Click here for the rationale on the “B-Sides” series and to read Part 1.
I believe this piece was written in early 2007, again (in vain) for my first book (which, as we’ve gone over ad infinitum, was never published):
I got a call at 10 AM from a man begging for an appointment as soon as possible. I saw him that day. Upon arriving at the office, David presented as a conservative, upper middle-class Caucasian male in his mid-40’s, clearly agitated and distressed:
Dr. Dobrenski: So David, what brings you in to see me?
David: This is hard to talk about. I had been thinking about asking my wife if she was ready to start a family. We’ve talked about it before, but never really more than in the abstract. This morning, I decided to do some online research about fertility rates of women after 35, because one of my co-workers couldn’t get pregnant for about 3 years, and her doctor told her it was likely due to her age. You can really learn a lot on the internet, some really fascinating things about medicine…
These initial statements by David highlight a difficulty that therapists must deal with on a daily basis. Without guiding the conversation in a productive manner, clients can often ramble ad infinitum without ever revealing what is truly bothering them. However, when people speak, they are essentially “processing,” or making sense of, what is happening in their lives. This is a requisite to positive mental health. A good therapist is responsible for pacing a session so that a client is able to process information while simultaneously leading the conversation in a therapeutic direction. Because this was an initial session, many therapists would let David continue without interrupting, in order to build a good rapport and let David know that he has his therapist’s full and undivided attention. Additionally, it seemed obvious that David had not spoken to anyone about what is on his mind, and is simply trying to make sense of what occurred this morning.
David: While I was online at home, I logged onto her Windows account because I knew that she had been looking for birthday presents for me and, I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I wanted to see what she might be getting me this year.
I’ve always been a firm believer that you are, invariably, asking for trouble when you start to poke around into someone’s computer account.
David: I noticed, on her History toolbar, a lot of, you know, pornography websites and such.
Dr. Dobrenski: Yes; how do you feel about that discovery?
David: In and of itself that didn’t bother me. In fact, I started to look at some of them myself, thinking that maybe it could spice up our love life, you know, introducing some novelty. It’s been a few years now that we’ve been monogamous, and it’s not always easy to keep the flames going. So I’m surfing around her History a bit, looking at the sites, and they all seem to be targeted toward unhappy housewives. It was pretty upsetting. And then I noticed an ad.
Dr. Dobrenski: An ad?
David: A personal ad. There was this picture of her, dressed in clothes that I’ve never seen her wear before. She was in all black, all that S&M-type clothing. And she had on the glasses she wears when she works at the library. Above the photo was a title that said: Do Me Dewey.
Dr. Dobrenski: Does that title have any significance for you?
David: I think she’s referring to the Dewey Decimal System. The worst part, though, was there were all these testimonials about her. Like, people who had stated that they had already had sex with her, and were encouraging others to do so. They were like Roger Ebert blurbs giving her two thumbs up. So I looked at them carefully, getting down some screen names, and then decided to do some more detective work in her email account.
This is actually painful to hear. What starts as a fleeting curiosity turns into obsessive searching for something that will ultimately hurt tremendously. Completely common and normal, but terribly painful. I know I’d do the same thing in this spot, but part of me is secretly begging for him to stop talking, or to tell me he hasn’t found anything. Wishful thinking:
David: It was awful. I uncovered all these emails from people she had slept with, done things with that she would never do with me! They wrote ‘Oh LibraryBitch, you’re so great and Oh LibraryBitch I must see you again,’ stuff like that. I was floored. One guy even said that he had never done it with a tall woman before and she’s only 5 feet tall! Jesus, the guy must be a pygmy! So, I saw an email in her box yesterday morning, arranging a private tour of “The Return Rack,” as they called it. They’re meeting in a hotel tonight down the street from where I live. I’m going to go there.
Dr. Dobrenski: What do you plan to do when you confront them?
David: That’s exactly why I’m here, because I know I’ll need support after it’s over.
Dr. Dobrenski: Over? After what’s over?
David: After I take care of them.
Dr. Dobrenski: What do you mean, take care of them?
David: I…I’m…thinking of killing them.
What had started as a sad but admittedly fascinating story had just evolved into a legal matter. I knew this woman’s name (or at least her online screen name) and David had just made a direct threat against her life. Tarrasoff’s Law (the mandate that requires I report a crime directly to the potential victim), general ethics, and my own moral code required me to notify his wife that her safety was at risk.
Dr. Dobrenski: David, remember when I explained to you the rules about confidentiality? That they only apply under the assumption that you are not a threat to yourself or someone else? You’re making a threat. That means confidentiality is no longer applicable.
Before spouting some pedantic line from the ethics manual, I should have asked David what he meant when he said “I thought I might kill them.” Therapists with experience in this area, although admittedly agitated by such threats, will initially consider, “is he merely entertaining a fantasy? How does he plan to harm his victims, and is he cognizant of the consequences that would follow?” But while I had plenty of experience dealing with suicide, I had never been part of a homicide plan before. So my first thought was “Oh my God, what if he has a gun?!,” and my inexperience immediately put David on the defensive:
David: I know, Dr. Dobrenski, I know! I don’t want to do this. I’m just so fucking hurt and pissed! I had no idea this was going on behind my back! I want revenge!
Dr. Dobrenski (Jesus Christ, who wouldn’t?): David, I’ve never experienced something like this in my own life, so I can only imagine how much this hurts, but I think you’re here because you want help, maybe to save your marriage. Let’s go another route with this, because you clearly aren’t in the right frame of mind to be making any decisions, especially one that is life-altering.
David: What should we do?
Dr. Dobrenski: First, I want you to call your wife, right now, with me here. Tell her where you are, and tell her to come to the office. Let’s tell her, together, what you’ve learned about her, and what you confessed you might do. You said so yourself that you don’t want to kill her, but I don’t know you well enough to even hazard a guess as to what you might do without professional help. The three of us will talk, make sure everyone is safe, and we’ll take it from there. Okay?
True to plan, that’s just what happened. LibraryBitch showed up in my office an hour later, confused about why she was there. David told her everything, and you could see her eyes grow wider as the story continued. She didn’t seem nearly as afraid as I would have been when he mentioned his murderous thoughts. In fact, she responded with deadpan defiance.
“Fuck you. I want an open marriage. ”
Where the hell did that come from?! It was the last thing I expected to hear from her. David broke down wailing but his wife just continued prattling on without giving him a glance. “Look,” she said, “don’t take it personally, but one man’s simply not enough for me. I need variety and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t want a divorce. I’d even like you to come and watch me with my lovers, the tall and short ones. Participate if you like. But we’re done if you don’t let me breathe in the love of all.”
Breathe in the love of all? Oh, I liked that. Here this woman is ready to screw anything in pants but she’s taking the high road, talking like she’s Gandhi bringing peace and understanding to the troubled multitudes.
David showed all the signs of a massive panic attack, dropping into a chair as his legs went out from under him. He gasped, “That’s it. I want to die. I’ll kill myself instead of her.”
“David, pull it together!!!” I wanted to scream. “She’ll never respect you if you act like this! Assertiveness is attractive, no one wants a doormat. Get the fuck up and tell her off!” And if the LibraryBitch wasn’t here, I probably would have said just that, hopefully empowering him to stand up for himself. But she beat me to the punch, screaming at him to grow up, to be a man and “get a pair.” “My God,” I thought, “this woman is perhaps the cruelest person I’ve ever met.”
I asked a few colleagues what they thought about my “Assertiveness is Attractive” axiom, and it received a positive response. “People have an inherent psychological work ethic,” a former professor told me. “We ultimately don’t want what comes too easily, we want to have to work for it.” That would explain why LibraryBitch lost interest in David; he wasn’t making her work. And she became the female version of the “Bad Boy,” which made him want her even more.
Ultimately, facilitating a relaxed therapeutic environment became impossible. I ended up having to call an ambulance for David. I insisted that LibraryBitch stay in my office until he was gone. I didn’t want either of them chasing each other with butcher knives. And that was about all I could do. Three weeks later, David called to say he was on an anti-depressant and that he had rented a small apartment across town. He and the LB were getting a divorce. “I’m going to continue to work with the psychiatrist,” he told me, “and maybe do a day treatment program. I think I need some heavy duty meds for a long time. The doctor told me that when I’m medically stable, I should come back and see you for individual sessions. In the meantime, I want to thank you for getting me through the roughest day of my life.”
I didn’t see how I deserved any credit but I was glad to hear that he was doing better.
“It’s funny,” he said, “I always pictured my darkest moment would be getting hit by a truck or losing a leg or something, not getting divorced from a women with an online sex ad and a penchant for short people.”