“Tell me about your parents.” So began session two with Dr. Leon.
“What do they have to do with my marriage? Remember, that’s the issue here.” And if he had written anything down last week he would remember that.
“Maybe nothing but it’s the subject I want to talk about today. Okay?”
“I guess. What do you want to know?”
“Whatever you want to tell me. Lets start with occupations.”
“Well, my mom stayed home and raised me while my dad filled the role of pastor at different churches around the south.” When I said the word “pastor” I thought I saw Dr. Leon’s left eyebrow rise ever so slightly. “What?” I asked. “Is that significant?”
“You just flinched when I told you my dad was a pastor. I could see it…”
Dr. Leon smiled his lippy smile and said, “I wasn’t aware that you were suffering from paranoia. Please continue and I’ll do my best to remain rigid.”
I looked at him warily, trying to determine if he was making a joke, but he returned my gaze with his professional stare. I shook my head and continued.
“I guess what you’d love to hear is I was sexually abused and beaten on a regular basis but none of that happened. I couldn’t ask for a better environment in which to grow up. I was smothered in love and attention but was also required to follow rules and was punished when I didn’t. I was a good kid. They were good parents. How’s that?”
“Very good. With whom did you feel the closest between your mother and father?”
“Mom, definitely. It makes sense because she was always around. Dad did what he could but we weren’t independently wealthy so someone had to work. Plus, pastor’s hours are 24/7. Babies tend to be born and people tend to die on their own schedule and, as pastor, dad had to be available whenever he was needed.”
“Did you resent that aspect of his job?”
“Look, I know where this is heading. No, I didn’t resent it because I didn’t know any better, but he was still around more than other dads. Again, how is any of this relevant to my marriage issues? My parent’s marriage was great, still is, so I had a wonderful template to base my own marriage on. That’s what’s broken, not my mom and dad’s relationship.” My frustration was obvious but it didn’t seem to bother Dr. Leon.
“There had to be at least one time growing up that your dad missed something because he was helping someone else. Can you tell me about that?”
“Sure, I could, but why don’t I tell you about what happened to me this past weekend? It seems more pertinent to the drama that’s my life right now.”
Dr. Leon nodded, allowing me to continue. I walked him through the whole week starting with my conversation with D.J. and ending with my decision to stay in Atlanta and not go home. He didn’t move as I talked but he did create his steeple fingers again, resting his elbows on the armrests of his chair, keeping his hands level with his chin.
“So you didn’t call her to let her know you were not coming?”
“Yes, I did. She was pretty upset with me as you can imagine.”
“Do you feel good about the decision to not go home? Do you still think it was the right thing to do?”
I took a deep breath and let it out very slowly, mulling over the question, knowing the answer but not sure how honest I wanted to be. “It was probably wrong but, at that moment, it was the only thing I could do. I was in no shape to face her or the kids.”
“Explain how you were in no shape to face her.”
“I was worried I’d mess up, say or do something wrong while I was there, and I knew I couldn’t deal with the collateral damage if that happened. I don’t feel very stable, I suppose.”
“Have you talked to her since Friday?”
“No. The last phone call was no picnic so I haven’t tried again. I considered this a cooling off period.” I smiled but it was not one of my best efforts. I suddenly wanted to talk about my parents.
“Do you think the concerns you referenced will ever go away as long as you stay here and not face your family in person? Is that inaction helping bridge the gap between you and your family?”
“I don’t know… I guess we’ll see, won’t we?” I knew better. The gap may not have grown but my moment of clarity, my fear of offending anyone, served as a beacon, shining a huge beam on how deep the chasm had become. Seeing that hole was more disheartening than encouraging.
I grabbed my coat and cell phone and walked out the front door, patting my pant’s pocket, verifying the presence of my house key and then shut the door. I needed to get out of the stale air of the condominium plus I needed to talk to my parents so I decided to combine the tasks even though it was cold and starless outside. I punched in their phone number and slipped my glove back on, blowing on my hand to get rid of the cold burn of the wind. I hadn’t talked to my parents more than twice since I saw them at Christmas and I couldn’t say why, other than I just didn’t think about them all that often. My mind only had so much capacity to process things and, since mom and dad were not a major part of my problems, they were relegated to “on hold” status. Until the therapy session, that is, where my discussion with Dr. Leon spurred me to call and see how they were doing. After two rings, the proper amount of time to let the phone ring before answering according to my mom, she answered. After greetings and establishing that dad was not home, away at a church meeting, we settled into a pleasant conversation, discussing my work and her latest hobby, raising orchids. I enjoyed her undivided attention, which was made easier by not having to share the line with dad. She usually let him dominate our three way conversations but on her own she was funny and chatty. As much as I enjoyed our talk, I knew she would bring up Ellen and the anticipation of when cut into my pleasure. When she got around to asking me I was surprised by my lack of anxiety.
“So what’s the latest with you and Ellen?”
“It’s not good, mom, and I’m not sure what it’s going to take to make it better.”
“What has she had to say about it? Are you two talking?” I assumed she knew the answer to that just like I assumed she was in constant contact with my wife.
“Not too much, really. I think we’re both trying to work things out separately before we try it together. It’s strange, mom. I miss Ellen and the kids so much but when I talk to them or try to see them, I screw things up worse. It’s like I’m stuck between both worlds and it’s not much fun.” I hesitated, not sure if I should tell her, but then I blurted it out. “I’m seeing a therapist right now, someone specializing in marriage issues, and I’m hoping that’ll help me sort this into something manageable. Right now it’s a little jumbled. Okay, a lot jumbled.”
“Really? That’s interesting. Where did you find him? I assume it’s a ‘him?’”
“It’s available through my health plan at work and, yes, he is a him and his name is Dr. Leon Chambliss.”
“I’ve only been to two sessions but I think it’s going to be a good thing. Unfortunately it’s going to take some time and I’m not sure how much I’ve got to spare.”
“Hmmmmm…” She always made a humming noise when she was thinking and I had just given her a lot to ponder. “Is this Dr. Chambliss—
“—he prefers to be called Dr. Leon for some reason—”
“—okay, does this Dr. Leon offer conventional guidance or is he… uhm… out there on Pluto with his advice?”
I laughed and assured her he was not a freak although he had yet to give me any advice, so I couldn’t vouch for him in that area. “Mom, I’ve got to go. I’m outside, I’m freezing and I can’t feel my lips.”
“By all means, get inside and warm up.”
“Do me a favor, though. Could you please keep the counseling information to yourself? I don’t want that to become a big deal and in the current environment, everything gets overblown. Thanks.”
“I’ll keep Dr. Leon between you and me. I’ll tell dad you called. I love you, son.”
“Thanks mom. I love you too.”
I closed my phone and started walking back to the condominium. The conversation with mom had given me hope because it proved I could still converse like a normal person with someone close to me, something I was starting to fear was lost. I knew there was a lot of unconditional love flowing through mom and I had to take that into account but shouldn’t Ellen feel the same? Shouldn’t she love me regardless? I never hit her, never verbally abused her. Hell, I was a great husband, something she told me over and over. With that proclamation the frustration bubbled again, eating away at my stomach and churning into a froth of anger. With each step the irritation got more intense. When I reached the entrance gate to the condo complex I turned to the right and headed west. Regardless of the cold, I needed to keep walking and try to break the annoying cycle, at least for one night.
This is an excerpt of a full length novel entitled “Back Again.” You can read it in it’s entirety by downloading it from here or you can keep coming back to this site and read it in chapter chunks over time. Your call but, either way, I hope you will read it and, most of all, enjoy it. And leave a comment or two. It lets me know you are out there…