I knew that something was very wrong on the way to my last session. I was too depressed to listen to the radio, though this has been typical lately, and I felt a heavy omniscience that left me somber and ill at ease. I hadn’t wanted to sit in the parking lot at P’s office when I arrived eight minutes early, such was the weight of what I knew, so I turned left beside the park where I used to take my daughter to play when she was a toddler (there is a sunshade over the sandbox that brought so much relief on hot summer days) and followed that road for a little while.
I sat in my car in silence for the last remaining minutes before heaving myself into the winter light.
There at the glass door I turned the metal knob to lock it (like P always does) and turned right to his open french doors. Instead of waiting in the frame for me he was off to the side leaning against the wall. It was like he was frightened, or maybe I was, but he was also deeply unhappy and I could feel that he was.
“You didn’t answer any of my e-mails this weekend,” I told him.
“Yeah, we should talk about that,” he said. “Let’s just say you shouldn’t expect that I will answer them.”
I’ve never been able to adequately describe what heartbreak feels like. I know it as a tearing of what is already so fine to begin with inside; like a shredding of some protective mechanism each of us needs here.
You stop and you wait with some respect for the perfect embodiment of the hurt — the odd ecstasy of it. The fibers falling in metallic reams until they finally settle somewhere out of harmony.
Write to me as often as you’d like, he’d always said. I won’t always respond, but I’ll always read your messages.
This has always been true until I cross that line I cannot see; the line where I hurt him with my words and he withdraws to protect himself and his sense of honor. I’ve always felt that I cannot live up to his goodness, his self-respect and his dignity.
I don’t have to imagine how many people love him.
Since earlier this year, as you know, I’ve struggled with the drastic change in our schedule. Where once I could rely on his presence if I took some great risk in my life, now I am far more careful, always trying to keep myself safe until I make it to him again. There isn’t any net left. I can fall and I can shatter and still face all those days between us.
And I do think of his heart. Of his father’s heart. Of the very real possibility that he could be hurt beyond repair if he works too hard, takes on too much. In my selfishness, I’ve continued to reach for him, and worse yet, I’ve continued to tell him in limitless ways how disappointed I am like some awful, critical father. When all I really want to say is that I’m frightened. That I’m so, so frightened.
In my fear, in my need, I say such things:
You are never, ever there when I need you, P. Something happened on Tuesday when I acknowledged that I wasn’t getting better, that I wasn’t ever going to, and I’ve since realized that I need time away to figure out what to do. I’ve been in bed all morning, and I hate myself for thinking you might see me and help make things just a little bit easier.
“I’m telling you that I can no longer absorb this, LB. You’ve remained critical of me, telling me that I’m never there for you, and I really think this just isn’t helpful anymore.
“For the time being, I don’t want to talk about our relationship in here. It isn’t helpful for you and your care. We can talk about your pain and your life and your work, but not us.”
Listening to him I thought of silence. Of being silenced. I thought of my mother and the soothing words she needed for her guilt. I thought of my father and the warning in his eyes if I came anywhere close to getting at his soul.
I thought of my voice that has been trampled and ripped to shreds and stuffed back down, hard into me.
“No,” I said. “I won’t work that way, P. I won’t let anyone do that to my voice ever again.”
“Either I have the freedom to say what I feel here, or I don’t.”
And then I left some fifteen minutes early. Of course I’ve cried.