

I turn and sit down in the waiting room. It’s my favourite room, because from outside eyes, it looks like a normal room; white walls, wooden chairs, coffee table piled high with out of date magazines. But what is good is how it hides the true nature of the office from unwanted eyes. Melissa and other receptionists know when someone would come in looking for trouble and they would shoo them away instantly. 

 

A few minutes pass and Dr. Mahony steps into the waiting room.

 

“Emily,” Melissa calls, “you can come through now.” 

 

I stand and follow Dr. Mahony to his office. The moment I enter into the room all anxieties I had been holding in are lifted off of me. He swivels his chair towards me, the rainbow flag proudly hanging behind him.

 

“Hello Emily,” he chimes, “what seems to be your reasoning for today’s visit?” 

 

I sit down on the cushioned arm chair in front of him. “You see, Dr. Mahony, I ...” I’m cut off by Dr. Mahony’s raised hand

 

“How many times do I have to tell you, you can just call me James.” He gestures for me to continue.

 

“Well ... James, I ... um,” I pull out the empty pill bottle from my pocket. James’ happy expression changes to that of concerned anger.

 

“I refilled that not just a few weeks ago,” he says sternly, “Is he making you take too many? They shouldn’t harm you seeing as they’re fake, but last time you said that you were having some stomach pains. Does he know about them?” I look at James and try my best to not cry.

 

“I try and tell him everyday that I don’t feel good,” I try to calmly say, “ but he just brings out a speech and I feel forced to take them.” I can hear that my voice cracks as I try to hold back tears. 

 

He grabs the bottle from between my hands and turns to his computer. His prosthetic leg bounces as he types on his computer. It sounds different than when his other leg bounces. He told me that he lost it in a car accident when he was a kid. I look up to see my file open up on his screen. Next to it is the name of the placebo that I’m taking.

 

“I think you’re feeling sick because your body is under stress because of your anxiety and not because of these.” He holds up the pill bottle and shakes it a little to emphasis his point.

 

“What should I do?” I ask. James holds the bottle to his chin and contorts his face. He thinks for a few seconds, his eyes flittering between his computer screen and me.

 

“This is going to sound very unprofessional,” he states, “but you turn 18 in a few months.” He looks over at me and I nod in approval. “So you can start Testosterone Blockers and start transitioning, if you still want to by then.”

 

 I feel puzzled. “But my father?” James knew he would be an issue, so why suggest Testosterone Blockers?

 

“That’s where we get unprofessional.” A small smirk falls over James’s face. “You could come live with me.” 

 

I feel tears wash down my face as James says this. “I can do that?”

 

“Yeah. Once you’re 18, you can make your own decisions,” he replies. “I’ve got a spare room at my house. And Ian would appreciate not having to come here after school every day” I look at James. I had never felt safer than I did then. 

 

“Yes!” I scream. “Let’s do this.” 

 

I’m so excited. I could continue pretending for a few more months. And then on my 18th birthday, I will finally get to be myself.

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We acknowledge the past, present and emerging traditional owners of the land on which we live and work, the Wadjuk people of the Noongar nation, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded.

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