LEO RISING by Anna Dorn
by Anna Dorn
The first thing I do when I wake up is open Evie’s Twitter. I’ve been doing this every morning since she left about a month ago. If one of my patients did this, I’d roll my eyes. But I can’t help it. Evie won’t answer my texts or calls. This is the only way I can hear her voice.
@LeoRising has five new Tweets. (I always thought astrology was nonsense, but Evie treated it with a religious reverence. The rising sign, she told me, is our surface self, our outward appearance. And Leo is the best, she said, and apparently I am one too). I always look at her profile picture first. In it, she’s narrowing her eyes at the camera in a way that never fails to excite me. The look says: I’m smarter than you. It’s the precise face I fell in love with.
The five nighttime Tweets suggests insomnia. When she couldn’t sleep, Evie would take a Klonopin (which I prescribed) and start Tweeting like crazy. The glow of her phone always woke me up, but it never bothered me.
Her first Tweet is: I prefer to date women because I like having orgasms. I smile, then shutter at the memory of having sex with men. The way they’d jab and poke relentlessly. I’d yelp in pain, but disguise it as pleasure because I believed my self-worth was tied to my ability to please men sexually.
The second Tweet throws me for a loop. Hello, my Twizzles. I have some exciting news. @simonschuster is publishing my book of essays in May 2019. For those of you who just want me to shut up: sorry!!!
Fuck. Evie had been writing a book since we met, when I first started treating her, but I didn’t think it was anywhere close to being finished. She’d always been very private about it. All she would say is that she was “turning a mirror on society,” which I found both obnoxious and cute.
I’d always had a vague paranoia that Evie was writing about me, despite her frequent assurances that she wasn’t. But how could she leave me out? A hot young writer has an illicit affair with her sexy, older, psychiatrist. I mean, it’s juicy.
It would also ruin my career.
Listen, I knew that sleeping with Evie was completely inappropriate. I knew I should have referred her elsewhere when I caught feelings, but I couldn’t. Our sessions were all I looked forward to; they became what I lived for. Evie was the first woman who made me feel out of control. When she made the first move, I so wanted desperately to say no. But I didn’t.
I close Twitter and go to the bathroom, where I begin doling capsules into my palm. 20mg Cymbalta, Omega 3, Vitamin D, 5mg Adderall. After gulping them down, I slide out the scale from under the sink. 117, ugh. When I go above 115, I start to feel anxious. It’s ok, I tell myself, I’ll run six miles today instead of five. I’ll eat only vegetables. I’ll drink lemon juice with cayenne pepper.
On the way downstairs, I peek into Evie’s former office. I tried not to interrupt her when she was working, but sometimes I liked to watch—her grey eyes focused intently on the screen, brows furrowed behind fake tortoiseshell-framed glasses. A white fur vest remains draped on her desk chair.
Evie left abruptly, so a lot of her stuff is still here. When I texted her about it, she didn’t respond. It used to drive me crazy, the way she’d leave things around the house. But then I started to like it, the little reminders of her presence. And now I have month-old dirty mugs littered around my house like some kind of derelict.
Rain begins falling just as I open my front door, as if the universe is playing a sick joke on me. I close my eyes and envision my legs galloping through the dusty trails of Elysian Park. Sharp rays of light cut through the eucalyptus trees that tower above my head. I’ve hit my stride, and my mind starts to quiet. Passing muscled men and dogs, leaving them in the dust, gives me pleasure and feels symbolic. Few people can keep up with Fiona Archer.
As I shut the front door, Evie’s Tweet floats into my brain. I try to reason with myself. 2019 is a long time from now, I’m sure she’d change my personal details to protect me. I doubt she wants to ruin my life. But Evie is selfish, and reckless. These are things I once respected about her, but now they feel terrifying. I pick up my phone and think about texting her. Something along the lines of “I better not be in your fucking book!!!” But that would be insane. And besides, she would never respond.
On our first proper date, I cooked for her. Afterwards, we sat close on the couch sipping from a bottle of Laphroaig and talking about the few subjects we hadn’t covered in therapy: namely, me. At one point, she became horrified I had her full name in my phone, like she was still my patient. She quickly changed the entry to Lioness, emphasizing with a stern expression that she never uses a last name when she cares about someone personally and I should do the same. I remember a flutter in my stomach.
She cared about me.
I go out to my cottage where I see patients. I used to see them in the main house, but Evie didn’t like it—she said it disturbed her process to be around all that “deranged mental energy.” I built the cottage about a year ago. And by that I mean I hired someone to build it. I’m not that kind of lesbian.
On the path, Vivaldi brushes up against my pant leg. She’s one of the feral cats that runs through the yard. I named her because I like the name, not because I like the composer. I kneel down to pet her bright orange mane and she opens her mouth to unleash a yawn.
I open the cottage door from the back; patients enter through the front, where there is a small waiting room. I keep it stocked with magazines from before the smartphone era. Since rich people started moving into Echo Park, I’ve been able to charge more. Today, I just have two appointments.
As I start up my desktop, my Five O’Clock floats into my head. My mentor taught me to think of my patients only by their appointment times. Five is a special one, mostly because that was Evie’s time. But I also like the girl who took her place, and I’m pretty positive she wants to fuck me. It’s twisted, I know, but it feels good to be wanted. I think about the day I decided I wanted Evie. She was wearing a pink slip dress completely inappropriate for outside of the bedroom, and kept opening her legs slightly to reveal a sliver of lacy black underwear.
I was taken by her audacity. Most women are so timid, always skirting around what they want. Evie’s an alpha, like me. After she did my birth chart, she just looked at me impressed. Then she kissed me hard on the mouth, which quickly turned into fucking, our Leo manes flying around with abandon. I could never pin down a diagnosis with Evie. I think she just wanted to talk about herself, or maybe she just wanted me.
I refresh my email and a few new ones pop up, one of note: Last Minute Appointment Cancellation. I don’t even read Eleven’s explanation, but I do notice she addressed me by my first name, which always bothers me—I went to medical school for a reason. The no-shows always apologize, as if I care. I respond with my cancellation policy. Evie said that when I treated her, she wondered if a bot wrote my emails—they were so “sterile.”
My stomach tightens after I hit send. I can’t run, I’m fat, my ex-girlfriend is about to publish an exposé that will surely ruin my career, and I don’t have anything to do until five p.m. Before I know it, I’m looking at Evie’s Twitter again, narrowing my eyes back at her profile photo. As soon as my gaze hits @simonschuster, I shut the browser, then open Spotify on my computer and turn on my speakers. I zone out to the robotic thwacking of an electronic composer while watching dust dangle in in harsh beams of light.
My phone begins to ring, and I practically jump. I hate talking on the phone, but I practically leap to answer it. I don’t even care who it is.
“Hello?” I practically shout.
“Hi, Fiona,” says the voice. It’s my sister. Not my favorite person, but I’m desperate.
“Hi, Nicole,” I say. I assume she’s calling about a friend’s child with anxiety or depression again (everyone thinks their kid is mentally ill). My sister only seems to want to talk to me as it pertains to my medical expertise. My whole family. They’re interested in me less as a family member and more as a psychiatrist they happen to know well. I’m obnoxious and unpleasant, but I have special knowledge that can help them. They’ve always made me feel like my personality is something I should take great care to suppress.
“Are you going to Mom’s for Easter?” she asks, surprising me. “I’m asking because she’s being a nervous wreck about it, per usual, and I somehow lost my mind and offered to help.”
“I hadn’t thought about it,” I say, which is true. “But yeah, I guess I’ll go.” What else am I going to do?
“Great,” she says with a tone that suggests the opposite. “Also Mom mentioned something about you, err…having a friend?”
I’m shocked. My family has never explicitly mentioned my sexuality. “Friend” may sound indirect, but I assure you it’s the closest anyone has gotten.
When I told my mom I was gay, she pretended not to hear me.
I wonder how my mom knows about Evie, then remember that time Evie and I ran into her at Whole Foods on the way back from Malibu. My mom seemed oddly taken with Evie. She values beauty highly. Also, Evie is a charmer.
“She left me,” I say. Naturally, the one time my family takes an interest in my love life, it’s at the height of my heartbreak.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Nicole says. And then she hangs up.
I awake my desktop. A new email pops up, thank god. I scan it and immediately recognize its kind.
Nearly every day, a patient asks me to prescribe her (I stopped treating men a long time ago—too needy) a stimulant, a benzo, or both.
It typically goes something like this:
A bold patient—borderline personality disorder, a manic depressive in a state of mania—will ask in session in dramatic tones, as if she is delivering a closing soliloquy in a Shakespearean drama. A timid patient—generalized anxiety disorder, manic depressive in a state of depression—will email me, often days before our appointment. If she wants a stimulant, she will say: Dr. Archer, I’m having trouble focusing at work. A doctor in college (grad school) diagnosed me as ADD and prescribed Xmg of Adderall (Ritalin / Dexedrine / Vyvanse). My workload has recently increased, and I’d like to renew my prescription for improved concentration and productivity.
If she wants a benzo, she will say: Dr. Archer, I’m having trouble sleeping. My internist prescribed Ambien (Lunesta), but it results in strange sleep behavior, such as cooking pasta in the middle of the night (and I’m allergic to gluten!). A doctor in college diagnosed me with panic disorder and prescribed Xmg of Klonopin (Xanax / Ativan / Lorazepam). As I’m facing serious stress at work (school / my marriage), I’d like to renew my prescription.
The way Five’s email was worded made it clear the drugs were recreational—too explainy, too polished. It clearly went through numerous drafts, was revised by her pillhead friends. Years of anxiety have resulted in Five’s mild dysthymia, a low-grade depression. Five is a law student, so she’s likely surrounded by stimulants. She probably tried it, experienced that flash of euphoria—like me in medical school—and wants more. I had one law student patient tell me her friends used to snort Dexedrine in the bathroom in between classes. I prescribed her Adderall, so she could use more safely. One time she came into my office with bright blue powder on the edge of her nose. I never mentioned it. I’m sure this would horrify my colleagues, which is one of many reasons I don’t have any. I’d last about seven seconds in a group practice. I find office interaction insufferable. I don’t care about traffic patterns and I don’t watch television.
I pretty much always give my patients the pills they want. Listen, I’m not enabling addiction. I prescribe these drugs in safe quantities—I published a celebrated paper on micro-dosing in medical school. I can spot an addict from a mile away, and I always refer them elsewhere. Science has made astonishing advancements in the last twenty years, and there is no reason we shouldn’t be taking advantage of it. My patients want to feel as good as they possibly can, and who am I to stop them?
But today I’m on edge, and I find myself wanting to say no.
I take a deep breath. I know nothing about this book, I tell myself. Becoming anxious without having all the information is irrational and unhelpful. This is what I tell my patients. But soothing the mind is easier said than done, and that’s why I get paid the big bucks.
“Hi,” Five says when I greet her in the waiting room.
“Hi Fi—Lily,” I say. The words come out scratchy at first because I haven’t used my voice all day. I clear my throat. “Come on in.”
I walk over to my couch, and she sits on hers. The room is cast in a golden glow. The pleasing aesthetics of my office provide a brief respite from my mental chatter. My style inspiration was a Freudian analyst in a 1970s Woody Allen film. But let’s be clear, I don’t fuck with Freud. I’m strictly CBT – that is, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Evie said I’m old school, I should be using Mindfulness. Evie thought she knew everything. In her defense, she was usually right.
“How are you doing?” I ask.
She fingers a lock of thick raven hair, which briefly flickers red in the light. This is always the most awkward part of the appointment, especially for my introverts like Five. The borderlines come marching in—hair frazzled, mascara smudged—instantly ranting about parking ticket that ruined their life. The extroverts are easier, but less interesting. I experience pleasure from extracting the introverts from their shells, from uncovering the brilliance behind the layers.
“I’m good,” she says. Normally I would bring up her email, to spare the introvert the pain of having to initiate a conversation. But not today. “School is stressful.”
I’ve treated too many law students. They love to complain, and none of them want to be lawyers. Many consider themselves artists, others just want to get rich and sit on a beach.
“Oh, yeah?” I ask.
“Well.” Five crosses her pale thin legs. She’s wearing a lavender shift dress that brings out the pink tint in her skin. “Maybe not stressful.” She becomes entranced with a silver ring on her finger, spins it with concentration. “More boring.”
“I had to read a statute the other day for this issue with my neighbor—psychotic dog,” I say, mainly to entertain myself. “Anyway, I couldn’t get through the statute. I just gave up. I don’t know how you do it.” I’m lying. I would never read a statute. I have a lawyer for that. I wonder if I should call her, then take a breath. That would be premature.
Five giggles. “I never really do the reading,” she says as though she’s admitted to committing a felony.
“What would you rather be doing?”
“Painting,” she says, her gaze still cast on her finger.
Suddenly, there is a loud bang in the distance. Five jumps, and so do I. I’m angry at myself for losing my cool. I cross my legs and smooth my hair.
“I think it was one of my neighbors slamming a door,” I say. Honestly, I have no idea, but explanations comfort people.
“The one with the crazy dog?” She looks embarrassed, as if she’s said something inappropriate. My borderlines will ask me about my orgasms, but the introverts act as though they’ve crossed a line just for following up on something I say.
“Probably.” I cross my legs. “So why haven’t you been painting?”
Five looks up at me for the first time, her timid grey eyes meeting mine. For a second, I shiver—mainly because her eyes are almost the exact same color as Evie’s. Gray is among the rarest of eye colors, as Evie reminded me constantly. The women also share the same delicate frame, fair skin, and nearly-black hair. But Evie is more dramatic in her appearance, bolder in her behavior. Five reminds me of people I used to date before Evie. Symmetrical women who were awe of me, who clung to my every word. Women I made orgasm in twelve seconds. Women who never left me.
“I don’t know.” She begins twirling her ring again, then looks into my eyes with a gaze I recognize well: longing.
“How is your anxiety?” I ask. I wonder if she’ll have the balls to bring up her email.
“It’s fine. Same old. It comes and goes.” She pulls at the bottom of her dress. I catch a glimpse of the inside of her pale thigh, then quickly look away.
Soon Five is talking about her low sex drive. We almost always end up here. I wish I could just tell her she’s a lesbian and save us both some time.
The clock strikes six, and Five still hasn’t said a word about the email.
“I’m afraid our time is up,” I say.
She brushes a strand of hair from her face. “Did you happen to get my email?”
“Oh.” I feign forgetfulness. “Yes, of course. Do you remember the name of the doctor who diagnosed you in college?” This isn’t something I would normally ask.
“Um,” she says faintly. “It was student health, I’d have to go back and check—” She reaches into her purse. Pulling out her iPhone, she catches my gaze for a brief second. Her eyes are cold, distant. As she scrolls through her phone, I watch her slip away.
“—Don’t worry about it.” I don’t mean to say this. “You said 10mg right?”
“Yeah,” she says. Her body slackens, and a wave of relief washes over me.
“I’ll call it in tonight,” I say.
She flashes me a brief smile, then—as if embarrassed—stands up abruptly and approaches the door.
“Hey,” I say as she’s almost gone. “I expect at least a painting out of this.”
“You got it, Fiona.”
As I’m filling in Five’s patient chart, an email comes in from tomorrow’s Nine O’Clock. Another introvert wants Adderall. I don’t respond.
In the kitchen, I find myself lingering over Lioness again in my phone, imagining the disappearing typing bubbles. I put my finger on the dialogue box and start crafting and deleting several unhinged drafts about how her book better have nothing to fucking do with me. I set the phone down on the marble counter, and I decide to order Thai. Evie never liked Thai, so ordering it feels like an act of resistance. I know I’m not supposed to be eating carbs, but who cares if my life is about to go up in flames. I order all my favorites: shrimp spring rolls and papaya salad and Pad See Ew.
While I wait, I shower. The pressure of water against my body drowns my thoughts. Afterwards, I slather my body in rosehip seed oil and take a half a Klonopin. In the closet, I run my fingers along the edge of a floor-length fur coat Evie left behind. Just as I drape it on my naked body, the doorbell rings.
“Joey,” I say, opening the door. He’s been my delivery guy since I moved here. About a month ago Evie invited him in to smoke a joint with us. We ended up chatting and laughing for hours, I don’t remember what about. Ever since, Joey always leaves a tiny nug in the bag. “What a treat.”
“Oh…Fiona,” he says. He seems taken by me, staring at where my coat opens and reveals the top of my chest. “I thought you were Evie for a second. In that coat.”
I bat my lashes. “I can be glamorous too, you know.” I feel an immense sense of power in being objectified.
“Right.” He hands me the bags, and my eyes meet his. For the first time, I notice they’re annoyingly beautiful—bright green and almond shaped with thick lashes. “Is she…around?”
As I hand him the cash, rage bubbles up inside me. I’m no stranger to random attacks of anger, but this one feels elucidating. I’d peeled away to bed early that night, leaving Evie and Joey alone on the couch, sitting close and laughing hard. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, just like I didn’t think anything of it when Evie told me early in our relationship that she’d cheated on every lover she’d had. But she always left them soon after, she’d clarified, as if this morally absolved her. Lucky for her, I’ve never cared much for morals. Everyone cheats, I remember thinking.
Joey tugs at the bottom of his shirt, flits his eyes. He’s pretty, but dumb. I can tell from the way his mouth hangs open that any sort of meaningful conversation with him would present a serious challenge. “I’d like to say hi,” he says, and I want to punch him in the face.
“She left me,” I say. I tighten the top of Evie’s coat and think of her Tweet—not the book Tweet, but the first one, about the horrors of heterosexual intercourse. “Right after you couldn’t make her come.”
Just as Joey’s face begins to fall, I slam the door in his face. I drop the bags on the floor and charge upstairs. In the bathroom, the other half of my Klonopin crumbles into my sweaty palm, coagulating into a grotesque yellow paste. Without thinking, I squeeze my palm into a fist, crush the pill, then let the dust sprinkle onto the floor. In the cool quiet of my bedroom, I inhale deeply through my nose, exhale through my mouth, calming my nervous system without pharmacological assistance.
Downstairs, I eat standing up at the counter. In between bites, I pick up my phone, linger over Lioness. I think about how, if she happens to be looking at my contact, Evie will be seeing those freakish bubbles. But I doubt she’s thinking of me. She’s surely moved onto her next prey.
I still send the text. Congrats on your book…I’m not in it right? Haha.
I put my phone down on the counter and continue eating. I revel in the sweet and savory flavors, bits of peanut and basil, the gooey bliss of the thick noodles. As I rinse my plate, I think about Lily. It’s probably best she sees someone else. I’ll send her some referrals tomorrow.
My phone alights. A new text from Lioness.
My book has nothing to do with you, Fiona.
Anna Dorn is a writer living in Los Angeles. A former criminal defense attorney, she regularly writes about legal issues for Justia and Medium. Her article on juvenile life without parole was published in American University Law Review. She has written about culture for LA Review of Books, The Hairpin, and Vice Magazine.
Image credit: NASA on Flickr