Dr. Brinkman asked, “Have you learned anything through volunteered disclosure from Bruce?”
“I discovered he possesses gourmet cooking skills, though he let me believe otherwise. Last night he prepared supper. Afterwards, he surprised me with crêpes Suzette.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand how your account relates to disclosure.”
“He makes these omissions for my benefit, sometimes at his expense, despite me judging him. Some of what I thought was distrust, has turned out to be intentional non-disclosure.”
“You give me more credit than I deserve.”
Dr. Brinkman uncrossed his legs and sat forward.
“Bruce, are you aware of what your reply told Odera?” When I shook my head, he asked, “Odera, will you elaborate on how you felt for Bruce’s benefit?”
“It felt as though the feelings I shared were untrue, that you denied them. Of course, I know that’s not the case, but that’s how it felt.”
“When Odera pays you a compliment, try saying ‘Thank you.’ Acceptance will allow the opportunity to experience feelings you would otherwise disavow.” Turning back again toward Odera, he solicited, “Tell me what else you learned.”
“He has a knack for poetry. To overcome the difficulties with expressing himself, he spoke figuratively. It was delightfully romantic.”
“That’s an interesting technique,” Brinkman noted. “Did you use it to disconnect emotions from yourself, or to describe what you felt?”
“I meant what I said, but yeah, they weren’t directly connected.”
“Try to use personal statements. Not everyone interprets symbolism equally and specific meaning may be lost to the larger image.” Turning to Odera, he said, “I have several observations for you to consider.” At her nod, he said, “Your body is your own. Bruce isn’t your attacker. You know these things to be true. How long are you going to torture yourself with memory? You’re an adult who knows the difference between right and wrong. You were attacked and assaulted without provocation, yet you persistently blame yourself. What will it take for this to stop?”
“Hey, Doc, that’s callous.”
“Do not come to Odera’s aid. Please allow her to answer.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. Fidgeting, she pulled her hands into her lap where she rubbed her palms together. A few seconds later she straightened her shirt and glanced at me before turning her attention to Brinkman. When she did begin to speak the words rolled out slowly before gaining momentum.
“He chose me that night for his own reasons, just as my husband refused to touch me for his own reasons afterwards. Perhaps I’ve always known the truth at some level. Michael slept in the spare bedroom after I returned from the hospital. I told myself it was because he was considerate, to grant me respite from the presence of a male. The truth was Michael didn’t know how to reconcile my grief. I played the victim so I would not have to confront memories. I did everything I could to not remember. It was easier to let sadness and depression take hold than to face that night again.
“Our marriage crumbled. It happened gradually in the way he pulled away when I sought solace from him, or when I jumped at his touch. If I chose the couch, he took the chair; even our talks turned neutral, of work and whatnot. All too soon, it was harder to speak than to remain silent. During the final two months, he moved into a hotel. I felt tainted, like a contagious disease. We divorced shortly after ― everything split down the middle, no arguments, which hurt. I wanted him to object, to argue, to fight for us when I could not. I blamed myself and slid deeper into depression.
“Everyone at work, family and friends, knew why we split up. Whispers and quieted conversations when I walked into a room named me an outsider. Shame and depression compounded things. I slept, cried, stayed indoors for months on end. Food became a pacifier. I wanted to feel less desirable and to look on the outside how I felt on the inside, so I ate. The fatter I became, the worse I felt, which reinforced my self-loathing, which made me want to keep eating. I started to feel a perverse joy from staying sad. When I gained a bunch of weight, Grams carted me off to Scotland where I learned to accept parts of my depression and anger. Acceptance wasn’t the answer, for it only confirmed what I felt, but did not address what was beneath. Over a year passed before I had the strength to come back home, to face the city. It was a monumental achievement to drag myself out of bed to go to work.
“And then I met you, Bruce. You made me forget everything with your rigid independence that challenged every opinion I held. At first, I thought you were obnoxious. When I looked deeper, I discovered that you accepted nothing at face value, that you refused to fit in for the sake of social conformity. You were re-defining yourself in a new world after years away from it. Deep down, I knew that’s what I had to do as well. In your presence, my troubles faded. You were such an enigma. When your eyes were unguarded, they were full of longing. I found myself reaching out, forgetting my own troubles.
“You never cared that I was your boss, that I was a woman, that I was an emotional wreck, or anything else. Not once did I feel less than. And you never came on to me. When I broke down, you never minimized my grief and you refused to buy into my victim role. You made the world disappear so only we existed. You shrugged off those daymares as if they were nothing out of the ordinary, as if it was the world that spoke a foreign language and not us.
“I learned acceptance without worrying if you were thinking about my rape ― to be utterly accepted in spite of it. Because of your own struggles to trust, it was up to me to fight for more. Battling made the ground we’ve gained a precious struggle. I’m drawn onward, especially when I see you taking personal risks on my behalf.”
“I have often thought the same of you,” I told her when she stopped speaking.
Brinkman said, “Well done, Odera. You’ve crossed another hurdle; and you as well, Bruce. I doubted your ability to listen without interrupting.” He put his pad down and laced his hands over his knee. “Now that each of you realizes the struggles before you, you may also possess a clearer picture of the hindrances. Your shared insight into your individual dilemmas will serve you well for this next step.” He turned his attention upon Odera, “Is it a true and accurate statement that you want to enjoy a complete relationship with Bruce?”
“Bruce has said your emotional admissions of caring and goodwill cause him discomfort and sometimes invoke his fight-freeze-or-flight response.” Brinkman waited for me to give him a nod. “Very well. Odera, are you willing to allow Bruce unlimited access to your body without express permission?”
“Whatever he wishes. No restraints.”
“Um, yes. I think I can do that. Most of the time.”
Turning to me, Brinkman asked, “Are you able to listen to how Odera feels about you without leaving her presence or denying her words?” At a second head tilt, he said, “Right then. Odera, your task is to share your feelings with Bruce beyond what his touch causes you to feel. Can you do that?”
“Call it a trust and faith exercise. If you don’t trust Bruce, you’ll not be able to accept his physical intimacy. If he doesn’t have faith in your trustworthiness, he won’t be able to endure your emotional intimacy. If one cannot trust, stop. Fall back on the old exercises until both of you feel able to go forward. Exclusivity plays no part in this exercise. That’s all for today. Please see Susan to schedule an appointment next week.”
“Wait. I have a few questions.”
“Do you believe Bruce will rape you?”
“Of course not.”
“Then you have no worries. I really am very busy.”
Brinkman made a show of checking his watch.
“Let it go, Odera. Don’t you see how much he’s enjoying this?
“You’re right, honey, he looks rather pleased with himself; a regular Mr. Hyde.”
“Dr. Jekyll would never be so calculating,” I postulated closing the door.
Odera remained quiet in the elevator down to the underground parkade. She stared at her reflection, warped by the elevator’s stainless-steel walls, as though she was having trouble recognizing herself. My prison cell mirror was also stainless-steel. I imagined that I had some insight into what she wasn’t able to see.
I waited until we were in the car before saying, “Brinkman’s a sneaky bastard.”
“Totally without scruples,” she agreed at once. “Two sessions ago, he cautioned you not to touch me without permission. Wednesday he told me to be wary of evoking your fight-or-flight thing. He designed this exercise to break each warning, to cross each boundary. He’s got us playing real life truth or dare.”
“We should post warnings on the Internet.”
“And place placards in his building’s windows to inform other, trusting patients.”
“Shove toothpicks in his car door locks.”
The sound of our laughter filled the car. Reaching for Odera’s hand, I found it seeking mine. We rode in silence, considering the obstacles we faced. Trust. It was that simple. Faith. It was that complex. Trust and faith: the biggest words in the dictionary.