Saturday, June 21, 2008
Jason was back in my office for his next appointment. He had been an attentive and respectful host at the game, making sure that he followed Greg’s instructions to the letter.
“Are you ready to talk about the fight?”
His body stiffened. “I suppose.” His answer wasn’t as encouraging as I’d hoped.
“Did you know the young man who was injured?”
He kept his eyes trained on his feet, a barely audible no followed.
“Jason,” my tone willed him to look up at me. “Jason!” my tone turned more demanding when he didn’t. Finally, he cast his eyes upward, his head still partially bent in shame.
“I need you to talk to me about what happened and we can start wherever you want to.” I softened my tone, eager to get him to trust me enough to share what he was clearly bottling up inside. My fear was that it was held so tight that it would eventually erupt and Jason would find himself in jail for a long time if not for good.
“I didn’t want to do it.” His head hung down but I saw the tears.
I reached for the tissues and placed the box closer to him. “You know it’s okay to cry.” He hung his head even lower. “Especially in here. You’ll always be safe in here.”
Wiping his face with his hand, the tears now streamed down.
“Jason, tell me what happened that day.”
“I had to do it.”
“Why?” I lowered my voice.
“Because,” choking back his tears.
“Because?” I prodded as gently as I could.
“I didn’t want the team thinking I was one of them.”
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
“That’s wonderful, sweetheart!” I sounded convincing, even to myself. “I’m so glad you’re having such a wonderful time.”
“I am Mom.” Her voice radiated across the wireless connection as she described all the fun she was having going places she’d never been and meeting her half-brothers. She relished being a big sister and had clearly bonded with her newly found younger siblings.
I flashed back to a familiar call when she went away one summer for camp. I missed her then and I missed her now, only this time I knew she was definitely growing up and soon would be heading out on her own. Loss is hard even if it’s for the better.
I listened attentively, trying to keep my mind from flashing through the past, like flipping through an old photo album. I was actually afraid – afraid that I’d been set aside. I silently chastised myself for going to that place and letting my fears get in the way.
“And, Mom –“ her voice brought be back to the conversation.
“I love you.”
The tears trickled down my face – tears of happiness.
“I love you too, sweetheart – I love you too.” I paused to wipe my hand across my face just as Jason had done earlier in my office but I held my head high. “I’ll see you Sunday.”
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
Regina was standing by the window as I sat in her chair. We had reversed positions and roles.
“Charlie was such a happy baby and young boy.” Her voice broke just saying his name. “He never hurt anyone, even when someone was picking on him, he just wouldn’t hurt them. He was a loving and caring human being.” She turned to face me. “And I miss him. I miss him so much.”
I couldn’t imagine losing my only child. I had this intense urge to rush home and hug Dana. I’d have to wait until Sunday when I picked her up from the airport to satisfy my need to hug her and hold her tight – something she’d probably reject saying she was too old.
I got up and went to the window and hugged my dear, dear friend.
“Regina, I can’t even begin to know what it’s like to lose a child the way you lost Charlie, but I do know that for the time he was in this world, he had the best mother on the planet.”
She hugged me back and for now that was enough – more than enough.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Jason was my last appointment for the day and if his session went as well as I’d hoped I could release him to return to the team. I had already released him to return to his classes. Greg hadn’t pressured me to do either of these sooner and for that I was grateful. I was beginning to admire this man who seemed so different from anyone I had ever known.
“So, Jason how was your weekend?” I was beginning to enjoy getting to know this young man.
“It was okay.” His response was typical for his generation and age. I knew it all too well from Dana.
“Just okay?” I didn’t want to push too hard but I sensed that it hadn’t gone as well as he had hoped.
“My parents were here.”
“How did that go?” My question seemed to hit a nerve as he become more restless.
“You know how parents are.”
Ironically, yes I did.
We talked some more and it was clear he was struggling with his overly protective mother. It gave some insight as to why he was here.
“So, Jason, what do you remember about that day?” He knew which day I meant.
“I don’t want to talk about that.” He looked up. “Not yet.”
“You know I can’t release you to play with the team until you do.” I kept my voice gentle.
I sensed something else was going on. “Jason, do you want to play?”
He didn’t answer with words but it was clear that returning to the team was not a high priority for him, and that was something that he and I definitely needed to talk about. Even though Greg hadn’t pressured me concerning Jason, I was certain he wouldn’t be happy for any long delays in getting this young man back on the team. I had to be very careful what I shared with Greg but I suspected that Jason’s reluctance to rejoin the team was noticed by more than just myself.
I wondered just how much Greg knew.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
Dana was now with her father and I had the house to myself. I had taken her to the airport the day before. The house was so quiet that I found it almost unsettling.
I flipped through the stations on the television and decided that even though I had access to more than one hundred channels there was nothing on worth watching. I scanned the DVD collection that Dana and I had purchased recently but didn’t feel like watching any of them without her. We had started a movie night once a week and ate popcorn in our pajamas.
I wasn’t use to be so restless. I wasn’t even in the mood to read a good book, something I always enjoyed doing. Then I tried to relax and meditate.
I jumped as the phone rang. I wasn’t expecting anyone to call. I checked the caller id - it was Greg, the last person I truly expected to call. I had given him my home phone number for emergencies and perhaps subconsciously something more.
“Hello.” It was almost a question.
“Yes.” My voice sounded breathless, even to me. I felt giddy and disappointed at the same time. I wasn’t a schoolgirl anymore but I was acting like one. I straightened my back and walked over to the window.
“I wanted to invite you to our next game.” His voice sounded matter-of-fact, which is how I should be acting.
I was busy mentally processing his invitation and several minutes must have passed.
“And before you say no, I wanted to let you know what a difference your visit made to the team.” He had taken my silence for something else.
“I’d love to come.” Did I really say that?
“Great! I’ll see you Saturday at five. Jason will be waiting for you at the gate to escort you into the team area.”
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
Regina looked like her old self again. I caught her just as she was seeing her last client for the day.
“Georgia, just the person I was about to call.”
I eyed her suspiciously. “Really!”
“Yes, it’s my turn to take you out to dinner.”
I opened my mouth to protest but she beat me to it.
“And I want take no for an answer - even if I have to stalk you all the way home.” She folded her arms and gave me that and-you-know-I’ll-do-it look.
“Okay,” giving in seemed the best option at this point. “What’s the occasion?”
“Life.” She raised her arms up to the sky and twirled around. “We’re celebrating life,” she ended her twirl and looked straight at me, “and just how blessed we truly are to have such wonderful people in our lives.”
I couldn’t agree with her more.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
I was making real progress with Jason, especially after I attended the team practice. It was clear he respected and admired his coach, something I was beginning to do as well, despite my initial reluctance. I never imagined that I’d find so much in common with a sports coach, but I found him fascinating - truly fascinating.
Jason couldn’t participate because I hadn’t released him yet so he sat on the sidelines. At one point he even made sure I had something to drink - it was clear he would do anything to keep in good standing with Greg.
Greg. It took me awhile to adjust to calling him by his first name. It felt intimate - almost too intimate - but as he said, we were colleagues.
The practice was an eye-opener for me. I was expecting more of a testosterone-laden free-for-all but instead it was a well-choreographed and planned event. It was clear that Greg was in charge.
His use of time in hundreds of hours reminded me of that day in my office when he said practice started at 1600 hours sharp. A military background perhaps? Coach Greg Daniels was something of an enigma to me and I found that intriguing and exciting.
As I wrote up my notes from my last session I reflected back on my talk with Greg’s team. No eye-rolling, no fidgeting, no inappropriate behavior - just disciplined attention to every word I said. Made me wonder how much preparation Greg did before I arrived.
Jason would be here soon and I was eager to get this young man on his way to continue to live his life.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
School was over for the summer and Dana was working almost full-time, saving up money for her trip to visit her father. I hadn’t seen her this excited in quite sometime. It was both wonderful and painful as I struggled with my own issues over the direction our lives had taken since the breakup of my marriage, finally accepting that residual issues from my own childhood had gotten in the way of our lives all these years.
I decided that Dana’s absence this summer would be a good time to finally deal with some of the demons I had buried all these years - demons that were now coming out of the closet, refusing to be buried anymore. My challenge was to release them and not let them control my life any longer - a challenge that scared me to death.
And I thought to myself that for a therapist I could be pretty dense at times.
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
Regina was in my office today. I had insisted. She sat in the chair that was the twin to the one in her office. It nearly swallowed her up. It was the end of the day and I had brought food. Throwing a blanket on the floor I setup an impromptu picnic.
She eyed me cautiously.
“Who says I’m hungry,” at least her voice had some spunk to it.
“You will be when you see what I have.”
“I don’t think so,” she turned her nose up at me and wrapped her arms around herself like a defiant child.
“Okay - but your cousin said these were all your favorites and even from your favorite restaurant.”
That got her attention.
The smell of fried chicken, cornbread and baked beans wafted through my office and I felt my stomach growl. I hadn’t eaten lunch and suddenly realized just how hungry I was.
Despite her stubbornness, Regina looked over to see the logo of Gerry’s Chicken Shack branded on the side of the containers I had unpacked.
I dug in not wanting to wait for her to make up her mind and my stomach finally stopped growling after my third bite of chicken.
“Um, this is good.” My words were almost lost through a mouthful of cornbread and butter. “Your cousin knew what she was talking about.”
“She couldn’t find a good restaurant even if one was right in front of her.” The defiance in Regina's voice gave me hope. “I’m the one who told her about Gerry’s in the first place.”
“Yes, but she’s the one who told me about it.” I scooped up some beans with the cheap plastic spoons that came with the food. “Um, these beans are delicious.”
Regina pretended not to notice how much I was enjoying my impromptu picnic but I saw her eye the food as I took another bite.
She slid from the chair and finally joined me on the floor
“You know that’s the kind of food that will kill you if you eat too much of it.”
“Then I guess you’d better help me eat it since there’s enough for three of us.”
And we had a good laugh. Mission accomplished.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
I looked at the appointment book - my next and last session was with none other than Coach Daniels. A mixture of fear and eagerness welled up inside of me wondering what he wanted. I couldn’t tell him anything about Jason without breaking a whole host of rules, something I wasn’t willing to do nor did I desire to do so.
Still feeling perplexed at this unexpected turn of events when he arrived, I couldn’t help but notice what a big man he was as I studied him for any clues as to why he made this appointment. Instead of feeling threatened, I felt safe in his presence and I found that perplexing as well as intriguing.
Greeting him with every ounce of professionalism I could muster, I gestured for him to have a seat. His frame dwarfed my otherwise cozy and comfortable chair that most of my patients looked lost in.
“You’re probably wondering why I’m here.” His voice cut through the uncomfortable silence.
“As a matter of fact - yes,” I swallowed the lump forming in my throat. “Yes, I am”
“I’d like you to come talk to the team about the recent violence on campus.”
His request surprised me.
“I’d be happy to.” I took a deep breath. He must have noticed the questioning look on my face.
“You’re curious about my request.”
“Well - yes. It’s not everyday that someone from your area of expertise asks for help from someone from my profession.”
“Then we’ll just have to be the first, won’t we,” his voice was soothing as if he was coaxing a child to take a daring step forward.
A smile formed inside of me at the realization that he was using some of the techniques from my profession to get his way.
Just what did this man want? My mind started to whirl in speculation. Then a sudden sense of acceptance came over me and I didn’t even try to stop myself from finding out.
“I think we have the same objectives,” his voice broke through my wandering thoughts, almost reading my mind. “In fact, why don’t you come to the team’s practice tomorrow and see how we train. We start at four.”
My shock must have registered on my face.
“They don’t bite - not really - despite your experience with Jason. He’s just a confused kid.”
A long moment passed before I answered. “I’ll have to check my schedule.”
“I can wait - I still have twenty minutes left for my appointment.” His smile nearly melted me right then and there.
I moved as gracefully as I could, walking past him to get to the outer office area to check the master calendar - or at least pretend to. My evening schedule was really my own but I needed some distance from the overwhelming presence of this man to collect my thoughts and decide how to respond.
A voice in my head said no, but a deeper voice in my heart said yes. I decided to listen to my heart over my head this time. It was just a team practice after all. I’d still be home in time for dinner.
I returned to my office to find him looking at the certificates and pictures on my wall. He turned towards me when I closed the door.
“So, can you make it to the team practice?”
“Yes, Coach Daniels, I can,” I said with more confidence than I felt.
“It’s Greg.” He stepped closer, his eyes locked with mine. Everything unfolded in slow motion. At least that’s how it felt.
I held my breath as he came even closer, finally realizing he was asking me to call him by his first name.
“As one colleague to another.” He extended his hand towards mine. My hand felt small in his as he firmly but gently sealed our deal with the customary gesture. “Don’t forget - sixteen hundred hours.” He turned towards the door and smiled at me as he left.
It felt good to have a strong, good-looking man take such a positive interest in me. I allowed myself to enjoy the moment and then strongly reminded myself that this was business and would have to stay business.
He really was a good-looking man and his smile was to die for! Did I really just think that? Yes - yes I did. I grabbed my coat and purse and enjoyed my happiness all the way to my car. The drive home was one of the most pleasant I’d experienced in a very long time.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
I returned home to find a note from Dana. She was out with friends. I reflected on my time with Coach Daniels - er Greg - and decided that I needed to be cautious - very, very cautious. The question - was it my heart or my professional voice that needed cautioning.
The answer was both.
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
Back in Regina’s office for the first time in weeks for one of our sessions I felt different - it felt different - being here. She was looking more like her old self but I could tell she was still deeply disturbed by the recent round of school violence, even if the threat was a hoax. I looked at the calendar and realized just how close it was to the anniversary of her son’s death.
“How are you doing?” I was the one asking the questions today.
“Hanging on.” Her words were simple but her voice spoke volumes.
“Then hang onto me.” I grabbed her hand and pulled her with me towards the window that had offered me so much solace over the years. I put an arm around her and realized just how frail she had become these past few weeks, something I couldn’t ignore. She was my dear friend, my lifeline.
I had needed her and now she needed me.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Scene 1 - Therapist’s Office
I refused to live in fear. It went against everything I believed in and I vowed to never be part of any effort to control anyone else through fear.
Those in power seemed to be using the fear tactic a lot lately, creating a tension that permeated every part of society and our once quite campus was not as immune as I had hoped. We were all working hard at the health center to reduce the stress and return the student body and faculty to a level of functional normalcy.
The threat to our campus turned out to be a student who didn’t want to take her midterms and saw this as an opportunity to delay that. I had the pleasure and displeasure of talking to the student in question during a session that I thought was to address her as a potential victim. To my horror she broke down in tears and admitted to planting the letter with the threat to “spray the campus with bullets” worse than anything witnessed so far in previous school shootings.
Another passage from the Bible leaped into my brain - Do unto others, etc, etc. Don’t know why I was fixated on the Bible lately but when it was taken straightforwardly and not through the lens of power and fear mongers, it had some very simple and straightforward lessons for all of us. Too bad its power was frequently misused and abused.
I never did like zealots of any kind. They worked so hard to make sure we interpreted lessons like those in the Bible to their way of thinking - and only their way. The phrase, “My way or the highway,” was bantered around like a bat to a hornet’s nest lately and there seemed to be plenty of zealots on the other end of the spectrum who were eager to respond in kind.
The week went by quickly due to the overwhelming workload but when Thursday came I dreaded going to work. It was the day of Jason’s next appointment and I still shuddered at how the previous one concluded.
To my surprise - and relief - Coach Daniels personally escorted Jason to my office. An apology was promptly made - although under slight duress as the coach gave my young and reluctant client a look that brokered no room for resistance.
Coach Daniels took a seat outside my office as Jason passed by me and sat in my comfortable chair which last session seemed to make him so uncomfortable - although he was less so today.
Jason still didn’t reveal much about the incident but he did talk this time. I finally got him to open up about how he felt being in a therapy session. As long as I didn’t talk about the beating he was responsive, but not as much as I had hoped. It was clear that Jason’s therapy would progress in baby steps unless I could somehow convince him that the sooner he talked about the reason he was here, the sooner he’d be back in class and on the team.
When Jason left my office Coach Daniels stood, made eye contact with my still reluctant client and then addressed me.
“I expect that Jason was a proper and respectful student today.” His voice was even sexier than on the phone and I had to remind myself that this was serious business not an opportunity to meet eligible men. Of course, I didn’t know if he really was eligible and I found myself trying to sneak a look at his ring finger. Of course, not all married men wore their rings.
“Yes he was.” I really couldn’t say more than that due to patient/therapist confidentiality rules.
“Jason, wait for me outside.”
“Yes sir.” The younger man almost snapped to attention. I watched as Jason almost marched from the outer office area and into the sunny day outside.
Turning my head back to the coach my eyes locked with his as I blushed at his intense stare, his blue eyes studying me with great interest. Words escaped me as I tried not to respond to his overwhelming masculine presence. I hadn’t felt this speechless since I was a teenager with my first crush.
“Here’s my card with my cell phone number. If you have any further problems with Jason cooperating, don’t hesitate to call.” His fingers brushed my hand as I reached to take the card from him. It was electrifying and I struggled to get even the simplest thank you out.
“Call anytime.” His voice was soothing. “And I mean that.”
I thanked him again as he turned to leave. I couldn’t help but watch his athletic figure as he headed out the same door Jason left through not long before. My heart did a back flip and a part of me that I thought was dead suddenly showed that it was still alive.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
Light poured into the house and I saw my surroundings in a new and carefree way. Dana and I had finished redecorating the windows throughout the house and I sat back on the couch and relished the fruits of our labor.
Dana was out with friends celebrating the end to a greulling week of exams. They were coming back to the house for a sleep over and I was excited about having so many young people in the house again.
Reflecting on my encounter with Coach Daniels earlier that day I wondered if he was indeed an eligible man, something that became more and more rare as I grew older. Even though I felt giddy at the prospect of having male attention in my life again, a sense of fear and reluctance about being hurt held me back. Did I really want the complication of a man in my life right now, especially as I was just beginning to open up to my daughter again?
I chastised myself for worrying about something that wasn’t even a clear possibility. I probably would have agonized further but was interrupted by the slamming of a car door and laughter as Dana and her friends arrived. I got up to greet them and a sense of pure joy washed over me as I was caught up in their happy and light-hearted mood.
Tears of joy welled up in my eyes as I realized just how lucky I was to have this second chance at life.
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
Regina canceled our weekly appointments until further notice and I grew more and more concerned about her. I left a message on her machine that we needed to have a girls night out and that I wouldn’t take no for an answer.
A few days later when she still hadn’t returned my call I went to her office and sat outside to catch her after her last patient. When she emerged I grew even more concerned. She looked tired and drawn. I hadn’t see her look like this in years.
When she saw me her face showed a mixture of relief and anxiety. I waited for her patient to leave then quickly entered her office.
“Grab your coat,” I almost ordered her to do so. “I’m taking you out to dinner.”
She hesitated then thought better of it. I quickly hugged her before she could object.
“You are the best friend I’ve ever had in my entire life.” My words were gentle and sincere. “You’ve always been there for me.” I hugged her even harder. “Turnabout is fair play.”
I felt her hug me back as if her life depended on it and maybe it did.
Relief washed over me that I visited her just in time.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
A reluctant young man sat across from me today. I don’t usually see male students for a number of reasons. They’re less likely to seek help, even in today’s alleged enlightenment about mental health. Besides, my therapeutic specialties centered around young women and eating disorders, something that was rampant in a school setting, especially those who most recently left high school.
But there had been a school shooting. Not on our campus but one nearby and a number of our students knew some of those whose lives had been taken so prematurely. A series of copycat threats followed and what was once a free and open environment was now locked down for our own protection until the authorities could figure out if the threats were real and immediate. The need for reassurance - for both students and parents - was overwhelming and extra therapists were brought in. We were all working overtime and taking all the cases that came our way.
The passage from the Bible, violence begets violence, resonated lately given the marked increase of hostilities on our once peaceful campus. We had enjoyed a rather crime-free existence until now despite being entrenched in the heart of inner city Chicago. Our campus has a diverse student body in all ways imaginable, which is why I choose to work here.
Jason sat almost motionless across from me, desperate to display anything but fear, uncomfortable in my overly comfortable chair, his expression stoic as he resisted talking about the reason he was here today.
It wasn’t his choice. He was ordered to come or be expelled and his parents were irate and making sure everyone knew it. I had spent the better part of an hour on the phone discouraging them from flying in to “handle” the matter themselves.
An attack on another student led to his arrest and that of three other football players. They were charged with a hate crime and the university was eager to keep the federal authorities out of it, not wanting any more negative press, hoping this story would get lost in the coverage of the shootings. The sadness of using one tragedy to bury another wasn’t lost on me.
“Jason, why did you participate in the beating of the other student?” He didn’t flinch. “Was it really because he’s gay?” No response.
I decided to try another tactic. “We can sit here session after session - I get paid either way, but you will not be released back to your classes and the team until you start talking.” My voice was firm and authoritative.
We sat silent for the rest of the session. When he got up to leave I reminded him when his next appointment was and that he’d be automatically expelled if he didn’t show - and on time.
He gave me a look that was chilling. I stood and locked eyes with him, setting as healthy a boundary as I could, given the situation. As soon as the door closed I picked up the phone and called security and reported my concerns. Then I placed a call to someone who owed me a huge favor and didn’t even know it yet.
The call went to voice mail and Coach Daniel’s voice encouraged me to leave a message adding that he’d get back to me as soon as possible. I left my message and said it was urgent that we talk about Jason before his next appointment.
When I left the building that evening I was overly vigilant, regarding everyone and everything with suspicion - my nerves still a bit frayed from my earlier encounter with Jason’s hostility. I had security’s number on speed dial just in case, my phone in one hand, mace in the other. I hated feeling this way, but I’d hate it even more if I wasn’t prepared to protect myself and didn’t make it home.
Reaching my car safely I quickly threw my belongings in the passenger seat and locked the doors as fast as I could. I leaned back in my seat, taking a deep breath, trying to calm myself before facing the overly congested expressways heading to the suburbs, complicated by the never-ending construction. I was told when I moved here that there were two seasons in Chicago - winter and construction. Lately it was a mix of both.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when the sound of knuckles hit my window.
“You okay Ma’am?” I recognized the campus security guard and rolled the window down - just a little.
“I’m fine, thanks.”
He gave me a look that said he didn’t believe me. “I’ll look around just to make sure.” After checking around and under my car he was finally convinced it was safe for me to start the engine and leave. He continued to watch me as I pulled towards the exit, his military-like figure growing smaller and smaller in my rear view mirror.
Punching the buttons to turn my CD player on, I cranked up the volume trying to forget the day and detox before arriving home. The lyrics, “You can still be free,” from a Savage Garden CD blocked the outside noise of traffic and horns blaring and I thought that it was the most appropriate song to play right now.
I could still be free.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
Dana seemed happier lately, more complete. She was talking with her father nearly every day now. I felt a little jealous but quickly dismissed it as a place I didn’t want or need to go.
This was good for her. Good for me. I just needed to keep telling myself that.
I didn’t see the elusive boyfriend again and wondered if he was still in the picture, and, if so would she introduce him to me? I decided to go to the deep end of the pool step up on the diving board and face my fears.
“Dana, how would you like to have some friends over for a barbeque in a few weeks?”
We were having dinner, something I relished. She looked up at me - startled.
I hadn’t really been receptive to anyone coming into the house over the past few years as it went from bright and welcoming to dark and cluttered, reflecting my inner turmoil. Lately, I had made real progress and as I cleaned and cleared things out of my house and my life my mood lifted - or maybe it was the other way around. I suppose it didn’t really matter since I had the results I needed. Talk about the ends justifying the means or vise versa. Stopping myself before my head started spinning I looked back at Dana and saw her confused expression.
“Well?” I prodded gently.
“But you don’t like people coming into the house.” Her voice nearly broke and I felt loss and sadness sweep over me at the cost of my loneliness all these years - especially the cost to my daughter. No wonder she was reaching out to other people.
“I do now.” My voice sounded lighter - even to me. “And, I was wondering if you could help me pick out some new curtains and window treatments for the downstairs.” My child looked at me as if I was a stranger, but I forged on. “I want to let more light into the house.”
“Who are you and what have you done with my mother!”
We both laughed - together. It was music to my ears.
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
Regina was working overtime as well so we postponed our weekly session. I was more worried about her than myself at this point and hoped that the recent shootings hadn’t stirred up an old loss. She had survived so much and was such a strong person that it felt awkward to be worried about her. She usually worried about me and was the one to keep me from jumping off my emotional cliffs.
Except for that one time - so many years ago.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
My session with Laura went quite well. She was a straight-A student and appeared to be more aware of herself than most young women her age. The way she dressed appeared to be more of a boundary setting issue with her mother than anything else. Although, she did possess a definite artistic streak that I found rather interesting. Still, her appearance screamed for a separate identity than the one her mother wanted her to assume.
“Does it hurt?” I had to ask. “The one on your tongue.”
“Not really. Sometimes when I chew - food pushes on it, but you learn to work around it.”
I just couldn’t imagine anything being worth this kind of disruption to my body - but then again every generation endured something their parents found questionable from corsets to beehive hairdos to stiletto heels.
We talked for the rest of the session about all sorts of topics and it was clear that Laura knew who she was, what she wanted and how to get it. She didn’t need therapy - she needed to be treated like the responsible adult that she clearly had become.
I flashed to what Dana would look like in five years and wondered if she would be sitting across from a therapist, trying to separate from an overbearing mother.
Reality check - can’t let this happen!
I suddenly had a stark insight into how I should deal with my daughter from now on and made a mental note to start doing so immediately.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
Dana and her father talked for more than an hour the other night and she stayed in her room after that. I heard her go to the bathroom later on but left her alone. I didn’t see her again until after work the next day.
To my surprise she had dinner waiting when I arrived home. Store-bought pizza and ready-to-eat salad never looked so good.
“Wow! This is really nice,” my response was genuine. It was the first time we had sat down to eat together in more than a week. Something I missed - dreadfully so.
I reached for my water as Dana sat down across from me.
“I talked with Dad last night.” She kept her eyes on her plate.
“How did that go?” I tried to keep my tone neutral.
She looked up to measure my response. “Great.” She took a generous bite of pizza. “Really great.”
I felt she was holding something back.
“He asked me to come visit this summer.”
“Is that something you want to do?” I reminded myself this was for her and not for me. My stomach still turned upside down, the pizza I had swallowed threatening to come back the way it went in.
“I think so.” Her stare locked with mine, her eyes pleading with me to understand, not be mad and still love her.
“That’s great, honey.” I mustered as much enthusiasm as I genuinely could, grabbing my water and swallowing to force the pizza in the right direction.
“You mean that, mom?” I flashed back to when she was much younger and shared her love with me so easily.
“I really mean that.” And, I really did.
I finally did.
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
“I did it.”
I looked up to see Regina raise an eyebrow. She knew what I meant. She just wanted to make me to say it out loud - to own it.
“I called Dana’s father –“
”Ahem!” Regina’s interjection made me pause.
“Okay, my ex –“
”Ahem!” She wasn’t going to cut me any slack. None at all.
“Okay, Richard! Are you happy now?” I knew she was my friend and was doing the right thing by me, but boy was it pissing me off right now.
“I’m happy - are you?” Regina’s southern drawl always made everything sound so innocent.
“No damn it, I’m not!”
I didn’t have an answer. I nearly jumped up from the chair as I escaped to the other side of the room and fled to the window - my sanctuary.
“Center, Georgia. Center.”
Regina’s voice was calm as she talked me down off the ledge I had perched on. She was right, as usual. I needed to center. I needed to get back to my authentic self and not respond from the negative energy that was now consuming me. Fear and anger were such powerful emotions and usually worked against me.
“So, when are you going to start living your life?” Her voice cut through my silence and inner turmoil.
I took a deep breath and turned towards my mentor and current tormentor.
“Who says I haven’t.”
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Working on a college campus exposed me to all kinds of strange and changing fads expressed by the children who were finally rebelling for the first time in their lives - or who had never stopped. Shock still permeated my therapist’s shell with the patient sitting across from me today.
To say she was “Goth” was an understatement. I didn’t even want to start counting how many body piercings she had. The one on her lower lip looked especially painful - until I saw the one in the center of her tongue.
My rational mind sorted through all the textbook answers as to why someone would do this to themselves - they wanted to be noticed, they wanted to be different, it was a cry for help. Perhaps this made her feel good, perhaps it was her true self. After all, societies throughout the world used body adornments as an expression of their cultural beliefs.
I still struggled to get past the tongue piercing.
Laura was here because her parents insisted - they wanted to meet with me as well, but I put them off, uncomfortable with how demanding they were - especially the mother. My hunch was that they were still trying to control her life and that’s why she dressed the way she did. I had to find out from her just what was going on before meeting with her parents. Of course, Laura was the patient and since she was 20 years old her parents weren’t entitled to any information. Laura agreed to see me because her parents had threatened to cut her off financially if she didn’t.
We did our preliminary discussion - as I did with all my new patients, gathering just enough background information to start asking the kind of questions I needed to ask to make our sessions meaningful. It was as much for the patient’s benefit to learn to trust me as it was for me to understand them and how I could help.
It hit me hard just how important it was to have functionally healthy parents - even if they weren’t living together.
I made a note to call Dana’s father and reopen that door that I helped shut so long ago.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
Dana was still at school and I had left work early so I had the house to myself. I noticed how much the clutter had grown and decided that this wasn’t how I wanted to live. I had been boxing myself in for years, seeking protection from the pain I hadn’t yet faced. I had erected barriers in my own home trying to keep out that pain and the rage that was dumped on me as a child and later as a wife.
Life was certainly ironic. Here I was a therapist, seeing other people’s issues and challenges so clearly and ignoring my own even when they were staring me in the face. I walked from room to room assessing the damage and coming up with a plan on how to deal with bringing down the walls of my self-imposed prison.
As I tossed, recycled and designated items for charity I felt liberated. For the first time in my life, I felt truly free to be the person I was meant to be.
I was hauling boxes for charity to the garage when Dana arrived in an unfamiliar car.
Out of view she didn’t notice me watching. She leaned over and kissed the boy in the driver's seat and for the first time I got a glimpse of the young man who had come into my daughter’s life for all the wrong reasons.
Dana finally got out of the car and I went into the living room and sat and waited for her to come through the door. Our eyes met briefly and she knew I had seen her in the car.
The phone rang before either of us could or wanted to speak. Dana rushed to answer it thinking it was one of her friends. I knew it was her father making the call I had arranged.
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
Looking out the window, I leaned against the wall seeking comfort from the familiarity of its strong support. I needed that right now.
Regina didn’t say a word - she normally didn’t, letting me speak when I was ready.
“Dana spoke with her father last night.” I didn’t offer it up as anything other than what it was - a statement of fact. I heard Regina smile and her say, without saying, “finally.”
I pulled myself reluctantly away from the support of the wall and the serenity of the garden view outside Regina’s window. I could stay here for the rest of my life feeling supported, comforted and serene, but I suspect Regina’s patients would object to me as a fixture in the room while they bared their souls and worked through their issues.
As I sat in the all-too familiar and oh so comfortable chair, I scratched having a career as a live statue off my list.
“So, what next?” Regina’s voice broke through my thoughts. I studied my shoes against the pattern of the new rug on her office floor.
“I don’t know.” I raised my head and looked her straight in the eyes. “I just don’t know.”
Friday, March 21, 2008
I listened to my messages between patients. The news wasn’t good but explained why Lizzie had missed her last appointment. She had attempted suicide at her parent’s house. They found her in the bathtub, gashes across her wrists. At least that’s what I was told when I called the hospital where she was struggling for her life.
She would now be in the hands of other professionals, her situation beyond my expertise. While I saw many troubled young people at the student health center where I consulted, I knew Lizzie would need a level of treatment beyond the centers capacity - and mine.
My heart ached as I slumped into the same chair Lizzie had sat in less than two weeks ago. I wondered if she had told her parents after all. I wondered if she had decided it was just too much, the pain too great to live another day.
I pictured her young body, limp in the water, life oozing and rippling away as her blood turned the water a brighter shade of red. My stomach ached with such a fierceness and I felt bile work its way up my throat and into my mouth as I fought to keep from vomiting. I had to pull myself together. I had other patients.
Rubbing my own wrists I looked at the scars that reminded me why I had connected so strongly with Lizzie.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
Winter in Chicago had dragged on for so long that I thought it would never end. Mounds of piled snow - now turned to ice - still littered parking lots and sides of streets where plows had pushed it out of the way. It was the middle of March and we were still battling the winter blues, another storm on its way.
After fifteen years I was finally getting used to the cold grey winters of the Midwest. Being a Southern California girl by birth and nature it had proved a hard adjustment and just when I thought I was turning the corner a brutal winter made me wonder why I moved here in the first place.
I knew why and that reason had left me long ago. But I was here now and so was my life, what there was of it these days. I silently chastised myself for having a pity party as I unloaded the dishwasher, looking out the window for any signs of the sun to lift me out of this horrible funk I was in.
Dana had spent the night at a friends house and my anxiety level increased as I wondered if we’d ever be close again. I knew that the mother-daughter relationship was a difficult one. Hell, I worked with the failed results of it everyday at the student health center. I just didn’t want to be part of that statistic.
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
"Stop trying to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, Georgia. You need to lower the life boats, get in, make sure they don’t leak and that you’re headed in a good direction."
Scenes from the latest remake of the movie with Kate and Leo popped into my head. Only she had someone to hold onto as the boat sank. Then I reminded myself of what happened next and decided that feeling sorry for myself wasn’t in the cards.
"That’s right." Regina’s voice cut through my mental game of tag. I looked away from the window and saw her knowing eyes piercing through the frenzy I was working myself into.
"Ouch." I vocalized the pain I was feeling. She was the one person in the world who I could count on to keep me grounded. Now I just needed to learn to do that for myself.
"Has Dana talked to her father yet."
"No." It was the truth - at least I thought it was. For all I knew she could be calling him since I really wasn’t privy to any of her phone calls. She had become increasingly secretive and withdrawn from me.
"Okay - I haven’t even broached the subject with her yet." I didn’t even try to lie or mislead Regina. It was impossible to do.
"Why not?" Her voice was gentle but stern.
"I’m afraid, that’s why!" My voice was harsher than I intended.
"Of what?" She wasn’t going to let me off the hook so easily.
"Of losing my daughter." I felt the tears finally come as I sank into the big overstuffed chair identical to the one in my office. Regina and I found them at an estate sale and both fell in love with them instantly. Good thing there were two of them!
"And being alone." I finally added trying to be honest with myself.
Regina got up and sat on the edge of the chair and put her arm around me. "You’re not alone, Georgia. Dana will always be your daughter and despite how it seems right now, you know that she loves you very much. She’s just trying to navigate the teen years which are hell on all concerned." She got up and grabbed the box of tissues.
"Besides, what am I? Chopped liver?"
She pulled the box away from me until I answered.
"That’s better. Now, get out there and enjoy life!" The laughter in her voice made me smile - a deep smile - and it felt good.
Friday, March 14, 2008
A frail young woman sat in my over-stuffed chair almost disappearing in its comfortable folds - she was so thin. I forced myself to concentrate on her but my mind wandered with concern for Lizzie, who had missed her last appointment. I was overcome with worry for her - not something a therapist should allow.
"How are you feeling today, Jennie?" I asked trying to focus. She deserved my full attention.
"Okay." She cast her eyes away from me, her hands hidden in her too long sleeves as she hugged her knees to her chest.
"Just okay?" I tilted my head trying to make eye contact, something that was always hard to do with her.
She didn’t answer. She didn’t budge.
"Tell me about your visit with your parents."
Jennie’s body tensed even more. "Same as usual." Her sleeve-covered hands were now bunched under her chin as she held herself even tighter, almost in a fetal position.
It was her standard response to any question about her parents but since she has never defined what a usual visit with her parents looked like it was challenging to decipher. I could only push so hard. It had taken a long time to get Jennie to be even this responsive to me. She was on the edge and I didn’t want to push her over it.
The rest of the session was mostly silent except for my gentle prods to get Jennie to open up just a little more. Her anorexia nervosa was so advanced that I was afraid I’d lose her to heart failure before we could make the kind of progress I hoped for. Not uncommon for patients with anorexia, Jennie controlled her food intake more fiercely than the gold was guarded at Fort Knox. It was the only area of her life where she felt she had any control and control it she did.
Her pain resonated through the office and it hit me hard today. Not as hard as Lizzie’s had during our last session and perhaps I was more vulnerable because of it. I feel others pain too easily - it’s one of the reasons I became a therapist. It’s a gift and a curse, and lately it has been an overwhelming curse.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
Dana and I maintained a somewhat peaceful coexistence since our blowup over the mall visit and how she had dressed. Her clothing choices returned to more of the Dana I thought I knew but somehow I suspected she was taking a change of clothing with her and dressing differently at school. She was craving the kind of male attention most adolescent girls do but in her case it was amplified. I was afraid for her because I knew what that was like.
Her father and I never should have married and we certainly shouldn’t have brought a child into this world with all the baggage we both carried from our own childhoods. But then when you’re young and think you’re in love that’s a difficult standard to live up to. I love my daughter I just feel so helpless these days where she’s concerned.
The divorce wasn’t bitter like most but Dana’s father - my ex - walked away and started a new life - new family, new house, new car, new dog, new everything - and Dana wasn’t meant to be part of that. At least that’s what she said after each visit. The time between visits grew and soon Dana stopped seeing her father completely.
The child support checks came on time and without debate but Dana needed more than basic survival needs. She needed a chance to develop a healthy relationship with the most important male figure in her life. I knew what happened when that wasn’t available.
I was concerned that she was projecting this need onto a very unsuitable boy at school. She wouldn’t be the first young girl to do this but right now I had doubts about my own ability to steer her in the right direction. Yes, the therapist was at a loss in how to deal and communicate with her own child.
An overwhelming sense of sadness swept through my entire body. I was losing my daughter at the same time I felt at a loss with my patients. One of my daughters many standard retorts jumped into my head - Reality Bites! - and right now it truly did.
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
I started seeing Regina once a week. Used to be I could just pop into her schedule whenever I needed a "tune-up" of emotional strength. Not anymore. I needed someone to guide me through what I was sure would be an extremely difficult time for me.
"Have you asked Dana if she’d like to visit her father?" The question jolted me.
"He doesn’t want her around." I knew I sounded defensive, resentful. I heard it in my voice, felt it in my body.
"How do you know?" Perhaps I didn’t know. Perhaps I was angry at him for moving on when I didn’t seem to be able to. I stopped myself from over-analyzing the situation. Analysis paralysis - gets the best of us every time.
"Look, Georgia – "
Here it comes.
"– you’re going to have to accept that Dana is growing up and away from you. That’s normal. What’s not normal is her not having a relationship with her father and if you want her to grow into a healthy young woman who has healthy relationships you need to help her find a way to reach out to her father."
I knew she spoke the truth but it was still hard to digest. It had been just the two of us - Dana and I - for so long now I couldn’t imagine my life without her. What a heavy burden to put on a teenage girl!
"And you need to start dating again." Regina’s words sent me into panic mode. I had enough heartache in my life these days. How could I risk yet someone else breaking my heart!
"Georgia, stop jumping ahead to it ending in disaster." She knew me so well. "There are other outcomes - like you could find someone who’d bring you some happiness."
A weak smile worked its way across my face. I felt a sense of fear akin to standing on the high diving board. All I could think to say to myself was don’t look down.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
The young woman who sat across from me reminded me of someone. I knew who but I couldn’t let myself explore that right now. She needed a therapist not a gazer.
Her pain was real, raw. She had been raped. The violation bled through her skin.
Tears streamed down her face as she tried to hold it all together. I reached for the box of tissues and held it out to her. She took one and curled her legs beneath her in the oversized chair that sat catty-cornered from mine. I always felt that sitting directly across from a patient was more like an interrogation. I placed the box on the table between us just in case.
"Have you told your parents yet?"
Her eyes grew large. "I can’t"
"What are you afraid of?" This wasn’t new ground for us. The rape had happened a month ago and she struggled over telling her parents. It was still raw but she needed all the support she could get right now.
"They’ll be angry." She choked out the words.
"Why do you feel they’ll be angry?"
"They told me to be careful. They told me not to do anything I’d regret."
"What do you regret?" I kept my voice neutral. I felt what she meant, but this was about her - not me.
"That I went to that party. That I trusted someone I shouldn’t." Her tears flowed even harder. "How could I have been so stupid."
"Lizzie, going to a party doesn’t give someone else the right to rape you."
"But I shouldn’t have gone. I shouldn’t have gone." Her voice trailed off into a deep sea of sadness.
It always sounds so trite but I kept telling her she couldn’t blame herself, it wasn’t her fault. That was the focus of the rest of our session.
I see many rape victims in my practice - too many, but this girl was different. She reminded me of someone and that someone was me.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
When I arrived home my fifteen-going-on-thirty year-old daughter had the phone fused to her right ear.
"So, what are you going to wear tonight?" She turned to see that I was in the room and her expression turned guarded.
Clothes were her favorite topic of conversation. It was difficult to convince her there were other aspects of life besides clothes.
I signaled that I needed to talk with her.
"Stacy - gotta go - my mom just got home." Her tone was hurried, even secretive.
I know I’m a therapist but it still smarts when your own child acts like spending time with you is a burden. Academic echoes of it’s normal - children need to go through a healthy separation from their parents - didn’t help ease the pain of being rejected. I tried to stay in my head.
"Is dinner ready?" It was one of her few chores.
"Yes, mom - do you always have to ask me that!" Her voice held an all-too-familiar huffiness and anger as she disappeared into her room.
In the kitchen the table was set with only one plate. My heart sank, taking an all too familiar plunge. A small pot with macaroni and cheese and a side dish of frozen peas and carrots, now simmering, sat on the stove. I sank into the chair at the kitchen table and struggled to find balance. I lectured myself in my head as if I were my own patient. It felt appropriately schizophrenic.
I heard Dana’s footsteps coming down the hall towards the kitchen and I turned towards my daughter, who was increasingly becoming a stranger to me, and asked if she would be joining me for dinner, something that I had always insisted on.
"I already ate. Stacy and I are going to the mall."
Her outfit alarmed me. I quickly sorted through my feelings trying not to project my emotions from the intensity of my last session today onto my daughter who was just trying to find herself.
"Not dressed like that you aren’t!" Okay, I didn’t find balance.
"This is how everybody dresses!" She stomped her foot emphasizing her adolescent rebellion.
"Just because everyone else does it, doesn’t mean –"
"I have to do it too!" she cut me off finishing a fairly standard lecture lately. "Well, maybe I want to. Maybe I want to be like everyone else and not some kind of freak."
"What makes you think you’re a freak?" I infused my tone with love and compassion, fighting off my fear and anger that threatened to push Dana even further away from me.
"Oh you wouldn’t understand." Her words were flung up into the air as she spun away from me in a fit of rage and rebellion. Her bedroom door slammed a few minutes later sending a small shockwave through the house.
My gut ached as I watched my child, my once fun-loving and adoring child, slip away from me. I felt so helpless, so alone as tears streamed down my face. The image of Lizzie sitting in the over-stuff chair in my office flashed in mind and I reached out to her in spirit as a kindred soul.
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
I stared out the window through the gaps in the venetian blinds, trying to let myself be distracted. It was difficult for me to sit as a patient while I talked, but that’s what I was - a patient. The therapist had a therapist!
"Georgia, you know how this works. We talk through our pain and issues so we can go forward, but if you want to pay me to just stand looking out my window, that’s okay too."
Regina’s voice broke through my struggle. She was more than my therapist, she was my mentor, as well as a dear friend and the strongest woman I’ve ever known. I felt pathetic at my helplessness after everything that she’d been through in her own life and survived. My problems seemed simple compared to the boulders that were thrown her way. My pain fought against logic and I slumped down into the chair and started to cry.
"Why didn’t they love me! Why didn’t they protect me!"
I took a tissue from the box she extended just as I had done with Lizzie.
"Perhaps they didn’t know how." Regina was in therapist mode but her voice was laced with concern for me as a friend. She was good at setting healthy boundaries.
"Bullshit!" The word sprung from my gut. Perhaps it was true but it didn’t feel like it right now.
Regina sat silent, letting me deal with the anger-infused air around me. I felt as if someone had sprayed me with a toxic chemical and I struggled to breath. I always felt a toxic wave come over me when the subject of my parents came up. After all they were the ones I needed protection from.