Photo by: Shutterstock

Security Breach

by Nancy Mendez-Booth
Photo by: Shutterstock

Wednesday, March 20
Cedar Lane, Teaneck, NJ
6:30 p.m.

I don’t know where Teaneck is, but Jack drives me here twice a week. Doctor Berger’s house is on the residential side of a park, opposite the stretch of strip malls with glatt kosher delis. It’s cold today, even for March in New Jersey. Doctor Berger places the space heater close to the couch and pointed toward me in her basement office.

I can talk to Dr. Berger. The crisis counselor at the hospital made me nervous. Her name was Claudia, and she was on call that Friday morning. She was sent to my room, the one closest to the secured doors of the maternity ward. She looked fresh out of school and scared to sit by my bed. She tapped her pad with her pen instead of taking notes. New babies cried further down the hall, but Claudia never shut the door to my room.

Claudia didn’t know what to say. She hesitated even when asking easy things like my name. She never said the words stillbirth or baby, but we both knew that’s why we were there. I had arrived to the hospital in labor, and waddled into the emergency room like I was about to claim a lottery prize. Instead, I got Claudia in my room. My baby Liam died before I delivered him.

“The way she looked at me, like I was a monster,” I tell Dr. Berger again. “She didn’t want to be in the room with the woman whose baby was in the morgue.”

“Did she ever say anything to indicate that?”

“She didn’t have to. I saw it. I didn’t want to be there either.”

I couldn’t tell Claudia about the Rubic’s cube. Today is my fourth session with Dr. Berger, but I told her about it at our first meeting. I watched her record my words. Doctor Berger is a professional and can do something with my words. She doesn’t take notes as I tell her again today.

“My cousin gave me a Rubic’s cube when I was twelve years old because it was a good gift for smart kids.” I look at Dr. Berger. She nods at me to continue.

“I was smart but couldn’t solve the cube. I’d get the red, white and green sides, but the blue, orange and red would be mixed up, and I couldn’t solve those without messing up the sides that were already solid. There was this book called “Conquer the Cube in 45 Seconds”, and the guy who wrote it held the record for solving it in 20 seconds. He said anyone could learn to solve the cube in under five minutes. I believed it. I followed the diagrams, step-by-step, but I couldn’t get it. I spent that whole year turning a cube and feeling stupid.”

“Your expectations of yourself at that age seem unforgiving.”

Doctor Berger has pointed this out in past sessions. I look at the framed diploma on the wall behind her, still askew. It’s embarrassing to retell how I took the cube apart and reassembled it so it was solid on all sides. It remained solved and untouched on a bookshelf until I tossed it out during a summer visit home from college.

“Did you feel satisfied when you looked at the solved cube?”

“Yes, but that’s not how I feel today.”

“Go on.”

“I feel the same as when I was in the hospital. There’s something wrong with my mind. It’s scrambled, the core is off track like it got pounded by a brick. There’s cubelets missing. The ones that are still attached don’t turn smoothly. No, they just don’t turn at all. Here, right here.”

I tap above my eyebrows with the fingertips of both hands. “My head. It feels like that, like someone kicked me right here.” Tap. Tap. Tap. “Right here. It’s broken.”

“This is not unusual,” Dr. Berger reassures.

I ask her again if I’m losing my mind. Jack brings me tea in bed many mornings, and I think how nice he is, but don’t recognize him as my husband. I don’t leave home alone. I forget where I am. It’s like I suddenly wake up, but I wasn’t sleeping.

I look at my cuticles, picked and gnawed raw. Doctor Berger hands me “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”. She asks me to look at the bold letters on page 463 again:

309.81, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

“You’re reacting to cues that remind you of the event or something that creates anxiety. At those moments, yes, you do lose touch with reality. Visualize the happy place in your mind. You can stay there until you feel safe.”

She forgets I’ve asked her to call it a safe space. Happy place sounds like a drug-induced fantasy where trees turn to lollipops. It makes me feel defeated and pathetic. She asks how I feel about my trip to Puerto Rico. I’m leaving in the morning to spend ten days with my family. I’m afraid to interrupt my treatment, but I can’t stay in New Jersey.

“Can I call you, please, if it’s necessary?” I ask.

“Of course. Remember what we’ve been working on: recognize the signals. Breathe before you react. Think of the happy place. You’re safe now, Nancy. You’re not in the hospital.”

Doctor Berger reminds me to be patient. It’s only been six weeks since I left the hospital. I don’t know if six weeks is just yesterday or another lifetime. Our session is up after 45 minutes, and she walks me to the door. I see my truck at the curb with Jack waiting in the driver’s seat.

“I’ll see you in two weeks,” she says. “Have a safe and restful trip.”

“Security Breach” has been named a semi-finalist for the 2012 McGlinn Prize for Fiction, and appears in its entirety at

Nancy is a writer and editor in the NYC metro area. Among the many things on her to-do list: publishing her story collection based on her and her husband’s journey through fertility treatment, pregnancy, and loss. To read more of Nancy’s incredible writing, please visit her self-titled blog Nancy Mendez-Booth.

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