Roseanne’s office was always cold.
When I had first started going to her for counseling she would apologize and frequently rub her hands up and down her arms as if to make sure I was aware that she was suffering as well and to not blame her for the frigid climate. I had assured her that I didn’t mind the cold. This was, in fact, true. If the office was cold then I had a perfect excuse to keep my jacket on and enjoy the false sense of security it gave me to have it wrapped around my shoulders. My survivalist brain also registered that it would be easier to make a hasty retreat if I didn’t have to search for a jacket hung somewhere on an obscure hook. I allowed that a jacket could be sacrificed if a situation required it but I rather liked the jacket–a leather one with the Led Zeppelin Icarus painted on the back–and I decided that I would put it in as little sacrificial danger as possible.
After a year of seeing her for therapy, the temperature in Roseanne’s office continued to hover around “Arctic” though her performance had changed from apologies and arm-rubbing to complaints and eye-rolling.
“I don’t know how many times I have to tell the super to raise the heat in this building,” she snarled as she pulled a sweater from her closet.
I didn’t know either so I remained silent.
“With how much I pay them in rent it’s the least that they could do. And I’ve told them that I’ve had clients complain about how cold it is.”
I shrugged. “I don’t mind.”
Roseanne’s face convulsed between a series of dirty looks as she tried to decided if I was being obstinately contrary in expressing an opinion which disagreed with hers, or if I was being ridiculously polite and protecting the sensibilities of an inept superintendent.
“How can you not mind?” she finally challenged me.
I would have done some eye-rolling of my own except that this would have indicated what I was thinking and I had long since decided that I wasn’t going to let Roseanne know what was really going in my head. Mind you, this wasn’t a personal reflection of Roseanne, though her personality was in perfect harmony with the temperature of her office, but rather a rule in general when it came to counselors. I had seen several over the years and after a disastrous experience with my first counselor I realized that no amount of psychological training could prepare another creature to wade through the fucked up kettle of fish that swam in my head.
“I’m only in here for forty-five minutes,” I told her which was both a deliberate barb in regard to what was supposed to be an hour long session, and a satisfactory answer to her question which revealed nothing. I adjusted my jacket and leaned back into the couch.
Roseanne drew the line of unprofessional between dirty looks and talking about financials so she gave a dismissive sniff and opened up the folder which contained all of the secrets I had let her discover about my person.
“Let’s see, Kat, where did we leave off last week?” she murmured looking through her notes.
I cringed inwardly as I always did when she used my nickname. This was another common characteristic I had found in counselors in that they always ask what your friends and family called you and then used that name profusely. It helped them to create the illusion that they are your friend who is listening to your problems because they care, not the uninterested third parties whose time you have bought that they are. When it came down to it counseling is really just prostitution without the social stigma or STDs.
“I don’t remember,” I told her.
“Well, then what happened this week?” she asked completely oblivious to my lack of enthusiasm.
“My former brother-in-law, Ronald, called my mother and said that he found some things of mine that my ex didn’t burn and was going to drop them off,” I offered.
“What was it he found?” Roseanne asked.
“I don’t know. I think it was a tote of some old toys that my grandmother made me get out of her basement when she was cleaning. They probably survived because my ex most likely thought that they were my niece’s old toys. When Ron heard that I was moving he also offered to bring up some of the kitchen and bathroom stuff that I had bought. But I’d rather he not bring that all,” I added.
“Why not? If you bought those things then they belong to you,” she told me.
“They don’t matter. I told you about the night that I left and all I cared about taking with me was Kira, and my old “Wonder Woman” comics if I could, and that’s how I still feel. The rest were things. Things don’t matter.”
“Things are expensive though,” she insisted. “Those things can help you as you move into your own little nest.”
I wrinkled my nose before I could stop myself. If there was one thing that I was not building it was a “little nest”. Nests are for newlyweds and adorable birds newly fledged from college.
“I’ll either make do without them or I will buy them again when I can afford them,” I replied as soon as my nose had returned to smoother state.
“That’s absurd. There’s no taint of your former marriage on your kitchen things,” Roseanne said.
My eyebrow twitched slightly. “There is if my ex has peed in them.”
To Roseanne’s credit she processed this declaration with little more than a slight cocking of the head. “What?”
“I’m pretty sure that my ex has peed in my Kitchen-Aid by now,” I said.
Actually, for all for all of his flaws, my ex appreciated fine mixing equipment almost as much as I did. I was confident that my Kitchen-Aid had not been molested, however Roseanne had called me “absurd” so I felt the need to live up to that accusation.
And she had also come dangerously close to uncovering a truth I didn’t want to explore, so it was serendipitous that my conventional method of diversion was to say something inane. I’ve become so excellent at this skill that it’s a reflex rather than a reaction now. In much the way that a leg kicks out when it receives a strike to the knee, my tongue spits out a ridiculous response when it receives a strike to my brain.
I sat waiting for Roseanne’s response. I hoped that she would give me another dirty look since I was creating a mental catalog of all of her annoyed facial tics. She would be a brilliant curmudgeon in a future novel.
Roseanne gave me a deadpan expression. “Then wash it before you use it,” she said dryly.
I was so delighted by this spontaneous drollery that I almost considered taking off my jacket for the rest of the session.
Instead I rewarded her by sharing the story of the time that my ex had left me at a rest stop as punishment for telling him to get off at the wrong exit; sharing a horrible experience with a counselor is akin to leaving an extra ten bucks on the motel nightstand.
Roseanne listened raptly making up for the banausic intonation I used to describe being 19 years old and suddenly abandoned 3,000 miles from home with her own grimaces and colorful commentary.
“He is a horrible!”
“What a jerk!”
“Are you sure that he did not have some sort of mental deficiency? He was 31 – no normal adult male should behave like that!”
Roseanne did not mince words about my ex, and she truly believed that he suffered some sort of malignant mental malady. It used to find it cathartic that someone else could be angry at him for what he had done, but lately I’d found myself experiencing the empty feeling that comes when a hilarious joke is no longer funny. I didn’t want to do this anymore.
Despite my glaringly obvious contempt for counseling, I had entered therapy with genuine intentions of talking about my problems and attempting “to get better” if there even existed such a state for someone like me. But I wanted to do it in the most clinical and sterile manner possible, without the messy display of emotion that usually erupts from one’s eyes and nose during a counseling session. I expected this to be a challenge, after all I had been through some very traumatic experiences, however I as shared each of the mauvais quart d’heure to blame for my sorry state, I realized that it was quite simple to keep my emotions in check. Namely because I was not feeling any.
Initially I thought that it was because I was so loathe to reveal emotion in front of other people that my brain wouldn’t even attempt to access them knowing that I wouldn’t indulge the feelings anyway, but then I found that, even in the lone safety of my bedroom, I could not feel anything. I’d replayed my most painful memories over and over and I could not even muster a sniffle. I squished up my face and hyperventilated and rapidly blinked my eyes, but I could not convince myself to cry. To be honest I didn’t truly want to cry but I felt like I should cry, and yet it was impossible. All of my tears were gone, or washed away, or dried up leaving behind less salty residue than it would take to thaw an icy patch of sidewalk. I would have cancelled any further appointments after I discover this except that Roseanne was so thorough in verbally thrashing my ex-husband that I decided to continue therapy for the entertainment alone.
But as I sat on Roseanne’s couch that day, idly twisting the chenille tassel of a of the chintz pillow between my trembling fingers and recounting the details of the trip that will forever make me averse to visiting Florida, I decided that I had had enough of this game. It had been gratifying to hear someone regard my ex with the venom that I could no longer muster, but this mock therapy was not helping me to feel any better about myself, in fact I felt worse than I had a year before. While the pain and anger I’d felt then had been unpleasant at least there had been something inside me, some kind of fire in my belly to make me live if for no other reason than to spite the ex who had assured me that he had been too instrumental in making me who I was to live without him. Now I felt nothing. I felt nothing, and I wanted nothing and I was, indeed, nothing. Even this sad discovery was only registered with the tiniest of twinges of regret like a candle being snuffed out with a pinch.
If Roseanne had asked what I was thinking at that moment I would have answered her from my broken soul for once. Instead she made an errant scribble in the folder identified as mine by my married name written in black Sharpie marker and looked up. “Well I guess that will do for today.”
I looked at the clock. 4:40.
“Same time next week?” she asked cheerfully.
The flickering of caring that I didn’t care was gone. “Yeah, that’s fine.” I gave her the check for my $20 copay and left the office.
It was snowing when the day of my next appointment rolled around. There was a healthy two inches on the ground by the afternoon – a veritable blizzard by central New Jersey standards, so I wasn’t surprised when Roseanne called to cancel my appointment.
“What day do you want to come in instead?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t have my calender with me so I’ll call you back and reschedule,” I replied.
Of course I never did.