Excerpt: Thirteen Therapists by Russell J. Sanders
Thirteen sits directly across from me, her eyes boring holes in mine. As they go, she’s not unattractive: tall, long wavy brown hair falling onto her shoulders, conservative navy blue dress, a minimum of jewelry, but real gold and obviously from one of the finer stores in town. You can’t grow up with my mother and not know real gold when you see it.
She has her pad with pen perched above it, waiting to record the juicy tidbits of my life.
“Can you tell me about yourself, Aaron?” she says, quiet, but confidence oozing.
I’ve had twelve other therapists in my life, so I recognize the standard beginning quite well.
“I’m gay,” I say.
“Yes.” There is not a trace of reaction in her face.
The other twelve would have choked on their coffee at that.
So much for shock value.
“And?” I ask.
This is not going well. I’ve been in therapy since I was six years old —not, of course, by choice. My mother decided long ago that I was in need, as she’s always put it. No amount of begging and pleading could change her mind, so I just go along. That’s how I cope with Sylvia Karnes Hardaway, darling of the Chicago charity set, rich as Croesus and hard as nails. She’s not loved by her peers —most probably feared —but she raises more money for Chicago charities than any other in the Windy City Women’s Forum.
So what to do with this woman sitting across from me? Do I clam up as I usually do?
He’s just not talking, Mrs. Hardaway. Perhaps it’s best if you find a different therapist, one Aaron might be more comfortable with.
And the search was on for number two, number three, number four, and so on.
Well, I’m seventeen now and tired of this. But Sylvia must have her way. It just makes my life easier.
“You’re not shocked that I just came out to you?”
“Why should I be?”
“I don’t know. I never would have mentioned it to the other twelve. I’m assuming you know that you’re my thirteenth therapist?”
“Yes, your mother told me that when she made the appointment.”
“Ah! My mother. The beloved Sylvia Karnes Hardaway.”
“Do I detect a bit of sarcasm there, Aaron?” She makes a note on her pad.
“Yes, you do. But I don’t want to talk about it. I’m more interested in why you think it’s okay to be gay.” “We’re here to talk about you, Aaron. But, in the interest of laying the subject to rest, it’s a different world we live in today. Being gay is not thought of like it once was.”
“Tell that to my mother. I daresay she’d have a different take on the subject.”
“Oh? So she doesn’t know? About you, I mean.”
Another note on the pad.
“We don’t talk much. I’m out to my sister and my older brother; hasn’t come up with the younger one, yet. Let’s see…I’m not out at school, but that’s because I don’t care if I talk to anybody there or not. And it goes without saying that my father doesn’t know. Sometimes it seems like he doesn’t know about anything that goes on in the world except his business. I don’t have friends, so that pretty much covers it.”
She has been scribbling furiously. With as many therapists as I’ve had, I know I’ve just given her plenty to talk about for many sessions to come.
She looks up from her pad. “And how do you feel about being gay?”
“It is what it is. I’ve watched TV, read books, seen movies. It’s been with me since the womb, and to quote my little brother’s favorite musical West Side Story, ‘womb to tomb.’ It’s just who I am.”
I’ve felt this way a long time, but it’s the first time I’ve ever voiced it. Thirteen’s good. She makes me want to spill my guts.
“I met someone.” Suddenly, a big smile breaks out across my face —probably one of those like in the chewing gum commercials where there is a sparkle and a little chime tings.
“Really? So tell me about it.”
“It began, as most things in my life begin, with my mother. Last week, she summoned me into her drawing room. That’s what she calls it. It’s just a living room, but when you are the queen of Society, it’s a drawing room.”
Thirteen smiles faintly.
“‘Aaron, dear,’ she said, ‘I need a teensy, weensy favor of you.’ Not waiting for me to protest, she went on, ‘The ICCW,’ she continues, ‘has a Christmas ball. It’s coming up next week. And I’m afraid I committed you, darling.’ She went on to tell me that the president of the Illinois Club for Catholic Women, some lady named Margarita Mendez Klein, you believe that name? —had a daughter whose date had bailed at the last minute. Something about final exams at his college being moved up.
“Anyway, this woman’s daughter needed a date and Syl offered me up on a platter.”
Thirteen says nothing, just writes furiously.
“Syl went on, the torturous look on my face not registering. ‘She’s a darling girl…Shirley, Sharon, Serena…I can’t remember her name, but you can find out when you call Marg for the details.’
“I wanted to scream at her that I wouldn’t do it, but I don’t say no to my mother, ever.”
That produced another note on the pad.
“So, as per Marg’s instructions, on Saturday afternoon I steered my Benz up Shoreline, cut over to Michigan, and left my keys with the valet at The Hilton Chicago.” I’m purposely adding all sorts of extraneous details to the story just to fill up the session and mess with this newbie a little. I sort of expect Thirteen to tell me to cut to the chase, but she seems engrossed in my little story. “A message board directed me to the correct room. Sara —not Shirley, Sharon, or Serena —would be looking for me. I told her mother I’d wear a red carnation. ‘That’s what they do in movies,’ I said.