The room is dusty and cramped. Therapists on a budget. They obviously start out at the place where the poor need help. They come here out of school and are handed some cheap pamphlet of guidelines and a $30,000 salary from money the government managed to take away from corn crops. People who wear cheap suits always puzzle me; why do they bother to dress up at all? Might as well wear something comfortable because that fabric is not doing them any favors.
I showed up. I know the drill by now. Sign in is over there. I, Zoey Paxton, am here, 4:30 on a Wednesday…
I no longer feel like I’m doing something special by coming here. I’m not unearthing a new hidden place or discovering a new way of interacting with somebody. I used to only want my therapists to be men. Perhaps I felt that kind of relationship would be a great gateway into a romantic involvement. I know, it sounds crazy, and it’s a catch-22 because for me to like the guy he’d have to find breaking the rules ethically loathsome, but want to do it anyway… I have this desire to be seen as an exception to rules a lot of times; to see the situation as extraordinary because I don’t want to miss a beat. That could be wrong.
I’ve been seeing Laura for a few months now.. She’s pretty cool, like somebody I could see being my friend, but I don’t know if I make progress.. A lot of the time I don’t believe therapy can really do anything, unless the therapist is one in a million, somebody with really rare abilities.. And if that were the case would they be in a government paid building with paint flaking off the exterior, pipes that are rusty, and air that always smells stale with a twinge of factory chemical solvent in the air?
As usual, her door is open. I plop onto the small sofa chair and start talking.
“So- this friend of mine, he’s a writer I respect, although he’s not published or anything. I guess I feel he edits his stuff a lot more than I do? Anyway, he sometimes comments on stuff I write- I um tag him? on Facebook? Well, he likes some of my stuff and usually his comments are constructive. But the last time, he labeled this piece I wrote about my friend Kristen as male bashing. And.. it wasn’t male bashing!”
My voice gets higher, more feverish, frantic. I take a deep breath, It’s always so important, all these details. I have to convey what happened accurately or she won’t be able to help me.
” I was trying to capture her world. But he said I was bludgeoning the reader. With my intent, but, what intent? Not that I write things that don’t have a point, but… I figure it out as I go, you know? And what I wrote was about getting down my anger at Kristen for her willingness to sacrifice everything for a guy that mistreats her AND her two kids. I mean, if it was just her, being destructive, well, okay.”
“Where does the anger at Kristen come from?”
“I feel very protective of other peoples innocence. Because, I guess I feel my innocence was taken away.. and it wasn’t fair. And it shouldn’t be something that’s ripped off so harshly. Okay, this might sound weird, but there’s many ways of going about something. For instance, um, some people get away with cheating on their wife all the time, and everyone knows about it, even the wife, but they still love the guy. He doesn’t break hearts!”
I pause, think over the implications of what I just said. How do I explain how he manages not to break their hearts? How is it even possible? I know, as I’m speaking, that I have somebody very specific in mind..
“Okay, I mean, if he does? It’s the most gentle way that there is! Maybe… somebody gets let down, but he doesn’t let people get serious. He just.. knows how to be affectionate without going there. It’s weird! I don’t know how they do it! He lets people down so gently I guess? It’s some kind of gift in a way. Maybe he just sees the best in people AND doesn’t get disappointed? Which I think is a rare combination? So, he sleeps around, and he is emotionally engaged, but it’s not about them.. not really. He makes them feel like they are playing hooky with him. He wants to feel loved and show his love all the time. Maybe you’d say he had narcissistic personality disorder, or maybe just borderline.. But with that comes low self-worth, and it’s so obvious. But then his contagious joy and love is as obvious as a puppy.. You know? Although maybe he’s wearing down his wife, maybe her heart is breaking. Which is sad. Really sad. But I’m getting off track.. What was your question? Kristen? God, I used to be able to remember everything.. I hate that I don’t anymore.”
God, I’m always interrupting her.. I’m always interrupting myself…
“You were talking about being angry at Kristen? Angry at innocence being stripped away? Who took your innocence away?”
As every second goes by, it feels so long. When I pause to answer her question I feel like I’m taking forever. Like if I don’t answer right away the moment will slip by. Like it’s paramount I find the words right now. Is it true that as adults age time starts slowing down? I read that somewhere recently. It was in an article about the downsides of living forever- if we could. Like we can even imagine that! One of the downsides was that it would feel like our cellphone was always being interchanged with new numbers, but that would be our life, and who knows if we’d fit in in an evolving world? Would we become a monkey walking upright among humans that were so much more evolved? And, we’d have to keep it secret or else. But the main thing was time… How time would become so fast. That doesn’t seem so bad. I mean if we had all the time in the world, wouldn’t we want a decade to seem faster?
“Um.. I guess… So, why is innocence so important to me? I don’t know who took my innocence away exactly. I was over-sheltered one moment, totally unprepared for the real world, and then.. it was like those dreams people have where they are naked in a crowd? I don’t have those. I have these reoccurring dreams involving packing luggage. But um, yeah, it was like I was stripped and I realized I had always been this exposed, only now I knew it. But I couldn’t do anything about it. And the shock was terrible. Not that ignorance was better but.. I feel like I live under my own magnifying glass of reflection Analysis over analysis. And then I’m here. Is that bad? It feels kind of escapist in a way.”
“I don’t think it’s bad, per se.. Do you feel like you analyze everything?”
“No, that’s the extreme part. I’m all extremes. Either totally out of control- which was why I went for Snow, in a way, he was so into his control- or I’m so over-aware of everything I’m doing. Hyper-vigilant. I was comfortable being out of control- but not when people try to put me in control. I don’t like it. But my parents were kind of control freaks.. I don’t like that word freak. They wouldn’t like me calling them freaks…”
“Who is Snow?”
Impatience rises in me. She should know who these people are.
“Snow, my ex, the architect, he runs his own company.. he and Jack are the only two people I feel like I’ve felt serious about. Jack was a college professor. I mean, my friend Lisa thinks there have been a lot of guys? But.. I don’t see it that way. She’s only been with one guy, ever, and I guess had one boyfriend outside of that. My old friend Sasha has dated so many more guys than me? I mean, I’ve had experience, but it wasn’t the relationship kind. It was the adventure kind or something. There was Oshima, the prodigy who tried to kill himself by jumping over a bridge onto a freeway overpass? He hooked me up with opiates… I mean, he secured them for me! Without him, so much would be different. A lot of people would say for the better. But the blame game thing- I can’t think like that. And while I am the only person Oshimas ever been with? And sometimes I miss him? He can turn on this cold switch so fast…. I mean, he can be so gentle, and then… so cruel. I guess all three of them can be like that. So gentle, and then.. it’s gone, like I’m a stranger and why am I talking to them again? And I wanted to be able to be like that. But now I sort of am and… I don’t know. I guess it’s a little lonely.”
The inflections in my voice are melodic, the rising and the falling, like a Bjork melody. Friendly on the surface, dark and anxious on the inside.
“We’ve drifted. You were talking about Kristen?”
“Oh yeah. My friends reaction to my story. And the point of it was.. well, Kristen’s husband took advantage of her, but she’s willing to give up her whole life to be with him, even though he doesnt pay child support, doesn’t do anything! Nothing!”
“You identify with Kristen too, don’t you? You feel you’ve been mistreated as well?”
“Well of course I did, but I was fooled! She led me to believe she was getting over Tim! I related to feeling suicidal, to feeling like nothing without them there, the feeling of being heartbroken- it’s sorrow is unmistakable! I can see that feeling a mile away. I just do. And I related to those FEELINGS. But.. But I would never give up my self, my life, my kids for some horrible person just so I could feel wanted.. When I realized that she was willing to undo all her progress? I felt kind of.. betrayed.”
“It was a smart thing you did, writing down that story…”
“You think so? I mean if I hadn’t done that, I would have been another emotional person in her life screaming how could you? How could you do this to me? And she wouldn’t understand. She would think this doesn’t have to do with you, this is about me and what I’m going through.“
I suddenly remember that I am wearing my sunglasses, and wonder if Laura will think I am avoiding eye contact, so I make a point of setting them down, fingering them, and looking at her in the eyes for a moment. When I look at her in the eyes sometimes I wonder, is that what my eyes look like? She has kind of big eyes, and she wears dark eye make up like I sometimes do, and I wonder if it looks a little dated and, well, obvious, on me too. But ever since Laura cut her hair, she looks so much prettier.. The difference is amazing. It makes me wonder if I also would look better with shorter hair. When my hair is blond, i seem to want it brown, and vice versa.. I guess it’s restlessness of a sort.
Would Snow fuck Laura? Under the right circumstances he’d probably even date her… Not now, not that he’s dedicated to being some kind of monk. He is extremely picky about who he ever sleeps with, he’d rather go a decade without having sex than sleep with somebody he didn’t completely choose or want, but yes… I think Laura is his type. So. THAT could be his type? It leaves me feeling unsettled. Laura: youthful but nice. Analytical but sweet. Cheerful but interesting… Like that Israeli pop singer whose fan page Snow joined out of nowhere… Is it okay to have a lot in common with your therapist? I doubt Laura sees me as her physical equal though.. A therapist can’t see a patient as an equal, can they? What does she see when she looks at me?
“Kristens husband or future ex-husband has mistreated her and manipulated her, and.. she will do anything to get back together. I know Kristen, you see? So.. the story was nonfiction. Creative nonfiction. And okay, I feel weird because if Kristen saw the story she would probably be really upset that I wrote all the stuff she’s told me down. But, if this wasn’t her life? And she was somewhere else? Like, married to another guy, or without kids, and she read the story- she’d probably be the first to tell me how much she liked it!”
“Anyway- the point is- I don’t understand why La Forez- my poet friend- said what he said. I forwarded his response to my friend Simone- even though he specifically told me not to- probably because he thinks she’s against all men or something? Which is really not true at all.. she’s like a best friend to me, although there is some distance there, she lives across the country, like a lot of my closest friends do.. Which sucks.. I guess I feel like it’s not totally reciprocal because she holds back on me? I don’t know. I feel like I talk too much about myself to her, that I’m probably hogging the relationship, like I’m self-centered and I am constantly apologizing to her…”
I trail off. Suddenly the silence feels like it’s threatening to eat me alive. I need to say something, anything.
“What do you do if you have a narcissistic patient?” I pick up my coffee cup for a sip but it’s empty.
“Well, I would not feed into their delusions.”
“Right. I want to talk about narcissists more because I feel like one of my best friends is like that and I don’t know how to deal, I can’t seem to make boundaries. But um, back to La Forez, well, La Forez likes fiction because he says why write about things that are real when you can make something up? But I feel like reality is better. It’s perfect in its detail. And I just want to get it down, like a journalist. And sometimes what he says is so interesting. But this time.. well, before he even responded, Simone thought he might have ulterior motives, which totally puzzled me. La Forez lives in his head, what motive could he have? And then Simone thought I was upset with her, which was not the case. Maybe she was upset with me? But anyway, Simone wouldn’t tell me what his motives were. Maybe she hadn’t though it out carefully enough, or she didn’t feel like sharing, I don’t know. But usually she gives me all this feedback, and I even went behind a friend back which I did not like doing to get her opinion and she holds out on me. And this probably sounds paranoid, but I wondered if it had been a test that I had failed, me sending her something I wasn’t supposed to share. Maybe it proved I was untrustworthy to everyone so she doesn’t want to tell me anything. But… I don’t know. I do feel bad about stuff like that but it seemed like an unfair request because usually La Forez is all public about stuff, and he wasn’t here, which was not normal for him.”
I look at my watch, to let Laura know I’m aware of the clock, I know I’m talking a lot.
“Then I sent Simone my reactions to La Forez’s reaction.. which was also weird he tends to be kind of.. rigid in his thinking? And in his reaction he said I COULDN’T react to criticism, I HAD to just hear out what he said with no defenses.”
“And.. the worst part was he used stuff on me like…’i didnt have enough sleep when I wrote this-’ as if I would use that excuse on him? No way. I didn’t have any excuses, I stood behind it! What the hell! It was like he didn’t hear what I said! He read what I wrote, but he didn’t get it and that makes no sense to me. How could he not get it? And he said he felt strongly about the Kristen story… as if he was being ethical. I think he was just being decisive. But a strong reaction could be good.. Even if it’s negative. It means there’s something there to get upset about.”
I pause, my elbow resting on the wall panel underneath the window. holding my head up, like I’m holding my thoughts together..
“He did say one thing that I thought might be accurate though; that I was all hyper-focused on content and subject. And I guess that can be a problem if you ignore style and grammar. But sometimes I think he could be such a better writer if he just.. wrote instead of editing everything he did so much. And when I try to give him constructive feedback, well, this one time he was just so surprised that I spent the time thinking about it, like it’s not something people DO. I guess people have let him down a lot or something. He’s older, and unlike other older people I know, he’s often prefacing his experiences with his age. But the point is- there La Forez is, putting his work out there, in the world. And how he does it seems kinda professional. Of course I want to react and be helpful, he’s my friend!”
My hands are raised in an exasperated ”of COURSE” gesture.
“What I wish I could do was.. not feel like every time I make my writing public feel like I am exposing my utmost private thoughts. He does this, of course, but it’s okay, it’s like he has some professional facade I don’t? But.. I am professional, why do people act like I’m not? It’s such a slap in the face. They might respect my talent, my abilities, but they treat me like I have no ability to act professionally. It hurts. I’m totally sick of it.”
“Why do you think they act like that?”
“Well… everyone seems to have their own rules these days.. Some people treat Facebook like a résumé. I don’t treat it like that but I DO try to manage stuff on there, or delete something if it’s too outrageous. I try to keep things in synch with my aesthetic, I guess, and my honesty. I feel like I DO have integrity, but in today’s world it seems like character and integrity can oppose professionalism. I just don’t know. And I have no idea if it’s appropriate or not when I put my writing out there for people I KNOW to read. Is it okay for other people to read this? But they will judge it, I think. The people that know me from other areas. And that.. I hate that. But La Forez does it. And he is respected, or at the very least accepted. But then again, his writing is different. It’s shorter. And… the writing comes across less.. confessional, I guess. Confessions make people uncomfortable.”
“Maybe I have to take emotional risks in everything I do… It’s just that expression is so important to me. “
“We are out of time. But I want you to think about why you feel you don’t measure up. Is that really how others feel, or is that how you feel?”
“Okay. So.. what should I write about for next time? I like being given assignments.”
“Okay… write about other peoples doubts and what they sound like.”
“I don’t know if I can do that really, but I’ll try. Have a good weekend.”