1. When were you safe in your relationship?
A rubber tree cloaked us from the shoreline. Her bikini soaked into mine as she straddled me. I remember her hair in my mouth. The heat glimmered.
That summer that I skipped nearly every mandatory basketball practice.
That summer that I slipped down two flights of stairs at 1 a.m. to meet her in parking lots all over Honolulu.
She’d pull my tampon out to fuck me. Coat me in whipped cream. Bind my wrists with her shoe laces.
That summer I told her I couldn’t take the endless lying and thought we should break up, and she screamed that she would go inside her parents’ house and tell all of them we were in love. That we were so in love.
Everyone wondered. Our friends from school, our teammates, her family, my family. Everyone. We got boyfriends and told lies. We fucked in her parents’ bed. We fucked in our cars. On every beach. In every bathroom. We fucked at the cathedral where she played piano for mass. In front of restaurants before they opened. At weddings. In so many shrubs. We fucked like teenagers. She’d come home from Seattle University for spring break only to discover the money was gone, and her parents were keeping her in Hawaii to work for their bug extermination business.
She’d cried into my mouth.
She’d cried and held onto my bra straps and told me she couldn’t leave and couldn’t stay.
She told me we’d marry boys and live next door to each other and be in love forever.
She hit me when she fucked me. She hit me and cried and left bruises on my breasts.
She picked the boy she wanted me to date.
I was seventeen.
My wife and I have started couple’s therapy. With a yellow tablet filled with questions, my wife researched and phoned dozens of doctors. No one made the finals unless they had a Ph.D., practiced the kind of therapy my wife believes in – motivational interviewing – and took our insurance.
Five weeks later, she found this guy: small, round, rosy cheeked. Briefly, during my last divorce, I saw a therapist who demanded that I weigh myself daily, and suggested that I date her daughter, who ran a pool league. “I think you two would have a lot of fun,” she told me.
This little guy’s office takes up half the main floor of a town house. The wooden floors creak. The furniture is expensive and uncomfortable and probably antique. In a window-box seat, a fluffy cat sleeps.
I didn’t know where to sit when I first walked into the therapist’s office. Do you sit together? What does it mean if you don’t sit together? Am I supposed to focus on my wife or the doctor?
The cat’s fur is densely white with grey stripes down its tail. How do you sleep in a therapist’s office? Seems hardcore even for a cat.
Our quarters in Hawaii had plumeria in lush shrubs around the front door. We lived on Oahu in a volcanic crater of military housing and bunkers. My dad got a church for his final Army assignment.
I met Rais at basketball tryouts my first month in Hawaii. She’d mistaken me for some girl they hated from a tournament the previous year. It took weeks before anyone believed I was new to the island, the school, the team.
“I know you, white girl,” she’d said that first day. “I know you.”
The therapist sits with his leg crossed, and a notepad rested on his thigh. “Cole,” he says, “I’d like to begin with you.”
I nod. Sure. Of course. Let’s begin.
“What,” he says, “is your goal for therapy?”
Rais’ black hair fell in my mouth. Her youngest sister walked in on us twice. The first time she fingered me, we were sprawled on the bench seat of her station wagon, the empty courts behind us, as she pushed my shirt up and held it at my throat. The next morning, she’d fly back to Seattle.
Girls left. When they were gone, they missed me. When they stayed, I was too much. Too distant. Too moody. Too young.
“I wish you were a boy,” Rais said.
I wish you were staying, I thought.
We couldn’t talk on the phone anymore. My folks had freaked when that first phone bill arrived. “$180! Cole! $180! Explain yourself!”
She writes letters to me several times a day and they aren’t enough. I need to hear her voice. She’s alone with so many white people. It’s discombobulating.
In college, she used her belt. To bind my wrists. To hit my chest. We’d outgrown shoe laces.
The little therapist waits.
“To be healthy,” I say.
“What does that mean to you?”
“Not to need therapy.”
I’m forty-five years old. My feet hurt every morning when I get out of bed. I limp to pee, to let the dogs out, to pour myself cereal. It’s humiliating to talk to this pocket-sized doctor about my goals.
“What is your goal for your marriage?”
I try to imagine being alone in the room with the cat. Outside, the snow sits in dirty piles. We have to meet our deductible before any of these visits are covered. We gotta keep coming here just to afford coming here.
“Not to need therapy,” I say less politely. My wife stiffens on the other end of the couch. I haven’t looked at her yet. This is the first time we’ve been in a room together in twelve days. “I thought I was supposed to be honest,” I say. “I’m supposed to be honest, right?” I look at the doctor.
“Is that what you’re being?” Meghan says.
“Meghan,” the doctor says, “I’m going to get to you in a few minutes. Let’s stick with Cole for now. Cole, I want you to give me three feelings. What three emotions are you feeling right now?”
I look at the cat. I’m tired.
“Confused, upset, and lonely.”
“Tell us more about that,” he says.