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Again [ - ]
by madewy
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Again

“Tell me again. How did this resurface?”

“She called one night, just out of the blue. It was completely unexpected.”

The doctor looks at the anxious couple, sitting in separate, side by side chairs across from her. The husband has been doing most of the talking. The wife stares straight ahead, seeming to focus on the blank wall while fidgeting with her wedding ring.

“What were you doing when the phone rang?”

He answers quickly, glancing at the woman to his right as he does, who in turn gives him the tiniest of smiles and a small shrug of her shoulders…an acknowledgement of sorts.

“We were curled up on the couch…watching a movie…but we were just about dozing off. It startled us…the phone.”

The doctor addresses the wife directly now in order to draw her into the conversation.

“Do you do that often…the two of you? Fall asleep on the couch instead of going to your bedroom?”

This woman sitting across from the doctor doesn’t like the implication she senses. She answers defensively.

“Yes. And we always have…practically from the beginning.”

“From the beginning?”, the doctor questions.

“Yes. From the first few months after he came to me…to us. We just enjoy curling up together on the couch…in front of the television. What’s wrong with that?” She asks with a small sense of panic to her voice.

“Did I say there was anything wrong with that?”, the doctor asks. “But maybe you think there’s something wrong with that, some underlying reason you two need to stay in the living room late into the night?”

“It’s just an old habit. It’s something we’ve always done.” The wife answers more simply now, quietly. “It was a way for us to be together…before we could…umm, be together. And we still do it because…because it’s comfortable. You know,“ she questions the doctor, “…old habits die hard? It’s comforting. That’s all.” She’s fumbling her words and looks to her husband for help, for confirmation.

He understands as he always does when she feels vulnerable, threatened. And he quickly comes to her assistance…as he always does. As he has been doing from the first week he began working for her. It flashes through his mind how he pulled her from the kitchen floor that very night in their home, and it brings a simple smile to his face. Looking out for her. That’s what he was doing. That’s still what he wants to do. Not that she can’t take care of herself. Most of the time she can take care of herself and him. But…he wants to look out for her. Now, leaning forward in his seat, he looks directly at the doctor. “Look Doc, it doesn’t mean anything other than what it is. We could watch TV anywhere in the house we wanted to now. We could fall asleep on the roof if we wanted.” He’s aware his voice has taken on a slightly annoyed pitch.

“Yeah, we could go upstairs but we choose to curl up on our couch. We like being together at the end of our day, on our familiar, comfortable couch. It feels right to us…brings back warm memories. Besides,“ he adds jokingly, to lighten the mood, “…it’s broken in, in all the right places.” He then tells her, matter of factly, “It’s as simple as that and there’s no underlying reason. We’re not trying to avoid anything…and Doc,…” he continues, “…what‘s that got to do with why we came here anyway?“

“I don’t know that it does.”, she responds. “But it might be worth exploring. What matters is what you think.”

“I just told you what I think. I think it’s a waste of your time and ours.” He asks his wife what she thinks. “Is this something we need to talk about? Is this something that worries us?”

The doctor considers it interesting, his choice of words. ’Is it something that worries us?’ They’re a team. That’s how they see themselves, she thinks. She makes a mental note.

Having spent many years counseling troubled couples, and not always to a happy conclusion, the doctor knows there is something different about this couple. She takes a minute to digest what they’ve said and to consider their behavior…their body language. Their eyes. She observes them as they sit next to one another, each leaning in toward the other in their separate chairs. The husband constantly checking to his right, checking on his wife. Trying to read her comfort level. Ready to pounce in her defense if he has to…like a primate in the jungle.

The doctor discerns that underneath this man’s polished veneer, his charm and pleasant manners, lies something more. There is something else about this man that is still raw. Something basic…a natural instinct for survival. Left over from an earlier time perhaps. She’s having a little more difficulty getting an emotional handle on the wife though, who is obviously holding back. Trying to control the situation by controlling her reactions…her responses. Yes, the doctor thinks, there is something different about this couple.

“You seem a bit reticent.”, she suggests to the woman. “Have you always had problems sharing your feelings? Do you often allow others to seek your resolutions?”

She’s flustered now, this woman…this blonde. “Do I do that?”, she asks hesitantly. “I don’t think I do that. I share…don‘t I?”

She turns again to her husband who shakes his head silently from side to side, eyes closed. “There’ve been a few problems but we’ve both worked on it.”, he contributes gently while avoiding her eyes.

His wife stares at him, surprised by his response. The doctor decides to intervene.

“Well, you’re here and that’s a good start.”, the doctor encourages the couple. “It’s still very early in our discussions and we can get into any residual difficulty in that area later. Why don’t we move on for now?”

She senses the slightest disappointment from both the wife and the husband. He is, she thinks, unhappy that he couldn’t support her one hundred per cent…yet he understands the importance of honesty here in this room.

“OK , so what did you think when the phone rang so late at night?”

“I was concerned,” says the blonde, trying hard not to feel judged. She knows this is not a place of judgment. Still… . “I thought maybe it was one of the kids…that maybe something was wrong.”

“She‘s like that.” he offers. “She worries whenever the phone rings at night. Always has. Always worrying about the kids. Or me.” He reaches out to touch her hand that lies on the arm of the muted chair, next to his. He wants to reinforce their implicit connection.

This couple is as nervous as most at their first session, the doctor thinks. As obviously uncomfortable just to be there as most. But their heightened discomfort feels like it’s more for the other’s unease than for their own. She doesn’t recall ever having seen a couple so concerned about the other’s feelings. She can’t help wonder, why are they even here?

“Who answered the phone?”

“I did.”, he says quickly. “I answered the phone and she started talking. I wasn’t even sure it was her...at first.”

“Why? What did you think?”, she asks

“I thought she sounded strange. I was confused.”

“Strange? How so?”

“You know, like she had marbles in her mouth. Kind of slurred. I thought maybe she was drunk. But I remembered she didn’t drink that much. Maybe a glass of wine or two but that was all.” Again he looks at his wife, giving her his own small smile and in return she nods, letting him know in this curious, this silent way of communicating they share, that it‘s ok. That she’s ok.

Mmmm. Yes. Unusual, thinks the doctor. “And what did you do?”, she asks the wife.

”I listened. What could I do?”

The doctor glances from her to him and back again then writes quickly before looking up to ask another question. “Did you have any idea who was on the other end of the line?”, she asks.

“Not at first. But after a minute he held the phone out between us and gestured for me to listen. Then I knew.” Her voice trails off and the doctor leans in to hear her. To hear her words. The words that mean more than this uneasy woman understands right now.  Words she does not give up easily and hence the hushed responses.

The husband first looks than listens to his wife’s response. Leaning over, he completely covers her hand with his. He’s signaled encouragement for her to go on, the doctor thinks. But first she has more questions for them.

“A minute ago you said, ‘What could you do?’ “ The doctor repeats her words back to her. “What could you do about what? Do you mean what was there to do about the phone call? What was there to do about the moment? Or what was there to do about ever having allowed her in your lives in the first place?“

The blonde is startled by the doctor’s questions. She catches her breath. “I just meant what it sounded like. You asked me what I did. I did nothing. What was there for me to do…then…at that moment?” A long pause…and then, faintly, “…and there’s nothing to be done about what’s already in the past.’’

Interesting, the doctor thinks…but only says, “Fair enough.” She pauses briefly than goes on. “So, you did nothing for the moment. Then when you realized who was on the other end of the phone what did you think? After so many years…what did you think?”

“I was surprised…of course.“, she says. “Like he said, it’s been a while so it didn’t register at first. I don’t think I thought anything else.”

“How long had it been?” she asks.

The husband looks to his wife. “What’s it been…about… .?”

“Nearly four years.”, she tells him.

The doctor finds this interesting. That he truly has no clue as to how long it’s been but his wife can probably tell him to the minute.

He clears his throat. “Four years.”, he repeats. Now he turns toward his wife as if again asking consent to continue. As if asking if she is still doing ok. The doctor understands they are here for her, the wife. She understands it is the wife who is grappling with the situation.

It’s true…that she doesn’t want to be there. She despises sharing this with the doctor in front of her husband. If it were up to her they would be anywhere but here. But he’d implored her to come with him…to try this. “Let’s just go one time”, he’d said. “If it doesn’t feel right…we won’t go back.” He’d never sought counseling before, except once long ago and even then it was at her prodding. He didn’t need outside counseling. He was always able to come to his own right conclusions. Given enough time. That was one of the qualities she loved about him. His ability to solve his own impasses…over time. It was a talent, a gift he had.

She was the one that had always been an advocate of seeking professional help for emotional difficulty. For problems she had difficulty thinking through on her own. She’d spent many hours getting help from psychoanalyst’s in her adult life. But that was a long time ago too. Before she had him. When she’d been alone. Before he’d helped her build up her confidence…her self esteem. Before the self doubt began to vanish. It still amazes her. He came into her life and the doubt began to vanish. Actually, the old self doubts were exchanged for the new doubts they would ponder together. But those were different kinds of doubts. Those were what she now called ‘the exquisite agony‘. But generally, seeking outside help would not be an issue for her.

Just not this time. Not this with the two of them sharing their feelings about such an intimate issue, an issue she’d thought was put to rest more than a year ago. Sharing it here in front of her…the doctor. She couldn’t be herself in front of the two of them together. She didn’t feel she could be candid, relaxed in front of the two of them…not together. She didn’t want to cry in front of the two of them. She could cry all right if she were there alone…in front of the doctor. After all, that would be clinical and private. And she could cry in front of him…alone…if it would help.

She cried the last time they talked about it. Right after he came home to her…from Iowa. Right after they’d married. And he was understanding …encouraging. And supportive. Always supportive. He’d wanted her to be honest then and honesty came with tears. They both knew it would but they’d sought an end to that time in their lives. They’d sought closure. But now, today… she couldn’t do any of it in front of both of them…here…together. Somehow it blurred her thoughts and made her doubt herself more than usual. Somehow it changed the equation, made it more painful. But here they were. No where to hide. No escape this time…and she knew she couldn’t avoid the truth, whatever it was, by keeping quiet.

The doctor returns her attention to the husband. “I’d like to hear more about the phone conversation.”

“Like I said, she sounded odd. She said she was revisiting her past tonight…well, that night. She said her father had recently passed away and she’d been thinking of me.”

He stops for a few seconds here and his wife takes hold of his hand and gives it a little squeeze. He looks pained. The doctor realizes he’s about to say something they’ve already discussed. Something that‘s particularly upsetting to one of them…or both.

“She went on about how her father liked me…had hopes for us. As a couple. How disappointed he was when we ended our…ah…when we ended. And then she said the only two men who ever really cared about her were out of her life for good, that she had no one…and she began to cry.” Still holding his wife’s hand, he takes a deep breath. “It was then I thought she may have done something foolish.”

“Why? What happened then? Go on.”

“When she stopped talking…when the line went dead, we both decided to call the police. The only address I knew for her was the one she had when… .  Um...I told the police what I knew and they asked us to stay near the phone in case they needed any more information.”

Surprisingly the blonde interrupts. “I guess they had to break into her apartment. They found her in the bedroom, unconscious, with the phone near her…and a couple of empty pill bottles.”

Her voice is quiet, sad. They’re both quiet now.

“And...” The doctor encourages her to continue with this minor breakthrough she is suddenly having. Suddenly contributing.

“After the paramedics took her to the hospital the police called us back and asked us to meet them there.” She looks first toward her husband than back at the doctor. “They said there didn’t seem to be anyone else to contact.” A long silence follows.

“So we went.”

“Just like that?”

She gives the doctor a look of surprise. “Of course just like that.”

The doctor smiles at her patient, now admiring the honesty and courage that is undeniably seeping through the protective layer the woman wears. But this courageous woman is oblivious to the doctor’s smile. Instead she is now totally concerned with her husband. She looks at him with enormous sympathy, with deep empathy, with eyes that are beginning to brim over with tears as he sits slumped, head in hands.

They begin to fill when she sees his bowed head. Oh, my poor baby, she thinks. As she leans over her chair towards him she asks if he thinks that’s enough for this visit.

“Should we go home now? Make another appointment for next week?”

He continues to sit silently with his head lowered, a little more. Than he turns to her with his own troubled eyes.

“It’s ok sweetheart. I’m ok.”

He looks to the doctor who has been observing.

“It’s just so hard to understand.”, he says, his voice filled with emotion. “I hadn’t so much as a second thought of her for nearly two years now, except for that one night my wife and I took care of some unfinished business about what had happened…at least we thought we did… and all the while she was hurting, wallowing in some imagined attachment.”

A minute passes. He turns to look at his wife while continuing to answer the doctor.

“When we stopped seeing each other…it was the right thing to do. She even agreed with me.” And now he addresses his wife. “She knew that I loved you. I didn’t have to tell her…she just knew. She made ending it so easy. I never once thought there was any pain on her side.” And this wife of his, this kind and generous woman mirrors his pained expression.

“What about on your side? Was there any pain there?”, the doctor asks.

The two women wait silently for his answer.

He examines the floor before looking up. His face is a study in misery. In hurt…and regret.

“The only pain I felt was for the hurt I caused my wife...and for any damage that I might have created between us. I never thought of her again.” He looks up at his wife…at the doctor. “What kind of selfish, thoughtless person am I Doc?”

"A normal kind, I'd say.  I'm sorry to tell you this my friend but people are only human.  They're fallible and make mistakes.  Sometimes big ones."  The Doctor pauses.  "And you are not the exception."

She hopes her words are sinking in for this man who is so obviously in distress now.

His wife rises and pulls him up and surrounds him with her arms. She hugs him tightly and comforts him with soft, soothing words in his ear that only he can hear.

The doctor watches, trying to figure out what is going on here. Who is the one this resurfacing of an old affair is really hurting? Who is the vulnerable one here today? Who is the strong one?

She watches as he hugs his wife back, tightly. As he kisses her on the cheek. As they look into one another’s expressive eyes.

“Sit down for another minute. Please. Just one more thing before we finish up for today.”

He speaks up. “I don’t think we n….. .”

‘Sit down.”, the doctor insists. “Both of you. There‘s something you need to understand.”

They look to one another and he nods his head. They sit.

“But first I want to know why you two felt you needed to come here today.”

“Isn’t it obvious?”, asks the wife, speaking softly once more.

“No.”, replies the doctor. “Not really. This woman is going to be all right, isn’t she? I mean physically? I read her file and after her own psychological treatment I see no reason why she shouldn’t be all right emotionally…eventually.” She pauses for a moment so they can absorb what she’s said.

“Look, the problems this woman has are not the fault of a brief relationship she had with you four years ago.

She’s had other relationships before yours. And since. Now…I didn’t evaluate her personally of course but just the couple of sections of her case file I’ve read tells me more than you’d think.”

The doctor wants this couple to understand what parts they played in this trauma. And even more, what parts they did not play.

“I’m not going to give anything private away here but let’s remember what we do already know. She was raised an army brat with a strong, often disapproving, father. She never settled into one community for very long to form the usual adolescent relationships…and when she did finally go off on her own she struggled. Financially, socially. And apparently emotionally, always trying to please some man in her life. You for one…wanting to create an environment in her apartment that would make you feel at home.”

“Think about this. Shouldn’t a thirty something woman have been independent enough to want to please herself first? And then there was her father, who she felt judged her. He was the main person in her life she wanted to please. You told me she’d dated other men her father didn’t approve of…but you, he liked. You were a means to that end…to pleasing her father.”

He shifts in his seat. “Maybe. But still. Looking back, I don’t think I behaved very well.”

“No. You didn’t. But you were only one part of the equation. And you didn’t behave so badly as to cause this latest tragedy in this woman’s life. She’d been building something in her mind that had no basis in reality. And what bad behavior you did display then has been rectified many times over from what I can observe. Your wife’s forgiven you and hopefully, you’ve forgiven yourself. I think you have. Now…“, she asks his wife again, “…why did the two of you feel the need to come here today?”

After a thoughtful pause, she speaks. “This new chapter in such an old story has been a disappointment to us Doctor...and it just never seems to go away no matter how we‘ve tried. And it shouldn‘t continue to be that big a deal. We’ve moved on. I swear we have.”

She looks again to her rock, her husband. “But since this happened he’s been…he’s been struggling.” She looks to him with sadness in her eyes, with great compassion and with a small, secret smile. Like she knows something about him that no one else does.  She sighs. 

“It’s his nature to try and fix other people’s lives no matter how impossible that is...and he can’t seem to let go of this now.”

“We have.”, he assures the doctor. “We have moved on and we were so far beyond it. After we talked it through…more than a year ago, it just became a blimp on the radar. We never thought about it again…until last week. And now I understand how one little stone in the water can cause such an endless ripple. So, what’s the matter with me doc?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you that I can discern. Nor you...“, she says as she turns toward the wife. “...you two will be fine. Just continue to rely on each other and be true to your instincts.”

They’ve been talking for more than forty-five minutes and the session is nearly over.

“You can make an appointment for next week with Sandy…on the way out. I don’t think you need to schedule beyond that.”

She tells the troubled man that next week they will work on his letting go and maybe get their reactions to this session after giving what’s been said here some thought.

“I suggest you discuss it with each other during the week and please, forgive yourselves for any perceived role you think you played in this woman’s sad situation. If you’re fair to yourselves you’ll realize it was a very small one. And leave her healing to the doctors!” She says this pointedly while looking directly at the husband.

As the couple rise and he takes his wife’s hand, he replies to the doctor’s admonishment. “I will doc. I promise. No meddling.”

“And I promise you he’ll keep that promise Doctor.”, she adds ardently. She then slips her arm through his and smiles.

The doctor strolls to the wide expanse of window in her third floor office. She watches as the couple exits the building and walks together to their car, their arms wrapped around one another. They look, the doctor thinks, like they don’t have a care in the world.

“They’ll be fine.” she says out loud to only herself, having turned the tape recorder off before they ever left her office. She continues to watch as he gives his wife a kiss on the cheek than opens the door to the Jag for her. In less than a minute he’s walked around to the driver’s side, slipped behind the wheel and driven off.

Her secretary enters the room and stands by the window with her, for a moment.  She speaks nonchalantly.

"Nice couple.  And they only need one more appointment?"

The Doctor nods her head.  "I'm sure that's all it will take and then I don't expect this situation will bother them again."

The secretary smiles and asks if the Doctor needs anything more before she heads home.

“No, thanks Sandy.  Except maybe…don’t recommend me to anymore clients like Tony and Angela. I think I could  go broke that way.”

The End