Contrary to what most of you might think, I do try and keep some level of dignity throughout these posts, and it may be surprising to some of you that I have not yet pulled out the real dirt from my past. I still have plenty of nitty-gritty with which to entertain you, and this is one of the deepest-darkest. In fact, this story, and the several that will come from it, I’m sure, centers on a relationship that I have, up until this point, chosen not to share with anyone. You see, there was, and is, some part of me that wants to protect the person in question – as always, I will not use names, but unlike the many times I have written this, I will not delete it when I’m finished. It’s time to move forward, even if that means inviting the public to know something I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with.
I have always gone to church.
Throughout my life, my level of devotion to organized religion has fluctuated from the extremely zealous to the not-giving-a-shit, but for as long as I can remember, I have attended a Sunday morning service at one church or another.
When I was nineteen, I happened to be walking the line between zeal and normalcy when a wrench got thrown into my religion-works, so to speak. At the time, I was a leader of the junior high department of the church’s youth group, along with several others, and that fall, we decided to take the junior and senior high on a retreat into the mountains. Two things of significance happened on this particular retreat:
1. The boy that I had crushed on and spent most of my time with since I was 16 told me – in the middle of a gym full of screaming teenagers – that he wanted to marry me. This both thrilled me and freaked me out.
2. I started therapy.
I didn’t start therapy intentionally. The entire weekend was a success, actually, and I left feeling really good. I opted to help return the van we had rented to transport kids at the end of the weekend with three of the other leaders. I rode in the rented van with – we’ll call her LIZ – and her two roommates followed in another car. During the ride, LIZ asked me about my dad.
A little back story, for those of you who may not know me well. My parents are divorced, and have been divorced since I was five. Unlike most divorces, the one I witnessed involved drugs, an affair, and a very public mess in which every one’s dirty laundry was aired in the church, over and over again. LIZ was about 13 years older than me and when my parents did their very-public-deed was just graduating high school and going to college for a degree in counseling. She confided in me that she had seen everything that happened, heard all the gossip way-back-when, and had always wondered, as a therapist, how I had turned out as an adult.
Our little van ride was her chance to find out.
I told her, with little emotion, what happened with my dad – that he left when I was a kid, I didn’t see too much of him growing up, until he got re-married, that is (and interestingly enough, he ended up marrying my step-father’s ex-wife. try figuring that one out!). At that point, we had a civil relationship and I saw him occasionally. She was quiet for a few minutes, and at the next stop light, she turned to me and asked, “You told me what happened to everyone else. What did it feel like for you when your dad left?”
I promptly broke down. I don’t mean that I cried – I sobbed. Hysterically. Uncontrollably. For the rest of the ride to the car-rental return. Looking back, I’m not sure why I broke down the way that I did – I suppose it was the combination of the lack of sleep from spending the weekend with fifty or more kids under sixteen, the ton of emotions I felt about crush-boy, and the fact that no one – in the fourteen years that had passed since my parent’s divorce – had ever asked me how I felt about it. It was overwhelming.
Needless to say, I was a mess by the time we arrived at the car rental place, and it was already late – after midnight. LIZ – again, who was much older than I was and a counselor for the church – called my parents and told them it was probably best if I didn’t try and drive home that night, and I spent my first night in her house.
Over the next few weeks, there were many conversations – between LIZ and myself, LIZ and my parents, and a couple between my parents and me. At the end of it all, it was decided that I had unresolved emotional issues from the events of my childhood and that I would start seeing LIZ as my regular therapist for the time being. Our sessions were scheduled around her other clients at the church, and we largely informal, in that we sometimes met in an office at the church, sometimes at a local diner, and sometimes at either her or my mother and step-father’s house.
By Christmas, she had convinced me that a relationship with the boy who wanted to marry me was probably unhealthy, and I spent most of my spare time – even outside of sessions – with LIZ and her friends. It was easy, they were accepting, and she seemed to understand me. They all seemed to genuinely like me.
One evening in early winter, LIZ and I met for a session at her house. Once it was done, we had dinner with a mutual friend at a nearby restaurant and returned to her house alone, presumably to talk about what had come up in the session earlier. As we walked into the living room, taking off coats, gloves, and scarves on the way to the couches, she asked, “So, what are we going to do about this?”
Sitting myself down on my usual chair, I responded, “Do about what?”
“This.” She gestured between the two of us. “This sexual tension between us.”
I was quiet. Sure, I had noticed it, but there was some sort of flirtatious tension between myself and most of my friends. I rarely acted on it and had come to think of it as normal. She was my therapist, but we had become friends to – that did pose a problem.
“I just think if you’re going to do something about it, you should, but we can’t just keep pretending it doesn’t exist.”
I sighed, and grinned. “I don’t make first moves, so whatever gets done with this is up to you.”
“I’m not saying any moved need to be made, Kar, I’m just saying that this is a lot to deal with. It could end up as a big ol’ mess. Besides, you’re too far away for anything to happen.”
Sensing the slight challenge in her response (I was an expert rebel already, and making people uncomfortable thrilled me), I got up and re-seated myself on the ottoman in front of her. I couldn’t have been any closer unless I was sitting in her lap.
She laughed. “Shit, Kari…”
We sat like that for more than forty minutes.
After about an hour (and three months of therapy), I kissed my therapist more passionately than I had ever kissed anyone up until that point – after all, she knew me so well already. Standing up, I reached for my coat. “I have to go. We still have an appointment next week, right?”
She hesitated for only a moment. “Yes. Of course.”
This marked the start of two of the most hellish and confusing years of my life, which I will continue to share with you, of course.
Sometimes I look back and wonder how different my life would have been if I had kissed the tattooed boy who told me he wanted to marry me on the retreat instead. I’m sure it would have been even more passionate, and oh-so-poetic with all of those screaming children running around us.