Second entry in the “Helga’s Sessions” series. At their second therapy session together, Helga and Doctor Bliss discuss Helga’s impulse to be mean to Arnold and Miriam’s behavior changes during and after the show episode “The Beeper Queen”.
Unnecessarily Long And Precise Legal Disclaimer: I don’t own the rights to Hey Arnold or any of its characters. I’m using these characters without permission, but I’m writing this purely for my own pleasure – not for the sake of copyright infringement – and therefore I wouldn’t try to make money off this story even if someone were willing to pay for it, nor would I attempt to use it infringe on the profits of Nickelodeon or Viacom Incorporated.
Author’s Note: This fic takes place on the Thursday two days after where “Helga On The Couch” ends (and thus two days after “Helga After The Couch”) and a couple days before the events of “Dino Checks Out” (which I’ve decided takes place over the weekend in this fan fic’s timeline, since we never see any of the characters in school in that episode).
a story based on a television series and set of characters that are all the creation of Craig Bartlet and intellectual property of Nickelodeon and Viacom
Helga Pataki fidgeted anxiously in her seat, tightly repressing the urge to spring up and run out to the bus stop. She was even more desperate to leave than most of her classmates, but even they were glancing at the glacially slow clock, missing every word of Mr. Simmons’ hurried lecture about multiplying fractions and decimals. Simmons tried to cram the last few bits of info in before the bell rang, having underestimated how long his lesson plan would take once it was implemented in the classroom, but then he noticed the gaze of all his students pointing at the clock or out the window and decided it was a lost cause.
“Okay, we’ll cover more of this tomorrow” he said disappointedly. “Just get tonight’s worksheet done and have a nice day. You can all go now.” Almost immediately after he said that, the bell rang, and the students were already hurriedly packing their backpacks. Helga leaped up from her seat and her hands shook as she tried to stuff her textbooks in as quickly as possible. Arnold, who had already packed up in a neat and orderly fashion, stopped on his way out the door and glanced at Helga with slight concern on his oddly-shaped face.
“Are you okay, Helga?” he asked cautiously. Helga froze, and then turned around to face him. In her head, she excitedly thought he asked if I’m okay! Oh, Arnold, my wonderful, considerate, darling! How I long to tell you how much more than okay – in fact, how wonderful I always feel when you speak to me! Out loud, she haughtily snapped “not that it’s any of your business, football head, but for your information, I’m fine!” Arnold glared with annoyance and rolled his eyes, thinking he’d probably never understand this girl, and then headed out the door.
On a typical day, Helga would’ve name-called and threatened her way down the hall to the exit, pushing the other kids aside rather than ever walk around someone. Today, she did none of that because her head was completely up in the clouds, and her out-of-character behavior was not lost of Pheobe.
Pheobe glanced up at her friend for a while, wondering if she should bring the subject up, then cautiously asked “are you nervous about your impending return to therapy with Doctor Bliss?”
Helga glanced around to make sure no one else was paying attention and then truthfully confided “Well, a little, but I’m looking forward to it anyway. Like I told you, I felt great after the last one!”
“Good” Pheobe said cheerfully “I’m glad”.
Helga took the bus to Hillwood Medical Center and kept tight inside her trench coat as she made her way through the bland lobby to the elevator. She clenched her sweaty hands together as she waited for the elevator to reach the right floor, and then stepped into the quiet waiting room. She took a seat but almost immediately stood up again. The thought of having another chat with one of the only two people who seemed to completely understand her – and without having to worry about who might overhear like when she talked to Pheobe – was so exciting she couldn’t sit still any longer, and she frantically paced around the room, not relaxed at all by the soft blue carpeting and wall paper, the pleasantly quiet music, or the lack of any other people in the room today.
Doctor Bliss took a sip of coffee as she glanced at her schedule and saw that Helga Pataki was her next patient. She opened Helga’s file and flipped through the notes to refresh her memory. It was coming back to her now; she was a fourth grade student at PS 118, 9 years old, and very knowledgeable and observant for her age but exhibiting frequent negative behavioral tendencies (name-calling, violence, and all around aggression and hostility towards most of her classmates) which seemed to stem from a variety of unhappy emotions (loneliness, low self-esteem, anger, sadness). She’d been quite reluctant to share anything about herself during their last session, but once she’d confessed an attraction to her classmate Arnold (referred to in Bliss’ notes simply as “Arnold”, since neither Helga nor anyone else at the school seemed to know what his last name was) she seemed to relax quite a bit and become less evasive, so hopefully today’s session would be more helpful to her. Bliss thought she now remembered everything she needed to, but she reviewed the notes she’d taken about Helga’s feelings toward her family just to make sure. Once she was done, she opened her office door to check if Helga had arrived yet. Helga had only been waiting for a few minutes before Doctor Bliss stepped out of one of the doors across the room, but it had felt like hours.
“Hello, Helga. Are you ready?” she asked with a bright smile.
“Yes!” Helga replied with a big grin and thumbs up.
“Good” said Bliss, and Helga skipped into the office and plopped down on the couch while Bliss took her seat.
“It looks like you’ve been feeling better since our last talk?” asked Dr. Bliss.
“A little bit better, I guess” Helga sighed, her body slumping down further on the couch, arms dropping to her sides and mood taking a 180 degree spin as she contemplated the events of the past few days.
“Suddenly, you don’t sound much better” Bliss noted with concern.
“Well, y’know, my life hasn’t changed that much in the past two days. My parents still act like I don’t exist” her voice grew more irritated and resentful “and yesterday they were so excited to tell me that the wondrous Olga is coming back in three weeks.” She quenched the Five Avengers and gritted her teeth for a couple seconds, then stopped and sighed. Her tone became much sadder “and I’m still basically invisible to Arnold except as someone who really bugs him. Still, this time I knew that I’d be able to come here and talk about it with someone who’ll actually listen, so the past two days were more bearable than most of my life. I was really excited to come in today!”
“Well, good. This is meant to be a safe place for you to discuss your challenges, and I’m glad you’ve come to feel that that’s what it is. Two days ago you seemed to be very uncomfortable here.”
“Yeah” she said sadly, “well, yesterday I was really afraid you’d figure out I’m in love with Arnold. I didn’t know about the whole ‘confidence’ thing.”
“Do you want to talk more about Arnold today, or about your family, or something else…?”
Helga got off the couch and paced anxiously around the room for a bit, hands clasped behind her back, then sighed and sadly said “Arnold, I guess”.
“You said you feel mostly invisible to him” Dr. Bliss noted.
“Yeah, most of our interaction is just when I throw a spitball at him or glue something to his butt or insult him…y’know, when I mess with him. Sometimes I come to him with my problems and he’ll give me advice, or he’ll notice that I’m unusually happy or sad or something and he’ll ask me about it, but mostly, he only notices me when I tick him off.”
“Have you tried not ticking him off?”
“I’ve tried to be nice to him, sometimes” Helga said guiltily, “but it’s so hard, and I usually slip back into being a jerk to him again. It’s like this uncontrollable impulse.” She slipped into the melodramatic tone she usually used when making her “I love Arnold” speeches. “Tis a terrible force inside the very depths of my tortured soul that forces me to show even greater cruelty to Arnold than I do to our other classmates. I long to pull him close to me, yet I seem doomed to eternally push him away”. She noticed the puzzled look her therapist was giving her there, and in a more normal tone, added “sorry, I get carried away and talk like that sometimes”.
Bliss smiled. “You don’t have to be sorry, Helga. But tell me, where do you think this impulse comes from?”
Helga went back to the couch and contemplated for a moment. “Well, I guess it just feels…safer. Anytime I try be nice him, I get so much more nervous, and I’m terrified he might figure out that I love him! It’s just easier to hide behind nastiness.”
“On those occasions when you tried being nice to him, what was going through your head?”
“Oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man, I’m scared!” Helga replied, clasping her hands tightly together and imitating the frantic tone in her head. “How’s he gonna react? What will he say? Please let him like it!”
“So you’re afraid he won’t like what you have to say if you’re nice to him?”
Helga threw her arms up in frustration. “I’m always worried about whether or not he’ll like something about me! I’d switch languages for the rest of my life if I found out he found some other language more attractive than English! I always wear this bow on my head because he complimented when we were three! But it’s so hard to figure out what he’s thinking sometimes.” With a sad sigh, she added “That’s why I eavesdrop on his conversations with Gerald, but those usually aren’t about me.”
Doctor Bliss couldn’t help but think that placing that much importance on another person’s opinion wasn’t good for Helga, but now wasn’t the time to bring that up. They would deal with it a later session. “How do you think Arnold feels when you insult him or play pranks on him?” she asked in a curious tone.
Helga stared at her legs now, so upset that she didn’t want to meet Doctor Bliss’ eyes. “Well, I think it really makes him mad. I mean, who wouldn’t be mad?”
“I find it really interesting” Bliss observed in her usual non-judgmental tone “that you’re worried about him not liking you, but you interact with him in ways that you think are making him angry at you”.
Helga folded her arms, and while she continued sitting on the couch, her posture became stiffer. Bliss could tell from her tone of voice that she was very angry and frustrated with herself. “Believe me; I’m well aware of the stupidity of that! I mean, I feel awful after every time I do it, but I keep doing it anyway! What’s wrong with me?”
“It sounds like you’re very hard on yourself about the way you treat Arnold” Bliss said sympathetically.
“You have no idea” replied Helga, dropping her head onto her fists now.
“Why do you think that is?”
“Because I hate hurting him, and I hate the fact that I’m probably ruining my chances with him.”
“You said you do this because it’s less scary than being nice to him”.
“Well, do you really think it’s fair to be so harsh on yourself for your own defense mechanism?” There was silence for a while as Helga pondered that question. Helga studied the carpet for a moment, and then her mind drifted off. She and Bliss could both hear the quiet ticking of the clock as Bliss waited curiously for Helga’s response. Then, Helga finally broke the silence. “I guess…I never thought of it that way before.”
“Suppose you did think of it that way after each time you’ve said or done something potentially hurtful to Arnold. Do you think that would make you feel any better?”
“Maybe” said Helga, “but even if it does, I’d rather have something I can think of beforehand to stop myself from being mean to him. Do you have any suggestions for that?”
“Well, what are you thinking before it happens?” Helga scrunched her face up in concentration. Her mind always raced and became so frantic and excited when she saw Arnold; it was hard to sort her thoughts out. She looked back on all the encounters with him that she could recall off the top of her head and tried to find some thoughts that commonly occurred before the “football head” comments slipped out.
All she could really come up with was “well, just general thoughts about how wonderful he is”. Doctor Bliss had a feeling there was something she was missing, something Helga hadn’t thought to mention. “So you think about how you think about those things, and then you immediately feel and urge to insult him, and then you act on that urge?”
Helga shifted on the couch a little. “Actually, I think those things, and then usually either I try to say something nice but then slip into being mean, or he’ll say something to me and I’ll reply with something mean.”
“So the beginning of conversation between the two of you is what sets you on edge, and then you feel the need to…I believe the phrase you used earlier was ‘hide behind nastiness’.”
“Right” Helga said, relieved that her therapist finally seemed to get it. “As soon as it looks like we’re going to have a friendly chat, I freak, and I need to hide my true feelings.”
“Do you think it’s impossible to have a friendly chat with him without revealing your true feelings?”
A thoughtful look appeared on Helga’s face. “You mean like, act like I like him without liking liking him?”
Bliss smiled at the childhood language. It brought back memories. “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.”
“Well, I guess it’s not impossible, it’s just really hard. I mean, what if something I say or do tips him off?”
“Do you think there’s any risk to continuing to do what you’ve been doing?”
Helga cast her eyes at the ground and said anxiously “Well, I guess I could push him too far and make him dislike me.”
“Are there any other options you can think of besides being friendly to him or pranking and name-calling him?”
“There’s just ignoring him, I suppose. But that would be impossible for me, and I’m afraid he might ignore me back.”
“So those are the cons and risks of each option” said Dr. Bliss, “what are some possible pros or positive outcomes from each option?”
“Well, I guess he’s more likely to like me or even like me like me if I’m nice to him, and wouldn’t have to feel guilty about the way I’ve treated him. But if I’m mean to him, I don’t have to be scared of him figuring out my secret. Can’t really think of any pros to just ignoring him.”
“So when you weigh the pros and cons of being nice to him versus being mean to him, which do you think is the preferable choice?” This lead to about fifteen minutes of silence as Helga mulled it over, her shoulder muscles tight and a squirming feeling in her stomach. Doctor Bliss waited patiently, wondering what could be going through Helga’s mind right now. Finally, sounding completely lost and vulnerable, the blond pig-tailed girl sighed and said “I don’t know.”
Bliss could see that it was an upsetting topic for Helga to ponder and that she wasn’t likely to come to an answer anytime soon, so she asked “would you rather think it over later and move to a different topic for now”
“Yeah” said Helga sadly, “that’s probably for the best.”
Bliss paged through the notes she’d been taking over the course of the session, looking for other potentially important issues. Then she noticed something that she was curious about and that she thought might help her to understand both Helga and Arnold a little better. “You said earlier that you sometimes go to him for advice?”
Helga smiled affectionately. “Yeah, aside from you he’s pretty much PS 118’s go-to-person for solving problems. He’s always helping people and giving them advice.” She slipped into another one of her melodramatic monologues about how kind and wonderful Arnold was, how much she loved him for it, etc. Doctor Bliss privately thought it was sweet and cute, but it would take a bit of getting used to. Though she’d had patients with these types of issues before, she’d never seen any of them express their feelings quite like this. It made Helga unique. After Helga was done, Bliss asked her for examples of advice he’d given and problems he’d solved. Helga gave a very long and impressive list that included solving a teacher’s union strike and saving a local coach’s wedding.
“So what kinds of problems have you asked him for advice on, Helga?”
“Oh, mostly family problems” she replied. Doctor Bliss was slightly caught off guard by Helga’s tone when she said this. The little girl’s voice and had suddenly regained anger and resentment that she’d displayed for most of Tuesday’s session but had seemingly abandoned for most of this one.
“Like what?” Bliss asked softly, having gathered that this was an easier topic for Helga to discuss than Arnold was, but also a topic that made her a lot less happy.
“Well” Helga continued in this more aggressive tone and she sprung from the couch and stomped around the room, “there was the time Miriam finally got off her lazy butt and got a job.”
The psychologist raised an eyebrow. “Miriam?”
“My mother” Helga spat the word “mother” with disgust. “I often call my parents by their names. They haven’t been much of a mom and dad to me, so why should I call them that?”
“But you did at our last session” Doctor Bliss observed.
“Yeah, well, sometimes I slip, okay!” she snapped. “I don’t know why”.
“Helga” Bliss said in her gentlest voice, hoping to soothe her patient. “There’s no need to be hostile. I wasn’t accusing you of anything, just trying to understand.”
Helga felt a small sting of guilt, and returned to a gentler, more vulnerable tone for a moment. “Sorry, Doc”, then the angry tone was back again “it’s just that my family makes so mad!” she snarled those last two words as she kicked her therapist’s desk drawer.
“Yes, we discussed that at great length during our last session. But why don’t tell me this story about your mother getting a job?”
Helga practically ran laps around the room now, fuming the entire time. After a couple minutes of this, she only slightly less enraged, but ready to tell her story. “Ever heard of Big Bob’s Beepers?”
“I believe I bought a beeper from that brand for my cousin a couple months back.”
“Well then” Helga said in a mock congratulatory tone as she beat the crap out of the punching bag Bliss had got for her office for exactly these occasions, “I’m sure my dad would thank you for supporting his business. That is, of course, assuming he cares about his customers more than he does me, which isn’t so hard!” She gave the punching bag an especially hard WHACK.
“Anyway, one day Bob had a back injury and couldn’t run the company, so Miriam took over. At first, this seemed to be a good thing. She started packing me real lunches and helping me with my homework! But then” – she became visibly more infuriated as she told this part of the story – “she got so wrapped up in her precious little job that she noticed my existence even less than she ever had before!” She took several fast, angry breaths now, seeming to have forced all the air out of her lungs with the rage she’d already expressed. “So then she quits, says she’s doing it so she can be a better mom but a couple days later” she gritted her teeth now, tears starting to roll down her cheeks.
Doctor Bliss gave her several more minutes to continue. She hoped that would be enough for Helga to release some of that anger, but instead she seemed to get worse, continuing to clench her teeth as tears continued rolling down and her little body shook with rage. Bliss’ heart went out to her; whatever the next part of this story was, it was apparently painful enough to render her incapable of speech for some time, something that hadn’t happened when she’d shared several other painful feelings. Desperately hoping that divulging it would make her patient feel better that she’d gotten it off her chest instead of worse, Bliss asked softly “what happened a couple days later, Helga?”
In a tiny voice- barely a whisper – Helga forced the information out. “Things went right back to the way they were before.” That did it; Helga couldn’t hold the tears in any longer. As far as Helga could remember, preschool had been the last time she’d let another human being see her tears. Since then, she hadn’t even cried in a back alley or some other empty place where people might conceivably show up. Letting anyone see her cry would’ve made her feel too weak. But now, she bawled so loud it could almost be described as a shriek.
A sad Doctor Bliss brought Helga a box of tissues, and Helga pulled out five and went through them very quickly. “She really made me believe her” she said through her tears, “she said she was quitting so she could be there for me. I really thought things were going to get better for more than just a couple of days, but they didn’t.” This was the hardest part of Bliss’ job; she’d chosen it for the sake of helping them, but occasionally it meant watching children suffer and not knowing how to console them; it was heartbreaking.
“I’m so sorry, Helga” she whispered with deep sadness in her voice. For the next twenty minutes, the only sounds in the room were the ticking clock and Helga’s sobbing. Finally, a worn down Helga collapsed on the couch, and continued to whimper occasionally but was otherwise silent. When Bliss had originally brought this topic up, she’d thought that after Helga was done with the story about her mother, she’d ask her what advice Arnold had given and weather it she’d tried it. But the doctor hadn’t realized what a sore spot the story was, and to continue this line of questioning now seemed like an almost cruel thing to do. Instead, she led Helga through a series of deep breathing exercises to help calm her down. It took about ten minutes, but eventually Helga seemed to feel better, at least enough to talk without crying.
“We don’t have much time left, Helga” Bliss said regretfully, “would you like to talk about something that will make you feel better? It could be anything at all; we could talk about your favorite TV show if you’d like.”
Helga gave a small, fond smile, thinking how lucky she was to have Phoebe and Doctor Bliss in her life. “I’m going over to Phoebe’s house tonight. If we can get our homework done quickly enough, we might even manage to catch Wrestle Mania on TV.”
“Phoebe” said Doctor Bliss thoughtfully, “that’s a name I don’t think I heard during our last session. Is she in your class?
“Yeah” Helga said affectionately, “she’s my best friend.” Then she gave it some thought and added sadly “my only friend, really. Or at least my only close friend, unless you count Arnold. I think most of the other kids only let me in the group because they’re afraid of me.”
Bliss looked puzzled. “The group?”
“I mean, the group of people I hang out with” Helga explained. “Arnold, Gerald, Harold, Sid, Stinky, Eugene, Pheobe, me; we play baseball together a lot and chase urban legends and stuff.”
“How did you meet Phoebe?”
Helga smiled at the memory. “I saved her when she was being picked on in pre-school. Told some losers they’d better leave her alone if they didn’t want their faces to meet Old Betsey and the Five Avengers.” Anticipating her therapists’ next question, she explained “that’s what I named my fists.” Bliss jotted that down in her notes. “Anyway” said Helga, “Pheebs is a complete brainiac, so hopefully with her help we can get all our homework done before they start airing tonight’s match.”
Helga and Bliss talked about Phoebe and wrestling for the rest of the session, then they said their goodbyes. “See you again Tuesday after school?” Doctor Bliss asked, checking to make sure Helga was available.
Helga smiled; it hadn’t been fun talking about some of these things, but she was glad they weren’t all bottled up inside anymore. “Yeah, see ya then”.