Therapy is my thing. Always has been. No time for dots here. I needed somebody to talk to. Here in the nation’s capitol, the yellow pages are full of therapists. I telephoned a whole page, found a woman who would see me right away, that day – and allow payment on a sliding scale. In my case, that amounted to nothing. This was my kind of therapist. She didn’t give a shit about bipolar disorder, manic depression, none of that. She was anti-medication, holistic, very much into the inner child. A real old timey existentialist, a leftover. She didn’t like psychiatry; she was a pure talker. On the phone, she was enthused about seeing me, sounded like she probably needed medication herself.
My old roommate, Glenn, lived in Virginia, an easy bus ride to the train at Pentegon City. That morning, he went to work, left me in his apartment to knock around, relax from my hitchhiking trip. I got the bus, then rode the train to Foggy Bottom and walked to my new therapist’s office, which was, in fact, her apartment, a cute little place in Georgetown. All style: old bricks upon the cobblestone – but substance? Shit, a therapist has as much substance as you bring to the therapy. That’s my position.
“I do weekend workshops,” she said. “They last all day Saturday, and Saturday night into the wee hours, and then Sunday we finish about seven o’clock. We have one scheduled for this weekend. Most people find them to be a growth experience. We do a lot of inner-child work, a lot of sharing. Most people experience –”
“It’s on a sliding scale,” I said. “I’m broke.”
We were sitting in her big white chairs. They were soft – all cushion. You could really sink into those things. You had to sit back and relax. You had no choice.
“Well, I really want people to pay a hundred dollars for the weekend. In fact, that’s an integral component to the experience, simply because our society works that way. Not that life can be compartmentalized, because it is all one experience, all integrated into just being in it. But money is a river that always flows through our lives. It is important for some people, like you, because it assists you in validating your worth.”
“I know I’m worth a hundred dollars,” I said. “I just don’t have it.”
She was about my age, blond, wearing blue sweats, had the make-up on, the lipstick, the fashionable hair style, some parts curled, some not – a really beautiful face, lots of innocent, honest character, with an exquisite blend of young sparkle and wisdom. And she had a great body: not the movie star kind that makes you go ga ga, but the delicious kind, medium sized, well taken care of, a body every man, given the chance, is pleased to gaze upon – one of those women who might or might not have looked good twenty years ago, but is certainly coming into her own now. And will continue to do so, in all probability, for several more years.
“The workshop is not about having, it’s about being,” she said. “Particularly in your case, since having is such an issue.”
“I’ve only been being in town a day,” I said. “I hitchhiked here. And I’m staying with an old friend. I’m not having any money. And I’m needing some therapy.”
“Listen,” she said. “Let’s not talk about the workshop, or the money. Let’s talk about you.”
She spoke in a pleasant voice here, high, with a little song to it. Like it was a new idea she had just come upon, and a good one, something she could get enthused about, being, after all, a therapist.
“That’s fine,” I said.
“Really, the workshop is not separate from you. You are in a workshop now. Your life is a workshop. Whether you choose to be in my weekend workshop or not, it is just another experience you are experiencing.” She snapped her fingers four times. “One experience, then another, then another. That’s who you are, your experiences. You choose your level of participation. So, what are you working on now?”
So, being in D.C., I took her down the road of my political thought.
“The family is a political unit,” I said. “And it’s not a fair system, at its core. Yet, we humans are assigned to it, like all living matter. And it takes extraordinary choices to change it.”
“Tell me a little about your family.”
“I have a daughter.”
“But I don’t feel that she’s part of my family, never have. That’s the leap I never made. I’m a bipolar, and I’ve never jumped into adulthood, which is what that would be. You know, your inner child workshop would probably be good for me, because I’m still working on not being a child. You know, that parent stuff never quite took hold.”
“Perfect,” she said. “That’s something you can let go of. There’s no reason not to be a child, if that’s true.” She smiled. “You’ve got some beliefs about adult and child that box you into a little space.”
“Yeah, yeah. My wife, or ex-wife rather, always told me that was my problem. That I’m still a kid. In my mind, my family is the one I was born into, and like I said, that is essentially a very unfair unit, the family. Some get the goods, some don’t. And then everybody acts like it’s a choice. But my ex-wife, Gracie, says that I couldn’t be in the family with her because I never grew up, out of the other family. Then again, that’s part of the disease, as I see it, at least that’s part of the disease as it manifests itself in me. It’s different for everybody, of course, I’m sure you would agree. There are…well, we’re like snowflakes…there are no two manic-depressives who are alike. Just because we all have the same name for what we have, you know, manic depressive, bipolar disorder, depression, whatever you want to call it, we’re still different people. You know, we take the same drugs, some of us, but that doesn’t make us the same either. You, being the humanist that you are, would agree with me, I’m sure.”
“Are you comfortable with the idea of medicating yourself everyday of your life?”
“A little comfortable, but not so much recently. My biggest problem is not remembering whether I’ve taken the last pill or not. You know, my short term memory isn’t worth a shit.”
“So you haven’t been taking your medication?”
“No, not recently.”
“You know, I left town a few days ago to come here, and I forgot to it. So I’m giving myself a trial period, a few days without to see how it goes. I suppose I could call my doctor and get him to call in a prescription. He would be glad to do it.”
She stuck her finger on her cheek, considered the idea, then leaned forward, put her hands on her ankles. How she sat that way in these chairs I don’t know; she was a flexible woman, had mastered the technique. She spoke with all that open integrity – her forté.
“This might be a good time to do the workshop,” she said. “It sounds to me like you’re in the process of making a shift. Workshop is just a fancy name for people. It’s a group of people, organized into a caring community for a weekend. They could assist you in clarifying exactly where you are, and who you are.”
This sounded like something I was familiar with. Dot dot dot. “Yeah, yeah. I’ve done those before,” I said.
“Sure you have. And I’ll tell you something: who you are is not a disease. We don’t use those labels. They’re antiques, and they’re fragile and broken. They don’t work anymore.”
“So you would give me a break on the price?”
“I didn’t say that,” she said. “But I might be able to assist you in owning up to your worth, which would produce the money naturally, from within you.”
“How much would that cost me?”
“Quite honestly, the money is no issue for me, I could give it to you. But it’s a self-worth issue for you. Something you could benefit from acknowledging about yourself. Often, what I do in situations like this, when someone really wants to do the workshop but has not yet acknowledged his own worth, I’ll encourage him to begin, on Saturday morning, knowing as I do that the money will produce itself out of intent. It’s like, that will be the first thing for you to handle on Saturday, and if you want it, like anything else in life, it will be there for you. So, either way, the money tells you who you are.”
“So you’ll let me in without the hundred bucks?”
“We can make an agreement. You begin, and you make it your intent that by lunch on Saturday, the money issue will be behind you. I’ll support you in handling that on your own.”
“Absolute intent. Vulnerability. Openness to new action. Allowing yourself to be more of who you already are. It’s simple. That’s the workshop, anyway.”
“So I just join the workshop, with my absolute intent, and that’s all I need? Intent?”
“Sure, no different from anything else.”
“But you’ll get paid?”
She laughed. “Of course I will. As long as you’re open to that happening.” She extended an arm, smiling beautifully, as if introducing me in a kindly way to an imaginary guest. “I’m getting paid now. You’re my payment. You’ll grow.”
“I’m open,” I said.
“You know,” she said. “Money is not really a barrier. And it’s not really your worth. It’s a really just a small thing, something we have to handle everyday, like taking out the trash, doing laundry, eating. You’ve made it big, but it’s not. It’s routine.”
Just then came the sound of a crying baby.
“Whoops,” she said. “She’s up. I’ll be back in a minute.”
My therapist bounded up the stairs, was back in a few seconds with a baby in her arms. Now she was cooing and smiling, into that kissy sweet mommy talk, making little baby sounds. She gave the baby a hug, a kiss, and another hug, held her in her arms and talked to her. “You’ve got a wet diaper. You’ve got a wet, wet diaper.”
There’s something mixed about the sexiness of a woman with a baby. Sorry, Charlie, but I’ve got my morals. Here was this good looking woman, standing at the changing table, her back to me, powdering, gooing, and gaaing, smiling, talking, and laughing with this baby – and I suddenly respected her as a human being. Yes, she was a fine looking woman, all the attractive elements in clear view in the light blue terry cloth sweats, with time for viewing (I won’t say she was in great shape, had a great ass, because of my morals, and what I’m going to say next), and I thought, no, this is not a woman you think of in terms of fucking. Of course, she was. But that’s wrong. This was a woman too much involved in love. Fucking would be like child abuse. So I kind of fell in love with this therapist. But I would not have slept with her, as wonderful as it would have been. Not if she had asked. I suppose it’s that mommy thing. Weird, isn’t it? Sicko, huh? Women and me?
She came back to her pillowy chair, put some toys and books on the floor between us, and plopped the baby down. The child stood up. She was just beginning to walk. She took a step, sat hard, and began to play with a fuzzy dinosaur.
“You married?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “You?”
“No. I was, almost ten years.”
“That’s right. The old family unit thing.”
The baby looked at her and smiled. She smiled back. “You like that one?” she said. She handed the baby a book. “Excuse me,” she said. She wriggled her way out of the chair and sat on the floor. She spread her legs, so that the baby could play in the space between them. “You don’t mind if I sit here, do you?”
“Not at all.”
She gave the baby a toy. The baby gave it back, and she gave her another. This went on for a minute. Things were suddenly quiet.
“I guess the workshop is the decision I have to make,” I said.
“It really is,” she said. “I could give you more information, but it’s only information, which is artificial anyway. Information is not the real experience you’re looking for. You have a choice, that’s all.”
I liked this woman’s outlook. I have always liked this kind of shit. You take something cut and dried. A workshop, one hundred smacks. Smacks you don’t have. And you twist it around, look at it in perspective, and you’ve got something metaphysical to go along with it. She was a smart cookie, this therapist.
“I’d like to do it,” I said.
“Here,” she said. “I’m going to take Leanne for a walk in the stroller. Want to come along?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’d love to walk. But it’s awfully cold for a baby.”
“Not with her little winter suit!” she said, picking Leanne up over her head with a smile. Leanne laughed.
So she twisted Leanne into her pink little one-piece winter suit, packed her into the stroller with a velvety white blanket, and out we went, onto the Georgetown sidewalks.
On the streets, things were different, so loose, yet nerve-racking. I told her about my recent past, how I came here without my medication on a fluke, after a freak encounter with my ex-wife that confused the shit out of me and made me antsy. I told her about my recent visit to the hospital, the adjustment to the diagnosis.
“Bullshit,” she said. “Psychiatry these days is ninety percent a money game. The model itself is holding you back. Even if you do need the drug, so what? It’s only a drug, not a sickness. Just think of it objectively – chemical inbalance. What does that term do to a person’s conversation with himself?”
We were waiting to cross at an intersection. She bent over the stroller, gave the blanket a tuck. Leanne’s cold cheeks were as pink as her clothing.
“Hey,” she said. “I’ve been too. Do I look like I’m crazy?”
“Of course not.”
So we delved into my fascinating life a bit more, but not too much. The walk was short, around a few blocks and back. “The baby is hungry,” she cooed. She told me I had work to do, stuff to handle, people – particularly Gracie – to talk to. She said the workshop would be only a beginning. It would offer some clarification, but that the real work was in my life. Of course, she also said that my real life was in the workshop.
Back at her apartment, she plopped back down into the cushions and released a few buttons, pulled out one of her lovely breasts, and began nursing that starving baby girl. Damn, was this therapist therapudic or what? I moved to let myself out, leaving her there in that warm cucoon, sitting with her own legs folded beneath her, sunk deep into the cushions, snuggled close with little Leanne. The phone rang. I offered to answer it. She said not to, that she never interrupted nursing time. The machine spoke, and a client told her that he had enrolled his wife in the workshop.
“Great,” she said. “I wish your Gracie could be here for it.”
She pulled that nipple out of Leanne’s mouth, hid part of it from me under her top, and pulled out the other, gave it to the baby.
It was overcast and cold outside. I found a bar with half price draft and put down a number of them, stayed there until well after dark. I sat right in front of the piano player, listened to some oldies, stuck a dollar bill in the jar every two or three songs. These oldies, by the way, were songs from the seventies, I think. Oldies? It was a college town, full of bright young whipper snappers. Or Snapper nippers. Hell, I was drunk by the time I had used up the money Glenn had loaned me.
This piano player, though, was a hell of a guy. He was a black fellow, my age, said he grew up in North Carolina, near my hometown. A hometown boy! Some songs, he sang with manic enthusiasm. Whammo! ‘That’ll be the day, when you say goodbyeya!’ Others, he became the sad balladeer. ‘Hello darkness my old friend.’ Da da da da da da daaaa. Da da dee daa – da da da da daaa. So sad, you can’t even remember words. With the flip of a switch, he could be the ecstatic mate or the jilted lover. How could he do it? Is that the artist’s trade, the mood disorder itself? If so, it sure as hell doesn’t work for everybody, does it?.
I thought about more ways to get some money, then decided it wasn’t worth the goddamn mental anguish. What will be will be. Da da da, da da. Take it to the workshop. I called Glenn up, asked my old buddy to drive in and buy me some dinner. He was glad to do it. He wondered where I was. We ate a hot curry and drank cold beer together, talked about the college days, the other guys. Good old Glenn-O. He was mellow then, and he had mellowed even more. He only had two beers. I had many more. But he was a nice guy, always was. The nicest of the bunch, really.