I sat by the window and looked out its rain-whipped cellophane to the watery slate sky interrupted by dark grey cracks of clouds. The bus creaked along, stop after stop, and took far longer than driving, twice as long. I felt as bleak as the day. What was I doing?
But I also felt hope. Finally, at twenty, I was seeking help from outside the family. My roommate, Noelle, had suggested the therapy clinic. We moved to an apartment, leaving the dorm in our second year. I dropped out for a semester and worked at a discount store. The real world stumped me, overwhelming with its day-to-day difficulties. I needed help. After I got up the gumption to tell my boyfriend, Coke, that my brothers had abused me, he reacted with anger at what they had done. That surprised me. Nobody, not anyone in my family seemed to care or want to know. Coke’s reaction helped spur me further. I made the call, made the appointment, and took the bus which I picked up in my college town, Bristol, then bumped along on it through the various villages on the way to Providence.
I walked around the large complex and found the office. Luckily the young woman I worked with possessed qualities that included compassion and diligence. It would not be the time I could bring up my past, but taking that first step was huge. We worked on boyfriend issues, even sex was mentioned. Feelings and topics central to my life were being discussed and considered. The significance? In this place I mattered.
I soon moved from Bristol to Newport though and my initial taste of getting help ended. I ventured into therapy again about ten years later, while married and living in the Adirondacks, pregnant with my first son. But with the upcoming birth, I attended only a few sessions.
I didn’t try again or feel the need till a few years later after we moved back to our hometown. Despite the Jack debacle, I persevered. The director of a mental health clinic ought to know better; it was the 1980s, after all, not the 1880s. But his ignorance lit a fire under me. I found a group that specifically dealt with sexual abuse, led by two therapists, one of which I also saw each week on my own. Her name was Cathy, a sweet, plump, loving woman who capably handled the issues I needed to work on. She was a godsend.
Allowing her in close enough to help, I became immersed in “it,” the secret, and dared risk everything to save my life. By going against family, I broke unwritten rules and risked losing family, friends, social standing, acceptance, and a sense of self, though the existing one was a pretense, and the life history previously portrayed, a sham.
Group members became friendly and we often did things together but my friendships ended when the group came to a close. My difficulties didn’t magically disappear; the most significant help was yet to come.
I stumbled onto Raymond by way of my doctor in 1991. I was thirty-eight. I experience seasonal depression, but that spring, instead of the usual erratic rise up out of it, became stuck. After my appointment, I practically ran from the exam room to the bathroom in tears, not knowing why, just in pain, Raymond’s number clutched in my sweaty hand.
A big mailbox with a wooden sign below it touting “Eggs for Sale” flagged the residence. The long curving driveway led down a steep slope into a grassy lawn lined by pastures, fields and gardens. The tiny area to park between the grey-brown barn and creamy yellow home faced a meadow, fenced in with split rails and a horse. Beyond the horse other coops and huts housed chickens, ducks, some burros and a goat. Home, I had found home.
I parked and breathed in the sweet air listening to nothing but quiet, so close to the highway yet nestled into to its own little piece of countryside, the tip of the old house barely visible from the road. I slowly rotated, soaking up the peace and pretty view, evidence of care in the flower and vegetable gardens with freshly cultivated earth and no weeds. Then I walked towards the steps leading up to what had once been a mudroom attached to the farmhouse. It still looked like a mudroom but clean and neat with a small board hosting “the thought of the day” in white plastic letters that stuck to the black fabric background. One that became a favorite: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
I turned the handle feeling comfortable, or as comfortable as I could be on the first day of meeting someone new. Inside the little waiting room, sun splashed in through the big picture window, warming the cozy loveseat where one could watch the birds feeding outside. Magazines lay on a few rattan tables, all updated to the present month, and I liked that whoever put them there cared enough to spend the money and time to do that for their clients. Though I never picked one up, I was too jumpy to read.
I heard the fountain before seeing it, a decoration that became a great aid in my efforts to relax. I closed my eyes, pretending to be outside by a creek in the sun. Even the scent of a decaying forest drifted into my senses, soothing the internal ruckus. That scent finds me to this day, especially in fall when all the foliage drops and dries. It’s a scent that goes to the source, my core, and always reminds me of him, the man I was to meet.
I heard soft words through the walls but nothing intelligible. Finally the doorknob to the next room twisted and the voices grew louder as goodbyes were spoken. A man with a pleasant face smiled at me kindly. I felt him already studying me, his eyes looked deeply, too deep into me, and my anxiety heightened. He was older but only by about ten years. He invited me in cordially with a soft accent; he’d moved here from England twenty years prior. He extended his arm with a pleasant tilt towards a stuffed chair facing his.
The office looks normal except for a movie camera set up on a tripod. I wondered if it had been turned on. This was the real deal. The camera relieved concerns over the caliber of care I was going to receive, but was also daunting. I knew I would get the help I needed but it was not going to be easy; there wouldn’t be any fooling around. One wall was lined with books. One book laid open by the window overlooking the garden, so large it needed a stand of its own: a dictionary. He liked to learn one new word a day. The hues of the furniture and wood gave it a dark look, but not dreary. Fresh flowers were on the table next to me. Pleased with the touches of comfort, I sat down. He looked so relaxed, easing back in his chair while my adrenaline ratcheted into overdrive. I hoped I was good hands. He said, “Let’s get started.”