'Hey, Tuesdays will work fine for me.'
'Oh, great! So do you want to make our first session tomorrow?'
'Here's my address:
1200 Sundance Villa Blvd.
See you then!'
Bruce double-checked the supplied address as he came to a stop at the intersection stop light before sliding his phone back into his pocket. Having confirmed with Tony about the whole study session thing, he'd texted his TA yesterday to let her know he was still interested. Just his luck that she was available before the first big test of the semester hit- the one that could save his grade or solidify a mere above-average one. He hadn't scored an overall B in a class since middle school. Bruce was so distracted he almost didn't notice the light change to green; sheepishly he puttered forward and signalled his way into the parking lot.
As it turned out, Jessica lived in an apartment close to the community college. It was a modest complex, certainly nothing too costly in terms of monthly payment, but it sufficed as what it was- primarily student housing. For Bruce, as he found a place to park his moped, it did bring into relief the age gap between he and the TA. She was living on her own and making just enough to scrape by, out from her parents' wings. That independence alone probably made any hardship more than worth it.
Bruce studied the numeration on the doors long enough to determine which direction to head to get to Jessica's apartment. He climbed a flight of stairs and found himself in front of 234. A weird sense of self-consciousness washed over him in the instant he lifted his hand to knock. Was this weird that he'd been invited to her place to study? They probably could have met somewhere on campus. This was probably more comfortable and casual though. Casting the thoughts aside, he rapped his knuckles against the door.
It was answered only a moment later. "Hey, you made it," Jessica greeted with a smile. She stepped aside. "Come on in. Sorry the place is a total disaster area; I'm not a very good housekeeper." She laughed.
Bruce scanned the inside as he entered, an eyebrow lifting on his forehead as he took it in. It was cringe-worthy. Old containers from food or purchases were strewn about, books, magazines and old junk mail were piled into haphazard stacks and stuffed off into corners. All of it could likely be tidied with a day or more's dedication, but the dedication was lacking. All he could think was this was definitely what Tony's apartment would look like if he had one. "It's alright," he assured, though he didn't even know where to set his bag, "I have other messy friends."
Jessica gave him a look over her shoulder. "I bet your place is spotless, huh?" She cleared a space for him to sit, dumping the clutter formerly on the cushion of the couch to the floor without any thought for its organization, assuming it had had any.
"I try to keep organized," Bruce voiced, not wanting to insult her hospitality nonetheless. He stepped over the pile and took the seat.
"Uh huh. So can I get you a drink?" Jessica asked as she made her way to her kitchen. She pulled open the fridge, rummaging around as she listed off options, "I've got Sprite, Coke… there's… what is this? Ugh." Bruce noticed her push whatever she'd found to the back rather than deal with it. "Hansen's, Keystone…" The girl paused a moment in thought, turning to look at him again. "But you're not old enough to drink, huh?"
Bruce cleared his throat. "I drink."
"Huh..." the TA bobbed her head almost as if she hadn't predicted that one.
"I'll just take a Coke though," Bruce answered, "Thanks."
Jessica smirked as she returned, a Coke in either hand. She set his down on some magazine that's water-damaged cover spoke to the fact she'd misplaced her coasters long ago and hadn't yet bothered to find them or buy replacements.
"So you're from the high school?" the TA asked as she sat down beside him and popped the aluminum top on her beverage.
One thing Bruce was already beginning to notice about Jessica was that she phrased a lot of things in the form of a question, even if it was clear she had a hunch prior to asking. He scratched his cheek. "Yeah, Westmore. I uh… I used to go to Glendale though." She hadn't guessed which after all.
Jessica took a big swig of her soda. "Who'd you hit?"
Bruce stared at her in askance. "Why would you think…"
"Come on," the TA waved her hand. "I saw that black eye you were sporting a few weeks ago. You get in fights a lot, tough guy?" She grinned at him and he saw more than curiosity in her eyes.
Bruce dropped his gaze, rubbing his knuckles. "It's something I've been trying to cut back on." He barely knew the girl sitting next to him, but he was compelled to confide in her to a degree. "I hit a few people. None who deserved it."
"You have a temper." For once it was a statement and not another question.
He marvelled a moment. "How did…?"
"I have a sense for these kinds of things," Jessica said. "I can kind of glimpse people's auras. I know, I know, that sounds mystical and non-scientific, but it's true. I guess the closest thing you could think of it as would be like the pheromones bugs and animals put off, like a sixth sense sorta thing," she shrugged. "Your aura is one of the most interesting I've come across in awhile."
Bruce wet his lips but didn't know what to respond with.
"So Conceptual Physics…!" the TA declared, reaching out to set down her drink and withdraw the textbook from an already teetering stack on the coffee table. "You came for a study session, and I'm going to get you that A."
Bruce nodded, thankful for the change in subject. He leaned forward to grab his drink, only to yank his arm back violently when he saw a giant spider sitting a foot away from it.
"Argo! You're scaring Bruce!" Jessica laughed, reaching out with both hands open and facing upward. "Come here, sweetie." She made a couple of kissing noises with her lips and the tarantula climbed into her palms. Bruce made a face at the asymmetrical way its eight hairy legs moved to carry its body forward, now crawling its way up her arm. "Sorry about that," Jessica smiled. "She's really quite sweet. You want to pet her?"
Bruce watched the fuzzy, eight-eyed creature with concealed disgust. "That's okay."
"You sure?" Jessica prodded, bringing the spider up close to her face and turning it around to face her guest. "Lookit dose eyes…" she cooed out in baby-speak; Bruce stared unconvincedly at the thing's beady black eyes. "Just one widdle pet? C'mon, Boose…!"
At her further urging, the boy tentatively extended his index finger to stroke the top of the arachnid's carapace. After a moment he drew it away and cleared his throat. "Uhh, there we go," he concluded.
Jessica grinned a mile wide and hopped up from her seat. "I'll put her in her cage for now while we study; have to remember to feed her her meal worms later." She placed Argo in the glass enclosure filled with woodchips. "Alright!" she plopped back down on the couch and opened the textbook. "So, the thing about this professor is that he's a stickler on computations. As you may have noticed," she added sarcastically.
"Yeah," Bruce returned with a grumpy downturn of lips; he leaned down to unzip his backpack and appropriate his spiral notebook from the class as well as his homework assignments.
"I mean, the whole point of Conceptual Physics is that it's conceptual," Jessica went on, rolling her eyes, "and yet he seems to expect the whole class to back up their answers with proofs and equations." She motioned exasperatedly.
"It's ridiculous," Bruce agreed whole-heartedly. "If I wanted to implement algorithms and solve things mathematically, I'd be in Computational Physics."
"Exactly!" Jessica threw up her arms. The two of them shared a good laugh. When Bruce felt the laughter dissolve from his chest, he finished off with a cough and rubbed at the back of his neck. "Professors. Am I right?" she spoke candidly. The teenage boy nodded, giving her a grin. "Anyway," Jessica went on, "when I was taking the course, I managed to develop a method that fairly consistently returned an A. Lemme see your homework; I'll show you the kind of changes I mean. Never mind that your work is basically flawless already; guy has to be a fucking nutjob giving you a B of any kind. It's like some people get off on being hard asses."
Bruce did so. For the next several minutes she detailed specific examples of where he could improve and picked problems similar to those he'd previously had trouble with out of the textbook to have him try with the new methods in mind. He was even actually starting to feel a good bit more confident. "I wanted to say…" he began; Jessica's eyes turned to him and he rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, "That is… um." Wow, he was really fumbling now and he didn't even know why. "Thanks," he finally just got out, "For doing this for me. I know a lot of TAs charge for study sessions and… ah…"
Jessica laughed, grabbing him by the shoulder to shake him up a little. "Relax! I don't charge cuz I like doing it. At least for the few who really appreciate it- you know, appreciate the subject."
The high schooler felt another chuckle rise up alongside a smile. "Yeah, it's hard to find people who like physics for physics and who aren't just trying to pass."
"Ugh, yeah," Jessica rolled her eyes, "I don't know why they let non-physics majors take this course as a GE. Stick them in Remedial Trig or something, jeez!"
Bruce laughed again. "It'd make things a lot nicer for everyone, that's for sure."
"Mhm!" she made the noise with full agreement. "Oh, here, give this one a try," Jessica stubbed her forefinger down on a problem and turned the book a bit for him to see which she was pointing at. He gave it a perfunctory scan before beginning to rough out some of the preliminary work on his sheet of paper. She watched over his shoulder. "Yeah... Yeah, now you're gettin' it…!" she encouraged. "Keep this up and that test is as good as aced. Oh, but remember to include the units in the notes there or he'll dock you a quarter of a point. Yup. There you go."
The boy felt a grin coming on. "Give me another one."
"Oh ho ho, alright, tough guy," Jessica went flipping through the book. "Think you're hot stuff, huh? Well try this one!"
They finished up about half an hour later, winding down with some easier problems and a list of the most probable things to expect on the test so he could practice. Bruce couldn't have been more appreciative.
"So, same time, same place next week?" Jessica asked as she dumped her copy of the textbook on the top of the teetering pile on her coffee table. She leaned on a hip and smiled.
"Think I'll need it?" Bruce asked. The big test was Friday- the only thing they'd have to study would be whatever new subject matter was presented on Monday. He pulled his backpack up onto his shoulders.
His TA shrugged. "It'll be a new section. I can give you a bit of a heads up on the stuff before the professor covers it. That way you'll know just how to sidestep the pitfalls, huh?" Her elbow made contact with his arm.
He smiled. That almost seemed like an unfair advantage. Almost. "Alright then," he agreed. "Next Tuesday."
Jessica saw him to the door. "Take care, tough guy." She gave him a wink before closing the door.
Well, the Conceptual Physics test had gone well. At the risk of 'jinxing it' (which he was sure Tony would tell him was a very real thing despite a lack of scientific backing), he'd even say he'd aced it. Unfortunately, all it meant was that his anxiety found the next thing to latch onto, and that was his psychologist's appointment.
Bruce's eyes glanced about the cozy waiting room. It had been converted from a residence, and while it was sparse, it was far from clinical. A bookshelf with magazines to choose from, an indoor plant by the windowsill, a radio playing soft tunes... all of it was meant to help put visitors at ease, Bruce was sure. Still, he couldn't help feeling a little nervous, which was showing through the way he was tap-tapping the heel of his pennyloafer lightly on the hardwood floor. He reached up and scratched his neck, an idle but natural way to conveniently check the time on his wristwatch.
A door in the back opened and a voice followed, "David Banner, I presume?"
Bruce turned to see a kindly looking older gentleman smiling at him. He chuckled a little at the turn-of-phrase as he stood to shake the man's hand. "Yeah, that's me. You can, uh, call me Bruce though. I don't really go by my first name much."
"Certainly," the grey-haired man said agreeably. "As you know, I'm Dr. Gomez. But feel free to call me Jose if you'd like. I don't like to stress formality with my clients."
"Alright. Yeah, that sounds good," Bruce responded.
The doctor gestured toward his door, "Come on into my office, take a chair wherever you'd like."
Bruce nodded a little stiffly, proceeding in ahead of the man. There were several places to sit, but he opted for the armchair rather than the couch. The psychologist closed the door behind them and took a seat in his own chair, near but not behind his work desk. "So, tell me about yourself and why you're here to see me today," he said as he grabbed a pen and pad of paper. Bruce took this as his cue to begin.
"Well, um, I'm seventeen, living at home with my parents, and I'm a junior in highschool," he highlighted a couple of the basics, rubbing an arm through his shirt as he did so. "I'm taking a lot of courses from the JC for college credit; I want to go on to get a doctorate and become a nuclear physicist."
The doctor made a 'Mmm!' noise, "Impressive goal for a man your age. Many don't know what they want to be so soon in life."
Bruce chuckled a little, not sure what to do with the compliment. "Thanks…" he said awkwardly, quietly, looking away a moment before looking back. "I've never really thought of knowing what I wanted to do as anything… special. I know that others my age don't know what they want to do with their careers, but I don't feel like they're expected to know yet."
Dr. Gomez nodded more thoughtfully than anything else. "But you are expected to know."
The young man blinked. "Well, yeah."
"Why is this?" the psychologist licked his thumb and took a note.
"Both my mom and dad knew what they wanted to be when they were young," the boy shrugged.
"Mm… mhm…" Dr. Gomez hummed; it seemed to be his way of vocalizing thought. "Runs in the family."
"Yeah. I guess you could say that," Bruce answered.
"Alright. So you're a very intelligent young man with clear-set goals for his future," the doctor surmised. He paused a moment, peeking over the ridge of his glasses, "I guess that brings us to the question of why you're here in my office this afternoon."
Bruce drew in a deep breath. "I'm here because… because, I have anger issues. And… I want to get rid of them."
"I see," the psychologist noted, flicking his pen across the notepad in his hand before folding his hands together. "Tell me more about these anger issues you're having. Are they frequent? When did they first begin?"
Bruce felt his self-consciousness rising, but he knew the doctor sitting across from him couldn't help without as much information as he was able to provide. "Well, they sort of… emerged i-in middle school. I was under a lot of pressure back then. I used to be mad all the time; it… consumed me almost. A lot of kids called me a bully. And I… I got expelled once. Freshman year." He swallowed, expecting some form of judgement or disgust from Dr. Gomez, but to his surprise none came.
"Go on," the man urged.
"I got sent to a different school where no one knew me. After that it got a little better, I guess," Bruce shrugged half-heartedly. "Or, well, I tried to get a little more control over it. I got in less fights and less trouble, but I still ended up in detention a lot."
The psychologist hmm'd. "Ah yes, detention. The most effective rehabilitative method our schooling system has to offer our children." There was a dry sarcasm in the words that made Bruce chuckle through the gloom he was feeling. "You said you were 'under a lot of pressure then'. How so? Did it have anything to do with this academic expectation you mentioned?"
Bruce wet his lower lip, not sure he wanted to get into this so soon. Though he was impressed by how observant Dr. Gomez was, asking that when he'd only met him ten minutes ago. "Yeah, partially. My dad has always expected me to hold a high standard for myself. Mom too, but a little less so. That… that never really bothered me though," he said with complete honesty. He paused, but knew Dr. Gomez was patiently waiting for the rest of what he had to say. Bruce stared down at his hands as he rubbed them together. "My mom and dad were... starting to have trouble with their relationship."
"Mm…" now the noise the psychologist made was a sad one as he flicked his pen across the paper. He thought aloud. "Disharmony in the home is commonly stressful, particularly on children who may still be growing up. Tell me, Bruce, are your parents still together?" he asked with a tangential curiosity.
"Yeah," Bruce looked down again.
"You don't seem altogether glad," the doctor noticed, "Are they still not getting along?"
"It's… kind of a long, complicated story," Bruce mumbled.
Dr. Gomez smiled. He gestured toward the clock on the wall, "Well, we still have fifty minutes to our session." Bruce couldn't help the small chuckle that left his lips. "But I'm sensing you'd prefer to focus more on yourself at the moment," the man went on, and Bruce nodded to confirm this. "So tell me more about the bouts of anger themselves," Dr. Gomez leaned back in his chair once more, "What characterizes them?"
Bruce wet his lips, letting out a difficult and self-depreciating laugh. "Well… I almost always yell. At the person I'm angry at, or at nothing in particular. I… um… I get violent…" He dropped his gaze away; admitting this out loud to an almost complete stranger… he felt wretched. Disgusted with himself.
"In what way?" Dr. Gomez seemed merely curious.
Bruce's fingers clutched his shirt. "I throw things. Break things." His words came out quieter. "Hit people."
The psychologist nodded. He leaned back in his chair a little. "Perhaps, Bruce, you could tell me about your most recent incident?"
The high schooler felt his heart pounding in his throat. "S-sure," he said unsteadily. He thought about where to begin. "Um, well… I got in trouble. With my parents. And they sent me to my room without supper."
"M-my dad came in to talk with me after dinner," Bruce went on, feeling more and more exposed as he did so. "I didn't wanna talk to him, or even see him. He's always done this thing where he 'has a talk with me'; he reminds me that he makes the rules around the house and how I have to obey them because I'm living there. And he expects me to say 'Yes, sir' and 'No, sir'." Bruce could actually feel himself heating a little with indignance just talking about it. "And if I don't he gets angry!"
"It sounds like he has an authoritarian parenting style," Dr. Gomez observed from what the teenager was telling him. "That is, he expects you to follow his directions with little to no explanation, simply because he tells you to. Do you feel like that is accurate?"
"So what came of this talk?"
The teen shifted in his chair somewhat. "I don't know. I… My dad wasn't even being particularly harsh that night," he grasped at straws, "He's been a lot harsher in the past and I've been angry afterward, sure, but this was different. It was like I just… I like snapped. I don't know how else to describe it."
"Did you yell? Get violent, as you mentioned?" Dr. Gomez asked.
"Both," Bruce nodded. "Even once my dad left it took me awhile to get ahold of myself again."
"And this is common as well?"
"Yeah," Bruce confirmed dully.
"Typically how long does one of your outbursts last?"
The boy thought about it. "I don't know. I guess anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. Never more than thirty." He noticed the doctor seemed to perhaps be onto something… or at least it seemed that way. Bruce didn't know if that made him feel better or worse.
"Just for clarification," Dr. Gomez wanted to be sure he understood entirely, "despite the fact that you do not wish to become angry or violent, and without any kind of premeditation, situations arise that trigger this 'snap'- as you refer to it- and the reaction becomes, essentially, unstoppable."
The high schoolers eyebrows lifted a touch- he didn't think he could have described it any better himself. "Yeah," he nodded emphatically, "that's exactly it."
"Alright," the psychologist settled, adding another quick note. "Can you recall any other incidents that occurred recently? That you feel are good examples."
Bruce sighed but his eyes lifted upward in thought. "Yeah, lemme think. Oh. I um… I almost hit my best friend at the start of the year." The teenager decided to leave out that Tony was his boyfriend for now. "He was over at my house and we got into this argument. I… I don't even really remember what the argument was about anymore. But he wouldn't back down and…" Bruce remembered to be discreet when talking about his boyfriend's condition, "and if he hadn't had to leave suddenly, I think I probably would've hit him again."
Dr. Gomez paused in his writing and pushed his spectacles up on his nose. "Again?"
Bruce blinked. Had he said that? His throat seized up. "Y-yeah. He and I um, sort of got off to a rough start. We…" the teen drummed his fingers anxiously on the arm rest, "We have a fair number of arguments actually." He tapped his tongue against the roof of his mouth, then sputtered as his mind came to the decision to just throw his cards on the table, "And we're- he and I, we're actually, um, seeing one another. Romantically." His mouth clamped shut and he grimaced.
Dr. Gomez chuckled. "You left that out when you were telling me about yourself," he said with a bit of a smirk.
The high schooler tried to return a smile but failed. He swallowed. "I'm really concerned that my anger issues could damage our relationship," he said with solemnity.
"Hm, an understandable concern," the psychologist nodded. "You are a very responsible person for seeking help to get it under control."
Bruce perked up. "Y-you… you think I can?"
"Of course you can," Dr. Gomez smiled.
The boy breathed out. Just hearing that from a professional, someone versed in this kind of thing, it put him at ease almost. His shoulders untensed and he let himself bask in the temporary peace he felt. The doctor had just said he could get through this. That he didn't have to become like his father after all. That he and Tony could have a nice, normal stable relationship. It felt like he was floating on air.
"I would like to ask you about just one more specific, if that's alright," the psychologist spoke, breaking him out of his reverie.
"Yeah. Yeah, of course," Bruce acknowledged.
"When you feel these bursts of anger coming on," Dr. Gomez gestured with a circular motion at his chest, "can you describe to me any bodily symptoms you may feel?"
Bruce's eyebrows lifted as he let out another breath, this one at the enormity of things he often felt. "Whew. Um, yeah. Uh, well... my heart will start to beat really hard. Not necessarily fast, just hard. And I get this tightness… all over. In like my muscles. Sometimes it's hard to breathe."
"Hmm. Mmkay," the doctor nodded along, his pen jotting it all down. Bruce thought sardonically that the page must nearly be full by now. But then Dr. Gomez looked back up at him, folding his hands together in his lap. "Bruce, I believe what you are experiencing is known as Intermittent Explosive Disorder. It is a behavioral disorder that's often comorbid with other mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, though at this time I don't see anything that would suggest that's the case with you. There are many options for treatment, which I would be happy to go over with you and answer any questions you have."
Bruce felt his mouth moving, but at the moment nothing was coming out. There was a name for what he was experiencing. A scientific reason why he was the way he was, and better yet, a scientific way to fix it. "All… all this time I just thought there was something wrong with me…" Bruce said.
The psychologist gave his client a warm smile. "There's nothing at all wrong with you, Bruce. There are millions of people with mental health issues who just need the right treatment and care. It's not at all abnormal."
The teenager breathed out. He didn't know if he'd be jumping off a bridge, cliff or out of an airplane, but he was going to have to find some way to thank Clint big time.