Tropical fish swam in a big aquarium sitting next to a cherry wood desk. Two leather recliners and a thickly cushioned chesterfield flanked a mahogany coffee table near the full-length picture window. Soft leathers and deep wood colours felt relaxing and soothing, right down to neutral pastels on the walls and plush carpet underfoot. Safe and comfortable. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves crammed with an array of self-help books, psychology texts, encyclopaedias and a section devoted exclusively to paperbacks stared back at me. Most writers possessed the ability to spot their work from afar. It was how they gauged sales. Too many copies indicated sales were lagging. Empty shelves meant the bookstore had neglected the author. The distinctive spines of two novels caught my eye.
Brinkman sprinkled fish food into the tank while Odera patted the cushion next to her. As I sat down, she crossed her legs away from me, folded her hands in her lap and sat up straight. Brinkman snapped the container closed and seated himself across from us in the leather recliner.
“Bruce, are you surprised to discover your work on my shelves?”
Reaching into the magazine pouch at the side of the chair, he removed a pristine leather notepad that he set on his knee, opened to reveal a nearly full pad of paper.
“I’m surprised you admitted it, unless you’re attempting to gauge truthfulness. Those novels might provide secondary insight into my personality beyond what Odera has told you. It suggests that you have genuine interest in her treatment and that you aren’t afraid of research. Odera has praised you in the past. Something she doesn’t do lightly, so, no, I am not surprised that you’ve done your homework. It’s that notepad that surprises me.”
“You went to a lot of trouble to install a discreet audio recording system. Is the notepad a prop, or is it for session highlights?”
Unruffled, Brinkman offered, “Clumsy of me, but you are quite correct. I do want you to feel comfortable. Occupational hazard. The installer promised the system would be discreet. Microphones are sometimes distracting.”
“Their guarantee is safe.” At his enquiring look, I added, “Sue’s computer was in screensaver mode. A novel lay open and her fingernails are immaculate. That wouldn’t be the case if she typed long session notes. I reasoned a recording system when I discovered your notepad was not bent from writing on your knee and wondered at the absence of ink stains on your writing hand.”
“Its wireless.” Leaning forward he picked up a décor candle whose base was wrapped in a paper wreath. “It helps me review sessions that include speech nuances and saves Susan my poor penmanship. Its presence would have been part of my opening remarks. You don’t trust me. I can live with that, for the moment. However, I hope you’ll allow me to alter that perception. Please don’t allow previous therapeutic experiences to mar our relationship.”
“Meaning prison psychologists. That obvious, eh?”
“As if you wore a sign,” he said around a slim grin. “Odera mentioned that you have undergone reintegration counselling. I rather think that you’ve had one or two assessments before that. I’m sure prison psychologists chart and test each new prisoner as matter of policy. I am not here to judge you or to trick you into saying anything you do not feel comfortable sharing. I know from Odera and by reading your work that you’re insightful. Now I can add perceptive. Unless I have valid reason to believe you are going to harm yourself, or others, all conversations in this room will remain confidential. Can you live with those terms?”
The next forty-five minutes alternated between listening to Odera share the details of last night and supplying information about the previous week. He spent time exploring my thoughts and feelings concerning her rape and how I viewed my role in last night’s exercise. Most of his inquiries seemed harmless and though I wondered what relevance my prison experience and the particulars of my crime had to this session, or to Odera’s sexual assault, when he queried me, it never occurred to me that I could have asked, and that Dr. Brinkman would have happily answered. A thoughtful expression crossed his face as he rubbed the bridge of his nose, assimilating the last forty-five minutes, I assumed. I turned to Odera when she took my hand and slid herself closer on the couch to me.
“Very well,” Dr. Brinkman said. “I believe you’re ready for the next round of sensate exercises. There’s nothing to suggest extreme caution, but I’d like you both to proceed slowly. You’ve heard this before, Odera, but I want to say it again, as much for you, as for Bruce’s benefit.
“There’s no physical reason preventing you from enjoying a healthy relationship in every regard.” Reclining in his seat, he noted, “Having said that, trauma induced by your assault manifests in the way you respond emotionally and physically. You’ve linked pleasure with pain, guilt and control. That you can bring pleasure to Bruce is wonderful,” he said and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Quite frankly, your body is responding normally. Overall, you’re doing well.
“The first step remains the same. Further trust needs to be developed. Seldom do we find, or build, trust in comfort. Don’t be afraid to experience and to be responsible for your own body. Usually I would not support a rational-emotive approach, but you are both intelligent individuals with well-developed critical thinking skills. Unless either of you possess a phobia attached to nudity, I suggest that you remain naked in front of each other in the privacy of your homes.”
Odera scratched her leg and stole a sideways look at me. Brinkman turned his attention on me.
“Bruce, grant Odera as much access to your body as you are comfortable offering. Let her know you’re not an aggressor, that you do not have conditions of acceptance. Start by sitting across from each other. Try to accept each person for the unique individuals that you are.”
Speaking in earnest, he warned, “It’s important you do not touch Odera unless invited. Be prepared to stop at her request. Also, spend time using non-sexual touching such as holding hands. When in doubt, ask permission. Bring trust to the forefront of everything you do.
“This exercise builds intimacy and helps to dispel the taboos we carry. Learning how to please and to be pleased demands diligence and attention to small and large details alike. There’s nothing prohibitive in any of this except what we bring to the table.” Dr. Brinkman addressed Odera, “If you’re able, let Bruce explore your body as you did his. Give each other massages. If you experience fear or pain, slow down, stop, and start again, but go easy. Talk to him about what you are feeling during these exercises. There’s no need to push into emotional trauma, go slow.
“Learn to trust. Have faith he will stop when asked. When you practise intimacy, whether it’s sexual or non-sexual, make eye contact. Try to stay present. Absorb the emotions and the trust that you hold for the other. Perform as many or as few of these exercises as you feel comfortable with doing. Feel free to devise your own.
“Bruce, with Odera’s consent, will you attend Wednesday?” When I nodded, he said to Odera, “I want a full accounting of what worked, what did not work and the emotions accompanying each. Is that okay with you? Questions?”
“No questions, and yes,” Odera said looking to me.
I nodded agreement.
“Call me if you have urgent need, but I’m sure you will both do well,” he concluded and ushered us out of his office with a parting handshake.