Days of Love Forgotten

February 14th, 2017
Columbus, Georgia
9:00 PM

Last night, the fever seem to break on this viral fever I had (not flu, as it turned out). I felt well enough to go into work for a little bit, then came back home to work the rest of the day; however, by about 2:00 in the afternoon it was evident that my wife now had contracted this same illness.

I gave her a Valentine’s bag (her favorite Jelly Beans, some Chocolates, and her biggest wish, a bag of Logan’s Turnpike Mill Grits). After our daughter picked up her 20 month old, I ran out and got my wife some soup. She ate a few bites, then went to bed.

For all of you singles dreaming of Valentine’s day with the person you love – sometimes it’s like this.

We started a tradition of taking a vacation in January of last year (2016). We had something like 12 hours in the car on the way there. We talked the entire way.

She has a career, and she keeps our grandkids. Her career involves looking after people, as well, many of them elderly. I get up early, go to work early, go to bed early. We have had a Thursday date night every week straight for something like sixteen years, but still, there’s much going on with each of us we never get the chance to talk about.

Last year, I booked a special short trip for our Anniversary in August. There, she ate the aforementioned Turnpike Grits, informing me (as a grits connoisseur) that these were the best grits ever, and that she had to learn how to make them. Only I forgot to get them for her for Christmas.

The subject came up (gently) while we were in the car for this year’s January trip. It got taken care of.

It amazes her that, after sixteen years of marriage, we haven’t run out of things to talk about. Part of that is how rarely we actually get to talk. The other part is that when we are finally together, and can focus completely on each other, it’s like a new experience almost every time.

One of my favorite lines in any movie is in the old 1940’s film “The Best Years of Our Lives”. The daughter of this couple is telling her parents they couldn’t possibly understand her love for her (married) boyfriend, because they (her parents) never had any trouble. Her mother answers her daughter, while looking at her father, thus:

“We never had any trouble.” How many times have I told you I hated you and believed it in my heart? How many times have you said you were sick and tired of me; that we were all washed up? How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?

Having to fall in love all over again. That puts it perfectly.

I don’t have answers for people who are lonely on Valentine’s Day. I have empathy, however. Because I’m fortunate to be where I am, and I won’t be there forever. I don’t want days of love to become days of love forgotten.

Remember, love is like light: so much more than we give it credit for; able to find its way in through every crack and crevice, there for us when we least expect it.

You are loved, my friends. You are.

Happy days.

Infomercials

For 25 consecutive days now, I have made it to the gym that is exactly 1.4 miles from our house. Weekday mornings, I’ve been arriving there around 4:00 AM, a few hours later on the weekends. There are televisions on there, and, it being a time of morning officially designated as “Ungodly Early”, they are usually tuned to channels showing infomercials, i.e., commercials disguised as something like news stories. I never change the channels, no matter what channel they are on; I’m typically listening to music or stories, anyway. However, one can’t help but see them, and it has struck me that there is a lot to learn about people from infomercials, even if it isn’t exactly what the infomercials are selling.

The first thing you notice is exactly who companies think will be awake at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, and the answer appears to be (a) old people and (b) lonely people. If we happen to be both old and lonely, that’s just a marketing bonus for them, I suppose. They sell things like LifeAlert, and motorized wheelchairs, and miracle hearing aids for the aged; marketing to the lonely appears to be a little more gender-specific, other than the online dating (or even hookup) services.

With men, the marketers would have you believe that, if you are lonely, it’s clearly physical. They market weight loss pills, and testosterone boosters, and panacea workouts, and cleanses, and diets towards men, clearly implying that, with the right physique (or sexual performance, frankly), one need never be lonely. Since we men are prone to believe that (in spite of what women tell us) I’m sure that form of marketing works.

With women, there is some common ground (notably cleanses and diets) but there are also fabulous skincare products (usually being sold by recognizable, and good-looking, celebrities), innovative makeup application, and weight loss products that differ in emphasis from what is presented as being primarily for men. With women, the ubiquitous message seems to be: look young, no matter what age you are, because “looking young” has been deemed better by… somebody, I’m not sure who, why are you asking? Since the “look young at all costs” cultural norm seems hardest to question for women, I’m sure that it, too, is an effective marketing technique.

I have nothing against any of these companies or products; having tried none of them, I could not reasonably opine as to their efficacy as a class. I’m not really at the gym to try to improve my appearance, I’m there to try to improve my mood, as regular exercise seems to have that effect, and it is a busy and stressful time at work and elsewhere.

I read out here on the blogosphere all the time that the way for men to reach women is more mental (or emotional) than physical — yet, men (as evidenced by infomercials) clearly believe the opposite to be true. If I search my own mind for reasons for this disconnect, I find that many men believe grown women will act the same way as girls. When I was a boy, it was hard to escape the observation that most girls preferred the same exact guys, frequently on either a physical or social basis. Over time, however, girls become women, and their criteria typically matures as well. Many men, however, think about women like boys do about girls.

There is also the rather more obvious deal where men expect women to think about men the way men think about women.

It’s always interesting when an idea or practice becomes widespread even though there is no evidence whatsoever that it actually works: for example, men yelling at women from cars. I feel pretty confident saying, that doesn’t work. It doesn’t stop it from happening though. I suspect the same is true of many of the online overtures men make towards women as well. They don’t work, but we do them anyway. Which is strange.

Of course, the whole business of marketing is built on the oddity that human beings can be maneuvered into continuing to do things even after they realize that those things don’t work. Which is another lesson from infomercials, I suppose.

I’m typically back home from the gym around 5:00 AM, give or take a few minutes. If I’m going to write at all, that’s when I have time to do it, because I am usually at work from around 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 to 9:00 at night. It will shock no one who reads this or my other blog to know, I write at speed and do absolutely no editing whatsoever; I only edit a piece if I happen to repost it. This piece has actually been accumulated over a few days of a paragraph here and a paragraph there.

I sometimes think my various blog posts are essentially infomercials, only I’m “selling” my own thoughts and feelings, portraying myself as more objective and thoughtful than I really am. In truth, I’m just a middle-aged man, huffing and puffing on a treadmill at 4:15 in the morning, trying half-heartedly to lead something like a healthy life, dreaming up ways of saying something out here so clever that people might remember it for a few minutes, if I’m lucky.

But maybe if I took Super Beta Prostate…

Reasons

[Originally posted March 24th, 2017. My mother passed away December of 2019. – Owen]

One of the things I love about abstract classical music is that the listener is free to graft any meaning onto the notes they choose. The last three times I have been out to Arizona to visit my aging mother, I have ended up listening to one piece of music or another that seems to capture what I’m feeling or experiencing. This particular time, it is the following, “joined in progress” as they say:

The Setup

On Monday of this week, I had the following text conversation with my sister:

I had called my mother and she told me she was tired of living the way she was, and was eating less as a way of gradually “letting go”. After our conversation, I told my wife that I was going to fly out and see her, texted my sister words to that effect, who told me to please keep her posted.

My mother has been, throughout her adult life, a fervent believer in the right-to-die movement, as was my father — one of the few things they agreed on, politically. I was not surprised by her actions as much as intensely saddened to realize how unhappy she was.

To outward appearance, my mother has everything a person could want. She in no way wants for money. She lives in an extremely affluent assisted living facility. She is universally beloved by the other residents and staff. She has a boyfriend she loves who loves her. She is a young looking 85 years old. Even though she has Parkinson’s and other health issues, she had appeared to be handling them all with as much humor as a person could manage.

However, the warning signs were there to see. She told me when I visited here three months ago that she had been struggling with depression. That the sheer number of medications she was on left her befuddled.

When I spoke to her on the phone, she told me that one particular health issue she had was so embarrassing that she’d rather not go on than have to live with it, as it had ruined her life.

As I spoke to my wife about flying out to see her, tears formed in my eyes. My mother was so unhappy she wanted to die: that’s about as unhappy as it gets. Maybe I had been kidding myself about what a great life she had.

I took a sleeping pill that night to get some rest. The next morning, I spoke to my boss about taking the time off, got it, then made plane, hotel and car reservations. I called my mom and told her I was coming for five days, then left my sister a message to that effect.

The Conundrum

Before I began availing myself of the wireless access on the plane, I sat thinking: what reasons do you give to someone to go on living when they do not want to? What reasons are there?

My own experience is that we don’t live for “reasons” we live because we feel like living. The desire to live is just that – a desire. You either have it, or you don’t.

My mother had deliberately chosen to live across the country from any of her children so as not to be a burden on any of us. Even though the three of us had each been to see her in the last three months, we all had very short (two day) stays. My feeling was, she missed seeing us, so maybe just going to see her would make her feel better. (The fact that she said “You’re coming for five days? Well, that should cheer me up,” was a pretty good clue.)

Reason is just a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. That’s another quote from a book I read recently, making the point that reason is only there to serve the emotions. My mother’s elephant was getting tired, she wanted to lay down.

All I knew was, I was going, and I was going to stay almost a week. What I’d find I wasn’t sure, but I thought sure it would be bad, whatever it was.

What I Found

What I found, upon arriving, getting my rental (which was torture) and driving down to where she lived was entirely baffling.

She seems fine.

We’ve now eaten four meals together. She has eaten at all of them. Her health does not seem any worse than last December; although her memory is poor, it seems better than most people there.

Her boyfriend, on the other had, who also has Parkinson’s, has degenerated horribly. He is also very temperate and good-natured — a “roll with the punches” kind of guy, as they say. It made me think that maybe part of her depression is realizing she’s liable to lose him, but I don’t know. She has made several oblique or direct references to “what she’s doing” as in, “The staff here don’t approve, of course, of what I’m doing.” – indicating that she is still in that gradually letting go process she described to me over the phone.

Still, we’ve laughed and talked about various things. We looked at pictures of her great-grandchildren, neither of whom she’s ever seen in person. We talked to my brother on the phone. We watched five hours worth of westerns yesterday – she had not been able to watch movies lately, as she cannot remember how to operate her DVD player. I taped instructions to the remote with labels to help, and she practiced several times while I was there. However, I know enough about short-term memory loss to know that this is unlikely to help once I’m gone.

Either her boyfriend or the staff would be happy to help anytime, and the staff is always available. She would have to think to call, though. What she’d been doing was stare helplessly at her DVD player,  overwhelmed with the realization that she could not figure out how to operate it.

When I texted my sister again, I said that at the rate she was going, she will have finished herself off (physically) by the year 2043. However, there is more to life than just our physical capability. She’s having a hard time remembering how to do simple things, things she’s done for years. She can’t really go anywhere. Even though she has company, this isn’t the life she wants, as she mentioned last night…

About Last Night…

“Moving from Florida to Arizona, leaving [35 years worth of] friends behind, was one thing. Losing your father [11 years ago], was another. Deciding to move here [into an Independent Living apartment within the retirement community she is part of 10 years ago] was still another. But moving from Independent Living to Assisted Living [14 months ago] was the biggest single change I’ve been through.

It’s now been more than 3 years since I had to stop driving; Ed [her boyfriend] had to stop last year. Do you know what it is like when you can’t drive? Even though they have people here who will take you places, you have to schedule it, and you may have to wait if other people are already using the drivers. Driving gives you so much power, and you don’t realize it until… until you lose it.”

Of everything you’ve lost, personally, I mean, in the way of capability — what do you miss most?

“Singing. I can’t even sing in the shower now. I can barely talk, my voice is so shaky.”

I’ll bet you can still recite hours of poetry, though.

[Ed indicated with vigorous nodding and that indeed she could.]

“Yes, well the number of people who want to hear ‘The Highwayman’ is surprisingly low,” she said, archly.

I looked around the dining room of the Assisted Living facility. The difference in the walker or wheelchair bound residents there versus the hale, healthy, tanned group from the Independent Living facility two blocks away was stark.

My father’s memory had started to go the last year of his life, and my mother always said it was a “blessing” that he didn’t have to live through the complete loss of the mental powers he had always been so proud of. She on the other hand, was living through her loss. Who was I to say she should want to?

On the other hand, who could really tell she was trying to end her life? The process was so subtle and gradual (eating less rather than not eating is what most people call “dieting”), and the only meds she was refusing were those that exacerbated her “embarrassing condition”.

Reasons

I rose at 4:00 this morning (don’t be alarmed, I always do that) and went for a three mile walk, listening to the Bartok String Quartet referenced at the beginning of this piece. After a period of harmony and disharmony, it ends with two voices together, much like my mother is ending her life.

I wish I understood anything about life. My own emotional elephant feels like its rider is blind, aimlessly trying to pull this way and that, not really knowing where he’s going. I love my mother, yet, throughout much of my life, I resented her for the degree of emotional distance she kept from me, or us. I realized with age that she was the product of a horrendously poor and violent upbringing, and had made the most possible out of it; and that she loved us according to the best she had to offer. Love is all the reasons: all the reasons there are, or could be.

I will be eating with her again, in an hour, and will we tell more stories, and laugh, and, yes, eat.

Because even tired elephants have to eat.

 

 

Session 6

It is 1998. I am in my bedroom around 11:000 at night, and my pager buzzes. I dial her number.

“Hey,” she says.

“Hey.”

“Are the boys asleep?”

“I think so.”

“Good. I have a couple of things I want to talk to you about.”

“Okay.”

“First, I got a new job! I interviewed over at Cosmetic Associates and got it. It pays more. I gave my two seek notice yesterday, but since we’re overstaffed right now, Dr. Ibis told me I could go ahead and start over there Monday if I want to. He was totally cool about it, said if I ever needed a reference or whatever he’d give me one, or that I’d be welcome back if things didn’t work out.”

“Well, that’s exciting. Good for you.”

“The other thing is… I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

“Oh. Okay.”

She’s waiting for me to ask why, but I’m not going to do it.

“The truth is, I still have feelings for…”

“… your ex, I know. It’s fine, really. I’m glad you’re able to admit you have feelings for him… well, for anybody, really. You are a loving person at heart, I know it.”

Silence for a moment, before she breaks into “Tuesday, did you tell that little girl I would take care of her, and make sure everything was okay? I thought it must have been you.”

“Yes, that was me.”

“That was very sweet.”

“You’re great with kids, I’ve seen you.”

“She was adorable. She just clung to me the few minutes her mother was in with the doctor.”

There are a few more moments silence.

“You aren’t making this easy, you know,” she says suddenly.

“How? I’m not even arguing.”

“Because you’re so nice to me, even though I’ve told you I don’t love you. I haven’t been nearly as nice to you. It isn’t really fair.”

“Look, you’ve always been totally honest and upfront with me, and that means a lot. You and I are just not… we’re not ‘destinations’ for each other, not stopping places. It’s no more complicated than that. We each move on.”

More silence, which I break this time.

“Look, Lisa — I am very fond of you,” I say. “I hope you’ll be happy with your new job. I know you’ll do great. Although, honestly, I won’t miss your horrible taste in music.”

She laughs.

“Great. We break up, and only then do I get my first laugh out of you. You know what else is ironic?”

“What?”

“That we break up just as it becomes cool, workwise, for us to be seeing each other.”

“Wasn’t that part of the attraction?” she asks.


“… oh, and one last thing: the woman I was seeing broke it off.”

“And how are you feeling about that?”

“Relieved, honestly. She never lied to me – and it wasn’t my fault if I was lied to in the past – plus, we just weren’t right for each other. I am as worthy of love as anyone, I know.”

“Do you mean that, or is that part of the exercise I gave you?”

“Some of both, I think. Which is pretty damn good.”

“How are things at work?”

“Better. I’ve been able to focus better.”

“Well, truthfully, even though you have a session left, I think we’re done here. Unless there is something else you feel like you want to get done, I think you have what it takes to deal with what you’ve got.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

“Keep in touch. Let me know how things are going.”

He claps me on the shoulder as I pass back through the door into the lobby. The girl and her mother are back, and the girl, who appears to be about nine years old is asking the new receptionist where Lisa is.

“You must be LaTonya,” she says. “Lisa’s gone to work somewhere else, but she left some things for you,” she said, bringing out a stack from underneath the counter.

On top of the stack was a card. The girl opened it, reading it carefully. She smiled as she read.

Next was a package she opened. It contained a diary. “She said she writes in hers every night,” the girl said to her mom.

I moved to the side of them, telling the new receptionist I need to cancel my last appointment.

“Hello, there” the mom said.

“That’s quite a daughter you have there,” I said, and they both smiled at me.

I turned to leave. It was time to get on with my life.

Session 5

“… 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?”

Sigh.

“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.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. I want you to repeat that last bit as many times of day as negative thoughts come into your head.”

“I will.”

“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.

Session 4

I’m riding in the passenger seat of a van, four hours away from our destination. The woman driving is a co-worker; we’re headed to a university to talk to college students about coming to work for our company.

“How have you been since the divorce?” she asks.

“Not … not terrible. Okay, I guess. The boys are okay, which is the main thing.”

“Did you end up using the visits?”

“Yeah, they’ve been helping. I think I have four sessions left… or maybe three.”

“What have you learned?”

“That the divorce has left my priorities kind of screwed up when it comes to relationships… and that I try to buy affection.”

I look over at her. She’s more than halfway through her pregnancy; she volunteered to drive because her vehicle is so much more comfortable than mine.

“How many kids do you and Adam plan to have?” I ask, changing the subject.

“We plan to have three, which means one more after this one. We’re so excited.”

“How are you feeling?”

“So much better this time, there’s no comparison.”

Silence for a full minute.

“What does that mean, ‘buy affection’?” she asks.

“I guess it’s a pattern he picked up on.”

“Have you dated anyone since the divorce?”

“Oh, yes, I went on a date with a girl from my son’s day care who turned out to be way, WAY too young; then I dated Karen who interned here last year…”

“Seriously? You and Karen? How long?”

“Six weeks maybe. I don’t think either of us was really feeling it. And now I’m…”

“… now you’re what?”

“Not really seeing anyone to speak of.”

“Have you met anyone you really like?”

Truthfully, the answer was “yes”. A woman I had met who was going through a divorce of her own. But my rule was, “Still married = off limits,” a rule I thought wise to keep in place. As I sat thinking these thoughts, she seemed to guess some of it.

“So there is someone?”

“Yes, but she’s going through a divorce, and I don’t want to go there. Once that’s final though, I’d like to… although I doubt she’d be interested…”

“Well, that made absolutely no sense. If you like her, ask her out. That’s how this is supposed to work.”

I thank her for her advice. “Rejection has always felt worse than acceptance feels good,” I say, as she turns on to the state highway.

It strikes me though: it never even occurred to me to mention Lisa.

= = = = =

“How are things going with your mystery relationship?” he asks me, about thirty minutes into our session.

“She never laughs,” I say. “Nothing I say strikes her as being funny.”

“And that’s important to you?”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“Do you want to know why I think that is?”

Usually he tries to get me to explain myself; if he is going to cut through the questions and do it himself, I’m certainly not going to stop him…

“Because you want her to be with you for the delight being with you brings, not for what you give her. You want LOVE. Not barter. Not even barter that results in sex; you want love.”

“Love?”

“Yes, love. That thing that men supposedly don’t want. Look, your ex-wife left you because she realized she was a lesbian, but she did love you. She’s never wanted anything from you, no alimony, no money, and there’s been no real rancor over the divorce. I think there’s a part of you that’s trying to assert control: you think if you are in a relationship where you are paying for everything, you have control. But you hate it, because that’s not you.”

I stare at him, dumbfounded. “Damn, Doc, people told me you were good.”

= = = = =

The boys are asleep in their rooms; I’m reading an old book in bed. Her home number pops up on my pager. I pause a moment before calling.

“Hello,” she says.

“Hi.”

“Did you want to get together Friday? You said the boys would be at their mother’s.”

“Yes,” I say, more or less automatically.

“Thank you for the spa package last weekend, that was heavenly. Do you mind paying my rent this month? I’m a little behind.”

A pause.

“No problem,” I say.

Session 3

“You seem perturbed.”

“I am. I spent a small fortune this week, money I don’t even have, buying jewelry for this woman I’m seeing. And she only really kind of hinted at wanting it.”

“Yes, that stuff is quite popular. Miss Lathermore,  our receptionist, just got a bracelet she was showing off to everyone a few days ago. The nurses were oohing and ahhing over it. I don’t really get jewelry. Luckily, Mrs. Ibis has never been that big of a fan.”

“I’ve been thinking… you might be right about me trying to buy affection; I think you’re on to something. What can I do about it?”

“Are you ready to start talking about this relationship you are in?”

“Um… almost. I haven’t introduced her to the boys; I’m not sure the relationship will last long enough. She’s an expensive sort of girl to date.”

“Is she the materialistic sort?”

“Yes, very baldly so. She says that I have what she wants, and she has what I want, so the relationship is pretty much perfect. She thinks love is a big hoax, a scam. Everything, she says, is about tradeoffs.”

“She doesn’t really seem like your type,” he said, musingly. “What do you get out of the relationship? Sex?”

“That’s pretty much it. That, and a more interesting-to-read credit card bill.”

“Do you agree with her, that love is not a real thing?”

“No. Love is real. I mean… she’s younger than me, and very attractive. I’ve never had anything like this happen before. I’m… a gentleman, I guess you’d say. Women feel safe with me, they are safe.”

I laugh, thinking about two other women I had dated. “I’ve known others who wanted me to spend money on them, but I never got anything in return. A least this one has her own sense of honor.”

“You call that ‘honor’? To fuck you in exchange for money?”

I stared at him. “You aren’t a typical therapist,” I say, at last. “Yes. She uses me, and I use her, each with the others’ full knowledge and consent.”

“How many people know about your relationship?”

“No one.”

“Why is it a secret?”

“It’s … not entirely appropriate, given what each of us do.”

“Ah, a work relationship.”

“Sort of, yes… I don’t really like feeling as though I have to buy love, because that is how I feel. What do I do about it?”

Now it was his time to stare. He took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes. “Gambling and spending addictions are among the hardest to overcome, and it sounds like you have a bit of both. If you don’t mind me asking, is the sex addictive?”

“It’s okay. Honestly, she’s a little skinny for my taste.”

He laughed. “Yes, young, thin, and willing, men hate that.”

= = = = =

“I love this hotel, I’ve always wanted to stay a night here,” she says, in between eating grapes on the bed.

“I thought a weekend out of town would be fun. Last night was.”

“Let’s go shopping today.”

She sees the look of reluctance on my face.

“Maybe I can persuade you,” she says.

She does.