The door was locked, so I took a seat on the floor opposite the office of my new therapist. Because I was early, I wasn't unsettled about my blocked entry; and I resisted taking it as a sign that this latest round of soul scrutiny was off to a bad start.
However, if she (let's call her Sarah) didn't arrive by my appointed time, then I would rise, dust myself off, and chalk it off to evidence that therapy need not be a weekly calendar notation.
But a few minutes before the hour, Sarah appeared -- breathless because she had ridden over on her bike. She apologized for the locked door and I was speedily ushered into a room that felt as familiar as a childhood bedroom.
There was the three-cushioned couch in a subtle grey and floral pattern, the side table with a box of Kleenex and bottles of water, landscapes and other serene artworks on the walls, a facing armchair in matching upholstery, with its own side table of clock and notepad.
In my 76 years of life, I have turned to therapy a handful of times. My slim record is not because I disdain the practice or am reluctant to reveal my secrets. Au contraire, I love therapy! Fifty-five minutes focused on me, a sympathetic witness to my angst, a collaborator in my version of the story; who wouldn't relish the experience.
All of my sessions were jump-started by a query. Some visits continued weekly for nearly a year; others curtailed in a few months.
Sondra (fictitious, too, but interestingly, all of my therapists' names did begin with the letter "S") was my first, sometime in the late '80s. I was lured to Sondra through an article she had written about weight issues. I was a perpetual dieter, and thought Sondra could help me untangle my eating issues and enable me to drop 10 pounds.
But somehow during the very first session, our theme veered from my heft to my marriage, both of which were affecting my happiness. I can still see Sondra from those long ago days. She was wearing a loose-fitting tunic top and matching long skirt.
I thought at the time,
flowing, unrestricted, the better to encourage comfort and open dialogue.
I discontinued therapy when my marriage improved (I still had the extra 10 pounds), but returned after my husband's surprise leave-taking in 1990. I went solo for a few sessions, he joined me for one, and despite Sondra being charmed with him, my spouse had his foot determinedly out the door.
My next bout of therapy was with a woman we'll call Stella, and it was to her whom I would come back to over the coming years. Stella is regal, with salt-and-pepper hair, and dressed in the requisite draping wardrobe.
Our first round was very short term, perhaps only three visits. I had only one question: if I was so unhappy in the marriage, why was I still crying about its demise?
"You were married for 30 years, sadness is normal," she said, which satisfied my need for any further sessions.
I returned to Stella in 2009 after my second husband, Tommy, and I had been together for 13 years. “He's a jerk,” I told her. “When we first married, he’d write me love letters, hide syrupy Post-it notes in my gym bag. Now, nothing, and on top of that, he says inappropriate things to strangers.”
As our appointments and Tommy's odd behavior continued, something new was added to the mix: he lost his ability to speak. Stella suggested a visit to a neurologist, and that's how my husband's dreadful brain degeneration was diagnosed. Once I realized his unsettling symptoms matched the illness, I ended therapy and transitioned from puzzled wife to
Before I left Chicago for Los Angeles at the end of 2014, I had a few more sessions with Stella. She listened as I questioned my motivation for the move, and like a professor watching a student puzzle out an unsolved math theory, she sat patiently while I tossed pros and cons.
Yesterday, I had my second appointment with my LA therapist, Sarah. It began in a more traditional fashion. Her outer office door was unlocked, so I settled on a chair in the waiting room. Exactly at the appointed hour, she opened the door to her private space. As I unleashed my backpack and removed my hat, and placed both on the cushion next to me, Sarah uncapped her pen and placed a notepad in her lap.
"So, here's my question this week," I began.