Therapy with Matt began the same spring Mom moved to the city. His office happened to be very near her new apartment. Over summer, during my sessions with Matt, the tearful well emptied. With the support therapy provided, I found employment as a nurse again. I stuck with Matt six years, the same length of time I worked as a nurse, and not coincidentally. I needed someone in my corner to handle the stressful job, but during the course of therapy both the job and Matt became liabilities. I finally mustered up the gumption to tell Matt over the phone I wasn’t coming back.
“I don’t want to compete with your cell phone anymore,” I barely squeaked, calling him to cancel not just the upcoming appointment, but our whole arrangement.
“What?” he said.
He couldn’t hear me? Or he heard me but couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t possibly be speaking up. I had locked myself in the bathroom away from my kids and husband. This was private, and a big deal, huge, pivotal. I needed to be alone when I finally took a stand. I felt embarrassed I hadn’t already.
“What?” he asked again, sounding shocked, not sure he had heard right.
Even after a long year of interruptions, as he went through a divorce, once taking a call from his car repairman, I kept quiet. I needed him. Without him, I knew I couldn’t continue with my job which stretched me to the breaking point and beyond. He knew it too.
Our call continued awhile.
“Margaret, a few doors down, is a very good therapist,” he suggested. Instantly I knew why he had suggested her, but I didn’t say it.
I felt restless in the little bathroom, going around in a circle, finally putting the lid down on the toilet, then sitting, agitated, as if the seat was searing hot. Yeah, you would recommend her, someone who, if I leaked out your unbelievable treatment, would know what you’re going through and understand. You’re having a difficult time, so of course it’s okay to interrupt every ninety dollar an hour session with phone calls from your lawyer, kids, and goddamn mechanic! My anger rose as these thoughts ran through my head, stuck in my belly, and clogged in my throat.
The only thing escaping my lips was a barely audible whisper: “I don’t want to compete with your cell phone anymore.” It was so quiet I might not have said it at all.
But I did. And he heard me. I felt his fear prickle across the phone lines. He knew he had done wrong and didn’t want anyone else to know. His defense? He probably believed he provided a great favor sticking by me, despite the interruptions, because at least he didn’t abandon me. The imaginary conversation that I should have had—needed to have—repeated over and over again in my head like a rat stuck in a wheel.
I answered his protests of the imagined rally. “I never left you,” he would object.
But you did abandon me every time you took a call! And each time you answered your GODDAMN cell phone, getting up, leaving me, going down the fucking hall, with me sitting alone, twiddling my thumbs like an idiot, waiting for the GOD of therapy to return. The very thing I was there for, working on, struggling with, SELF ESTEEM, plummeted, dropped to below zero, dropped to center of earth, to hell, every time you took a GODDAMN CALL!
Oh, how my gut ached to voice the necessary fiery explosions yearning, scraping, clawing for release, but couldn’t. The bars of childhood held firm, locked tight.
The things that needed to be said, the anger that needed to be expressed, remained unsaid. And like most things unspoken, hungering for expression, they lay waiting instead, simmering, repeatedly turning over in the brain until the lava cooled or another drama took its place.
I spent the weeks between therapy wiping up the spills of his arrogance, or dragging myself up by the scruff of my neck telling myself it was okay. At least one of us thought we were great. I made excuses for him, and for me, especially for me, because I tolerated it. Too long I did this, making it hard to live with myself. I kept my job because he stuck by me, but lost self-worth, or the tenuous, tiny amount I possessed. As a child I had no power, but as an adult in therapy? My need for him and what I permitted tortured me. After the repairman call, I knew I had to go, but it took another full year. I let go when I could.
He did warn me. But an ethical therapist wouldn’t just be clear about the intent to frequently disrupt therapy by accepting calls. An ethical therapist would have ended sessions; because it did end when he gravitated to his phone, more present with the device attached to his hip than the therapeutic hour. I became his therapist. He should have been paying me; I became his crutch, the tree that money grew on. A cash cow.
I listened to stories about his new dating scene, every nuance, his newfound “love,” the nights out dancing, and on and on, too many details about him, thrilled that my hotshot therapist confided in me. But all the while I piled on weight, gaining back a substantial amount that I had lost and kept off for ten years. Forty fucking pounds. It took a lot of poundage to keep “it” down, my rage at him, my fear.
When I first began seeing Matt, a crucial red flag rose that I didn’t pay attention to. I needed him too much even then to walk out. He didn’t have time to read the literature I offered from my weekly weight loss group that helped me not only lose seventy pounds but keep it off.
He said, “Those groups aren’t the way,” tossing the pamphlets down like trash. “I won’t have time to read them anyway.”
I felt shocked. “What?” I asked. “The group teaches me so many things…” My voice trailed off.
I looked at the parcel of information timidly handed to him, lying on the table where he had casually discarded it, as if discarding me. The group meant so much, a place where I fit in, a place where I found others who used food for reasons beside physical hunger. A place where, over time, I had succeeded at something I had long failed at. Being fat had haunted me since the age of eight after the rape, when my skinny kid frame blew up like a balloon. Fatty Patty became my name.
I stopped going to my group that felt like home, his voice stronger than mine, more important. He had to be right, I barely questioned it, ignoring a tiny voice inside that knew different, even as the pounds came on. His offhand rejection of my tested, successful weight loss group zeroed in as if he were a learned man in the subject and I knew nothing. But his thoughtless off-the-cuff remark, became the truth I had yet to discover. It solidified as the way to be that I had yet to become, like him, fully present, eyes blazing with life. He believed himself to be knowledgeable in all areas. I believed it too.
His cavalier response exhibited knowledge and experience, but really pertained to lack of time. I sensed it, but disregarded the repeated protests arising, unused to listening to that flicker of instinct, “Look at him, skinny as a rail since birth. What could he possibly know about fatness and what it takes not to be?”
He had other more important concerns that I didn’t know about. I didn’t know until that last year what he had undertaken when we first met. His wife had contracted a chronic debilitating disease. They had discussed how to keep their house, because she could no longer offer therapy in her office down the hall from him, where they had first met. They talked about what to do when the expense of owning a home in their posh neighborhood became too much on one income. They wanted to keep the house rather than move to a lesser one. He would take on more work, up to ten clients a day, as many as he could. Time between clients was not spent pondering how to help them, but looking for more.
And being just one more, of course he would not read pamphlets or have time to think about me from one week to the next. I was one of too many, aware of something not quite right, but not heeding the warning. He took on the load of two therapists, a sick wife, and two daughters.
And then the divorce; she was leaving him. I heard all the details about the therapist he began seeing after his wife left. “Start dating, have fun” was the motto from his therapist. Had he heard the term “counter-transference,” where the therapist lays his own burdens on the client? He had no clue why she had kicked him out, but if he treated her anything like he had treated me, it was easy enough to understand. He took precious time from my sessions describing it thoroughly, her rage, and his wonderment at her rage with no reason why she wanted to leave. He came across as the victim, pleading innocence, looking for comfort while talking. I gave it the best I could, poor pathetic Matt. At least his therapist got paid.
Another component of my regretful weight gain came from the change in him. Upon hitting the dating scene, sexual energy emitted from his being like an open fire-hydrant, as if I’d been sprayed with his musk. Being near him started to scare me. Piling on pounds with no conscious realization of doing so, or why, made me feel safer from his newly awakened sexuality.
I hung up the phone after finally cutting him loose. Dignity slowly crept back into me. I contemplated the fuller feeling: relief instead of the loss I thought I would feel. I collected paper images of cell phones from magazines and made a mobile of them, hanging it up in the breezeway window. I had stopped the abuse, cutting my noose.
Cory noticed the dangling mobile, looking at me thoughtfully, then asked, “Do you really want to remember him that way, Mom?”
At seventeen, his perceptions went deep, more balanced than mine. I took it down. What appeared to be easy for others, saying no, made me fear I might be physically harmed or worse, abandoned. I feared him or even his physical nearness. But over the phone, in a whisper, I finally said, “No!”