by Cheryl Armstrong
My friend Don Crain said,
“How can I help you, Cheryl,
what do you want from me?”
(He sits in his chair facing me,
smiling, patient, waiting.)
What I want from you, I said in my mind,
is a prescription.
Rx: A day of San Francisco
wind and mist, a ferry crossing
complete with fog and wool hats
pulled low to cover ears and eyebrows,
beneath which my Zhivago eyes
will see stunning sunsets, silver-white sails
and never, never, orange paint instead of golden.
I take classes and read and
my mind safe between my raised arms,
What I said to Don Crain was,
“I’m not sure what I want from you.”
I sit in a turquoise chair,
sweaty palms clutching the arms and
I return his smile.
In my mind I said,
How can I tell this man
I am searching for my Zhivago eyes?
Out the window I watch
silver dollar eucalyptus leaves
play with slender brown branches.
Their dancing shadows fall on my sunlit feet
and the red carpet. I lean forward
watching them expectantly.
I paint rooms and hang wallpaper
and carve pumpkins,
my mind safe within their
luminous orange skins.
LION TAMER Book One:
How It All Turned Out
Chapter 1 So Far Away Inside
It’s too bad it’s sunny. Therapy day with a new therapist should be dark and moody. I’m forty-three years old—why do I need help? Hopefully a thick fogbank will roll into the Santa Barbara coast later, make it feel like Seattle drizzle in September. I’d go shopping for brown leather round-toe shoes if it did, Oxfords, to tether the six-year-old within me the way, when dark fell at four o’clock in the Pacific Northwest, she was tethered by a crisp white blouse, navy blue uniform and especially brown leather round-toe shoes as she walked in noisy rain toward the yellow lights in the windows at home. I haven’t lived in Seattle since I was eleven, yet I’m always there.
It’s not four o’clock, but dark’s falling in my life.
My current uniform—cute jeans, big T-shirt, light blue flannel shirt, new white high-top sneakers—will have to do. I step out of my rusting white Corolla into sunlight so blinding I can hardly see the steps of a dazzling cream-colored building. Climbing the steps is a struggle.
I shake my head at my unruly hair reflected in the big glass door I push open. I did brush it. Thankfully, the cold, sterile metallic lobby is empty. I can’t bear to be seen. I’d be fine if no one ever looked at me. Unless I’m trying to catch a man.
I hate therapy. Someone looking at me wondering what’s wrong. Why did I tell my sister Cecilia I’d try therapy again? I told her I would because though I’m responsible (forty-three years old, passed the Bar Exam, work as a law librarian) I can’t stay away from Arnold.
I took the day off. I’ll walk on the breakwater after therapy if I don’t shop for brown round-toe shoes. Why don’t they at least make their lobby warm? Don’t they know they have scared clients who already feel bad?
Oh, God, look at the grin. He’s handsome. Young. He said on the phone he was an intern. He may not know much. Why do therapists wear shiny pants? I don’t like shiny pants on men.
No, I’m Isadora Duncan. “Yes.”
“Michael Andersen. Would you like to come with me?”
Not really. “Okay.”
At least he doesn’t have a worried look like my first therapist had seven years ago. Well, that one did finally help me leave Isaac, my second husband, after being together fourteen years. He said I needed to honor my feelings. That’s not working with Arnold. It seems no one can help me now. What am I thinking coming here?
“Come on in. Have a seat.”
The walls are gray. No windows. Good. I like everything gray, like Seattle. I wish we’d never moved. I didn’t have a say. I was eleven. That little lamp should be on. Which chair is he sitting in? I can’t stand it when nice people get close. They always want to touch you. I take the corner chair. Why is it so cold? They should turn the light on, make it cozy, and make it feel like it’s raining outside.
“Are you cold?”
“Habit.” Well, he’s not blind.
Ah, shit. He pulled up a chair in front of me.
“What can I do for you?”
You can back up. “I don’t know. I probably shouldn’t have come. I need to figure things out, that’s all.”
He can’t stop smiling.
“It’s nothing, really.”
“Tell me about nothing.”
He won’t give up. “Okay.” Why not? “So, I’m having trouble … guy trouble … the usual, and…”
“What’s the usual?”
“You know, can’t live with him, can’t live without him.” I should have worn a parka.
“What’s that about?”
I have to spell everything out for him. “Okay. So, he flutters his eyes, I fall in love, we’re happy, he drops me, I want to die, he wants me back, he drops me, I want to die. That’s the usual.” I look away like I have somewhere else to be, press my brow for dramatic effect.
Why would someone hang giant abstract prints of pale pink and turquoise on the walls to the left and right? They’re placed behind his field of vision. I’ll drown in pink and turquoise if I don’t look at him.
“That’s not usual,” he says. He’s not smiling now.
It’s not? I need to think about that. “For some people it is. Look, I don’t really need help with that.”
“You need help with relationships.”
“No, I don’t. I’m never having another relationship.” I look away. My poor brain gets seared again by the pink and turquoise. The prints have no feeling in them, they could swallow me whole. They’re sweet like my mother and her friends who care about everything with sweet pink caring. Everything except the truth.
“You already have relationships.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You and I are in a relationship,” he says.
Men always think they’re the center of my world. “No, we’re not.”
“Actually, we are,” he says.
He’s not grinning now.
“Not an intimate relationship,” he says. “We’re in a therapist-client relationship. It’s still a relationship. People can’t live without relationships.”
“What makes you want to?”
“They don’t work. You only get hurt. It’s easier not to bother.”
“All right. Why are you here?”
“My sister said I should come.”
“I keep going back to Arnold, after we’re done.”
“Arnold’s the guy who drops you.”
“Yeah. I’ve only known him for seven months.” What’s with that amused smile? He’s not very sympathetic. “He’s a good guy, Arnold. Really kind and polite. Short, not especially good-looking, but he has a deep voice that mesmerizes me. We’re both sober.”
“Sober? That’s great. How long have you been sober?”
“Two years. I would have four, but I took a pill for fun after one year, then again after another year. To be sober, I don’t take anything that affects me neck up, unless it’s prescribed. So, only two years for me. Yeah, I’m glad I’m sober. My brother Martin asked me one day outside my old waitress job, when I was still drinking, ‘How are you doing?’ I told him, ‘Fine. I just feel like I’m losing my mind.’ I’ll never forget his sunlit smile as he handed me a book and suggested some meetings.” I nod. “I’d be a wreck if I were still drinking. So, this guy I was with, Arnold, he has three years sober. But.” I don’t know if I should say it.
“But what?” He’s kind now.
Here come tears. Nothing’s wrong. Why do I cry whenever someone’s kind to me? I hate it. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter.”
I frown to cover up trying not to cry. He’s being nice, but I have to not matter. “Not really. I don’t want to matter. Remember man, thou art dust. I like that.” Funny. I’m calm and quiet inside now.
“All right. For now. We can come back to this. You said, he’s got three years sober, but. What were you going to say?”
Tell him. “Sometimes he’s mean.”
“Tell me about that.”
“He gets mad all of a sudden and I don’t even know what I did.”
“You think you cause his anger?”
He leans forward, his arms on his knees. “Does he hit you?”
“No,” I shake my head, “nothing like that. Once he pushed me down on the bed.” That doesn’t count. “He never hit me. No, he yells. Rages at me, especially when he drives. He talks crazy, yelling stuff like … let’s see. Like, You don’t like how things are? Maybe I can fix that – huh? Huh? Would you like me to fix that? Let’s fix that for good! He’ll rage, you know? With a green-handled hammer on the seat. I don’t know why he keeps a hammer on the seat. I’m scared to look at it, like looking at it will give him the idea to use it on me. I can see the green handle out of the corner of my eye. It’s just a hammer, I tell myself. He’s not saying he’s going to kill me. I think, what’s the hammer for? It’s insane, but … I’m scared he’ll kill me. He wouldn’t, of course, but I lock up inside. I want to die. Then, I leave him … then, he’s sweet … I go back, thinking I can tame him.”
“Hm,” he says, looking down. He nods, and looks at me. “I wonder, did you ever lock up inside and want to die before?”
That’s a good question. Did I? Yes, come to think of it. This guy’s good. Wow. I never connected it. “My Dad—”
No, I can’t tell him that. It’s too embarrassing. He won’t understand why it’s such a big deal. I don’t even understand, nothing happened. But I want to die when I remember what Dad did. Tell the therapist something different.
“My dad’s a handful, but now that I think of it, when I was little, these third-grade boys threw rocks at me. I was terrified. I was only in first grade. I froze. Locked up. Then suddenly, Eddie appeared out of nowhere. I was really surprised to see him. He was a nice fifth grader. Most kids were mean to him because he was mixed-race, so he hadn’t been around much. He got between me and the third-grade boys throwing rocks and told me, ‘Don’t you worry. You go on home now. I won’t let them bother you.’ He was so kind.” I choke up. Therapy’s good. “Anyway, this guy with the hammer, who keeps dropping me, scares me like those boys with rocks did. But everybody at our sobriety meetings loves Arnold. Why are you grinning?” I can’t believe he’s grinning at me. “What’s funny?”
“You almost got that one by me.”
He’s good, and tough. It’s good he’s tough. “What one?” I know what one.
He’s not laughing now. “The one you started to tell me about your father.”
“Yeah. Well, that’s a long story. You should turn the lamp on so it doesn’t feel cold in here. Lamps make things cozy. I strung Christmas lights in Isaac’s and my studio apartment one July, so when I hung blankets on the windows I could have it cozy like winter and Christmas in Seattle inside.”
“My second husband. He’s Jewish. My dad said he’d never marry me, but he did. Isaac’s kind. He didn’t complain about Christmas lights in July. It was hard to leave him.”
“How did you and Isaac meet?”
“Well, he was the tall, lean, librarian with a shock of dark hair over one eye who I saw one day at the library in the music room. I had to win him when I saw him burst into laughter with a very old man. I had headphones on so I didn’t hear them laugh, but I saw Isaac’s sweet smile. After being with him for fourteen years I didn’t want to leave him. I had to. I should have left after the first year when he said he didn’t like to talk about life. I didn’t understand. How could anyone not like talking about life? So, I’d bring up questions. One night, walking home from dinner, I said that I thought people must exist for some reason. You know, life must mean something. I asked what he thought. He got angry, and yelled he didn’t like to talk about life.
“Fourteen years of not talking, I felt lonely, wanted to die. And he didn’t want children, which was the deal breaker. Just after our first year, I got pregnant. I was so happy. But he said he’d leave if I had the baby. I didn’t want to be abandoned with a baby. I’d seen how hard it was for my sister Jean, a year younger than I am, being a single mom. So, I had an abortion.” Tears come. “I can’t think about it without crying. I gave up even wanting kids. Helped with other peoples’ children. But the last couple of years, wanting kids came back strong.”
“Why did you stay with Isaac?”
“I kept thinking of how I’d already left my first husband after three years when he wouldn’t quit heroin. I thought, you can’t leave two husbands. It didn’t seem right. I thought I was supposed to live with my choices.”
“So, what happened?”
“One day, fourteen years in, when Isaac couldn’t be at marriage counseling for some reason, the counselor told me I needed to honor my feelings. I said, ‘Some feelings can’t be honored.’ He said, ‘You say that a lot—I can’t.’”
I take a deep breath, let it out, look the new therapist in the eye. There, I’ve told you something big.
“That was it.” I smile with pride. “It took six more months of trying to make the fourteen-year marriage work. The day came when I took a walk, hit the crest of the Garden Street hill, dreamed of living in a small community of celibate women. Suddenly I felt it, knew it—I had given the marriage my all. I was free to go. I never needed a man again. Well, I guess that part wasn’t true. Anyway, I honored my feelings and left.”
“You’re shivering again,” he says. “I’m sorry you’re so cold. I don’t have a blanket or anything for you.”
Maybe I’m shivering from emotions. He didn’t listen. That was a good story. I’m glad he doesn’t have a blanket. He’d find a way to come on to me. Men always do. “It’s dark in here.”
“You can turn the light on.” His tone says I should have known that already.
I short out feeling ashamed being told I should know I can turn the light on. Fuck him. I go away within, where it’s peaceful and quiet, out of his reach.
You know what, Michael Andersen? I do know that already. I don’t need you to tell me I can turn the light on. I don’t need you at all. I will turn the light on. I’m in charge. Watch.
I reach over, turn the light switch, let the cozy glow bathe my face before I turn back to face him, not shivering anymore. He’ll never see me shiver again.
“Where did you go?” he asks.
“Some place quiet.”
“Do you want to tell me about when you locked up with your dad now?”
He looks at me with his dewy brown eyes that can flash and make him handsome. Right now, they’re indifferent enough for me to tell him about my dad. Anyway, he can’t hurt me where I’ve gone. Nobody can.
“Okay. About seven years ago, my parents went to the Holy Land for a few weeks, their dream trip of a lifetime. While they were gone, my two brothers, six of my seven sisters and I had a meeting at their house.” It’s like someone hypnotized me. I’m not afraid now. “One brother and a sister had each been in therapy. They told us their therapists had said when our dad had fondled us it was molestation. I realized for the first time that Dad’s touching … you know, my …” I hate to say the word out loud, “breasts … was molesting. He’d done it since I was twelve. He’s quick when he does it. I’ve never gotten used to it.”
I just disappear down into my own deep Crater Lake whenever he does it. “But I never thought it was molesting.”
I don’t believe my ears. I’m saying out loud what happened.
“Once, when I was twelve, I woke in the night to my dad’s hands pressing on my … breasts. My dad saw me open my eyes and close them.”
I’m so far away. It feels like a quiet drizzling day in the woods of Schmidt’s Park in Seattle, where everything’s dark green except for bright green moss everywhere.
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t move. I just lay there. Waited for him to go away. I saw an older woman near me, in a smokey bar, wearing lipstick and a forties evening dress, the way Lana Turner did in old movies. She told me in a deep voice, ‘You just endure, dear.’ Then I felt and saw a large, shiny steel cylinder grow inside me, around my core. It sealed in my heart.”
“Did you say anything?”
Is he crazy? “No. I was terrified. My Dad roars like a lion if you contradict him. God knows what he would have done if I had told him to go away. I couldn’t bear his hands resting on me. After a long time, maybe two minutes, or three, I rolled away from him. I’ll never forget his warm hands sliding off me as I turned. He never did that again.”
Wow. I actually told him.
“He only grazes our breasts with his hands, my sisters and me, when he hugs us, or sits by us on the couch. My brother’s and sister’s therapists both said it was molesting, and because there were grandchildren, our dad needed to be confronted. I thought, fuck, I’d rather die. I’m scared of him. He’s roared like a lion since we were toddlers. I’m sure that’s why I startle at ordinary sounds.” I chuckle. “My co-workers are always telling me not to be so jumpy. I can’t help it. It’s imprinted in my DNA from growing up with him.
“He’s roared my whole life. He’ll be going along fine, then, suddenly, he’s angry. He still scares me. But the therapists said he could get help. He needs help. I wish I could help him, because I don’t think he wants to be the way he is, and he’s not a bad guy when he’s in a good mood. He’s hysterically funny when he’s joking about his customers, or talking about chocolate cake for dessert.” I’m telling him everything. Why not?
“The therapists said there should be an intervention. I thought, bad idea. I went along since I didn’t have a better idea. We all agreed to confront Dad at a therapist’s office. We weren’t going to tell Dad what the meeting with the therapist was really for.”
I’ve been going on and on. “Is this story too long?”
“Okay. Well, I thought we should tell Dad the truth about the purpose of the meeting. Not telling Dad the truth would be too big of a shock for him. I was out-voted. Others thought he wouldn’t show up if he knew the purpose was to confront him. We made up a story. Told Dad the session was to support our brother, Martin, who was newly sober at the time. I wasn’t sober yet.
“I’m going on too long.”
“Not at all.”
Shoot. I have to tell him. I can hardly bear to think about it let alone say it out loud. “All right. About a week after our secret meeting at their house, Mom and Dad flew in from the Holy Land. My brother Martin and I picked them up at the airport. No one else wanted to welcome them back. I thought Mom and Dad would be in a great mood, coming back from their dream trip, but they were quiet. It felt as though they knew our plan, somehow, though I thought no one could have told them.
“What we didn’t know was Dad’s business associate, who lives with them, might have overheard our meeting and warned Dad, because Dad could have called home from the Holy Land to check on things at the house.”
I don’t know why we can’t let sleeping dogs lie. Andersen won’t understand what happened. He’s staring at me, waiting.
“It wasn’t even anything bad. But I needed to die.”
I look down, go far away beyond the floor between us. “It was January, cold outside. Martin carried the luggage inside, said goodnight and left. I love my parents. I felt bad because this was their big trip of a lifetime and nobody had welcomed them home except Martin and I. Everyone else was mad at Dad. I think we were all unnerved by the plan to confront him. But I didn’t want to run off right after we’d brought them home from the airport.
“Mom and Dad and I stood there by the dining room table. I tried to visit for a bit. Mom and Dad still seemed uneasy. I thought maybe they’d had a fight. I finally said, ‘I’d better get home to Isaac,’ and hugged and kissed my mom. My dad thanked me for picking them up. He gave me a big hug with my mom standing nearby.”
I catch my breath, choke back a sob. Dang. “But then…”
I can’t hold back. Hard quiet sobs come for a whole minute. Take a deep breath. It’s nothing. Just say it. “He wouldn’t let me go.”
I’m far, far away. It’s silent. I don’t talk for a minute, maybe two minutes.
“Come back,” Michael says quietly.
I’m not ready.
“Okay.” I hear myself obediently say. I’m here. But I’m not. He can hear me. No one can touch me. “I pushed,” I say, “like you do, when you’re done hugging. He wouldn’t let me go.” Tears, hot tiny bowling balls roll down. “I told him, nicely, so I wouldn’t make him mad, ‘I need to go.’ He held on tighter. I pushed again.”
Funny, tears are spilling down but I’m not crying. I’m calm. “He still wouldn’t let me go.”
So, this is therapy. All right. It’s not killing me.
“Is that when you needed to die?”
“No. I pushed harder to get away. That only made him hold tighter.”
The old wave of shame that the memory of that moment always brings fills me. A feeling of being disgusting, being worthless. “I understood then he wouldn’t let me go until I gave up. I didn’t want to. I had to. I quit pushing, let him be locked onto me, felt his body against mine.” I take a deep breath. “That was the feeling that made me need to die—subjugation.” I push the tears back towards my hair. I want to die now.
“You know, I love my dad. It couldn’t happen, him forcing my body against his. I needed to die so it would stop.”
“Are you okay?” he asks.
I’m no trouble. I’m back. “I’m fine. It was just a hug. I don’t get what the big deal was. Maybe I’m too sensitive. I don’t know how long he held me. I think five minutes. But maybe only three.”
“Your mom didn’t say anything?”
I shake my head. “Mom probably thought he’d kill her if she stood up to him. I mentioned it a few years later to see if she’d noticed. She remembered. I was glad. She said she’d thought it was strange. She couldn’t say more. What could she have done? I have to go now.”
“We have time. When your boyfriend has the hammer on the car seat and you need to die, do you feel trapped?”
“Yes. It’s the same feeling. Dying’s the only way out. That makes sense now. But why do I keep going back to Arnold?”
“Well, it’s just a thought, there could be an unconscious connection. A neurotic attachment to your boyfriend.”
“A pathological connection.”
The words splash cool water onto the fever in my nerves. The room, the light, the shiny crease of the therapist’s trousers, all suddenly appear crystal clear.
He understands. “Can you say those words again?” I ask.
“A neurotic attachment. A pathological connection involving your dad. Could be why you have a hard time breaking away from Arnold.”
It’s true. It’s neurotic, pathological, connected to Dad, I can tell. I just don’t know exactly how it’s connected. For the first time I feel hope.
“Can you write those words down?”
“Sure. Neurotic attachment, pathological connection,” he says, writing on a new steno pad page.
“What do they mean?”
“Well, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure I could explain it without,” he says, tearing off the note and handing it to me, “looking them up.”
He doesn’t know?
Don’t forget, he’s an intern.
Never mind. I’ll figure it out. “I’ve always had that, starting in third grade, staring across the playground at a sixth grader for three years. Neurotic attachment.” I have to go so I can look it up. “Even Isaac. I fell for his smile when an old man made him laugh in the library music room. That’s a neurotic attachment. And Randy when I was twenty-two. Seeing his face glow that night when he lit a cigarette with a match in the cup of his hands. Adam before him. Adam had a sparkling, steely look in his eyes. Wow. It’s not a relationship, it’s a neurotic attachment I have with my hammer guy.” I take a deep breath and give a big sigh.
“You could see it that way.”
How else would I see it? Michael Andersen’s not as bright as I hoped, but he’s still pretty good. He gave me the words I need.
“How are things with you and your dad now?”
“Oh, not bad, not good. After the intervention, he called us sluts and whores for even thinking he would be inappropriate. He doesn’t try to hug us anymore, since the intervention. Though if you’re not careful, he’ll still get you, if you get close enough. He shakes hands with us. Sometimes, I want to hug him—he’s my dad—but I don’t.” I shrug, harden within. “It’s no big deal.”
“How did the intervention go?”
“Badly. The therapist had asked everyone to write a page about what Dad had done, how it affected us. Jean couldn’t be there. She was in Oregon. Our brothers were hugely supportive, wrote how Dad’s behavior affected them because they care about their sisters. I forget who went first. Dad interrupted. The therapist asked Dad to wait until we had all shared. He was quiet then. Mom sat beside him looking so sad with big watery eyes I was heart-broken. It was awful. Finally, after everyone had read their message, Dad pointed to us, one at a time, angry. He said, ‘You’re a liar! You’re a liar! You’re a liar!’ all the way around the room.
“After that, the therapist broke the silence. Said something like, ‘This was a great start, let’s end with the Serenity Prayer.’ I thought, is she crazy? This isn’t a good plan. She’s not going to talk to Dad? I had forgotten a therapy session with two other therapists who were a couple had been scheduled as a follow-up.
“After the prayer, people seemed relieved and happy. I didn’t know why. I was nervous about what Dad might do. Get one of his rifles he keeps in his office at home and kill us? Kill himself? I watched him edge toward the door and slip out, unnoticed. ‘He’s gone, you guys.’ No one else seemed worried.
“He didn’t kill anyone. That afternoon we called Child Protective Services to report him. God, that was hard. Except when the clerk asked how old are the children, we lost it laughing so hard it was hard to talk after we said most of us are in our thirties and forties. Yeah. That was in January, seven years ago. A few weeks later he told our niece we were all sluts and whores. Easter time, he called people and said there’d been a miracle and that he had good news. I didn’t think he’d apologize, but who knows, I thought. With a miracle, maybe he would. It turned out the good news he had was he had decided to forgive us all.” I smile. Shrug.
Michael Andersen smiles. He understands that part.
“He’s not allowed to see his grandchildren,” I say. “That’s a heavy hit. He’s not invited to most family gatherings. Mom comes without him, sometimes. She’s always sad about it. I’m careful around him. He gets me with his hand now and then when he reaches in front of me to open a door, something like that. He’s quick.
“I never want to confront him again. He felt so betrayed, it killed me to hurt him.
“It’s not rational, but now I feel he’ll kill me if I confront him. Roar for sure. Maybe shoot me with one of his rifles. I don’t know where I got that idea. Bad guys on TV when I was little, probably, roaring like Dad, shooting people who made them mad. Visits are hard. Mom wants us to all get along. She’s pretty sad. She wants apricot-picking day.”
“What’s apricot-picking day?”
“The mythical day we all get along, pick apricots at their house. They’re getting older. Mom’ll be eighty soon. I feel for her.” That’s an understatement.
“All right. Our time’s up. Next week?” he asks, like it’s a fun date.
Why? “I think I got the answer to my problem. I can figure the rest out. I don’t have to go back to my boyfriend again. It’s not a real relationship, just a…neurotic attachment. Yes. And the other word.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Well, you might want to follow up with another session.”
I don’t know about that. “Okay, sure. It’s just ten dollars.”
“Yeah. Can’t hurt,” he says with a wry smile.
He means the work. But it does hurt to be seen. He doesn’t understand my shame.
We stand up. His arms go out to hug me. He’s insane to think I want to hug him. I shake my head no. Everybody likes to hug these days. I don’t like to be touched. Unless it’s sex … with Arnold.
I pay Michael Andersen and leave. I feel lighter walking out of the cream-colored building. He said I matter. What could go wrong if I let myself matter? I’m going to try to matter to myself. I’m so worn-down feeling crazy with Arnold, with my life in general, I need to learn to matter to myself.
For starters, stay away from Arnold.
A quiet fear murmurs something inaudible.
I dismiss it. I can’t pay attention to every little sparkler of nerves.
Definitely never get another neurotic attachment. Only a real relationship for me. I don’t know how to get a real relationship, but I’ll figure it out.
I don’t get how my neurotic attachments, like the one with Arnold, are connected to Dad, though. I’m not neurotic with Dad. I’m in reality. My anxiety makes sense: he’s my dad, who’s not safe.
I get in the car and sit. I watch big clouds slowly move in from the ocean. I long to be covered by clouds, the way clouds covered our house in Seattle, when Dad carried me up to bed with the other little kids, held me safe and warm. In those days, even though he scared me, I had a real connection with Dad.
And when he molested me, it probably got severed. Of course. Now, I have an empty place inside where a safe connection with Dad should be. That’s why I neurotically attach to guys like Arnold, Isaac, Randy, Adam. I’m trying to make a connection. I watch the clouds above and sink deep down inside to feel for the truth: I want connection. The adrenaline of my neurotic attachments is so strong, it feels like connection. It’s not.
I drive toward the harbor. I thought Dad and I had a strong connection, but it’s more of a nervous cat-and-mouse relationship with a childlike longing for him to change. It’s not a real connection.
As I drive, I sense a wave of sadness build inside. My connection with Dad isn’t real, it’s adrenaline. Now I understand. When a guy smiles, I’m hooked by the adrenaline, because I’m driven by my angst for connection. Even when we have sex, there’s only the fantasy of connection.
I’ve never had a real relationship, the kind where you talk, make plans, do things, then, after weeks, or months, after a real connection grows, have sex. No. I never have. Now I know why.
I park at the harbor, get out of the car. Cold wind gusts against me. Crazy. It was warm in town. Hopefully, the ocean waves will crash over the breakwater and help me feel the truth more deeply, that I matter, that I can’t fill my emptiness with adrenaline. I watch huge dark clouds push in from the sea toward the sunny mountains. I feel alive and scared.
I need to get things right. Stop having neurotic attachments. Tears well up. Even if I do, I can probably never have a real relationship with Dad. I zip my jacket all the way up, let the tears flow. I miss having a relationship with him. It never occurred to me I missed having one. That’s what this is all about. He and I can never go deeper than joking about dessert. I’m scared of Dad, repulsed by him. Now I know I miss a connection with him.
If he changed, we could connect. I’ve wanted him to change, so he can see his grandchildren. But he could also have a relationship with me. Him changing isn’t likely.
I pass fishing shops, tall masts of small docked boats in the harbor. It all feels placid here. It doesn’t match the storm brewing within as the realization comes: I can no longer have what it seems I’ll die without—the neurotic attachments that have always seemed to give me connection. They made me feel alive. But feeling alive was only nervous excitement and fear.
I’m going to miss the electricity those guys gave me.
Not the devastation. I have broken emotional bones everywhere from those relationships. Some broken emotional bones healed all crooked. They make me off balance. I’ve stumbled through life the best I can, one blunder following another. No wonder I can’t get anything right. No wonder things are so painful. Now, my emotional bones are getting broken again, but this time I’ll make sure they heal straight.
I look to the ocean. High tide. Foamy water rushes up the brown sand near the Yacht Club. Farther out, waves crash on the giant boulders holding the breakwater’s concrete walk. I moodily walk on out, collar up in the stiff wet wind, hands stuffed in my pockets, in agony thinking of really letting go of Arnold, in awe of how painful it is to see myself, to understand I need to matter to myself. I know the truth. That’s what hurts. Facing the truth. I’ve never had a real relationship.
Who would ever really want me?
I walk with a dismal feeling of being nothing.
A loud crack sound startles me out of my misery. The sound came from a big wave I didn’t see hit the breakwater. It shoots skyward, falls straight down on me. Icy water cascades down my back. I shriek, gasp, catch my breath. I howl with laughter and turn back.
So much for a moody walk. I chuckle. I didn’t see that wave coming. I wasn’t paying attention. That’s a lesson I need to remember. The next time some guy flutters his eyes at me, I’ll pay attention, turn and walk the other way.
I can’t wait to bundle up at home in warm dry clothes, like I matter. I’ve had enough therapy for one day.
On the other side of the wall, smaller waves crash and slosh against the rocks. I dare them as I pass to get me. I feel good. No more neurotic attachments for me. And maybe I can connect with Dad, somehow. What if I can help him? I’m sure he doesn’t want to be the way he is. So, what if a revulsion rises? I can handle that. There must be a way to help him fix things so he’ll be safe to be close to.
Therapy. It helped me in one session. It might help him. I feel light-headed with excitement thinking about that as I hurry toward the car in my wet clothes in the cold wind. I’ve wanted to be a therapist since I was nineteen. I flunked out of college. I never had confidence anyone would hire me as a therapist and for sure I wouldn’t know what clothes to wear. But now, I’m forty-three. I can become a therapist, or a counselor if that doesn’t take as long, so I’ll know how to help Dad. Probably no one else could.
Not that it’s ethical to counsel a family member. But how else will it get done? Dad needs to be ready to change. I’ll help him get ready. I’ll talk to him, ask about his childhood, let him know he matters. It’ll be great, because, if he changes, he’ll see me for who I am. And I’ll see him for who he is. If he lets down his guard, he’ll see himself.
I don’t know. It seems he’s so far away inside himself, he may not know he’s in there. His problem has to be in his childhood. Mine is. I just need to get up the courage to talk to him.