I ran to my car, late for my therapy appointment, my heart racing, my mind going over each word I said in the fight to make certain I hadn’t given away something that I would later regret. After sitting in the parking lot known as the DC Beltway, I pulled into the driveway of my therapist, and sighed. I wasn’t ready to be vulnerable; I didn’t see a single door open in my emotional corridors for self-examination. It was pointless to be there.
Hustling into the homemade waiting room of the glassed porch, I stood looking at the pile of The Washington Blade on the table, waiting for Robyn, my therapist. Why did I give away the idea to them that we might cave on the logo credit?. I thought of one of the many points of legal contention. Because if it works and they fall for it, I might be able to close the alleged breach issue.
Robyn opened up the kitchen door to greet me, her smile as inviting as the scent of cinnamon, and I navigated the steep carpeted stairs to assume my position on her large deep blue sofa. I grabbed one of the pillows, as I always do, hugging it. She sat in her assigned seat, and I heaved another sigh.
After a moment’s small talk, I said, “You know, it’s a really hard left turn I have to take to come here after work. I’m wearing my business battle armor, and it’s just really tough to get to the things I need to.” It was a thought I had on the ramp to the Beltway, one I wanted to share with her because sometimes I feel as if I’m visiting a friend when I see Robyn rather than my therapist.
“When Billy and me were in couples counseling, the same thing happened. I’d come in with all of my defenses up, and our sessions would end up more about fighting in front of witness than anything that actually helped.” She nodded, waiting for me to finish the thought. “Of course, we had a completely passive therapist. He’d just sit there and watch.”
My eyes started to well up. I remembered Billy sitting on the far end of the couch in Jim Babl’s office, crying at something I’d said, something cruel and hard, an attitude held over from a day of business where the rewards come from ruthless arrogance. Billy and I went to therapy for six months.
We had reached a point in our relationship where we felt an outside voice would help us frame our ongoing fights, problems that built walls so high, we couldn’t even see each other anymore. Our arguments were circular, and perhaps, a counselor could help us break the pattern. We couldn’t have guessed, however, that it would serve to deepen our problems, burying them with a pact that proved even more damaging.
“The two things that hold the most shame in a relationship are infidelity and drugs,” Jim told us with authority. He was certainly right on that point, as Billy and I often drove through that intersection. I’d become enraged when Billy got high only to have him slap me with my secret sexual adventures. My defense was simple to his accusations; I would deny it leaving him to feel frustrated, or worse, crazy.
In Jim’s office, we made an agreement that I wouldn’t mention his drug use if he left me alone about his silly suspicions that I was fucking around behind his back. We wrapped up our therapy quickly with Jim, my insurance soon ending as I saw the blinding light of bankruptcy coming closer at the company for which I slaved. It was a tragic decision, born of expediency rather than compassion, and it would have consequences once crystal became our unwanted companion.
Two months after we stopped seeing Jim Babl, in an impulsive fit of horniness, I saw him at a local bathhouse. It was close to our house in an incongruent neighborhood not far from Venice High School. I’d never been there, although I had sped passed it a million times on my way home. I hadn’t been to a bathhouse in over fifteen years, but that night, Billy was out with his friends, and I was lonely.
After paying my twenty bucks, I opened the buzzing door to a damp carpeted maze of tiny plywood rooms, prison mattresses, and four older men roaming the halls in towels. I went to my room, sat on the edge of the bed, wondering if I should just leave. I undressed, wrapped my towel around my waist, my room key jangling from an elastic band on my calf.
I turned the corner and saw Jim. He was wild-eyed, his teeth grinding in a forced smile as he tried to greet me in a How nice to see you way. I knew immediately he was high, and everything that he told us in his office during those months when we were struggling for answers and guidance were tainted with the stink of crystal. I returned his anything-but-casual smile, went back to my tiny room and left.
I never told Billy I saw Jim at that bathhouse, flying wild. I was ashamed I’d even been there; it was part of the pact Jim helped us create. I routinely turned away whenever I saw Billy was tweaking. After all, we’d made an agreement. Wasn’t it easier to pretend that Billy was just having fun?
Even when I accidentally found a packet of crystal hidden in a matchbook, while I was sitting directly across from Billy, I did nothing but look at him with disgust and walked away. I heard him calling after me as I was walking down the stairs, “Maybe I wanted you to find it.” His voice was small and pleading. He did, no doubt about it, want my help. We had a pact, though, and I was a coward, afraid of the blowback. It was easier to just walk away.
After I finished telling Robyn this story, I'd nearly cleaned out her Kleenex box. I stuck some of the tissues up my nose, making certain I didn’t have the embarrassment of snot left from the flow, and helplessly looked at her. Her soft brown eyes plead for me to forgive myself. She assured me that I was on the right track. She reminded me of the plans I’ve made to help others—work in dog rescue, become involved in crystal recovery—would be something that'd ease the pain.
I smiled at her, my eyes wet and red, and said, “I guess it’s not that hard for me to make that left turn, after all.”