We sat in silence and looked at the magazines we had grabbed the minute we entered the small waiting room before our first and only Couples Therapy session. It had been Jim’s bright idea, not mine, to spill the beans about our small, sad life to an impartial third party.
I stared blindly at a Rachael Ray recipe for Steamed Shrimp. Jim thumbed through a Golf Magazine earnestly. It made me mad.
“Like you give a shit about putters or drivers or greens. Like you give a shit,” was what I was stage whispering to him when the kind doctor opened the door to let us in.
“Jim? Lorabee? Or do you prefer Lora?” he said, as though he had not caught me in a bitter, irrational tirade.
“I don’t care,” I shrugged.
Jim nearly ran to him, shaking his hand vigorously. I gave him just my fingers, pursed my lips insincerely, and sashayed into his office.
Dr. Greenblum closed the door behind us and gestured to the couch. We sat at opposite ends of it, clinging to the armrests. He sat down slowly, with effort.
“Hip replacement.” He informed us. “Not as easy a recovery as I was led to believe.”
“Sort of like this, then,” I offered, eager for a moment to get on his good side, eager to let him know I was bright enough to override the vitriol inside of me and make snappy comparisons. Rehab is to hip surgery as forgiveness is to betrayal.
“Yes, perhaps,” he obliged, settling back into his chair. “Since you made the appointment, Jim, why don’t we start with you? Why are you here?”
“I did something very, very stupid,” he said. “Something I regret every day. And I know she has every right to be mad at me. She has a right to be mad at me for a very long time, in fact. I totally fucked up.”
“Can you please be more specific?” Dr. Greenblum asked.
“He slept with my best friend, my maid of honor, the biggest cliché in the history of all clichés. She rubbed up against him and he fell for it,” I offered. “I am more embarrassed by it than angry,” I said.
“Is that true?” the doctor asked.
“That he fucked my best friend? Yes, it’s true.”
“No. That you are more embarrassed than angry. Is that true?”
“Yes!” I insisted. “I mean, come on. It’s obvious.”
"What is obvious?” Dr. Greenblum asked.
And that is how the next horrible 43 minutes played out. Jim came across like an earnest, relatively competent sap of a man who screwed up. I was unable to answer a single question in a straightforward, mature, non-sarcastic way. I could feel myself dancing for my life, evading anything that put the emotional burden on me.
“Seriously?” I asked, early in the session. “He cheats and I have to talk about my mother?”
“So let me ask you this, Lora. Why are you here? Why did you come today?”
“To find out why he did it. Why else would I come?” I said.
“Fair enough,” Dr. Greenblum said. “Jim, can you answer Lora’s question?”
“Well it doesn’t make it right, I know that, but I have to say, I was lonely,” Jim said.
“Lonely in what regard?” Dr. Greenblum asked, prodding Jim to outline all the ways in which I was a shitty, inattentive wife.
Jim looked at his thighs. “She’s just stronger than me. Much stronger. I need things. I worry about things.”
“Oh for God’s sakes, Jim, everyone is stronger than you,” I said. I heard it: my loathsome, shrewish, lonely voice. “I don’t think this is going to work,” I offered. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
We spent the next half hour addressing the issue of my reluctance to be there in the first place.
“Becoming a couple is easy. Staying a couple is tremendously difficult,” Dr. Greenblum explained. “We are not taught how to maintain intimacy,” he added. “And it is especially difficult when you have had your early intimate relationships taken from you,” he offered to me.
“Is it possible you can not know how unwell you are until you have children?” Jim asked.
We both stared at him.
“I mean me. Not her,” he clarified.
I refused to say another word. Because what I wanted to say to each of them was “How do you know?” Based on the number of certificates on his wall, I figured that the doctor probably did know a few things. And maybe my cheater husband did too.
But what good would it do me if he were right? If he were right, then I was doomed. And so was my family. So he and Jim talked about broken things while I stared out the window. I tuned them out as best I could so I could think about Rachael Ray’s Steamed Shrimp and how I would never, ever make it.
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