“… I’ve had what seems like hundreds of female friends, ever since I was in my mid-teens.”
“Why is that?”
“Two reasons, I think. The first is that I genuinely like women. They just think… differently. I’ve always enjoyed the way different people process the world. I like variety, genuine difference, people who, frankly, don’t see things the way I do.”
“What’s the other reason? You said there were two.”
“Oh, yeah. The other reason I have been friends with so many women is that I figured out years ago that if I wanted to be around women it was the only way. I went for years intensely desiring girls but being rejected at every turn. I concluded I was not attractive, and that friendship was the best I could hope for.”
“But you’ve been with women since then, right? You are with someone now… sort of?”
“Yes, but she wouldn’t be with me except I spend money on her.”
“Do you like her?”
“Yes. She’s a very, very good person at heart, kind of humorless, but a really good person. She got hurt, really badly, by a guy she was really, really in love with. He cheated on her, and dumped her, and she still loved… or loves him. She insists she doesn’t love him or anyone, and that love is all just bullshit. She’s shut that part of her down. She likes sex, she says, and she like things. She likes having company when she wants to have it. And she likes being around a man who would never hit her, frankly.”
“I don’t think you heard my question. Do you like her?”
“Not really, not as someone to date. She’s offered me an alternative to getting my heart broken again. You’ve got to understand, my ex didn’t love me. She never wanted to be with me, she just was with me, because she thought being attracted to women made her ‘abnormal’ and I was a chance for a ‘normal’ life. And she felt sorry for me, coming out of all those years I was really sick.”
He waited before speaking.
“Your ex never loved you? So no one can love you?”
“That sounds about right, yes.”
He got up from behind his desk and pulled a picture off of the shelf. It was of him, his wife, and their two kids, both in their teens.
“Is this what you want?”
“I already have kids,” I said.
“No. Do you have an image in your head of what a family or love is supposed to be? Not this image, but this will do as an example. Close your eyes, and tell me what love looks like. What the love you want looks like.”
I close my eyes and think. I see Lisa as I last saw her, peacefully sleeping, totally at her ease. And I think, I could love her…
… but then, I think about that long, silent car trip we took, where we couldn’t think of anything to talk about. How bored she was with my stories, and the awful music she played on the radio…
What am I doing? What am I doing with her? She does still believe in love, she loves him.
I’m just providing her an alternative.
I open my eyes. “I don’t know. I don’t know what the love I’m looking for looks like.”
“Now listen very carefully to me,” he says. “We only have a few sessions left. I want you to think about something this week, and I want you to do something.”
“Okay,” I say.
“First: it is not your fault you were lied to. Repeat that.”
“It is not my fault I was lied to.”
“I want you to repeat that to yourself, every day, at least twice a day.”
“It is not my fault I was lied to. Got it.”
“Secondly, I want you to understand something, and I mean really understand and accept it. That is ‘you are as worthy of love as anyone’.”
“I am as worthy of love as anyone.”
“I don’t know what your deal was when you were younger, but believe me, you are as worthy of love as anyone. I know women are attracted to you. Hell, weeks ago, when you first started coming, our freaking receptionist said she thought you were cute, to one of the other doctors. And she has guys falling all over her.”
“Yes, really. I want you to repeat that last bit as many times of day as negative thoughts come into your head.”
“Anything else this week –?”
“Yeah, one thing. I have met a woman I’m really, really attracted to. I’m staying away while she’s going through a divorce, though.”
“Do you think the attraction is mutual?”
I looked out the window, at where a mom was walking up to counseling center, holding the hand of her pre-teen daughter.
“Yes, I am as worthy of love as anyone.”
He smiled. “Get out of here. I’ll see you in a week.”
Closing the door, I see her a few feet away, talking to one of the nurses. She doesn’t look up, and since I’m already prepaid and my next appointment is set, I walk out the front door. Just outside, the woman I saw earlier is hugging her crying daughter.
“Do you work here?” the woman says, seeing me.
“No. I’m a … um, client.”
“Could you tell her it’s okay? That they don’t hurt people?”
The girl is hugging her mom, and her face is blotchy with tears. I sit down on the step, a couple of feet away, so the girl and I are more at eye level.
“They are very sweet here, very gentle. If you ask at the desk, Ms. Lathermore will help you. She’s the really pretty woman with dark hair and glasses. She’ll introduce you around and show you the place before you meet the doctor. The doctors are really nice, too.”
The girl stares at me as her mother strokes her hair.
“What is her name?” the girl asks, tremulously.
“Ms, Lathermore — Lisa is her name, she’ll want you to call her Lisa. She’ll take care of you, I promise.”
They turned to go inside, the mother looking back over her shoulder at me. “Thank you,” she mouths.
“Lisa will take care of you,” I say, turning away.