Note: This is a writing exercise exploring an important memory, but one that existed like a collection of facts without much context or meaning. I find when I use writing to explore a memory that the lights come back on, and details lead to meanings along a narrative path. Every time I’ve done this I’ve been given a fresh understanding with relevance to my life in this very minute.
When I was young I lived with chronic depression, untreated… could there even be a more discouraging opening to an erotic memory?
Nonetheless, there is fucking ahead. Also betrayal, malpractice, and naivety. Plus a soupcon of shitty meanness.
My depression as a child and adolescent was like a seasonal beating given by an indifferent but professional thug. Or pulling from a different box, I was like a tiny Pacific Atoll blown apart by tropical cyclones 2 to 3 times a year. My palm trees thrashed violently in the wind, my beaches eroded and my desperate citizens disappeared into any hiding place they could find. My dad was a veteran of maybe a dozen years of Freudian therapy for depression and my mom was in therapy for at least a couple of years.
To the best of my recollection, they never noticed my withdrawal and sorrow and I didn’t feel I should bother them for help.
I think that:
- I might have masked it well enough to look pretty healthy, but
- How did they not notice anyway?
My son is extremely private, a secretive and enigmatic person, but I see clouds or clear skies on his face and understand the weather in there well enough to send aid and comfort to the suffering people of his tiny island. My suffering finally surfaced in talks with my mom when I was 15 or 16. My self-loathing and despair were catastrophic, a house burning down. She listened to me lovingly and sympathetically, she made positive suggestions, but that’s all. She didn’t perceive a need to address it beyond this. I don’t go back and live in the ashes of family psychodrama, blowing on the embers. I don’t hold mental Nuremberg trials for my parents and I find little value in blame beyond healthy and timely communication to keep the pipes running freely. But my parents let me down, the only two people, directly tasked with my well-being and very knowledgeable about mental health by the standards of the time, did nothing to help me despite the obvious crisis. I was failing out of school, peacefully refusing to do any work like a teenage “Bartelby the scrivener”. I had given up having friends and lived alone in my room. That’s the extent of the case I prosecute against them and that’s where I let it go, feeling mystified since I know they loved me and worried about me.
My parents divorced; Dad moved out of state, my brother got his own place, and my Mom moved to a tiny apartment perfect for her new single life. I registered for college (god bless liberal arts colleges with non-standard grading) and arrived in the concrete dormitories for freshman orientation. If you interviewed all the students, you’d find nobody more naive and unprepared than me, but I was incredibly happy to be someplace new and hopeful where I could meet people and find a direction, where I could seek my life. Things went forward about as well as they could with my oddball coping strategies, and I began to feel at home there. I was excited and invested enough to try to do well in my classes.
And then the typhoon blew in. I broke. Depression burns with self-hatred, despair, and a related shame at what you are and the state you are in. A horror of being seen makes you hide until driven out by necessity. Then you lurch through a landscape of judging strangers, trying to compose your miserable, red-eyed face. I had no insight or strategies to handle the breakdown so I just endured miserably.
Wandering the campus one day when the crisis was abating, I noticed a nondescript building with a sign on the glass door: “Student Mental Health Services”. It had never crossed my mind until then to find help. Uncharacteristically, I went in to learn what was available. The building was silent and deserted except for one person on duty.
Fun Fact: for me at least, I have a thing for Jewish women: At any rate for smart, funny women, with dark hair, a smattering of freckles, and take-no-bullshit eyes. This isn’t a fetish, just a recognizable pattern, a sexual leitmotif. This leitmotif was waiting behind the desk and greeted me pleasantly. She radiated intelligence and professionalism but was also beautiful, built like a brick mental-health facility, and warmly welcoming. Her name was Maryann* and she was the therapist on duty, offering drop-in or by appointment counseling. She was in her early 30s and a recently graduated post-doc.
I told her I’d been struggling and she invited me to try an hour-long counseling session on the spot. That hour was a soft revelation to me, I felt cared for and heard as never before. I thawed, my shame diminished and I felt a small light of hope come on in my chest. She suggested that I return regularly so we could explore how to improve my situation. I agreed and we shook hands at the door and parted.
The residue of that hour clung to me, the relief of care and attention like a hot meal in my belly. Her physicality was inseparable from the experience. She wasn’t a big person but I was a skinny runt and her large breasts and solid hips made her seem a little bigger than me. She was maternal and earthy but lit up with well-informed competence. Her perfume and nice clothing even affected me.
I am on the spectrum, a spectrum that wasn’t imagined at the time of this story. I am facile socially in a way that masks my thimblerigged quirky interior. My social survival pattern was to learn what behaviors pleased any person I wanted to know or needed to get along with and tailor my personality to be agreeable in that relationship. I was automatically deflecting my Father’s anger and my mother’s sadness from before my memories begin. I’m sensitive and a quick study with an intuitive grasp of how hard to play the character. I also had no commonsense agenda or longterm goals. Daily experience for me, was playing the pieces where they lay for short term payoffs. I had no conception of reality on different terms than this. Think of me as Temple Grandin if she knew how to make you laugh, or three weird children on each other’s shoulders, disguised as a grown-up in a big overcoat and a hat.
My mirroring behavior wasn’t a narcissistic gambit, it wasn’t manipulative, just ingratiating. It was the only way I knew of relating to people. I diplomatically “chameleoned” my way forward on autopilot. The problem is that this may carry you along like a balloon into the heart of a story where you don’t belong.
Maryann became my therapist off and on, for a couple of years, first at college and later, in her private practice. This is a long time ago but in my memory, our sessions have no direction or even a focus to describe my predicament to myself. I walked away from my parents and Maryann without a toolkit or a map. The blame may also be with me, god knows what I was taking in vs instantly scanning and dropping out the car window, certain that I already knew best. What matters is I left as vulnerable as I had arrived.
My “read” on Maryann was seductive and romantic. We drifted toward the falls on a slow river of appointments and self-delusion. From early on we had bad-ish borders that grew flimsier and more transparent. I was aware while talking to her of skirting more revealing and painful issues in favor of a narrative that invited her to come closer and reveal more of herself. She began to mention her marriage in ways that hinted at instability. We began to acknowledge something between us that was tempting but forbidden. The thing is, I was ambivalent about fucking Maryann, let alone entering a deeper personal relationship. I smelled her desire for a love story and I mirrored what a suitor would say and do but in a rather flat, halfhearted way. I’d walk out of an office full of pheromones and yearning into a bright blue Florida day feeling relieved to shrug off an oppressive narrative. It crowded me. BTW, I am 18 and 19 years old here and I mostly look like this.
We played out accelerating scenes as the momentum carried us forward. Volley and return. She mentions a crisis with her husband, talking separation. I sympathize and console. She confesses feelings for me which I return. She introduces the idea of renting me a house where I can write. Sugar-momma bribe, oh that sounds nice.
One passionate embrace and tongue kiss in the office and we end our professional relationship. We make a date to fuck, not calling it that. Since she is married and I live in a dorm, the only place we can have any privacy is MY MOM’S APARTMENT, as she’s on vacation.
The day comes, and we meet in Mom’s apartment. Maryann is being very romantic and passionate and my spirit silently splits in two temporarily to avoid being completely present for this. We’re stripping and kissing. She’s so close. She’s definitely older than me, as she lies down her large breasts puddle on her arms. Her body feels large and muscular, more powerful than me. Let’s be clear, I’m not scared, I’m just doing something I don’t want to.
I’m sad but dutiful like I’m waxing my Aunt’s car** because I promised her, instead of getting together with my friends. I fuck her hard, she senses something is off and tells me to lie back and receive. I do, and it’s ok but mildly like a medical procedure. Finally, she’s come, I’ve come, t’s crossed, i’s dotted. She’s in the afterglow and I’m trying to remain for a seemly period of time to convey warm lovingness, but Jesus, why? What a sham! There, are you happy now?
My feeling is “Can I please go now? I did what I promised. See, the car looks great. ” Naturally I don’t say those things but I’m pulling away because I don’t want to be here. Finally, she can’t ignore it any longer. She senses me running away emotionally and she feels cheated. First, she’s alarmed, then shocked, then mad. I mumble emotional excuses to get off the hook peacefully.
Finger in my chest. “You are pretty messed up,” she says “Your behavior indicates that your Mom abused you sexually as a kid, you should work on that!”
I’m silent, I don’t want to argue, I want to be gone. We’re dressing, she’s gathering her stuff. It’s awkward, but my life is the car wreck I currently can’t help staring at. She’s at the door, she’s ready to go. She comes in for a kiss, I allow it. “I’ll see you soon,” she says, back to misty eyes.
I put on a caring face. “Yes, see you soon.” and close the door. I never talk to her again. I don’t return calls. All I feel is “Thank god that’s over”.
Why did I do this, especially since I didn’t really want to? My autopilot social chameleon behavior. It came with a bizarre feeling of obligation to cooperate with the expectations of the person I was mirroring. It’s like the theater improv rule of “Yes, and”: When your improv partner introduces part of the story you must never reject that plot element. Your job is to agree and embellish. I suppose as a child I just did this as the path of least trouble. This tactic has some positive potential for a kid getting along with their parents but when you leave your childhood and enter the random and mysterious world of strangers it’s a disaster waiting to happen. It’s like software easily hacked by anyone who tries. When you hear stories of people driting into terrible situations in a docile, passive way as if they had no agency, it could easily be this.
Why did she? Immaturity, I suppose, and the power of fantasy reinforced by the seeming agreement of the fantasy itself. Subjectively, every subtle romantic signal she sent me was answered “Yes.” by me. Subjectively every romantic signal I received was a request I should acquiesce to. In a way, she’s like a contemporary person seduced by an internet bot who appears to love them. But she is responsible for her actions and failed miserably at upholding the ethics of her profession. She dumped me as a patient when I seemed to offer her a tasty treat. She failed to question herself as many months and thousands of decisions played out.
Fucking me was not her major crime, it was the scorpion tail bitch viciousness, after all of her failures that led us to sex, to insult me as a broken fuck-up for not making her as happy as she’d expected. It was straight-up malpractice to accuse my mother of abuse to install a self-serving lie in my head as the right way to understand this sordid afternoon and the map to guide me up and safely out of this predicament alone.
~* This is her real name.
~** Maybe the most unfortunate euphemism ever