My tentative steps at therapy started in college when I dared go outside the family for help, and again after marriage when we lived in the Adirondacks, though just briefly for both. I didn’t try again until after Shane was born when we moved back into the area where I grew up. Fear almost kept me from trying. I needed to divulge secrets that rotted my core, yet would I be able to? Caring for Shane brought satisfaction, but I needed help for the blackness of recurring depression. Eventually pain overcame my paralyzing fear.
The mental health clinic employed an acquaintance of Chet’s. I worried relentlessly. How could I talk about what I needed to if his friend had access to the files, which I assumed he did, because he worked there as an intern in a career path for counseling? The secrets I carried were taboo, and I felt so guilty for the abuse, as if I were the abuser not the victim. What if he read what I talked about, what would he think of me? Certainly he wouldn’t think less of my brothers, just me. I sat in the waiting room, apprehensively imagining him poring through my records with disgust. I had taken on my family’s sins. The weight was killing me.
The therapist I worked with, Mary, wore two hats; she was also a nurse. I wondered if my problems made her nervous or were more serious than others, or maybe more interesting, because leaning towards me intently, she smoked as I talked. I smoked too. After a while I touched on what my brothers had done, but just barely. Then I stopped going, afraid at what I’d divulged. But eventually I went back.
When I returned the next time she had gone. I was now assigned to the director, Jack. I felt fortunate because of his prominent position, even though he was a man. Jack mentioned that he took my case specifically. I didn’t know what to make of that. Was it that sexual abuse case histories intrigued him? Challenged him? Were titillating? Or could only be handled by him because he was so great at his job?
He had no problem commenting bluntly on my weight and my lack of makeup, jewelry, or nice clothes. I responded by shopping for all three, enjoying the reward of his compliments. He encouraged me to pursue further education, so I enrolled in a nearby community college. He also encouraged me to take parenting classes offered on the premises. They became invaluable over the years raising our sons.
I sat across from his desk where he always remained seated, more like a businessman than a therapist. The expanse between us didn’t seem odd at the time; the space protected me from a larger person. I liked that.
But one day he leaned over and asked, “Are you attracted to me?”
Warning bells clanged in my head. I looked at him. Not unattractive, but far from handsome. “No,” I said without much pause.
He continued, “One woman began taking her clothes off in my office.”
His response jolted me and made me uncomfortable, but I censored that thought immediately, weighing his importance against mine.
He won. I continued to see him.
One day I confided my mother’s plan about the operation, and with barely a breath, he responded, “Go ahead, if you want to butcher yourself that way.”
His words hit like a slap, but didn’t deter my pursuit of what I thought would bring happiness. I went after Mom’s idea of a surgical solution to my problems like nothing I’d gone after before. I was going to have it no matter what.
When I put my mind to something I can be persistent. I gathered the courage to whisper softly to Jack about brothers and hint at what they had done. “Oh, so you were a precocious child,” he replied instantly. Not a question, a statement.
I remained still, as if iced to the seat. But I kept the maelstrom of emotions completely hidden behind an unblinking stare as if he had said something as mundane as, “It’s hot outside.” I didn’t know how to do anything else but act as if whatever anyone did or said was okay with me. But that final straw gave me the impetus to stop seeing him. I did pursue the butchering though, as any good girl would, to please her mother. I fell for it too, the idea of it, a magic cure. Jack won the prize for worst therapist, but his words struck the gold of truth. I volunteered for butchering, a lifelong regret, one I would permanently lament