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Over the Rainbow with Brian Burns: Shrink Wrapped

After explaining the ins-and-outs of sex to classmates on the bus, I was forced to have a conversation with the school counselor. I was in the second grade. I don’t think Dr. Becker knew what she was getting herself into until I denied her offer of a Twix because “chocolate made me breakout.” I was in the second grade.

“So, Brian,” Dr. Becker said. “Mrs. Marcantonio let me know that you may have been discussing some inappropriate things on the school bus. Would you like to tell me more about this?”


photo: Juliette Luchini

I had seen Susan Sarandon on Letterman the night before this meeting and I was trying my hardest to arch my torso and tilt back my head in the same Sarandon fashion. Based on the way Dr. Becker was narrowing her eyes at me, I was doing a better impression of a cerebral Paul-sy Shaffer.

“Inappropriate? Can you be more specific?”

“Well, Courtney Abrams’ mother called,” Dr. Becker replied, glancing down at her notebook. “And she said that you told her daughter what a ‘rusty trombone’ was. Can you explain to me what that is, Brian?”

My mother got a call from the school principal that night. Not knowing whether to scream or sob, my parents grounded me for the first time. They made me call Courtney Abrams and apologize to her parents and forbade me from watching Letterman. Only one of these punishments made me cry. I never had to see Dr. Becker again but—considering I spent most of the fifth grade wearing a homemade red Kabbalah string on my wrist—I should have.

Seeing a therapist seemed like the logical next step towards adulthood. I’m not depressed and I don’t have anxiety and I wasn’t a child model. But I once caught myself thinking “I see my father’s sadness in my eyes” while lip-syncing stoned in front of the mirror, and my face occasionally feels like it’s melting off my head when I’m talking to friends. On the day that my neuroses could no longer be justified by my up-bringing in New Jersey, I made an appointment with Emmanuel’s counseling center.

Five minutes late but well-caffeinated, I meet with David every Wednesday. I don’t recline on a chaise lounge nor does he jot down notes when we sit across from each other in his trigger-friendly office. But there is a starving artist’s beach landscape on the wall and his desk lamps bathe my issues in flattering, incandescent light. David, soft-spoken and curly haired, is still in graduate school and I haven’t made him reconsider his career choice yet. I make him laugh and wonder if he thinks about me during the week. I should probably bring that up with him.

I’ve been seeing David for a few months at this point so he knows all the players and plotlines in my tragicomedy by name and origin. My weekly traumas usually take place inside the confines of my own head so our sessions are spent dealing less with specific happenings and more with over-arching existential crises. Why the people who like me the most know me the least, why I used to take all my clothes off before shitting and, most recently, why I change the way I dress based on the boys I’m attracted to.

“And how long have you been doing that?” David asked.

“Oh, God. For years. When I was in high school, I was seeing this senior who wore girl jeans. So, naturally, I had my father take my 15 year old-self to PacSun and I started wearing girl jeans too. And I’ve been sterile ever since.”

Trying not to look at what I was wearing, David asked me where this need to become a clone of my love interests came from. I had to think about it.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I think that if I start dressing like these boys, they’ll see a part of themselves in me. And find that attractive? I don’t know.”

“Well, would you be attracted to someone who started dressing like you?”

I scoffed, breaking a rib, answering David’s question.

“Exactly. What would it take for you to just be yourself?”

My sense-of-self used to be pretty solid. Out of the closet with an improving complexion, I think that I was most confident at 18 years old. Or most delusional. But trying to be as well-liked by as many people, I’ve lost myself. I laugh at stupid jokes, I nod my head, I “yeah, uh huh, hmm-mm” at things I’m not listening to. Friends and family and people I’ve never met buy into the idea of tall-gay-writer-guy and they love me without knowing me. But I can’t blame them because I don’t know me either.

“The perception people have of you,” David continued. “This is something we’ve talked about. How it keeps your friendships at a very superficial level—”

“Of course it does. Because who could really get to know someone who’s just a persona? You can’t exactly love an outline of a person.”

“But couldn’t this be encouraging?” David said. “You could use these observations as a starting point. To being more genuine with the people in your life. More you.”

“And what if I figure out who I am and I don’t like me?”

David’s brow creased and I could read on his face what it meant but we were out of time for the day. He finishes every session saying that he’s noticed progress in me. I’m sure he tells that to everyone but sometimes I believe him. Other times, I leave his office and remember that Woody Allen saw a therapist in every single one of his movies. It’s easy to worry that, by talking so much about what makes me unhappy, I’ll just get worse. But I don’t tilt my head like Susan Sarandon anymore and that’s enough progress to keep me going back.

Burns is a Staff Writer and Columnist for The Hub. He can be reached at or via Twitter @brianTburns_

Posted by on February 24, 2015. Filed under Opinions & Editorials,Over the Rainbow with Brian Burns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.