I sat on the cool cement step, the sunny day dimmed grey by visions of tunnels with no doors, no way out. Wherever I went, whatever I did, the feelings of death, loss, and emptiness floated about and around me, a cloud of grief without exit. It was the only way. I tried others. I cried, but not much. Not enough for Raymond or the Dad I’d lost thirty years before him.
The warning had come several weeks beforehand; he wouldn’t leave without doing it properly.
Raymond explained, “We will be moving soon, to Louisiana.”
Somewhere in the blur that followed, I also heard him say, “Some folks have been coming for as long as I’ve practiced.”
The implication of imagine how hard it will be on them attempted to soften the blow, but my heart, needing resuscitation, only heard, “We’ve become friends. It will be hard to leave them.”
“What about me?” I screamed silently, and, “Your clients shouldn’t be friends. If they’ve been coming that long, you’re not doing your job, and neither are they,” also left unsaid. Anger strummed below, pounding at my chest, little fists wanting out. It took an igloo of solid ice to keep it in. Bleeding raw emotions simmered, permanently unexpressed; if allowed voice there’d be no end to the screeching, “Why do you keep fucking me?” to him, to abusive brothers, to the universe.
We discussed other therapists if the need arose, five or six he’d known professionally.
“Which one would you suggest?” I asked.
Hesitating, as if finding that question difficult, he finally said, “Maybe Matt.”
Some security crept in with the referral.
Before the end of the session, he said, “Come back. You need closure,” acutely aware of how I escaped by withdrawing. He sensed my emotions better than I did.
If he hadn’t said that, I wouldn’t have, but I returned, still tethered to him with some trust left. It’s good I did—it helped, but not much.
He read the handwritten note I offered to him that last day.
Will it help to express my feelings? Why should I share my feelings with the one who is hurting me so? Will the pain stop? It comes in waves, rolling over, on and through me. I weep. I am losing a father, again. My friends left to live in Texas. It did not hurt like this. I try to make sense of it. You are not my friend, father, brother, NOTHING, yet you have been all those and more: mentor, teacher, guide, but I pay you to see me. Our relationship is strictly professional. Why does it hurt?
You have touched places secret inside, you feel my feelings. I have felt intimate with you but you are paid to do it. So why the PAIN, the loss?
Reminders of you, shadows everywhere, my journal, my tape, my pine cones, nuts, my attempts at growth and stretching…
Cause me pain.
Knowing you’re there, even if I wasn’t seeing you, was a comfort. You open me so I can feel, then squash your foot inside my chest.
the Tin Man
He did all the talking. “I learned a lot from you,” he said, along with so much more my frozen senses couldn’t take in.
I sat there as usual, but nothing was the same. As he talked, my eyes looked around at what I’d grown to love and find comfort from, feeling it already gone, lost, just an outline of what had been, colorless, lackluster, like a movie scene fading out.
He gave me a hefty prescription of Xanax, explaining how it can be written to last a long time, probably realizing I’d go to someone new only out of desperation. It would take a lot before getting to that point. The recommendations printed on letter paper stamped with his name were securely tucked away at home.
The little white pills were a poor substitute for the man who taught me I could love. They lasted well over a year, closer to two, about as long as it took to get over his leaving. I had lost a father again, but no tears flowed, not at first. Emotions, hard to reach anyway, became inaccessible, hidden under many layers like a Russian nesting doll. Raymond had found a way to open each one, finally discovering the heart at the center, all of it: good, bad, and indifferent. It didn’t matter to him; he accepted the entirety and helped me to do the same.
By the door, he hugged me, but my hands, stiff as my heart, stayed on the ends of my arms by my side. I stood there straight and cold. I didn’t reciprocate. I couldn’t, mummies can’t move their arms and mine were wrapped just as snugly by frigid powerlessness. No brewing Tana leaves guided me out of the office that day. I don’t know what did, but something made my body move, walk out the door, start the car, and drive away.
On the edge of panic, I asked Samuel, “What will I do?”
I still had the second year of nursing school to finish, how would I do it without him? In my mind, Scarlett O’Hara’s rendition, “If you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?” mimicked my own desolation.
“You’ll be okay,” Samuel said.
But after that last session, the expression “the world caved in” happened in real life. The tunnel vision of loss darkened everything. Who was the crazy woman who looked at my horse Misty, and pony Tony, and thought, “Hey, I’ll sell them. I don’t want to ride anymore.”
I contacted the horse farm where I had purchased Misty. The first buyer the woman located wanted Tony. “He’d be a sturdy little wagon puller, and the guy wants to train him,” she said.
I imagined the new owner twitching Shane’s sweet Shetland pony with a long crop, stinging him unnecessarily, hurting him. When the truck pulled away, so did my ripped-out heart. Misty chased the trailer as she screamed for her barn-mate and companion, racing back and forth along the pasture line near the road. I stood there, horror- struck, like an additional fence post, staring, not expecting the wild reaction. But I should have, I wished I had, because if I’d put one moment of thought into it, I never would have done it.
The next trailer came soon after; they were gone. We went camping as usual for our annual July vacation to the Adirondacks, the whole family. It must have been a trying week for Samuel. The normal reaction would be to cry but Ice Mountain didn’t melt. I couldn’t think or talk about anything else besides what I’d done, obsessing over it, blasting myself repeatedly for yet another mistake, another failure. My stomach had a gnome inside scraping paint off its walls. What had I done, why? Raymond’s leaving wasn’t enough? I had to, what, punish myself more? For what, because I’m such a loser that everyone leaves me? I said these things to myself, my only enemy. The empty barn mirrored my heart. The devastation after my father’s death, the chaos, the loss, the rape, repeated again now as if pain were all I had or wanted. It was too much.
I called the woman running the stable, “I want my horse and pony back,” I requested quietly. “I made a mistake.”
Sorrow, remorse, despair, all the feelings bubbling unfelt after Raymond left popped open, the unoccupied barn the shroud to mourn under.
There was silence, then, “Well, the pony has been sold, it’d be hard to get him back. I think I have a buyer for Misty but she’s still here. I’d have to charge you for boarding though,” she said, all business.
Relief flooded in along with the blood which seemed to have stopped flowing. “Okay,” I answered with no hesitation, hardly letting her finish the sentence in case she changed her mind. Misty was delivered the next day. I felt giddy with relief tempered only by Tony’s absence. Though Shane never rode anymore, Tony had become family. The other side of the little barn remained empty for almost two years, about the same amount of time it took to finish grieving Raymond.
Finally ready to move on, I decided Tony’s stall needed filling. The paper advertised baby Nubian goats. Nubian goats have ears like bunnies that lie flat and long, hanging down past their chin and jawbone. We all piled in the car to see the goats. “Billy,” my imaginative name for our new pet, came home with us riding in the back seat with the boys.
We put a bright blue dog collar around his neck that he quickly grew out of. Baby Billy poured sunshine into that small dark stall of the barn and the dry, crackly, barren room in my heart; it took that long to really smile again, a genuine smile, with warm, honest joy behind it.