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first person

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Illustration by Rachel Wada

Last fall, I started doing calls with my therapist in my car parked at the beach. There’s a particular parking lot I like, with an unobstructed view of the ocean. For some reason, it feels good to stare out at the sea while I’m on these calls, and I’m grateful my therapist provides the option of phone or video chats. Like everyone, I’m Zoomed out, so therapy with a view feels like a double dose of self-care.

The first time I tried out the new setting, I let her know. She laughed and told me I was the third person that day to do their session from their car.

I guess it makes sense. It’s a private and quiet place. In pandemic times those things don’t always come easy, with everyone at home in close quarters.

It’s a routine now. Every two weeks, I prepare tea in my travel mug and head out with my dog Penny. We go for a walk and then get settled in the car for the call. Penny knows the drill. She curls up in the back seat and goes to sleep. One time she snored so loud during a contemplative pause that I had to assure my therapist I wasn’t dozing off.

One sunny beach-therapy day, I pulled into a parking stall next to a little blue car. I glanced over to see an elderly gentleman seated inside. A rosary hung from the rear-view mirror. He was swiping his finger on a smart phone and from time to time, he’d stop and look out at the ocean. I caught a glimpse of his phone screen and realized he was playing solitaire.

I looked away, surprised by my sudden emotion. What brings him here? I wondered. Maybe his wife is in a care home and he can’t visit her. Maybe she died recently. Or maybe she’s just fine and this is simply his quiet time, out of the house.

I still had a few minutes before my call so I took a sip of tea and leaned my head against the seat. In my rear-view mirror, I saw a woman in her SUV parked in the row across the lot. She was also on the phone. Maybe doing her counselling session, too? Or maybe chatting with her mother or a friend. Away from her kids perhaps. God bless the parents during this pandemic, I thought. And the teachers, for that matter.

One particularly rainy day, a couple pulled up beside me and ate lunch out of takeout containers. Another day a pickup truck parked beside me. Two men sat on the tailgate enjoying a visit and the unusually warm temperatures.

There was the day the teenagers rolled their windows down next to me and billows of marijuana smoke wafted my way. I could probably use some of that, I thought.

And the day when my therapist was in the middle of saying something wise but I interrupted her with my laughter. “I’m so sorry, but you’re not going to believe this – there’s a guy walking his dog in front of my car right now and he’s wearing nothing but a speedo!” It was a cold and blustery West Coast day, so it was a surprising and hilarious sight.

“Ahhh,” I sighed, catching my breath, “I haven’t laughed like that in a while.”

There was the man who rolled into the parking lot in his antique car with his windows down, blasting Kitty Wells country tunes for all to hear. Not everyone seemed pleased with the volume, or his choice of music for that matter, but I must admit I enjoyed his carefree vibe.

Some people read books or scroll on their phones in their cars. I watched one woman knit and I silently scolded myself for not taking up a new hobby during the pandemic. Surely, I could have made a few scarves by now or learned a couple of songs on the ukulele?

And yet, most people parked and simply looked out at the ocean. A surprising amount actually.

It made me happy and I felt a kinship with these strangers. It somehow made me feel less alone, knowing we were all taking care of ourselves, in our own ways, right there in our cars parked next to the Pacific.

“Do you miss doing your sessions in person?” I asked my therapist one day out of the blue.

“I do,” she said. “Very much. This amount of screen time takes a toll. I’m not used to it. And there’s a lot that cannot be translated through video or over the phone when you’re doing this kind of work.”

It was only then that I remembered that this superhuman on the phone with me that has been my therapist for a year and a half was just that – human. She has been dealing with this crazy pandemic just like the rest of us, and all the while continuing to support and counsel all of her clients.

I recalled banging pots and pans every night for health care workers at the beginning of the pandemic and for some reason, I failed to include all the mental health professionals on that list in my head.

“Thank you,” I told her. “I don’t say it enough. Thank you. You are the unsung hero of the pandemic in my books. I couldn’t have gotten through this without you.”

“You’re welcome,” she said warmly and we were silent for a moment. I watched some seagulls dance in the wind.

“I hope you’re doing ok with all this, too,” I told her. “And if not, might I recommend sitting in your car by the ocean? It’s like a drive-in movie but with nature … and your thoughts.”

“And the occasional speedo,” she piped in.

We laughed and said our goodbyes.

I decided to stay and look at the ocean for a bit longer.

Rosalyn Young hails from White Rock, B.C.

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