I made the mistake of seeing a dude therapist over the summer, a choice that no one who has lived as many years as I have, or has done as much therapy as I have, should make. But I’d found myself in a very strange place, existentially, and none of the women therapists that I’d contacted in my small town were taking new clients.
I sat in an enormous, overstuffed leather recliner and tried to figure out where the conversation was going. He didn’t do any of the typical screening type questions to get a rough sketch of my whole deal. The recliner was embarrassing; I felt small and vulnerable and I didn’t know where to put my arms. Stretching them over the broad armrests felt childish, play-acting as a Bond villain, and hugging my middle felt surly. Also, I prefer to sit upright because this is real therapy, not therapy as depicted in a New Yorker cartoon.
I was there trying to figure out why, since everything had basically worked out the way it was supposed to, in some cases better than I had hoped, that I still felt like I was standing with my toes curled over the rim of the Grand Canyon during a windstorm. He didn’t take long to lose my trust, first asking me about my “cycles” (truly) and then illustrating a different point by referencing the preparation for shabbat in Judaism. He disclaimed that though he was not observant, he appreciated the labor taken to prepare for the day of rest. We cannot expect for rest to find us, we must make deliberate space in our lives for rest. I thought of my Orthodox friend who works and has three children younger than five, including a baby. Who exactly is toiling to ensure that the family can rest on the sabbath? Is it not usually….a woman?
And that’s what I said to him, thinking of how essential my friend is to her family’s religious practice, how if she gets sick, inevitable with kids in daycare, it throws everything off the rails. He said I was getting lost in the metaphor. That’s kind of my thing, I said. He laughed. Men want you to take them seriously but never literally.
I rarely get catcalled since moving here. In a small town, there is no façade of anonymity for creeps to hide behind. It’s the difference between what you might say in an anonymous internet comment versus what you might say to someone’s face. I hadn’t realized it was “missing” from my life until I was harassed a few weeks ago in a parking lot. Our tumble dryer was broken and while we waited for the part Nick had ordered online to arrive, I was stuck running damp loads to the laundromat in the evenings. Nick would put the kids to bed and I’d fill the car with heavy baskets of damp clothes, so heavy they made the car beep at me to buckle them in.
I won’t say that I was grateful for the chaos that this hiccup to our routine added, but I was reminded of how soothing I find laundromats. Laundry is my most loathed chore, and I imagine a top-five scourge of most parents’ existences, but I like these places. These places are where laundry starts and ends and is over. I like the elevated wire baskets on wheels, that the dryer doors open at heart-height so you don’t have to bend over to change the loads. I like watching all of our clothes backflip over and over through the little portholes of four adjacent machines.
You can tell that I’ve had laundry machines at home for a very long time because I am able to treat the experience of this errand as nostalgic and novel. Still, the constant mechanical groan of the machines, and the warmth they generated had me lulled into an almost trance. When I walked out to my car with stacks of baskets digging into my hips, my cheeks were flushed pink and I was mentally vacant like I’d been lounging in shavasana for twenty minutes. It was then that out of the darkness, a man started smacking his lips at me, saying, well, I don’t know because I always try not to listen.
It was jarring, both because I wasn’t expecting it and because I realized that I had gotten to a place where I don’t expect it. I mentioned it to Nick when I got home and he was too apologetic and serious about it, which I found nearly as exhausting as the interaction itself.
I hate how I have to train my senses to shut off, hypervigilance masquerading as oblivion. I was walking home from the gym yesterday and a man shouted out of his truck at me and I kneejerk-ignored it. After a few paces, I started to wonder if he was letting me know that I’d dropped something. I looked at the ground behind me, nothing had been dropped. Can you see how disorienting this all is? When I was a city bike commuter, I remember a car shouting something at me and responding reflexively with my middle finger. As my heart rate finally slowed a few blocks later at a red light, I understood that what was shouted at me was “Ebert!!” It had been my friend.
When I was six years old, I was riding in the back of my friend Emily’s van, probably en route to a soccer game or Girl Scout meeting. Each seat had a little ashtray beside it, with a spring-loaded chrome cover, because apparently I’m that old. As our suburban hometown scrolled past in the windows, I started flipping the ashtray open and shut, letting it close on my fingers, then withdrawing my fingers so it made a soft click.
Her dad looked up into the rear view and said in a sharp tone, “Uh, is someone smoking back there?” My dad had never spoken sharply to me in my life, and also I didn’t understand what was going on.
Emily sighed and reached across the bench seat to rest her hand on my ashtray-flipping arm. “We’re not supposed to play with those,” she translated.
Here was my friend, just six years old, already interpreting for adult men who didn’t know how to ask for what they wanted, or say what they mean. She and I continued to be friends for years and I always found myself uneasy around her dad, thinking he was confusing and peculiar. He was confusing, but unfortunately, not peculiar at all.
it is legal to leave me a tip / it is also legal to forward this to a friend