“Steven, it’s good to see you. How’s the journaling coming along?”
He sighs. There is a composition notebook in his lap as he sits criss-cross on my couch. “I don’t know. It’s… weird. It feels like I’m leaving evidence of all my horrible thoughts. I get worried about the others seeing it.”
“Did you tell them what you’re doing?”
“Yeah.” His fingers fidget with the corner of the journal, thumbing it repeatedly. “I did.”
“How did they react?”
“About how you’d expect, I guess.” Steven shrugs. “It was a sort of… ‘oh, I don’t really understand why he’s telling me this,’ kinda vibe, coupled with ‘we’re gonna support him no matter what because that’s what parents are supposed to do, even if we think it’s weird.’ And Pearl asked if she could see it, which… I mean, at least Amethyst socked her shoulder for asking, but I still felt… weird, having to say no.”
“But you said no?”
He nods. He leans back against the couch. “Yeah. I did.”
I smile. “That’s good. I’m proud of you.”
He waves a hand, dismissing my words from the air. “Yeah, yeah. Anyway, did you want to hear what I wrote down this week or not?”
“… and I kept apologizing. I’m still not really sure why.”
Hmm. I tap my finger against my chin. Steven’s eyes are on the page in front of him, but he’s lying down today, neck supported by one arm of the couch and feet propped up across the other.
“Where do you think that comes from, this guilt?”
“Oh, I-I don’t know if I’d say I was feeling guilty.”
“But you were compulsively apologizing.”
“I just…” He hesitates. “I’m not sure. I was, you’re right. But I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
I lean forward. He isn’t looking at me, eyes still on the notebook, folded over and several pages in. “If that’s true — if you hadn’t done anything wrong — why did you feel guilty enough to apologize?”
“I…” He swallows. Slowly, he sets the notebook on top of his face so that his arm can drop, hanging off the couch. “Geez. I don’t know. Are you telling me I did do something—”
“No.” I dismiss that outright, refusing to allow him to consider it. “You are correct. You’ve done nothing to be ashamed of. So why does needing help make you feel like this?”
I’m not expecting an answer, but here comes one: “Because I had to fix everything for everyone else. So now I’m tied down with guilt about needing one of my problems fixed.”
He picks up the notebook and glances at me, and perhaps it isn’t appropriate, but I smile.
“I had another meeting with the Diamonds. Uh… all three of them. Spinel not included this time. I think she’s banished from our meetings now, haha.”
“How did that go?”
He gives a quiet, anxious laugh. “Gee… Not well. White didn’t try to pick me up this time, at least? But Yellow and Blue wanted an explanation, so… I gave them one.”
I blink. “… the truth?”
“Yeah.” He props his elbow on his knee and puts his chin in his hand. “Well, kind of. I intended to, because I knew they were going to ask about it, but it’s still hard to talk about. I asked if they remembered what happened back when we were in White’s head, and they said no. So I said I had a flashback. They didn’t really get that, and Connie told me once that PTSD used to be called ‘battle sickness’ when we thought only soldiers could get it, so I tried that phrase. I guess Blue knew the Gem word for it, because she said something that definitely wasn’t in English, and then she and Yellow started arguing, then they started yelling at White. And… I pretty much backpedaled all the way to the warp pad and didn’t come back.”
That gets an eyebrow raise out of me. “Did you have any unexpected visitors following you?”
“No.” He sighs. “But the weird thing is… even though I haven’t forgiven White, when I saw her, it almost felt easier than it had last time. Like I’d be able to push through it now without freaking out. I didn’t get a chance to test that, of course, but… before, when I’d had to meet with White, I kept everything super minimal and I think she picked up on it and respected it. But even with that, when I got home I’d be a mess. Even though this meeting didn’t go well, I wasn’t like that. And maybe I’ll forgive her in time, but I’m just not ready yet.”
“So you’re getting better. Slowly.”
“Is that what this is?” he murmurs. “Getting better?”
“That’s what it looks like from here. Even though it’s an uphill battle, and you may slip more than once. That’s okay.”
Steven looks down at his hands for a moment. I’m pondering the next thread to take when he speaks up again. “Uh… by the way, if it’s not too late, can I get that recommendation?”
I blink, mind blanking.
I’m trying very hard not to show just how proud I am of him. The cringe on his face says I’ve failed horribly.
“I went out with Connie and had a blast.”
Today, Steven does not have his composition notebook with him. Perhaps he just forgot it, but the look on his face says otherwise.
“I mean, tons of fun. She’s always amazing and can help take my mind off everything. We even fused for a bit to go around Beach City — Stevonnie’s pretty good friends with Kiki, you know? So we had fun.”
His arms are folded, one ankle on his opposite knee, and he’s leaned back into the couch. He bites his lip.
“But?” I probe.
“But when we got back to the beach house, I found out Pearl went through my journal! And I got pissed, and that was making Connie pissed, and Pearl apologized but when she handed it back to me I just lost it! She said she was just trying to figure out how to help me, but she could have just asked! Instead of… of doing the one thing I told her not to do! So of course I’m not just gonna let this go!”
I don’t blame him. “What do you mean, when you say ‘you lost it?’”
He opens his mouth to snap — then pauses. He blinks, and when he looks up he sits up a little straighter. “Uh. I… I yelled a lot. I didn’t curse her out or anything and I — I didn’t go pink. I just… let myself be angry.”
And even though we have so much more to talk about — this invasion of privacy not the least among them — I can’t help but offer him a smile. “So you were able to experience anger without that terrifying, destructive power. Are you proud of that?”
After a small, quiet moment, he nods. His face twists a little, embarrassment bringing the color out of his cheeks. “Y-yeah, I am. Is that bad?”
“No, you should be. I’m proud of you too.”
“Okay, all right.” He sighs, scratching at the back of his neck. “Thanks. But like I was saying…”
“I… I don’t know what happened.” Steven’s leaning back, legs crossed under him and flip-flops on the ground, head against the back of the couch, eyes skyward. “I just — it isn’t like I got mad. But when Garnet mentioned Mom’s portrait, I…”
He hesitates. “I started… crying?”
I remember he explained, weeks ago, that he’d banished that portrait to a place none of the others would be able to retrieve it. “What did she say, exactly?”
“She just asked where I’d put it.” He shrugs. “I don’t know if she even meant anything by it, if she meant that she wanted to see it again or wanted to put it back up, or if maybe she just wanted to know that I hadn’t destroyed it… or something.”
“So she didn’t elaborate?”
“No.” He shakes his head. Then he sighs and sits forward, elbows on his knees. “She asked, and I kinda just stared at her for a bit. Then all these waterworks came, and I don’t really know where from.”
“Did you hope that none of them had noticed?”
“Actually…” He trails for a moment, as if searching for words, for a thought. He swallows, and when he speaks again, I hear an echo of the tears he’d shed then. “I think I was afraid that they hadn’t.”
He’s quick to add, “I mean, I still — I still stand by why I took that thing down and shoved it away. But when none of them said a thing to me about it, there’s this part of me that thought… maybe I was the only one who was making a big deal out of it. Maybe I’d been reading into it too much. Maybe the rest of them were just fine, no conflicted feelings about her whatsoever, and they’d been able to process everything and didn’t mind looking at this giant picture of her day after day.”
I consider everything I know about his mother’s relationship with his caretakers. “They have a fairly deep history with her, and they only learned her true identity within the past few years. I imagine they must be as conflicted as you.”
“Logically, that’s true, but I hadn’t seen any evidence of any of that!” Steven sighs. “And when Garnet asked, and I started crying… we sat down on the couch and we talked about it.”
I blink. There is a raw element in his voice, vulnerable. “You did?”
He nods. “For the first time in a long, long time… we talked about Mom. And I didn’t go pink, and I didn’t get really mad about her or at her or at Garnet. And it was rough — but…” He smiles now, and he looks up to meet my eyes almost shyly. “She… held me, like everyone says a mom is supposed to. And it was just the two of us, and I cried so much that her eyes started misting too, but she held it together. I’m still working out how I feel about Mom, but when I have Garnet to talk to — when I have all of them… I don’t know if it matters as much.”
“Do you remember when I asked you if you were hurting yourself intentionally?”
Steven nods. He looks down at his clean wrists, unmarked; as if he could just erase that it happened with a kiss. The medication has kicked in and, like I warned him — and like I’m sure his psychiatrist warned him — the first few weeks while on them are perhaps the most dangerous. To experience a surge in energy before your mood picks up means having the energy to do things you shouldn’t.
“I didn’t really think I was going to do it again,” he murmurs.
I hadn’t been expecting it, but I’d known it would be a possibility.
“Even when you guys were talking about how I had to be extra careful until my brain settled down on the meds… I just kept thinking it wouldn’t be me.”
And now it is.
“What instigated it?”
“Just—” He waves a hand. Irritable. “I don’t know, everything? I was just getting pissy about nothing. Connie made this comment about college and it freaked me out, and I tried not to show it while I was talking to her but I spiraled. And then it wasn’t just about how Connie’s going to college, it was about Pearl refusing to let me do my own laundry and how she’d never see me as an adult, and it was about how I don’t have the right to ask anything of anyone when I’m the product of a suicide, and how can I even justify my existence in that case?”
He pauses to breathe, then grabs the notebook in his lap and hurls it across the room. “Fuck.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Ooh, a curse.”
“I’m gonna let myself curse in here,” he grumbles. “I don’t do it anywhere else. But with you, it’s fine. The air here is already so negative. It’s not like I can make it any worse, so I might as well get it all out of my system.”
“Were there any instances in your youth that reinforced this idea, of…” I struggle with wording it. “Of… somehow, it’s okay to be hurt as long as you can heal it?”
“I dunno,” he shrugs, noncommittal. “Maybe. I don’t think there was ever anything… specific? But if I ever got hurt, I could just heal it, so it never mattered.” I open my mouth and he grimaces, immediately waving both hands to stop me. “Not that, like, it didn’t matter! Sorry, poor choice of words.”
“But it didn’t.”
He shrugs and leans back again. I suppose that when your tears can literally bring back the dead, even temporary moments of pain can seem inconsequential.
“Did it ever matter when others were hurt?”
“We’ve had this conversation already,” he reminds, dryly. “It’s fine. I know, I know. I should treat myself like I’m someone else, because it’s easier to be compassionate to someone else than it is to be compassionate to yourself. But it’s hard to remember that — or, well, hard to apply that when I’m… like that.”
“What do you think helps you when you reach that critical low?”
“Venting.” He winces. “I don’t know. No, it doesn’t. I hate being around people when I’m like that, but I guess I can’t exactly be trusted to be by myself, either.”
“It isn’t about ‘trusting’ you not to hurt yourself, Steven. It’s about getting you to a point where that won’t be an option.”
“Maybe one day,” he grumbles, obstinate.
“Do you still believe your mother killed herself?”
“We’ve had this conversation before, too.” I raise my eyebrows and he sighs, relenting. “No. Yes? I don’t know. I know you said it’s probably not likely, but it’s not like I’m ever gonna know for sure. And if she did, then what does that make me?”
I suppose that even if I presented him with all of the evidence that I have, in my limited perspective, against that little theory of his, he would still find a way to rationalize it. So let’s try a different approach.
“Is that part of why you carry so much guilt with you? You said you can’t ask anything of anyone because of this.”
“Yeah.” He folds his arms and sighs. “Yeah. Basically.”
I think of children whose mothers died in childbirth. An imperfect analogy.
“Do you believe any of your family members hold any resentment towards you over it?”
“No. I mean… Maybe towards my mom, for the things she hid from them. But I don’t think they’re mad at me. Unless—”
“Trust your gut on this one.” I interrupt only because I don’t want to allow him to spiral. “If you have not seen evidence of this, trust that.”
He shrugs, sinking down into the cushions. He folds his arms across his chest, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think he might actually be trying to disappear.
Actually… knowing Steven, that isn’t implausible.
“I want you to think of it this way, Steven. Even if Rose used you as a vehicle for her own demise, the fact you survived that is not a curse. It is a gift. You are not her choices. You did not choose to kill her. Her death allowed your birth, and you have actively repaired her mistakes and made progress where she failed. The universe would not be what it is today without you.”
And though the last sentence is something I’ve said to many a client — sometimes using chemical estimations to prove my point — few have made as big an impact on the universe as the one sitting in front of me.
He blinks. I see his eyes misting, but he doesn’t move to wipe them. Instead, after a long moment, he gets up and grabs his journal from the other side of the room, near my chair.
“Uh.” His voice wavers. “Do you… have a pen? I’m… I’m gonna write that down. If that’s all right. Just so that way I can look back on it when I need to.”
I think of the way he threw that notebook. I think of the way his anger manifests destructively, either towards his environment or towards himself. I extend my hand. “Here. Let me?”
I have no doubt that he won’t allow himself to destroy it if I write it in my handwriting. He seems nervous, but he flips to a blank page and hands the journal over. As I start to write, I get another, brilliant idea. “Remind me what I said, exactly.”
Say it to me. Out loud.
“Oh, geez.” He rolls his eyes, and I know I’m being transparent, but I want to know how he heard it, and I want him to get used to saying something like this aloud. “Um… It really sucks that Rose used you as a way to kill herself—”
“That’s not right.”
He clears his throat, eyes averting. “Even if Rose used you as a way to kill herself, it’s… not bad that you survived. It’s good.”
He groans. “It’s not a curse—”
“From the beginning.”
“Seriously?” He rolls his eyes, takes a deep inhale, and tries again.
And even though it’s difficult, he tries.