I Don’t Need No Stinking Counseling
Entering the room, a warmly decorated, earth-tone stained small rectangle, I was immediately drawn to the tiny red bulb aglow above the door on the opposite wall. I knew what it meant.
I sat on the couch, sinking lower than I would prefer. The magazines scattered on the two end tables made a doctor’s office look like the most recent representation of the New York Times bestseller list.
I sat placidly, hands folded in front of my crotch.
At the appointed hour, there was an audible, metallic click and the door opened, simultaneously dousing the glow of the little red light. A large black man emerged, clad in an even larger black leather jacket. I recognized him as the comedian Patrice O’Neal. His gaze averted mine as the door hissed its hydraulic way back to the closed position. He left through the front door.
This therapist was female, which I had requested, and she was specifically recommended by my doctor, unofficially of course, as the two mediums were finitely delineated. He simply told me she was very good at what she did.
What did she do? She saved marriages. Or tried to.
The click again, and the door swung open. She stood there, conservatively dressed, in an apparent effort to downplay her attractiveness. Part of me was thankful, part of me was imagining.
“Tony? I’m Dr. Perkins. Welcome.”
I took her extended hand and shook it, following her into her office. Through what could only be described as a Herculean effort, I did not look at her ass.
She assembled herself in a comfortable looking chair, crossing her legs. She wore low-heeled pumps, black slacks and an understated silver cashmere sweater with cowl neck. A diamond pendant necklace spill out over the front of the sweater neck.
I remained standing. There were two chairs and a sofa. Already I had to make a decision.
She grinned and extended her hand, palm up, toward a replica chair of the one she sat in, about five feet from her. I sat.
“Dr. Allison told me you and your wife are “backsliding”, I think was his word. What do you hope to accomplish by talking with me?”
I cleared my throat. “Wow. No preamble. No awkward chit chat. No clumsy effort to make me relaxed.”
She grinned. “Bullshit is sort of at the foundation of what we want to avoid in here, Tony. May I call you Tony?”
I nodded. She continued.
“And making you relaxed, or my word, ’comfortable’, is also not a goal of mine.”
“Then your goal would be?”
“To help you and your wife understand each other better. I’m told by the doctor that you eschewed couple’s counseling. Care to tell me why?”
“Well, I kind of had my own preamble rehearsed. If I may…I’ve never been to therapy. The total sum of my therapeutic experience is cinematically rooted. Tony Soprano and Lorraine Bracco on the Sopranos. Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton in ‘Ordinary People’, and Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte in ‘Prince of Tides’.”
She laughed, and then covered her mouth almost apologetically. “Go on”.
“So, I assume in real life, the dynamics are quite different.”
She nodded. “They can be. I am familiar with both movies and, to be honest, both depictions of therapy were pretty damn accurate. The Sopranos, ah, not so much.”
I nodded. “So, I’m not completely in the dark, then.”
“How long have you and…” she looked down at the pad in her lap, “…you and Debbie been married?”
“And no children, correct?”
“Was the prospect of starting a family ever discussed?”
I nodded again. “A lot. Especially in the first three or four years. Then not much afterward.”
I stared at her. She was good at the eye contact thing, no wavering, hardly even blinking. She was startlingly attractive in spite of her efforts to thwart it. Thick black hair, shoulder length, brown eyes that radiated intelligence and empathy, and jaw line that said, ‘Don’t fuck with me’.
“We kinda just stopped discussing it.”
“Things don’t happen in a vacuum, Tony. A subject of that gravity doesn’t vanish without a reason.”
“No, you’re right. It doesn’t.”
“Let me interject for a second. You never answered my question about couples counseling.”
It hung there, like a rabid bat poised to bite.
“I guess I thought that if we were having trouble communicating with each other, injecting a third party, no matter how helpful their motivation may be, was going in the wrong direction.”
“Interesting. Even if that third party was there simply to provide tools for you and Debbie to use to improve communication?”
”Even then, yes.”
“Ok. Back to the children discussion. Why did it stop?”
“Probably because, on one level or another, we both were starting to realize that we were growing slowly apart. And we’re both smart enough to know that wasn’t the direction we needed to go to introduce children to the equation. So we simply tabled the subject.”
“So you think you are both smart?”
“I know we are.”
“That’s usually a pretty good foundation for problem solving.”
“I think we maybe used it more to be clever with our putdowns of one another.”
She made some noise in her throat. I couldn’t tell what, exactly, but if I had to put it into words, it would be “of course”.
I couldn’t let it slide. “Does that sound indicate a lack of surprise?”
“Yes and no. With smart people, problem solving can go either way, I’ve found. It can devolve to insults or mental arm wrestling, or evolve to figuring out the issue, solving it, and moving on. I approach each client on a case by case situation. Assumptions don’t do either of us any good.”
I looked around her office. The huge fish tank was tranquil, its barely perceptible bubbling sound providing a soothing backdrop. There was much of the same comforting color scheme that her waiting room possessed. By design, of course. Maybe she did want at least some level of comfort for her clients.
I continued. “I think it was a good move on our part, even if done subconsciously, to move away from having a family. Being a kid is tough enough as it is these days. Tossing one out like dice on a craps table is not fair. We both know that stability is of paramount importance. As husband and wife, and then as parents, I think we realized without one, I don’t think you can have the other.”
“Hmmm. That’s rather sagacious. I’ve found that to be true as well. Stability is usually not subjective.”
I nodded and looked at the fish tank. A large shark-looking fish kept moving from one end to the other, never stopping. I could relate.
I finally met her gaze, and grinned sheepishly. “What?”
She shook her head, saying nothing.
“I guess what I need to find out is ground zero; where Debbie and I started to grow apart.”
She gestured with her pad, as if to hand it to me. “You sure you don’t want to be in this chair?”
I laughed, as did she. “So, I’ve distilled it to that, then?”
She nodded. “You have indeed, and I concur.”
“When did things begin to turn sour?” she continued.
“I can’t pinpoint when, exactly. There was no dramatic fight or event. But I think I might know why.”
She rolled her two index fingers toward me, encouraging me to continue.
“It seems to me, and she denies this, that some of the aspects of my personality that she was attracted to initially, that had her fall in love with me, are no longer things she likes about me.”
“Well, my brashness, my confidence. She was really drawn to it during our courting period and in the first couple years of our marriage. But I began to sense it creating a wedge between us, and I can’t figure out why.”
“What was your first clue, or evidence, that a wedge was developing?”
“She called me cocky one night. ‘Too cocky’, I think was her phrase. She said it with distaste. It startled me.”
“Were you being particularly cocky that night?”
“Not any more than usual.”
“So do you think that she may be the one going through a change?”
“I’m not going to point fingers. We’ve done enough of that. It’s easier, I know, for me to notice changes in her behavior, than to see my own changes. Hard to get any bird’s eye view of yourself.”
Her nod this time was accompanied by a grin.
She looked up at me. “No, not really. It was more a sense of satisfaction, relief even. My job is infinitely easier when someone has a more than rudimentary understanding of human psychology, which you clearly do.”
“Thanks, I think.”
“So, did you broach this sense of her changing with her?”
“Not that night. But, yeah, the next night I did.”
“She got defensive, of course. Who wouldn’t?”
“Did you present your claim as an accusation, or an observation?”
It was my turn to go hmmm. “Probably a little of both, I guess.”
She remained silent, her gaze steadily on me.
“Ok,” she said, shaking her head quickly, “we’ll get back to that. The ‘why’ here is probably more important than the ‘what’? If indeed her perceptions of your brashness have changed from admiration to distaste, why?”
“Fuck if I know.”
It was the first hint of frustration I’d shown, and she sensed the seismic shift immediately.
“Really? Can’t even venture a guess?”
I thought for a moment, raising my head back, stretching my neck, looking at nothing.
“Familiarity breeds contempt?”
“That is a very real phenomenon. More pervasive than most people realize. Did you ever feel that way toward her?”
”What do you mean?”
“Well, are there fundamental aspects of her personality that no longer warm the cockles of your heart as they once did?”
I found it interesting she used the informal idiom to make her point.
“Nothing that I would consider a deal breaker. Nothing substantive. The usual BS that crops up between any two people who live together. We rocked and rolled through that stuff pretty seamlessly before, but not recently.”
“So, trivial matters have been elevated to matters worthy of an argument, or a vitriolic exchange?”
“Has there been, over the eleven years, an ebb and flow of…energy, chemistry, dynamics, between you and Debbie? Or has it been one consistent strain of behavior?”
“Ebb and flow. But no real dramatic dips or climbs. I think ‘consistent’ would be a good word for our marriage, again, until recently.”
“People continue to grow after marriage. Sometimes couples can grow together, sometime they grow apart. Is that phenomenon at work here?”
I grinned. “Counselor may have a tendency to oversimplify.”
“I’m not an attorney, but I get your point. Over-simplification aside, is that happening with you and Debbie?”
“Shit, I hope not.”
“What might trigger such an agent of change?”
“Well, we’re not bored with each other, if that is what you mean. Surprisingly, sex is still shockingly good.”
“A marriage can go bad even when paralleled with great sexual chemistry. It almost certainly will go bad if the bedroom dynamics turn sour.”
“It’s good that there is still enough trust to enjoy each other physically. Trust is very important in bed.”
“Where does that leave us?”
“I think our time is up for today, Tony. Same day and time next week?”
Out in the parking lot, parked next to my car, was a huge black Lexus SUV, parked nose in. The hatch was open in the back, and Patrice O’Neal was sitting on it, drinking a beer.
As I walked up, he raised his can. “Buy you a beer?”
I stopped. “Sure.”
He reached back into a cooler and handed me a Budweiser.
“How’d it go in there?”
I laughed. “Marriage is foundering, I guess. On the rocks.”
“’Foundering’? Shit, you some kind of writer?”
“No. She got to use ‘phenomenon’ twice in there. I need to drop a $50 word just so I don’t feel retarded.”
He raised his can and we touched aluminum.
“I got mother issues. She says I need to come twice a week.”
I laughed. “Why? You got two moms?”
He laughed. It’s not every day I get to make a professional comedian laugh.
“We got the one thing in common, though, you and me,” he said.