The Therapist

The Therapist

She settles into her chair across from me, pulling her legs up in a sukhasana, and smiles.

Do you mind? she asks.

Of course not, I say.

Sitting this way is more comfortable. Would you like a cup of coffee?

I would love a cup of coffee, thank you.

I watch her leave the room and then look down at my feet. When I hear her coming, I stand up to take the cup from her. She sits down and pulls her legs up. I set the cup down on the glass table next to my chair and sit down.

How are you? she asks.

I’m doing all right, I say. It’s been a strange week.

How so?

I don’t know, just strange. I find this time of year a bit puzzling with all the lights and songs and good cheer.

I can imagine you would find Christmas a hard time of year.

It’s not so much Christmas because I love this time of year, it’s more that I struggle believing everyone is so happy.

Maybe they have more to be happy about. Or fewer reasons to be sad.

I guess. But I’m not sad, just pensive.

What does that mean? she asks.

Being pensive?


I think about this, hoping to avoid saying anything stupid or absurd. Most of what we say is absurd and ridiculous. How can we help it? It’s the way life comes at us. We can’t say, most of the time anyway, what’s really on our mind. My therapist wants me to say what’s on my mind. She knows, or I think she knows, that I can’t. Even with her, I have to be careful. Nothing is coming to me.

Finally, I say, I don’t know. I guess I just can’t seem to rest. My mind is always active. Sometimes I just want it to be quiet so I can enjoy the moment. I don’t ever feel as if I’m a part of anything. Everything seems to buzz all around me and I’m pulled into this whirlwind that I can’t control or escape.

Have you been meditating? she asks.

Nah, I really haven’t been able to get into it.

How are you sleeping?

About the same. I’m still having nightmares.

Tell me about them.

Something is always chasing me. Last night it was some wild creature that I couldn’t identify. It was half-wolf, half-pig. I think. It was so menacing that I didn’t get a good look at it.

She looks at me but doesn’t respond. She wants me to go on. I don’t know what else to say, the nightmare was so crazy. Anyway, I tell her that I was able to get away, but only by jumping off a tall cliff into the crashing waves below. It was dark and as I fell I could still hear the ravenous beast above me on the edge of the cliff. My nightmares always end with me jumping off a cliff to escape whatever is chasing me. I never die. And I never land. I jump and then, thrashing wildly as I’m falling, I wake up. I have fallen out of bed more often than I care to remember. Sometimes I hit my head against the wall or the dresser and knock myself awake. That always strikes me as funny. Usually, you knock yourself out, but I knock myself into consciousness.

I laugh out loud and she smiles but says nothing. She is trained to listen. But what is she listening for? I wonder.

I look at her, picking up the cup of coffee from the table. These moments of silence are awkward. This is why I always ask for a cup of coffee, so I can break the awkwardness while temporarily hiding behind the cup. I take a sip. It really has no taste at all, but the fragrance reminds me of my childhood.

You know how some memories are so real that they never go away? I ask.

What do you mean? she asks.

Well this coffee, for instance. It reminds me of my childhood when late one night my father came into my bedroom to tuck me in. As he bent down to pull up the blanket, he kissed my forehead and I smelled the coffee on his breath. Rich and dark, it smelled like the earth. Coffee never tastes like that. I always think that it will, but it never does. I will never forget the rich, earthy smell of his coffee breath. Some things stay with us and spoil everything that comes after.

Do you believe that there won’t be any new memories, any that might bring you joy? she asks.

No, I don’t believe that. I believe there will be many things in my future that will bring me joy. I couldn’t go on if I didn’t believe this.

I wait for her to say something but she doesn’t. I take another sip of coffee and think about my father. He was kind and generous and never had an unkind word to say about anyone, none that I can remember. My mother was quiet and generous, too. I was surrounded by love and kindness and always felt protected. I tried to give this to my wife and son. I wasn’t a perfect husband or father, but I always had time for my family and showed them as often as I could how much I loved them. No one would ever take my family away from me. But they left. I would never have thought, not in a million years, that I would lose them. Not this way. I look at her and she tilts her head as if wanting more, like a dog waiting for a treat.

What are you thinking? she asks.

Nothing, I say. Actually, I’m thinking about Rachel and Cairn, my wife and son. And another thing just occurred to me, what a hard job you have, having to sit there and listen to everyone else’s problems. Doesn’t that drive you crazy?

Not really, she says. I have learned to process and dump. I can dump with the best of them. She laughs. I smile at her to show her how much I enjoy her laugh.

You know, I haven’t always been a therapist, she says. After I graduated from Cal Berkeley, I spent eleven years as an artist, a slightly starving and bewildered artist, in San Francisco. It was an exciting, wild time in my life. I had some interesting friends and lovers. I don’t know if I should share this with you or not.

Please do. You have had to listen to my story time and time again. It’s time we shared a different story.

If you insist, but keep in mind, I am a therapist, not a storyteller.

I disagree, we are all storytellers. What else can we be? I say.

She smiles and begins…When I first got out of college, I met an artist. His name was Kiv Mazarin, a wonderful painter. He was going places, I just knew it. If he hadn’t died so young, that is.

Kiv was born in Algiers. His father was a professor of literature at the University of Algiers. During the Algerian Revolution, since he was a French citizen, it became dangerous for Kiv’s father to remain in Algeria, so he left his position at the university. Kiv’s mother had died in an airplane crash when he was only a year old. She was traveling with her lover back to France, leaving Kiv and his father behind. And when his father was forced to leave Algeria, his father left Kiv behind, believing Kiv, only three years old at the time, was better off staying in Algiers.  As Kiv was to discover later, his father left Algiers not so much because of his concern for his safety, but rather because he was inconsolable and dispirited after the death of his wife, even though she was killed while running away with another man. He never stopped loving her.

Having a curious and creative nature, Kiv struggled under the strict rules set down by his aunt and uncle, with whom his father had left him. He was restless and forlorn and plagued by questions surrounding his abandonment by both his father and mother. Kiv’s father traveled around Europe until his money ran out, and, without a word to Kiv, broke and depressed, he committed suicide. I believe this affected Kiv more than he ever let on.

Kiv was a gifted painter but could never shake off his restless nature. We lived together for seven years, very tumultuous years, but ones I wouldn’t trade for anything. He opened my eyes to the world of art and what it was like to live as an artist. It was a time of amazing creativity in San Francisco, especially in abstract art.

Kiv and I lived in a studio loft in the Haight-Ashbury district. He painted all day, pacing around the studio, stepping constantly to the window to look down on the street below. I also painted but always felt like an imposter because I was trying to paint, trying to say something with my painting, trying to make a statement, while Kiv just painted. He threw paint at the canvas furiously, cussing, stepping back, cussing some more, and stepping up boldly to throw more paint at the canvas. He was fearless. He wasn’t trying to say anything. He told me that the only function of an artist is to find the edge, quiver there, on the edge, and in that moment of quivering, faltering on the edge, in that brief moment of enlightenment, throw oneself off the cliff, kicking and screaming, painting in a frenzy while falling headlong into the abyss. You don’t die. This is what the artist discovers. You don’t ever hit the rocks. You wake up as if waking from a horrible nightmare and begin again.

I honestly think he could have been a great artist but for the drugs and alcohol. He not only painted on the edge, he lived on the edge. It was a crazy time in San Francisco. Or maybe, living among artists is always crazy, I’m not sure. I stayed for as long as I could, but living with Kiv became too intense, too risky. He would become violent when he drank too much. And he drank more and more. And did crazier and crazier drugs. If he hadn’t killed himself, the drugs and alcohol would have killed him. I had left him before he killed himself. I’ll never know if my leaving had anything to do with his suicide or not. I don’t think so. He was on a collision course with death whether I stayed or left. He probably didn’t even miss me. I missed him though. And to be truthful, I’ve never gotten over him.

When I left him, I stayed a few more years in San Francisco, struggling to find myself as a painter, difficult, heartbreaking years. Finally, I gave up on the whole notion of becoming an artist, one who could pay her bills anyway, and I moved back to Berkeley, where I met my future husband, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. I laugh when I think about it, the juxtaposition of my two lives in the Bay Area, the one living with a wild artist in Haight-Ashbury and the other one living with a professor of psychology in Berkeley. Both relationships were stormy but in different ways.

My husband’s name was Mark and he was considered by his fellow psychologists to be on the fringe of psychology. Mark believed in alternative treatments for psychological problems, including hallucinogenic drugs and the use of crystals. These things were considered very radical, even in Berkeley in the ‘80s. He was considered something of an outlaw, so when the opportunity to take a position at the Naropa Institute in Boulder came along, Mark jumped at it and I went with him.

We weren’t married at the time. In fact, we had no intention of ever getting married. Marriage was too bourgeois.

She laughs at this and I smile to let her know that I love her story. I’ve always loved a good story.

I wish we had never gotten married, she continues. Things were simpler when we weren’t married. Once we got married, Mark became demanding and unbearable. I don’t know what happens to some men once you marry them. I find this to be all too common among my clients. So many marriages end in divorce simply because a husband becomes demanding and forceful. I call it the perceived power of ownership. It is unfortunate.

With Mark, there were other things going on. He was under a lot of pressure to publish. The Naropa Institute grew quickly and with this rapid growth, teachers there were asked to take on ever-increasing workloads, as well as publish. The institute became a leader in experimental psychology and its founders wanted to change the approach to psychology. They believed in a more holistic approach to psychological afflictions. He taught and wrote about things in a way he never practiced in life. While he taught and wrote about compassion and love, he couldn’t give these things to me. We drifted farther and farther apart. He became a stranger to me. I have always been mystified how two people, once supportive of each other, once so in love with each other, can almost overnight become strangers.

She pauses, and I catch the reflection of tears. She reaches for a tissue and wipes her eyes. I’m sorry, she says.

You don’t have to be, I say. I smile hoping to encourage her to go on with her story, realizing that some stories aren’t meant to share and should stay tucked safely away in the heart. But then I think, if they stayed in the heart, they would lose their luster.

Where was I? she asks. Oh yeah, strangers. Mark and I not only became strangers, we treated each other with contempt and malice. Our marriage became ugly and bitter. We had no choice but to go our separate ways. But as is so often the case, once we made the decision to divorce, we immediately had misgivings. Memory has a way of softening the edges, distorting the truth. Our marriage hadn’t really been so bad. It was just time for a change, I guess. This is what most generally happens in the dissolution of a marriage, two people grow apart not because they hate each other, but rather because they have evolved in separate ways. The cocoon of marriage never holds two larvae that metamorphose into one beautiful creature. Instead, marriage holds two separate cocoons.

Mark and I were no different. We changed, that’s all. He changed in ways that I could no longer recognize or accept. And I’m sure I became unrecognizable to him as well. We were strangers sharing a common story. It’s as if two characters in a novel suddenly realize that they are not real, they are both products of the writer’s imagination. It was such a wonderful love story until they realized it was made up. Neither of them could recognize the other one because they weren’t even capable of recognizing themselves.

A lot happened during the almost twenty years I spent with Mark. I can’t believe I was with him so long. After the divorce, he went back to Berkeley and I stayed in Boulder. I had gotten my degree in psychotherapy from Naropa and here I am. Listening. But in this case, talking. You must find this dreadful. The therapist seeking therapy from the client.

Not at all, I say. We are all humans. Sharing space. I have always found it interesting how lives intersect. In the stories I write, characters get to know each other in the most bizarre ways. Or so it seems to the reader. If the reader would stop to consider her own life, however, she would see that this is how life unfolds. We look at our lives in retrospect so that the events in our lives seem logical, seem to have occurred for a specific reason, when in fact things happen quite unexpectedly and by chance. Every meeting is unusual. No one should ever meet anyone else.

Why do you say that? she asks.

That no one should ever meet anyone else?


It is illogical. We share space but not thoughts. We live inside our own bubbles, looking out at a distorted world. We reach out but can’t penetrate the bubble. We are curious about all the other bubbles we can see, all of them floating around in space. But each is distinct and impenetrable.

Do you really see the world like that? she asks.

I do. Don’t you?

No. We are sitting here right now, face to face, in this real space, talking to each other. This is real. I am not in a bubble, you are not in a bubble. At least, I don’t see you inside a bubble. You are as real as that table over there. Or this chair I’m sitting in. Or the lamp. These are things. Real things. Things that exist in space and time.

Don’t get me started on space and time, I say, laughing. We have no perception of time and space. They are concepts that each of us has come to terms with in his or her own way. My concept of space and time do not coincide with your concept of space and time. We cannot agree on what anyone else sees or feels.

I disagree, she says. I can reach out and touch the desk and know it exists. And if I ask you to reach out and touch it, you will feel the same thing I do. It is a real thing that exists in real time.

I might believe in the same notion of the desk as you, I agree. But the desk I touch is not the same desk you touch. I can describe it to fit your notion of what a desk should be. I learned the same things you did. Or I can describe it as a pink unicorn with a purple mane and golden tail. You can’t be sure what I see or experience.

And then, what is even more bizarre, we try to share notions of feelings and thought. The story of Kiv and Mark you shared with me. They are more real to me than that desk. I have a true sense about them. And even though Kiv is dead, he is alive to me. And to you, too. He isn’t gone. He’s still alive in your story. You keep him alive. And who knows about Mark. I am not as interested in Mark. But Kiv. He was wild and radical but so alive. He splattered colors on canvas. What a bold statement. He had no agenda, no preconceived notions,  just this desire to express these wild feelings that overtook him. What else is art but a desire to break through the bubble? Artists have to be bold, they have to be fearless, they have to defy themselves. With him, it wasn’t about money or fame. Not at all, it was about insanity. Telling the world that he understood. The whole world is fucking insane and he understood. Why pretend otherwise?

Do you see the world as insane? she asks.

I wish I did. Sometimes I am lucky to see it this way. But most of the time I see it as just a dreary, ordinary place with bubbles floating around. I want to be more like Kiv. When you see it the way he did, you are free. You can finally begin to live. So what if you live inside a bubble? It’s a crazy, fucking insane world inside your bubble. And it’s insane inside everyone else’s bubble, too.

You do realize that Kiv killed himself, threw himself off the Golden Gate Bridge, she says. He hit the rocks below. He wasn’t living inside a bubble. His death was real. He might have spent his short life denying reality, but his death was real. And final.

Do you have any of his paintings? I ask.

No, unfortunately. Before he killed himself, he destroyed all of them, all of them that he hadn’t sold to pay the bills. I have no way of knowing who bought any of his paintings or where they are now. Kiv never kept track of anything. I wish I had some way of finding out. If he’d lived longer or had been discovered by the right gallery or dealer, I think he would have been successful. To Kiv, art had nothing to do with fame or recognition. He told me that if an artist had a following, he wasn’t an artist, he was a magician. This never made sense to me at the time, but as I’ve repeated it over and over in my head, I have begun to understand that he was right. Art is either real or it is sleight of hand, a cheap trick. When it is real, no one can see the meaning in it because it is the farthest thing from the truth. It shows there is no truth.

I look at her not knowing how to respond. I think she is an artist, underneath everything else, she is an artist. It is sad that she must practice therapy to pay the bills. Sad but then not sad. Life unfolds in crazy ways. Maybe the universe is asking her to listen.

I think about a friend I had a long time ago who saw auras around people, auras of the devil. He was diagnosed schizophrenic, but I think this is a trick of psychology. Because someone sees everyone else as the devil, he is diagnosed as delusional. I believe my friend could really see the devil. And the devil is everywhere. My friend committed suicide. I thought at the time that suicide was his only means of escaping the devil, but I don’t believe this anymore. I think he was curious, just curious. Artists and schizophrenics are driven by curiosity. I want to tell my therapist this, but I think she already knows.

We sit through a long silence. I catch her looking over at the desk as if she’s considering its possibility. Does it exist?

Do you think the desk is there? I ask.

Yes, I do, she says. A part of me wishes it weren’t. A part of me is still with Kiv. A part of me died when he jumped off the bridge. A part of me died when I married Mark. I often wonder what my life would look like if I’d have stayed with Kiv. We might still be together. I like to think that we would be. But the desk to me is real. And I am sorry that it is.

The first woman I truly loved, loved so intensely that my heart could no longer be contained, I met in college quite by chance, I tell my therapist. I looked over and there she was as if she had appeared out of the clouds. She shimmered like a mirage. And my heart tore itself free from its cage. We loved each other intensely, unlike no two people ever loved before. And it ended after only two weeks. My relationship with her ended but my love didn’t. I still love her with a greater intensity than I’ll ever love anyone again.

She’s dead now. I tried to find her so many times, but she eluded me. She got married and moved to New Hampshire where she taught literature at a small college. She had a child. I often wonder about her child and husband. And I ask myself, did she ever think about me? Did she ever wish things had turned out differently? But that is all behind me now. This is what I try to tell myself – unsuccessfully. It isn’t behind me and never will be. It stares me straight in the face every fucking minute of the day. I knew love, really knew it, and it was as real as that desk. And then it wasn’t.

I look at my therapist, waiting for her response. She pulls her legs in more tightly against her body. A lotus flower folding in upon itself. I would like to go to bed with her. I would like her to wrap her legs tightly around my body. I want to forget Sheryl. I loved her so long ago, why won’t she leave me alone? Why does she keep coming to me? If we had stayed together, gotten married, had children, would she leave me alone now? But that is the saddest thing, we didn’t do any of those things. And it is all I wanted, all I ever wanted, all I will ever want. When your one dream is shattered so early in your life, what can life hold for you in the future?

When you think about her now, do you ask yourself what it would be like if you had stayed together? she asks. Do you think your life with her would have lived up to your dreams?

Yes, I say, definitely. It was the one true thing in my life. I suppose her leaving was true, too. Two true things in my life. Both gone now. This is how cruel life is. And we try like hell to find happiness. Happiness. I know for sure that that isn’t true.

You don’t believe that you’ll ever be happy again? she asks.

Not only do I not believe I’ll ever be happy again, I know it for a fact, I say.

This strikes me as very sad, she says. There should always be the promise of happiness.

Why? I ask.

It takes the edge off of life, she says.

The promise? I ask. There is happiness or there isn’t. We can’t hold onto the promise. It is too disappointing. It is too hard, like the hard surface of the desk. Too fucking hard. Even if it doesn’t exist.

I stare over at my therapist and think, she’ll never wrap her legs around me. It’s just as well. A moment of pleasure doesn’t make for happiness. Quite the opposite is true. It leads only to more heartache. I don’t want to feel anything anymore. No, that’s not right. I don’t feel anything anymore.

What are you thinking? she asks.

I smile. I don’t think you want to know, I say.

She looks at me quizzically. Why? she asks.

Let’s just say it shouldn’t be shared, I say.

How can I help you if you won’t share everything with me?

For one thing, it’s impossible to share everything. There are too many gaps in the mind. For another thing, we must protect the integrity of our bubbles.

She smiles. I guess you’re right, she says. At least about the gaps. I’m not a big fan of the bubble theory.

Unfortunate, I say. It really is a good theory.

She looks over at the clock on the wall, the clock above the desk, the same clock she’s had since I’ve known her, and I know our time together is over. I stand up. She stands up. As in the past, we hug, and she says she’ll see me next week, and I say, yes, I look forward to it. One of these times there won’t be a next week. It’s just the way things happen. There is always an end to things. I’m curious how our end will come. But then, I am curious by nature.

  1. Luv it David.

    • Thank you so much, Jane. This means so much to me. I hope you are doing well. I’d love to see you again. One day I’ll get back down to Cortez. Take care.

Leave a Reply