I went to therapy once.
My therapist was a sweet little graduate student in her early fifties. I thought that she couldn't help me.
She asked me to talk about my family. I didn't know what to say. She said to tell me about my mother.
I said, "She's fine. I don't know."
Eventually, I found a place to start. I was the oldest of four. I was the only one who rebelled. We were poor. We were a family in love with Christ.
"My father has personality problems," I said. "He doesn't get along with anybody. Everybody hates him. Everybody at his jobs, at the church, my whole life, everybody has always hated him."
I probably didn't hate him, though. I probably wanted to love him. He didn't love me, though.
I talked to the little therapist for a few minutes, not really getting to the meaning behind anything. How do I tell somebody about my father without starting at the beginning, in a hollow in a coal bed in the 1950s, the streams all running thick and yellow with runoff? A grandfather dead of a brain tumor, a grandmother that studied witchcraft.
I said, "I think it probably disturbs me that my dad is such a bad person."
My therapist blinked a few times from behind her glasses. She reminded me of something innocuous, like a turtle. Then, she turned to the clipboard in her lap and started scribbling furiously. I must have been on to something.
I talked for a few more minutes. She nodded at me encouragingly. Eventually, she said, "Let's talk some more about your dog."
I said, "What do you mean? Like my dog that lives at my mom's house?"
"You said you feel disturbed that your dog is a bad person," she encouraged.
"What?" I asked. "No, I didn't. My dog is kind of annoying, but he's just a dog."
"A few minutes ago, you said--"
"My dad," I said. "A few minutes ago I told you that my dad is a bad person."
"Oh," she said, studiously running her eraser over the clipboard, making notes in the margins.
"You thought I said that my dog was a bad person?" I asked. "What exactly would that have said about me?"
"No, well," she fumbled. "It wouldn't have made much of a difference."
"Then why are you erasing and scribbling stuff out?" I asked.
"Lots of people regard their dogs as people," she said.
"That's not true," I answered. "Only crazy people do that. You thought I was like... over the moon insane and you wrote it down in my chart. Make sure you erased everything."
"Let's talk about your dad," she said.
"I don't know," I said. "I don't think so."
"Here," she said, gathering herself. "Let's do a relaxation exercise. Your face is getting red and you're feeling agitated."
I thought that this therapist still had a lot to learn in grad school. She pulled her chair up to mine. We placed our knees together and she asked me to close my eyes.
"I don't really like this," I said.
"What about it do you not like?" she asked.
"I don't like my knees touching yours," I said. "It's not very relaxing."
She scooted back a few inches. In a soothing, innocuous little turtle voice, she started intoning about being on a beach. "You're sitting in a chair on the beach. Feel the warm sunlight on your face. You're alone. Miles and miles of open sand stretch out all around you."
I thought about my dog. I had to admit that I wasn't really a dog person. My dog stole cookies out of my hand. He peed on my bedroom door when I locked him out, once. There was once time... it was Christmas Eve and I had a moment of tenderheartedness towards him. I was half-drunk and twenty years old, sitting at the kitchen table playing a board game with my family. There was rum in the cider. I knew my dog would just steal my cookies, but I called to him. "Come here, Bowie." I let him jump up on my lap.
After a few minutes, I felt something warm seeping through the cotton of my skirt. Oh god. I dropped him back to the floor and there was a spreading circle of leaky dog poop on my leg. I lived across town. It was late at night.
"The dog just pooped on me," I said and everybody laughed.
I had to drive back home in the snow to shower and change.
Maybe my dog was a bad person. I was certainly pretty disturbed by that incident.
"There," the therapist said. "How do you feel?"
"A little uncomfortable," I said. She had crept forward in her seat enthusiastically and her knees were touching mine again.
"UNcomfortable?" she asked in disbelief.
"I don't think this is working for me," I said.