On inauguration day, I sat in my therapist’s office trying to tell him about my feelings. As usual, he patiently listened to me ramble on about everything but, and then interrupted me to tell me “you’re very good at” (I don’t remember what he said), “and you do this in a way which” (I don’t remember what he said), “almost like a…buffer, around yourself.”
“Yes, yes,” I agreed. “I tend to do that.”
I’d been trying to tell him about how I felt, not about the inauguration, but about my daughter’s tenth birthday, which was the same day. I started by trying to convey that I was focusing on the miraculous, fireworks-worthy day of her birth and not on the depressing fact of the inauguration: a day to celebrate, not feel devastation. Instead I ended up talking and talking around the fact that I’d never thought I’d have kids, but then did, and loved loved loved it, but once I got divorced and only had them half time I realized with all of that free time that there were so many things I wasn’t doing with my life, and wanted to, and couldn’t, because I had kids.
“I know that’s selfish,” I said. “I just never realized it before when my life was 24/7 mommommom time.” He asked how I felt about my daughter turning ten. I said it was great. I saw the look in his eye, but started buffering again anyway. I talked about how funny she is, and how she and I get along so much better as she gets older – she was always the more difficult child, you know – and birthdays are special and a little melancholic for me, and wow I don’t have any single-digit kids anymore, and I finally got around to the honest answer. “When my kids turn a year older, I feel relieved.” I felt so guilty saying it. I started to backpedal, to say “that’s not to say I don’t–” but he put up his hand and said, “it’s okay.” He looked gently at me for a second. “What else?”
And I knew it was now or never. That’s how it goes with my feelings. Usually, when it comes to talking about them, it ends up being never. So, I opened my mouth to speak, and started to cry.
“Dammit,” I said.
“It’s okay,” he told me, casually, like it was no big deal. I appreciate this about him. I also appreciate that he doesn’t let me back down from these moments with small talk. I’ve had so many therapists who let me chat and laugh about things that don’t really matter, and I’ve left our sessions feeling nothing new aside from a slightly deeper level of dissatisfaction.
I got my crying under control, by which I mean the few tears I’d shed, I managed to control using deep breathing and one off-brand tissue.
I buffered for a few minutes again while I ramped up to talk about the inauguration, and he let me. Finally I said with a deep exhale, “I’m just so triggered.” He nodded. “You know, I was told and shown all of my life that my body wasn’t important, that I didn’t have control over it. ‘No’ was never a word I was allowed to use – whether it was in an innocent sexual situation like, you know, “let’s play doctor” with my brothers, or especially in an abusive sexual situation. I mean, I grew up in a very ‘boys will be boys’ household, and none of these messages were intentional, I know, it’s just the way things were, you know? And now…” I breathed deeply. “Now…this man who boasts about…” deep breath “…sexually abusing and objectifying women, he’s, he’s elected to be our president?!” I explained that I wasn’t surprised by the results of the election. “I mean, look where I come from. And who I come from.” A small laugh. I wasn’t surprised, I told him. “Just really disappointed.”
He nodded. His nodding reminded me I was rambling and brought me back to the present moment. I thought his eyes looked as if they were glistening a little more than they had been before.
“It’s like all the work I’ve done, to try to gain a sense of ownership over my own body, to try to teach my kids that they are in control of their bodies and their lives, is just being laughed at by this…guy.” I breathed. His eyes were still glistening.
One thing I like about male therapists is that they don’t cry when I tell them my sad stories. Women tend to feel too sorry, to apologize for my pain or whatever. Men are usually more matter-of-fact. So I was surprised to see what appeared to be a very small welling of tears in his eyes while I explained what the new president represented for me, as an individual person, and as a mother. To his credit, the welling stayed right where it was. I appreciated this about him; I, too, am usually able to control my tears. I know it isn’t always easy.
That night, after a beautiful sun-after-rain walk to the movies with Paulie, then laying on the couch reading with the dog sleeping on my entire upper torso as if she were a lap dog, then happy hour at our local hip neighborhood dimly-lit restaurant which we can’t decide whether we really even like that much or not, then home and reading more, I finally went to bed. Paulie followed soon after, crawling in and curling himself around me, and soon we were each half naked and making love and laughing, and laughing, and laughing, sometimes having to stop our kissing or come-hithering because we were laughing so much. Sometimes this happens. One of us will try to make a horrible sexual innuendo and that’s all it takes.
In the middle of the night I woke to drink water and use the bathroom. When I came back, I couldn’t find my sweatshirt, so only put my sleeping pants back on. I crawled into bed and wiggled right up beside and tucked into the available spaces of Paulie; in short: I was the big spoon. He was wearing his shirt again, but no pants. We were each still half naked, but this time, I wondered if I mushed myself far enough into him, if maybe we would be one fully-pajamad person. I got closer. I tried to match my breathing to his, but his occasional snoring is too difficult to mimic.
Something about this failure to merge, a thought that seconds ago had felt protective and calming, gave me relief. I am in control of my own breathing, I thought. I am my own breather.
It gave me hope.