Droplets of rain cascaded down the windowpanes, and the sun was merely a figment of the imagination. The dark gray clouds held it prisoner behind their foggy mist, and the day was cold and dreary at best.
Several times I wanted to dash out of the office, mumble a fabricated excuse for leaving to the secretary as I made my way through the waiting room, seeking sanctuary in the hallway. As much as I wanted to forget about the whole therapy session, the alternative was not acceptable. I desperately needed help, and it was time for me to face my fears. When I was a little girl, my mother always told me that courage is simply fear that has said its prayers. Over the years, I have tried to live by those words, and I managed to do so until this day.
My mind began to wander as I stood by the window, looking out at the cars splashing up rainwater with their tires, their windshield wipers going back and forth likependulums. It was early evening, not quite dusk, and the Friday work traffic was beginning to taper off in downtown Atlanta. Most people were already sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate, ordering a round of drinks with coworkers at happy hour, or settling down in the safety of their own homes to catch the evening news on television.
I had been lucky to get an appointment at all, since it was my first time there and I had just called pleading to see the doctor that morning. A friend of mine once mentioned Dr. Spencer in passing while I was at the salon getting my hair done. She was an avid fan of the doctor’s, having used her services to get over the agony of being betrayed by her ex-husband and, ultimately, a stressful divorce. Never would I have conceived seeking her advice myself—yet there I was.
Dr. Spencer’s office looked about how I had visualized it: dim lighting, expensive leather furniture, including the infamous chaise longue where troubled souls revealed their deep, dark secrets, and a big cherrywood desk with a banker’s lamp in the center. Bookshelves lined the walls, and a smorgasbord of degrees, certificates, and plaques adorned the wall between the two floor-to-ceiling windows behind the desk.
I noticed that my hands were trembling, even though the office was warm and toasty, a complete contrast to the cold October weather outside. She was taking too long, and my nerves were shot. I craved for just one puff of nicotine but had no cigarettes, since I had kicked the habit several years before during my first pregnancy.
Just as I was about to take the cowardly way out, walking over to the chaise and beginning to put on my black leather gloves, Dr. Spencer entered the office, making apologies for keeping me waiting. At first, I wasspeechless, and the words forming in my mind could not make their way to my lips.
“Mrs. Reynard,” she said, more as a statement than a question, as she reached out a finely manicured hand to greet me.
Hearing my name broke the self-induced trance. “Dr. Spencer. It’s very nice to meet you.” I gratefully took her hand and shook it. Just the warmth of her touch somehow comforted me. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”
She was making her way over to her comfortable leather desk chair as she spoke. “It’s no problem, really. My secretary seemed to think your situation was quite urgent, and I’m always glad to do whatever I can.” I managed a slight smile as she continued. “Please, have a seat and make yourself at home.” She motioned toward one of the two leather wing chairs facing the desk opposite her own.
Once she sat down at her desk, I was able to get a better-look at her. Dr. Marcella Spencer was a strikingly beautiful and classy woman. The thin lines on her face betrayed her age of about forty, yet she exuded the glow of a woman twenty years younger. Her deep chocolate, satiny skin reminded me of the fudge brownies my mother would prepare for the school bake sales to benefit the PTA, and her eyes looked like black pearls. They were hypnotic.
She wore an olive green business suit, accentuated by a sexy split up the back of the elongated skirt. The suit was even more alluring due to a cloister of overlaying matching buttons. A silk floral scarf worn around her neck added an air of class, and gold earrings gave the outfit a polished look.
“Well, Mrs. Reynard.” She started searching throughher center desk drawer for something, finally retrieving a gold-plated cigarette case and matching lighter. “Shall we begin?”
“Dr. Spencer, I have a request.”
“What’s that?” She noticed the way my eyes were diverted to the cigarettes as she snapped open the case and pulled one of the long, slender brown cancer bandits out. “Would you like a cigarette?”
“No, thank you. Thank goodness, that’s one addiction I no longer have to battle.” I was trying my best to seem relaxed, but it wasn’t working very well.
“Then what can I do for you, Mrs. Reynard?”
“If I’m going to be revealing all my hopes and dreams, my fears and nightmares, all the dragons I’m battling, it would make me much more comfortable if you would call me Zoe.”
“Oh, that’s no problem, Zoe.” A slight giggle escaped from her mocha-painted lips. “The majority of my patients prefer to keep our sessions on a first-name basis. Please call me Marcella.”
“Thanks, Marcella.” Our eyes met. “I’ll do just that.”
She started reaching around in a drawer again—the right-hand top drawer instead of the center one. When she placed a pad, pen, and microcassette recorder on her desk pad, I almost catapulted out of my seat. The reality of being in a head doctor’s office hit me, and I began to quiver all over again.
She obviously sensed my discomfiture. “Zoe, I’m sorry if the tape recorder makes you feel uncomfortable, but I need to tape the sessions so I can go over them later for my notes. You understand?”
The way she was talking to me reminded me of my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Zachary, the old battle-ax. It made me laugh. “Sure, I understand. It’s not like I’m consideringbecoming a movie star or anything like that, so blackmail’s out of the question.” I started pulling at a loose string on the leg of my black pantsuit. “Besides, don’t you doctors have to take some sort of oath or something?”
“Yes, we most definitely do, and anything you tell me is strictly between you and I. It will never leave this room unless you request me to talk to someone, your husband for example, on your behalf.” She pressed the record button.
“My husband!” I uncrossed my legs, got up from the chair, and started pacing the heavily carpeted floor of her office. “Oh, God, what have I done?”
“Zoe, would you like to lie down on the chaise? You don’t have to. Only if it makes you comfortable.” She never lost her cool. I guess she was used to nervous people.
“No thanks.” I sat back down in the chair. “I’m ready to begin. I know time is of the essence.”
“Well, not exactly. You’re my last client of the day, so we can talk as long as you like. You seem to be very distraught, and I would like to help you if I can.” A kindness in her eyes halfway made me believe she was my best friend.
I blurted it out. “My husband, Jason, and I are having marital problems.” My eyes dropped down to the floor. It was humiliating to even speak the words.
“I see. Zoe, have you and Jason sought any form of counseling for your problems?”
I began to laugh out loud then, but it was a laugh of dismay. “No, hell no! Jason doesn’t even know we have any marital problems.”
I couldn’t even manage to look at her. I felt like a child awaiting punishment by my priest for committing a mortal sin, a sacrilege against the church. “Zoe, I don’t understand you.”
“Jason doesn’t know about any of the things I do. He hasn’t a clue and if he ever found out, I would die.” A single tear fell and began to creep down my left cheek. “I could never imagine living in a world without him. That’s how much I love him.”
“But you don’t feel you can talk to him about your problem?” She leaned forward, placed her cigarette in the ashtray, positioned her elbows on the desk, and intertwined her fingers.
“Not this problem. Not now, not ever.” I zeroed in on a tiny lint ball on the carpet. It appeared to be slightly moving every time I blinked my eyes.
“Relax, Zoe. Let’s try this a different way.” She took another puff of her cigarette and then picked up the pen, preparing to take notes. “When you mentioned earlier that nicotine was one addiction you no longer had to battle, it gave me the impression you’re addicted to something else. Are you?”
The tears started flowing. It took every ounce of selfcontrol I could muster not to start wailing like a banshee. “Yes! I’m addicted!”
“Drugs?” I shook my head. “Alcohol?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Then what are you addicted to, Zoe?”
I looked at her finally through tear-drenched eyes and vocalized the word before my guilt forced me to suppress it. “Sex!”
The look of astonishment on her face revealed her surprise. She was probably used to dealing with people addicted to cocaine, amphetamines, booze, food, but I got the distinct impression sexual addiction was a whole new ballpark for her.