Third of the short stories comprising the series “Helga’s Sessions”. Helga and Doctor Bliss discuss Helga’s cynical worldview, her self-image, and things she’s done in the past that she isn’t proud of.
Unnecessarily Long And Precise Legal Disclaimer: Given where you’re reading this, it’s probably obvious that 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: Turns out I was wrong in my author’s note for “Helga’s Second Session” and there is one very brief scene in “Dino Checks Out” where we do see the characters in school. That being the case, I’ve decided that for the purposes of this series’ time line, “Dino Checks Out” starts sometime after the Thursday of “Helga’s Second Session” (I forget exactly how many days the episode takes place over) and continues into the Monday before the fic you’re about to read (“Helga’s Third Session”).
“Monkeyman” therefore starts the Tuesday night after this fic. Therefore, the opening scene of “Monkeyman” (where Monkeyman saves Arnold), happens the same Tuesday as this fic, though this fic happens in the afternoon of that day whereas “Monkeyman” opens in the evening of that day.
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’s Third Session”
Helga G. Pataki had been doing her usual routine in class that rainy Tuesday afternoon, throwing spitballs at Arnold and then quickly hiding it when he turned around and gave her an annoyed glare. As Mr. Simmons drew multiplication tables on the board and lightning flashed outside, Helga listened to the soft sound of the raindrops pouring onto the sidewalk, hoping it would calm her nerves slightly. She clasped her hands together tightly, dithering on whether or not to throw another spitball. Was there a limit to how many her love interest could take in one day before she’d pushed him too far and he finally came to resent her? It sure seemed unlikely given how patient he’d been with her most of the time up to this point, but it wasn’t a risk she wanted to take.
And yet she thought, it’s a risk I keep taking it every single day. But if I stop picking on him, will he pay any attention to me at all? If one of the worst things she could plausibly imagine happening to make her life worse was Arnold resenting her (she couldn’t imagine him actually hating anyone, so her worst nightmares had to settle for resentment) the next worst would be for him to totally ignore her. But, she wondered, even she could suppress her true nature without feeling painfully fake, even if she could spend her whole life putting on an act of being nice like she did at that fashion show, would a non-bully Helga get any positive attention? She had from Arnold that one day in pre-school, but he hadn’t known her very well at the time, most of her other classmates gave her negative attention, and the people who knew her best – her own family – didn’t think she was interesting enough to pay attention to at all.
The blood-boiling thought had her crunching several more pieces of paper into tiny balls to throw at Arnold. As she launched her next seven spitballs, a thought suddenly occurred to her; how much of her mistreatment of Arnold was really due to fear that it was the only way to get his attention? She remembered telling Doctor Bliss five days ago that she was mean to Arnold so he could never figure out that she was in love with him, but now she wondered if there was more to it that just that. Could she have a whole bunch of motives for the ways she behaved that she’d never been consciously aware of before?
She rubbed her forehead in exasperation. What did it matter? Whatever her reasons for being who she was, she’d never change. No matter how much she might sometimes wish she could be kind like Arnold or girly like Lila or confident like Olga, she would never be any of those things.
Then again, Doctor Bliss seemed to know what she was doing, and she apparently thought it was possible, at least, for Helga to tone down her meanness. Hadn’t she said they were going to “discuss these anti-social tendencies and examine strategies for improvement” or something like that? Helga fiercely believed in the old “be yourself” message, and she couldn’t imagine Bliss encouraging her to betray that ideal. So did that mean she really could someday learn to show sincere kindness? Maybe even become one percent as admirable as her football-headed idol without feeling like she was putting on act? Or was her psychologist just being overly optimistic?
A small, fond smile crossed Helga’s face at that point. Whether or not Bliss could really help her change herself or her life, it was nice to have someone she felt completely comfortable talking to who would actually listen, even if she was being paid by the school to do it. Helga looked forward to seeing her kindly confidante again after school today.
Helga slipped into her trench coat again as the bus drew closer to the Hillwood Medical Center. She got some odd looks from the other passengers, as she always did, but she knew that snapping at them or threatening them would just draw even more attention to her, which was the last thing she wanted. Besides, the odds were slim but not impossible that someone on this bus might know one of her classmates, or know someone who knew one of them, or might otherwise be connected to one of them in a “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” fashion. Sure, she thought, she was being paranoid, but how many of the other kids would still be afraid of a girl who went to therapy? They’d probably laugh at her. The memory of That Day in pre-school came back to her for a moment, the pain, helplessness and humiliation she felt when the other kids laughed at her for liking Arnold. She brushed the thought off quickly, not wanting to deal with the upsetting memory right now.
No sooner had her feet left the last step off the bus and touched down on the sidewalk then she froze in place. Eugene was skateboarding down the sidewalk, singing “Look Up”. Helga clenched her teeth and her heart pounded at lightning speed as she silently prayed that her disguise would work, or better yet, that Eugene wouldn’t turn his head and see she was there. Before long, he’d passed off in the distance, and she heard the far off sounds of a yell, a crash, and a cheerful “I’m okay!” With a sigh of relief, she darted into the lobby.
The lobby was still bland-looking, and Helga moved through it to the elevator as fast as she could, not even noticing the guy at the desk raising an eyebrow at her before glancing back down at his paperwork.
Doctor Bliss sat in her office, knowing Helga was her next patient and feeling conflicted about how to approach this session. During their last session five days ago, Helga talked about how her mother – “Miriam” according to Bliss’ notes – had briefly gotten a job and made Helga feel less neglected, then more neglected than ever before, then quit her job supposedly to spend more time with Helga but went back to her usual treatment of her within a couple of days. Bliss suspected that discussing these events again in greater detail might give her more information about the mother-daughter dynamic between Helga and Miriam. Some of it might even be info that Helga would never think to mention otherwise but which could be very useful in helping her cope with her feelings of rejection or even improve her relationship with Miriam. She also wanted to ask what advice Arnold had given her about the situation and whether Helga had followed it or not, since she now suspected there was a lot she didn’t know about Helga’s relationship with Arnold. But the last time Helga had talked about this particular episode of her life, she’d made it clear that it was an especially upsetting one and perhaps one she hadn’t been ready to talk about.
Maybe it’d be easier for her if she waited a couple of weeks, but the longer they waited, the more likely it was that Helga would forget some of the details. Then again, the psychologist thought, surely there were other ways to get the information she was looking for, she’d just have a harder time figuring out what to ask. She tapped her pencil on her desk several times, knowing that she didn’t have much more time to ponder this before starting the session. If Helga wasn’t out in the waiting room right now, she would be in the next couple of minutes. She flipped through her notes again and sighed at the thought of how sad Helga’s life really was. It reminded her how lucky she’d been as a child to have loving parents and a small but close group of friends.
Granted, her friends had plenty of drama with her and with each other, they’d mostly bonded over all of them being outcasts, and her parents had been a dysfunctional couple. In fact, the many hard times, problems, and painful memories of her childhood had played a large role in her adulthood interest in helping children, which in turn led her to become a child psychologist. Nevertheless, there’d been a lot of good times in her childhood mixed in with the bad ones, and she considered her childhood a lot better than what many of her young patients told her about their current lives, including Helga. Truth be told, some of the stories Helga had told about her family made Doctor Bliss very angry on Helga’s behalf, but she remained professional and didn’t express that anger during sessions.
The more Bliss thought about what Helga was going through, and how hard it probably was for Helga to trust people, the more she strongly she came to feel that being careful not risk the trust she’d earned from Helga last week was more important that whatever information she hoped to glean from asking Helga to talk again about Miriam getting a job. She’d still ask Helga if she wanted to talk about it again, of course, but she wouldn’t recommend they talk about it if Helga was at all reluctant. Occasionally, giving a child a small nudge to discuss something they were anxious about discussing proved beneficial to them afterwards, leaving them glad they’d discussed it after all, but Bliss doubted that this was one of those times.
She heard a knock on the door then, and opened it to find Helga standing outside. “Come in, Helga” Bliss said warmly, and Helga smiled at her and took a seat on the couch. “How have you been lately?” asked Bliss.
“Same as usual” Helga replied glumly, “or maybe a little worse, since Olga’s coming back in two weeks”. As usual, resentment dripped from her voice as she said Olga’s name. Then she asked “what’s the name of that loser washed-up singer who faked his death a couple days ago?”
“You mean Dino Spumoni?” asked Bliss.
“Yeah, him” replied Helga, before switching to her affectionate monologue tone. “I heard him on the news saying that Arnold helped him. That was the highlight of my weekend! Oh, my wonderful bizarrely-headed little angel! What a king of kindness he is, always going out of his way to improve the lives of others! Giving so much to the people around him and never asking anything in return! If only I could reward him with the love he truly deserves! If only I could kiss the lips on the football-shaped head that brings so much peace and warmth to my dreams!”
“I take it you admire Arnold’s kindness and habit of helping others?” Bliss asked with a hint of warm amusement in her voice.
“Oh, yes!” exclaimed Helga, still using her monologue voice. “Those are the things I most love about him! Ever since that day I first met him in pre-school, I’ve almost never seen him be anything but kind to me and everyone around him! Even though I torture him with hurtful words and humiliating pranks, he never stops being there for me when I really need him!”
Doctor Bliss saw a good opening for approaching the subject she’d been leery of tackling again after Thursday’s session. “You said at our last session that Arnold gives you advice about your family troubles”.
“Yeah” Helga affirmed in a much sadder, quieter voice.
“There’s a question I’d like to ask you, Helga.” Bliss used her gentlest tone, hoping not to scare Helga by bringing this topic up again. “If you’d rather not answer it, if it’s just too much right now for you to talk about this, that’s okay, but I want to ask.” Helga nodded, inviting Bliss to keep going. “Do you feel comfortable telling me what advice Arnold gave you about the time Miriam took over Big Bob’s Beepers?”
Helga stared at Bliss’ Edward Hopper painting for a couple minutes, her mind going numb. She could hear the ticking of the clock as she breathed slowly, trying to find it in her to answer Doctor Bliss’ question. The psychologists’ voice brought her back to reality. “If you’re not ready to talk about it, that’s okay”.
But Helga finally answered “when I first told him that things were worse than ever, because Miriam cared more about her job than me, he said I should just talk to her and tell her how I felt”.
“And what did you think of that advice, Helga?” asked Bliss.
“I thought that Arnold doesn’t understand that my parents never listen to what I have to say” replied Helga.
“So you knew his advice wasn’t going to work?” asked Bliss.
“I thought it probably wasn’t going to, but I tried it anyway” said Helga.
“And what happened?”
“She didn’t listen at first; she said I was interrupting a commercial she was trying to shoot. So I ran out of the studio, but then she came after me and said she was going to quit so she could be a better mom. And she was for the next couple days, but then she went back to normal. Arnold actually came up to me a couple days later at school and asked me what was wrong.”
“He could tell there was something wrong?”
“Yeah, he said I was being even meaner than usual to the other kids, and he heard about me beating up Brainy way worse than usual, so he figured I must be really upset about something.”
A concerned look crossed Bliss’ face then at hearing that Helga still assaulted Brainy, but she decided not to change the topic yet. “Did you tell him Miriam had returned to her usual level of neglectfulness?” Helga nodded. “And what did he say?” Bliss asked next.
“He was all silent for a moment” Helga said in a sad but also distant voice, as if she were visualizing the memory and practically re-living it as she recounted it. “And then he just said ‘I’m sorry, Helga’. That was all he said. He didn’t have any advice this time.” Helga’s voice got quieter then, softer and more vulnerable. “I think that was the worst part. I felt like my situation must be especially hopeless if even Arnold didn’t know what do. Arnold always knows what to do.”
“Helga,” Bliss said softly but firmly, “your situation is not hopeless. Your life will get better.” Helga jumped off the couch, ran up to her psychologist and gave her a tight hug. Bliss smiled; it was always pleasant to get a sign of affection from her little patients, not only because affection from someone else was a nice thing to have, but also because it meant that she’d made a positive difference in a child’s life. This particular hug seemed to be about as tight as a nine-year-old was capable of and lasted for about twenty seconds before Helga let go and went back to the couch.
“Doctor Bliss, why are most people so…cold?” asked Helga.
“Is that really what you believe, Helga?” Bliss asked sadly.
“Well, doi!” Helga spat with obvious pain and exasperation as she suddenly leapt off the couch again. “It’s true, isn’t it?”
“It’s not how I see the world” Bliss replied in a gentle, soothing tone.
Helga angrily paced back and forth. “I guess you must have no sense of reality, like Arnold.”
“Why do you think that, Helga?”
“It’s just how things are, doc!” Helga’s voice was rising, now. “I mean, sure, there are exceptions, like you and Phoebe and Arnold, but most people are just awful! The only reason my life isn’t even worse is because I’m so much meaner than most people that they’re too afraid to walk all over me!” She panted with rage and heartache, and then let out several long, ear-shattering screams for the next couple minutes until she wore herself down and plopped back on the couch.
Some little boy opened the door to ask if everything was okay, but Bliss assured him that it was and Helga snapped at him to get out, so he closed the door and sat back down again in the waiting room. Downstairs, several people heard a faint scream and wondered what it could possibly be. At Dino Land, Arnold asked Gerald if he’d heard something, and Gerald shook his head.
“Would you like to know what I think, Helga?” Bliss asked back in her office.
“Sure” Helga said unenthusiastically.
“I think there are a lot more decent and good people in the world than you believe, but it’s hard for you to see that because your experiences with people have been mostly negative.”
“You sound just like Arnold” Helga scoffed without much energy.
That’s the second time she’s compared me to Arnold, thought Bliss, greatly intrigued now. I wonder what that means. Out loud, very curious as to what the answer would be, she asked “do you consider that a positive thing, or a negative thing?”
Helga moaned with frustration “oh, I don’t know. Sometimes I really admire Arnold’s optimism, and sometimes I think it’s really stupid, and sometimes I feel both ways at the same time.”
“Why do you think that is, Helga?” This led to a couple minutes of silence. “Helga?”
“I’m thinking, doc, I’m thinking!” Several more minutes of silence as the clock ticked and a car whooshed by outside. Then, finally, Helga answered “I guess it seems like Arnold sees a lot more good in the world than I do. And I want to believe he’s right, but I don’t think he is. Sometimes I’d love to have no sense of reality like he does, because reality stinks! I’d love to only see the best in people, but that’s just not who I am.”
“What do you mean by ‘that’s just not who’ you are?” asked Bliss.
“I mean just that” said Helga. “I’m a cynical, distrustful person. That’s just who I am. I can’t change it, can I?”
How interesting, Bliss thought, that Helga could be such a deep thinker for someone her age and yet come to such puzzling conclusions. “You believe it’s impossible for a person to change who they are?”
“I know they can change how they act on the outside” explained Helga, “but that doesn’t change who they really are on the inside. I remember this one time I started acting nice to… get out something I didn’t want to do”, she decided she didn’t want to get off track and recount the story of her fashion contract “and it worked. And then Arnold asked me why I couldn’t act nice all the time. So I told him ‘I’m mean and nasty and insensitive. That’s who I am; it’s what makes me special.’”
“Are you happy being nasty on both the inside and outside?” asked Bliss.
“What does it matter?” shrugged Helga. “Like I said, I don’t think I can change what’s on the inside. And when I was acting different on the outside, I felt really fake.”
“But are you happy with being nasty on the inside, Helga?” asked Bliss. “If you could change that aspect of who you are on the inside, would you?”
Helga furrowed her brow in concentration, honestly considering the question, and then finally said “I guess I’m not sure. There are times when I think I would change it if I could, but then there are other times when I’d rather stay the way I am.”
“Have you noticed anything else about those times, anything about the times when you’d like to change that’s different from the times when you don’t want to change?”
“Well…I usually want to be kinder after I’ve seen Arnold do something kind. Actually, sometimes just seeing him period is enough to make me wish I were a better person.”
“Are there other circumstances that make you wish you were kinder?”
“Sometimes it happens after I’ve done something really terrible. I mean, sometimes I’ve done things a lot worse than just being mean, and then I feel really guilty, and sometimes that makes me reflect on myself in general and wish I could be nicer.”
“ What sorts of worse things have you done, Helga?”
Helga grimaced, “well, there was this one time I got Phoebe to throw a competition that would’ve gotten her into the City Academic Bowl. That was the one contest Olga never won, so I figured it was my chance to impress Bob.”
“Did you win the Academic Bowl?”
“Nah, at the last minute I felt guilty and let Phoebe take my place. There was this other time…it was when Lila first came to school” her voice suddenly turned a lot more biter, “I helped the other girls play a mean prank on her. We all felt bad about that one when we found out she and her father were basically dirt poor, so we apologized, although now I wish we’d just let her suffer!” Bliss was taking notes as Helga spoke, and she made sure to jot down that Helga obviously held a great deal of resentment towards this Lila girl. And if it was the same Lila that Bliss suspected it was, she had a pretty good guess as to where the resentment was coming from.
Helga spent the next several minutes discussing some of the things she felt most guilty about doing. “But the worst thing I’ve done…” there was more pained guilt in her voice now than Bliss had ever heard before. Whatever it was her patient was about to discuss, she clearly did think it was the worst thing she’d ever done.
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, Helga” Bliss assured her. “But if you’d like to get if off your chest, I’m not going to judge you for it, whatever it is. I’m here to help you, not make you feel bad.”
Helga seriously considered not talking about it, but now that she’d touched the subject, holding it in felt pretty bad too. “Well, my dad hired this babysitter one time” she explained, “and I really hated her. She was always trying to tell me what to do, even what I could wear, and I so desperate to get my freedom back that I…” More anguish poured into her voice as she spoke, and she stopped again, waiting another couple minutes until she felt ready to say it. Finally, sounding almost like she might cry for the second time in two sessions if she got any more upset, she said “I framed her for stealing something from Bob and got her fired.”
For a moment, that made the room deathly quiet except for the ticking of the clock again. “I felt horrible about it afterwards…well, after Arnold made me realize how horrible it was.” Her voice was so quiet now that Bliss strained to her it. “Actually, Arnold’s been there a lot of times when I’ve done something extra-bad, and he gives me a lecture about how I shouldn’t have done it. Usually it’s a really nice, patient, non-judgmental lecture, but it guilts me anyway, and then I try to undo what I did. When I told him about what I did to Inge, though, he was really mad at me.”
“Is Inge the babysitter’s name?” Bliss checked.
Helga blinked. “Yeah”.
“And how could you tell Arnold was angry at you?”
“Just his tone, the look on his face, the way he said ‘I can’t believe you would do that.’ After I realized he was right, I asked Inge if she’d be able to get another job, but she said no one around here would hire her now because everyone thinks she’s a thief. I really wanted to make up for that one, but it was too late. There was nothing I could do. Last I heard she’d gone back to her home country. She sent me a post card.”
“Okay, so you’ve done a lot of things that you now realize you shouldn’t have done” Bliss said, “can you think of anything you’ve learned from those experiences?”
“I’ve learned that I never wanna do anything that bad again” replied Helga. “And I’ve learned that Arnold has this annoying ability to turn my conscience on when I least want it but most need it.”
“I’ve noticed that in all the cases you mentioned, you tried to make up for it later.”
“Well, I think that’s a very good thing, Helga. You’re able to learn from your mistakes and admit when you’re wrong. I’ve known many people your age or even my age who can’t do that.”
“So, I don’t sound like an awful person after all those things I just admitted to doing?” Helga asked, sounding honestly surprised.
“Everyone has their flaws, Helga” Bliss assured her gently “but for a nine-year-old, you seem to be very good at recognizing your own flaws and even making amends for some of the more severe ones. I think you should be proud of yourself for that.”
Helga brightened a little. “Thanks, doc.”
“And if you decide that you want to improve yourself further, it’s part of my job to help you with that. I’ve helped a lot of other children through that process.”
“So” Helga asked hopefully, “it is possible for people to change who they really are on the inside?”
“I think if you really want it, and you’re patient enough to toward it gradually, yes, it’s possible.”
A little more glumly, Helga asked “I don’t suppose you think my parents will ever change? I mean, really change and not just act different for a couple days?”
“I think it would be possible if they honesty decided that they wanted to change, but first they’d have to realize why the change is important.”
“Is there anything I can do to make them realize?”
“Have you tried talking to them about it?”
“I’ve tried talking to them about all kinds of things for most of my life! They won’t even listen when it’s something as simple as ‘mom, could you please pack me some actual food for lunch!’”
Doctor Bliss sighed sympathetically, wishing she could be more helpful. Ultimately, it was up to Bob and Miriam to change their behavior. If they refused to even communicate with their own daughter, all Bliss could do was help Helga cope. “Would you like to schedule a family therapy session?”
“I don’t know what good it would do” Helga said miserably. “They probably still won’t listen, assuming they even show up.”
“Would you like to try?” Bliss asked.
Helga shrugged and said “sure” without much enthusiasm.
“What’s your father’s number?”
“Oh, don’t bother calling him right now.” Helga advised Bliss, “he never the answers the phone when he’s at work. You should try calling our house number sometime after eight.”
“Is Miriam mother home before eight?”
“Her body is, but I think what little brain she has is off in smoothie land.”
“Alright then, I’ll call your house sometime after eight.” Bliss glanced over her notes. “Do you still sock Brainy?”
Helga sighed, having not looked forward to when this topic was brought up again. “What am I supposed to do? He’s always standing right behind me, breathing loudly! I wouldn’t sock him if he’d just leave me alone!”
“Have you tried talking to him about it?”
“Why should I? Shouldn’t socking him be enough for him to get the message? He deserves it!”
“Helga, physical aggression is a very unhealthy and harmful way to express your anger. Besides, what if you punch too hard one day and send him to the hospital? Do you really want that kind of guilt?”
Helga sighed with exasperation and reluctantly said “no.”
“Good. So what do you think are some other ways you could resolve this situation with Brainy?
“I guess I could try talking to him.”
“I could threaten him without actually socking him. Then again, he might eventually realize I don’t mean it anymore.”
“Any other ideas?”
“I think you should try talking to him” Doctor Bliss said with a tad bit more firmness in her voice than usual, but only a tad, “and if that still doesn’t work you should talk to a teacher.”
“But it doesn’t just happen at school! It happens everywhere!”
“Everywhere?” Bliss asked, wondering how that was possible.
“Well, okay, not literally everywhere” Helga admitted, “but it sure feels that way sometimes!” she went into angry rant mode. “It’s happened when I’m not at school. It’s happened in alleyways, and on a bridge, pretty much anytime I’m in a public place. I make a speech about my love for Arnold, and poof, there’s Brainy, just suddenly there even if I tried to make sure I was alone first. I don’t know how he does it, but I want him to cut it out!” Then, to really drive the point home, she spent the next twenty minutes listing all the places she could remember Brainy popping up behind her over the course of the past six years, her voice getting more and more infuriated as she went.
“This only happens after one of your Arnold speeches?” asked Bliss.
“Yeah” said Helga slowly, as though just giving this some thought and wondering what it meant.
Bliss wondered about it herself, but she quickly brought her mind back to the problem at hand. “Well, Helga, I still think you should try talking to him about it. If he keeps harassing you after that, I want you to tell me about it. If all else fails, I’ll get his parents’ number from the school administration and talk to them about dealing with their son’s behavior.”
“Okay” Helga said casually, though she privately thought that she didn’t owe Brainy a talk and there was no reason not to keep punching him.
“Was there anything else you wanted to talk about, Helga?”
“Well, there’s this thing Inge said to me the last time I talked to her. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, actually.”
“What did she say?”
“She said ‘you’re such an angry little girl, Helga, but you won’t let anyone help you.’”
However long Inge had babysat Helga before getting fired, Bliss thought, she either must’ve been very perceptive or gotten to know Helga pretty well to make such a spot-on assessment. Granted, the part about not letting anyone help wasn’t entirely true, but given how defensive she’d been during their first session, the kind of life she’d led, the fact that she called Arnold and Phoebe her only friends and her description of herself as a “cynical, untrusting person”, the psychologist suspected that Helga didn’t allow very many people to help her. Out loud, though, she simply asked “and what did you think of that?”
“Well, at the time I really hated her for saying it” admitted Helga, “but the more I think about it, the more I think she meant well. She just doesn’t get that there’s not much help other people can give me.”
“And what makes you say that?”
“Well, if I went to most people with my problems, they’d just walk all over me. Like I said before, that’s what most people are like. And even the people who aren’t like that can’t change my family.”
“Do you think there are other ways people could help you besides changing your family or listening to your problems?”
“What about Phoebe? Does she help you in any way?”
“Yeah” Helga said affectionately, “just by being my friend, she’s a big help.”
“Do you think it would help you at all to have more friends?” asked Bliss. “During our first session, you mentioned that you were lonely.”
“Maybe it’d help” said Helga, “but hardly anyone likes me.”
Bliss felt her heart go out to Helga at the depressed way she said that. “And why do you think that is?” she asked softly.
“I’m mean and ugly, not very talented, and I’m a girl but not very feminine.
“Are all of those things how you see yourself, or just how you think others see you?”
“You know, Helga, Mister Simmons has shown me some of your class work, including your poetry. You sure seem talented to me. He says your score on the career test indicates that you can have your pick of occupations when you reach adulthood.”
“Yeah” Helga said, remembering, “he did say that, didn’t he?”
“He also says the anonymous poems you’ve turned in are some of the best work in the class.”
Helga stared at her. “He said that?”
“Yes, he did Helga. He’s quite pleased with you as a student.” Helga smiled. “Now Helga, about this ‘unfeminine’ thing, what does it mean to you to be feminine?”
“Oh you know, caring about make-up and clothes, not playing sports, being sweet and non-confrontational.”
“Does it bother you that you aren’t any of those things?”
“Well, sometimes” said Helga, “and other times I actually like not being those things. I don’t know, I guess I can be happy not being those things a lot of the time, at least for now, but I think it’s part of the reason the other girls don’t wanna spend time with me. I remember this one time Rhonda Wellington Lloyd had a slumber party and invited every girl in our class except me.”
“I’ll bet that hurt your feelings a lot” Bliss said sympathetically.
“Yeah, it did” said Helga. “Which is weird, because most of the time I really don’t care about getting Rhonda’s approval. I mean, she’s a complete snob!” her voice grew resentful again. “She’s gotta be the most shallow person in our entire class, maybe even the entire school…well, except maybe Lila, but still.”
Lila again thought Doctor Bliss, maybe we should discuss her at some point. I wonder if Helga’s referring to Lila Sawyer. Out loud, though, she stuck with the topic at hand. “Why do you think it is that not being invited to that party offended you so much when your opinion of Rhonda is so low?”
“Well, I don’t think most of the other girls cared that I wasn’t coming, so I guess that may’ve been part of it.”
“Any other reasons you can think of?”
Helga thought for a moment. “Not really”
“I wonder” Bliss theorized “if maybe you wanted Rhonda’s approval, even if only subconsciously.”
“But why would I want that from someone like her, even subconsciously?”
“Maybe subconsciously, your low opinion of her is because you resent her for not giving you her approval? Of course, having someone else’s approval usually feels good, so maybe you just want more people to like and approve of you, no matter who they might be.”
Helga sighed in a depressed fashion. “I hate to admit it, but that second one sounds about right.”
“Do you think you would see yourself as ugly or untalented if other people didn’t see you that way?” asked Bliss.
Helga was mildly surprised by that question. “I, uh, I don’t know” she said.
“What if every time you had those thoughts, you had a bunch of positive thoughts to counteract them? Do you think that would make you feel better?”
Helga shrugged. “Maybe”
“What are some things that you like about yourself, Helga?”
“Well, let’s see…I don’t take lip from anyone! If someone insults Helga G. Pataki, I show them who’s boss!”
“Good. What else?”
“Well, apparently I am very talented. Uh, I’m a good baseball player. I’m capable of absolutely devoted love…” Over the next eleven minutes, Helga came up with things she liked about herself with some suggestions and help from Doctor Bliss, who jotted them down. Bliss then folded the list up and handed it to Helga.
“Next time you’re thinking hurtful things about yourself, you can remind yourself of any of these things. They’re all written down there in case you forget any of them.”
Helga smiled again, something Bliss was beginning to cherish for its sad rareness. “Thanks, doc.”
“Is there anything else you wanted to discuss today, Helga?”
“No, can’t think of anything” she replied honestly.
“Then I’ll see you at the same time Thursday?” asked Doctor Bliss.
“Yeah, that should work.” Said Helga.
Helga cheerfully made her way back to the lobby and slipped back into her trench coat. She was sure she could get used to having a safe place to let her thoughts and feelings out.