"I'm tired of letting people walk all over me, Doctor."
Rudolph stared at the painting above Dr. O'Hanlon's head, trying to focus on the moment. The psychologist had been trying to get him to "live in the moment, not the past," so Rudolph always focused on something in the room during their sessions to keep himself grounded.
"What do you mean by that?" asked Dr. O'Hanlon.
"I just get so caught up in the Christmas spirit that I don't want to stand up for myself, because I don't want to be seen as selfish or ungrateful."
"What does that have to do with letting people walk all over you?" Dr. O'Hanlon is like a dog with a bone, thought Rudolph. Say something casual, and we spend the whole hour on it.
"It means that even after people are cruel to me, I'll do what they ask if they're nice."
"Why do you think that is?"
"Because," Rudolph sighed, "I hope they were moved by the Christmas spirit, and have turned over a new leaf."
"People only change like that on TV, Rudolph. You know that. It's why Clarice left you for Fireball. It's why Coach Comet continues to bully you."
"But I helped save Christmas! Why doesn't that make any difference?" Rudolph's nose glowed brighter whenever he got angry. It glowed constantly during his last weeks with Clarice, even though he tried to hide his feelings. The day she told him she was leaving him for Fireball, he accidentally burned down the kitchen.
"Because people are fickle. They're happy with what you can do for them today, but tomorrow is another matter."
"I should have just stayed on that Island. I was happier there."
"We've been over this. You can't blame yourself. You were a kid seeing the world through a kid's eyes." Rudolph's eyes brimmed with tears. "You trusted your parents to take care of you. You thought Santa, the living symbol of unconditional love, would accept you. And yet everyone rejected you because of your difference."
"I know. They teased me and hated me for it. Even my own parents were ashamed of me. Then, when they're in a tiny spot of trouble, and everyone's all 'Oh no! We have to save Christmas!' Then they all coming crawling to good ol' Rudolph, like I'm just supposed to forgive and forget?"
Rudolph swiped at his eyes and swore. "It was great at first. People congratulated me, slapped me on the back. They even gave me a medal. But then the teasing started again. First it was like they wanted to show they were at ease with my defect—"
"It's not a defect, Rudolph. We've talked about this," said Dr. O'Hanlon. "What did we say?"
"I'm not weird or defective, I'm wonderfully different," intoned Rudolph.
"Right. Remember, the words you use about yourself have an impact on your self-image."
Rudolph blew his nose on a tissue, and threw it into a garbage can when it caught fire. Dr. O'Hanlon kept a metal garbage can nearby for this reason. They watched until the fire went out.
"Like I was saying, first it was just friendly teasing. Pretty soon, it turned mean. By spring, Comet was leading the charge again. I was supposed to be one of Santa's trainers, you know, Comet's assistant. But he belittled me in front of the other trainers, and even the new recruits.
"Then the other trainers started playing practical jokes on me in my own house. Doing things like putting a leather cap over my nose when I was asleep and then stealing all the light bulbs. Did you just laugh?"
Dr. O'Hanlon coughed loudly. "No, no, I'm sorry. I've, uh, I've got a cold. It's pretty bad."
Rudolph studied the therapist for any hint of a smile. O'Hanlon took a drink and coughed some more for show. "You mentioned that you only feel it during this time of year, but it sounds like this goes on all year round, and yet you still work on Christmas."
"I know. I can't help it. Every year, I promise myself I'm going to quit. I'm not going to put up with it anymore. And every year, I still put on that harness and take to the sky."
"It sounds like you need to ask yourself which is more important, one day of happiness or 364 days of utter misery. And since we're out of time, we'll have to discuss that next week."
"In two weeks," said Rudolph, getting out of his chair. "I'll be working next week."
"That's right. I'll see you then. And merry Christmas."
Rudolph snorted and lit up the hallway that led back outside.
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