Thursday, September 9, 2010

THE MARRIAGE COUNSELOR

You could cut the air with a knife; me and this marriage counselor standing face to face - she was frozen, I was fuming, it was 3 minutes into our first session. Dave, my fiancé, had gone to the bathroom and came back into the tiny room where the two of us stood, he could immediately tell that something had already gone terribly wrong.

“What’s goin’ on,’ he said slowly with an uh-oh voice. He had dragged me into counseling, things had gone downhill since we’d become engaged three months before, this was last stop before Splitsville.

“I simply asked her if she did mostly couples counseling or individual,” it was my attempt at small talk while Dave excused himself to pee, “and SHE responded, ‘and which would YOU prefer I did’.” Dave shook his head in further dread, the lady shrink stood frozen, wearing an overly starched old-fashioned floral frock with a high neck that hung like a curtain down to her ankles – circa Little House On The Prairie; her tightly cropped perm helmeted her plain expressionless face reminding me of a Duplo figure.

“I ask a simple question about her p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e-,” I scanned the tiny back room of her Park Slope apartment which barely had room for her Mission oak chair and the beat up old futon that we would apparently be calling “home” for the next few weeks, between the two seats sat a tiny wooden coffee table with the mandatory box of Kleenex – she couldn’t have been a day over 32 but somehow felt much older, about 70-ish. “How would YOU prefer I would have responded,” she retorted with feigned calm, her deer in the headlights expression betraying that she was not in control.

“Hechhhh, never mind,” I plopped down and was quicksanded into the recesses of the old futon, Dave sitting next to me perched on the edge, holding on for dear life.

“O.K., then,” she said hands on lap, broomstick posture, “these are my rules: Come every time. Come on time. Pay every time. Am I clear?” I was waiting to see how long the woman could go without blinking. Dave and I nodded; I pulled out my checkbook, her hand shot out at me, “END of session.” My checkbook receded back into my bag.

She had come highly recommended from a co-worker of Dave’s, a woman who had been screwing some guy behind her husband’s back for a couple of years but had suddenly found some remorse and was trying to get things back on track. “My name is Julie Bradshaw,” she still hadn’t moved a muscle,” but you are to call me Mrs. Bradshaw. Not “Julie”. Not “Mrs. B”. Simply ‘Mrs. Bradshaw.’” I had been to a real shrink down on 12th Street, with credentials on the wall, leather bound books, and a real leather sofa that you could lie down on, and REAL Kleenex tissues, not the generics, and he was fine with “Gary”. “OOkay,” I nodded. Dave was shifting nervously on the edge of the futon, contributing the further demise of the tattered fabric beneath his butt.

“This is what I do,” her scripted intro continued, “I keep couples together, no matter what.” My chest was tightening, I had tried to break up with Dave a couple of times and was here pretty much here as a courtesy so I could leave the relationship with a clear conscience. “I will see you to the point that you’re married, throughout the marriage, I will help you raise your children, the treatment continues on for life," she went on with the sentencing, “Unless, of course, you decide to break off the relationship, in which case we will come to that decision together, and I will lead you through the breaking off process. Treatment will continue on from there, at which point I will see you both for individuals therapy.”

You could tell she made this exact same speech a hundred times before, she seemed to be reading it from somewhere, just over our heads on the dingy wall behind us – her eye contract slightly off by a half inch or so. We were already 58 bucks into this thing, when was our chance to talk? I looked over at Dave, was he second-guessing this couples counseling thing, or thinking about basketball. I tried to prompt her on with a nod and an affirmative, “O.K.,” I was curious to see what she had – again the hand darted out, and settled back into her lap as she finished her soliliqui. “If you should see me in the street, I will pass you with no acknowledgment, do not be offended. If we should see each other at a party, or other social context we shall proceed as though we’ve never met. Should introductions be made you will simply say, ‘nice to meet you’, this is in the interest of privacy.” I was wondering if someone said to us at a Bar Mitvah, “hey guys, this woman dressed in Mormon attire is my good friend, Julie,” if we should respond, “Nice to meet ya, Juleee-I mean Mrs. Bradshaw.” I had found a loophole but resisted the opportunity to point it out as we would soon be out of time.

“O.K., now let’s get to work,” her shoulders relaxed an eighth of an inch. I nodded, Dave settled back stiffly into the futon, the room went silent. She stared at us. We stared back. The pregnant pause continued, grew wider; to her credit Mrs. Bradshaw blinked a couple of times, probably out of necessity. I looked at her, looked over at Dave, looked at the generic box of tissue, then back at our new therapist, no one said a word – Mrs. Bradshaw finally breaking the silence, “O.K., we’ve come to the end of our session, you can make your payment now,” she watched as I filled out the check for a hundred and twenty five dollars and handed it over to her, she folded it precisely in half and tucked it in a manila folder that appeared out of nowhere. She stood as we stood, folded her hands in front of her and looked down at her feet as her hand gestured us towards the door.

Things went downhill from there. We heard from the woman who had recommended her that she had heard through the grapevine that Mrs. Bradshaw’s marriage was headed towards divorce. The sessions were fruitless, Mrs. Bradshaw seemed depressed, lackluster, and not particularly cut out for a career in her chosen field. After Dave and I agreed, I called Mrs. Bradshaw leaving her a message telling her that we had decided not to return. She in turn left us countless frantic messages like a scorned girlfriend, each message increasing with threatening tenor, insisting that it would be her decision when the process would end. She finally stopped calling after I picked up the phone and threatened her with a restraining order. Dave moved out about a month later, I started my life as a single gal, feeling lighter than I had in months.

A couple of years later I was shopping in Park Slope, I had stopped into a jewelry store that featured local Brooklyn artisans, a pretty young woman with long curly hair, jeans, and a peasant top was looking at a ring, and nuzzling affectionately with what appeared to be her cute girlfriend who was similarly dressed. The woman looked up and was trying to catch my eye – she looked so familiar; it was Mrs. Bradshaw. She had dropped Mr. Bradshaw, got herself a good therapist, a pretty girlfriend, put on a sexy top and grew her hair long. She smiled at me, but I adhered to the rules she set in place at that very first session; I walked past her without acknowledgment out on to 7th Avenue, leaving Mrs. Bradshaw, or Julie, or whatever name she went by there with her girlfriend to pick out their rings.

2 comments:

  1. hey, thanks, Aminator... look what happens when you live in Park Slope for too long... ;)

    ReplyDelete