The Woman in the Park – Teresa Sorkin, Tullan Holmqvist

A piercing scream cut through the night. Ripped from her sleep, Sarah sat up, gasping for air. Her heart was pounding in her chest and her breathing was fast and hot. Where was she? She scanned the darkness, searching for clues. She had no idea. Her silk nightgown clung to her body, and the sheets felt moist with sweat. As Sarah’s eyes adjusted to the faint light coming in through the window, the room returned to her and she knew where she was. Home. Her home. 1122 Park Avenue in Manhattan. She felt a flood of relief. That dream. Again. Then came the realization that the neighbors—no, the whole building— must have heard her scream. Her heart contracted in shame.

She looked over to find her husband’s sleeping shape beside her. Eric usually awoke to the slightest noise, but no—there he was, breathing peacefully beside her. It must have been a silent scream she’d uttered, a silent nightmare she’d endured. It was the worst kind of nightmare, in a way: the kind that tortured only her. Silently, Sarah slipped out of bed and out of her nightgown, letting it drop to the floor. She tiptoed to the window and opened it. Dawn was on the horizon; the New York sky dark and heavy. A sudden gust of wind blew in, scattering grains of soil from her plants onto the Persian carpet. She needed air, despite her shivering; she couldn’t wait to get out of the apartment. A shadow fluttered across the window in the building across from hers, and she felt observed, vulnerable.

She looked down and remembered she was naked. Her cheeks flared hot, and she quickly stepped back from the window. She snuck into the bathroom and stood for a while in darkness, letting the dream’s last reverberations still within her. That dream—the dark figure hovering over the woman; her and him together, embracing, grabbing at each other. And then there was the sound of a gunshot or something like it. She knew exactly who they were. Eric and Juliette. Images of them haunted Sarah ever since she had found pictures of Juliette on Eric’s phone. When she had confronted him about it, he had brushed it off and had said that she had sent them by mistake. Of course she didn’t believe him, but she had no real proof.

In the dream, Sarah was always just a spectator to them, fear rising in every part of her body until her scream inevitably woke her up. It was uncontrollable, irrational; the simple fear of having absolutely nowhere to go. How could she do this, time and again—fall asleep and wake up in the same place, and yet never know where she was? How could she feel lost, trapped in her own home? She flicked on the light and found herself in the mirror. Her blonde hair was ruffled; tired eyes looked back at her. Wrinkles were forming there, defiant of the creams and oils with which she tried to keep them at bay. She touched her face, almost unsure she was real. The creases deepened under her thumb. She knew that others saw her differently than she saw herself. She had been told she was magnetic, youthful, that she was living “the good life.” At times she still believed it.

She took a deep breath and shook her head. She opened the medicine cabinet and took out her morning pills. Prozac, 20mg. Two in the morning, daily. She thought a moment, then took one. Shutting the mirrored door, she washed the pill down with a swallow of water and looked at her weary gaze. It was the dream that made her feel so unlike herself. It frightened her beyond reason to be made to feel so powerless, to wake up confused in a cold sweat. In the daylight she was different; there were good reasons, rationales, behind the things she felt. She looked back at herself, at the body she still tried hard to keep firm with exercise after two children and fifteen years of marriage.

Was that really the problem? No, she could hide those changes under her clothes. Her eyes were the real difference, those seas of blue sadness with nothing to hide behind. A shadow passed the doorway behind her, startling her. She watched as Eric appeared in the mirror, adjusting his tie. How long had she been standing here? “You scared me,” she said, turning to kiss him. “What, didn’t expect me?” he teased. “You never know,” she said in a tone of mock accusation. In spite of herself she felt ashamed. Had he seen her looking over her own imperfections? Could he have noticed that she’d been going through his clothes the night before? But he only smiled at her, that same smile that had broken down her defenses all those years ago. It still had the same effect on her.

“Come on,” he said, kissing her again. “Early start for both of us today.” She watched him as he retreated back into the shadowed room, brushing his teeth. He was dressed already, put together as always; so tall, and strong, and male. His wrinkles seemed to show character; the creases around his mouth and blue-grey eyes were beautiful on him, comforting. Sarah now found his salt-and-pepper hair as appealing as she had the dark-brown hair he’d once worn longer. She had always loved him so much—maybe too much. As much as she ached for him, it was worse when he was away—and he was away so often nowadays. “Kids’ll be back this evening,” she said lightly, reaching for her own toothbrush. “Mmm,” he answered.

“It’ll be nice to be together. Remember to call Jason’s coach today, by the way.” “Of course,” she said. Didn’t he know it was already on her to-do list? “What do you have going on today?” she asked lightly. Eric walked past the doorway again, pretending not to hear her. “I’ll wait outside,” she heard him say. His voice sounded short; was it annoyance or concern? Sarah could never tell anymore. The more she knew him, the less she felt she knew him. Surely it wasn’t suspicion, anyway; she remembered how careful she’d been to put everything back the way she’d found it, the tailored suits and impeccably rolled ties all lined up like soldiers, so he wouldn’t notice that she’d been snooping for any telltale signs of Juliette’s bright red lipstick on any of his collars. She found herself searching for proof of his infidelity more and more frequently.

Sarah brushed her teeth, pulled her hair into a tight ponytail—so tight it hurt—and hurriedly threw on some makeup. She emerged into the bedroom. Eric was already gone, in a hurry, as always. Crossing to the closet she slipped into a form-fitting designer dress and high heels. Eric had always liked the heels, the way they elongated her already long, lean legs. Would he notice them today? “Sarah? Coming?” he called. How could he be gone so often, yet still always be waiting for her? She grabbed her coat and bag and met him at the door. He took her hand, and she felt the warmth of it entwined with hers. That, at least, felt right. They walked out together through the marble lobby of their building, passing pumpkins lined up cozily in the window.

She felt a pang of sadness that there would be no searching for the perfect Halloween costumes with the kids this year. They were going to spend Halloween away for the first time, at boarding school. “Good morning,” the doorman said, holding the door open for them. “Good morning, Manuel,” Sarah answered as she looked at him. “Thanks.” “Of course, Mrs. Rock.” The doorman lowered his voice, along with his eyes. She frowned; it seemed even he was looking at her with pity these days. “It’s gonna rain out there today,” he said quickly.

“I feel it. You okay, you got an umbrella?” He offered her one from the vase by the door. “Thank you,” she said. “Anytime, Mrs. Rock. You have a good one.” “You too, Manuel.” She and Eric stepped out together into the brisk, autumn air. Their building spread out behind them, its formidable Gothic exterior presiding over Park Avenue. It was one of the first high-rises built on the Upper East Side in 1909, and Sarah had immediately fallen in love with its antiquated feel when they’d moved in fifteen years ago.

She relished the sculpted animals and dragons crawling up the side, the two large gargoyles at the top; they made her feel part of something old and important. It had taken some convincing to pry Eric away from his dream of a “cool loft space downtown,” but in the end they had both been glad she’d persisted. She just wished it didn’t feel quite so empty these days. “Why does Manuel do that?” she asked Eric once they were out of earshot. “Do what?” “Treat me like I’m a fragile bird or something.” “He’s just being friendly. It’s his job.” “I didn’t see him offering you an umbrella!” Eric chuckled. “Maybe he has a crush on you.” “Oh please,” she softened.

As they walked together down Park Avenue, rays of sun peeked through the clouds. The light glinted off a shiny car, and she caught her own figure reflected back at her, dark and alone. She could already feel Eric pulling away, and she leaned in toward him instinctively. He smiled back at her, and the sky seemed to brighten even more. They stopped at a corner, and without saying a word, he wrapped her in a warm embrace. For just a moment, there was a perfect peace between them. “I love you,” he said, holding her close. “I love you, too,” she answered, and meant it. “I have to run.” She looked into his eyes.

“Me too,” she sighed. “You know how she gets when I’m late.” “I do,” he laughed, drawing back. “I’ll see you later on, okay?” His gaze accompanied her as she turned and walked a few steps down the block. When she looked back, his eyes met hers and he waved. Their little routine—one of the few that had survived the years. It always made her feel safe to know he was there, watching her go. She reached the opposite corner and turned back to look for him one last time. He was already gone. Sarah looked at her phone and kicked herself.

She wasn’t in danger of being late for her appointment with Dr. Robin; she’d set the appointment back this week. Now she had an hour to kill. Not quite worth going back home at this point; if she did that, she might not feel like coming back out. Even after almost two years, the appointments were still as difficult as they were necessary. She didn’t like to admit it, but she knew she was benefiting from them. Sarah walked over to Fifth Avenue and entered Central Park. A gust of wind blew around her, waving her coat open and scattering leaves along the pavement. Fall was well underway. Near the entrance, she stopped to look at a gingko, now naked.

A sea of fan-shaped leaves littered the ground under its trunk; the tree had shed all of its leaves overnight. Was it a coordinated surrender? A skill developed over time, to aid it in its famous resistance? It was one of the most ancient trees on Earth, one of the only types to survive the atomic bombing at Hiroshima. She marveled at its seasonal self-destruction, its control over its own desolation. She walked past the kids’ favorite playground and found her usual bench across from it, under the oak tree. She liked to come here to read and be outside; the quaint playground was large enough to lose herself in. She noticed a young mom playing with a little boy inside the playground. The woman was in her late 20’s with long, beach-wavy, blond hair, which reminded Sarah of a surfer. Sarah was sure she had gotten sand in her tresses when playing with her son in the sandbox. She remembered those days fondly, and she felt a slight pang of jealousy as she had once also had so much hope, so much engagement with her life. The kids had needed her; Eric had needed her.

Life had been so busy, so full. She’d taken it for granted that it would always feel that way. And now— Sarah realized the woman was staring back at her. Embarrassed, she averted her gaze and sat down on the bench, setting her bag beside her, and wrapped herself tightly in her coat. She missed her kids now that they had recently started boarding school; the longing made her heart ache and her mind spin with unused energy. But they were coming back today. She had that to look forward to. She reached into her bag. She always made sure to have a book with her, and that morning she had plucked one at random from her bookshelf on the way out: Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola. She couldn’t remember when she’d bought it, or why; she’d definitely never read it before.

She looked at the back cover. Paris, late 1800s. Better than here. She got a pen out of her bag, opened the book and began to read. She chewed the pen, pausing here and there to make a mark in the margin. Zola’s words took over and filled her mind; soon she barely heard the kids in the playground shrieking, the little toddlers fighting in the sandbox, the nannies chatting. She was lost in the world of the novel, in the dark streets of Paris, far off. A stroller bumped her as it rushed past, breaking her concentration. Startled, she glanced up at the young mom from before. Sarah nodded at her but the mom seemed upset.

She was yelling into her phone at someone, completely ignoring her golden-haired toddler as he cried over a skinned knee. Sarah felt badly for the little boy and had the urge to sweep him into her arms. The woman glared at Sarah as if she wanted to say something. Stunned, Sarah looked away and went back to her book. The sun’s warmth reached her, and she relaxed into the bench and continued reading. The story engrossed her fully, so she did not realize how much time had passed since she had first settled into the bench. It seemed like minutes, but when she looked at her phone she realized that she had been in the park for an hour. Where did the time go? Abruptly, the air went cold as a shadow loomed over her. She looked up with a start. There was a man standing in front of her, smiling warmly.

He was dressed casually in a plaid shirt, gray jacket, and jeans. He was attractive, she thought at once— actually remarkably handsome. “Thérèse Raquin,” he said, his voice dark, deep, and friendly. “Zola. A great writer, flawed in many ways, but good.” Sarah looked up at the stranger. He was tall, at least 6′2″. His face was calming somehow familiar. Did she know him? Surely she’d never seen him before; she would have remembered. “I’m sorry?” she said.

“I recognized the cover of your book. I have the same copy. Zola was so ahead of his time. All that passion, just pent up. Did you know that his wife had an illegitimate child? And he had an affair with his seamstress.” “No, I can’t say that I knew that.” Sarah’s mouth felt very dry. “Do you mind if I sit?” He pointed at the bench next to her. “I was actually just leaving.” The words spilled out of her and she closed the book, reaching for her bag.

He backed up a step, his face conciliatory. “Sorry, you must think I’m crazy just coming up to you like this,” he said. “It’s just, I love Zola, and not many people read the classics anymore. I’m Lawrence,” he said, stretching out his hand. The wide, warm smile spread further across his face. Sarah took his hand. She felt a tingle shoot through her arm when he squeezed her hand, his palm was warm and rough. He was even more handsome up close, with deep, blue eyes—a stormy ocean, she thought. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d spoken with someone new. Was he someone new? She had the strangest feeling she’d seen him or met him before.

She realized the park was suddenly empty. It was just the two of them alone. “Thérèse is an interesting character,” Lawrence said. “Victim and villain. You don’t know if you should love her or hate her.” “I—I’m not there yet,” Sarah responded. “You’ll see,” he said. “Obviously, she has a choice, but a marriage like that, where you hate the person—it’s like being in prison.” He checked himself. “Sorry.

Sarah, I was just—” “Wait, how do you know my name?” she asked. “Are you sure we haven’t met before?” Lawrence smiled. “No, we haven’t,” he said. “It’s on your nameplate…there.” He reached across and touched her necklace chain. “It’s quite beautiful. It suits you.” “It was a gift,” she said. What was she doing? At the edges of her consciousness, she felt the sky closing in on her, a heavy curtain waiting to drop. She felt the familiar, irrational panic.

Run. Run. Her grasping mind found a handhold. Dr. Robin. Her appointment. “I’m sorry, but I really do have to go. I have an appointment I’m going to be late for.” “Too bad,” he said, the same sympathetic smile lighting his face. “It was very nice to meet you, Sarah.

I’d be interested in knowing how you feel about Thérèse as you read on. Maybe we can have a Zola book club in the park?” Sarah smiled and then said, “Maybe?” She stood up, straightening her coat. No more words came. Before he could respond, she turned and walked away. She hoped desperately that no one had been looking at her. Her face felt bright red. There had been a pleasant glitch in her routine, something she felt excited about. She was going to be late after all. There was no way she’d be telling Dr. Robin about this meeting—not today anyway.

It wasn’t until she was almost at her therapist’s office that she realized she had left her book on the bench. CHAPTER 2 When there is no hope in the future, the present appears atrociously bitter. THÉRÈSE RAQUIN The receptionist didn’t recognize Sarah when she arrived. She never did. She always looked up her name, every single time, with the same blank expression. It was impossible to tell whether she was doing it consciously or not. Sarah sat and opened a magazine, kicking herself for leaving behind her book. Sarah remembered Dr. Robin’s admonition: “Try not to use those words: ‘Always,’ ‘never,’ ‘you always,’ ‘you never.’ ‘Impossible.

’ ‘Every time.’” They were so difficult to cut out of her vocabulary, those aggressive, brittle words. But the therapist was right, as always. Non-violent communication was key to normalizing emotions, getting them under control. Helena Robin seemed to have mastered that particular technique. She always seemed to deal with pain, suffering, chaos, and confusion as though they were entirely normal feelings, emotional experiences as ordinary as boredom or hunger. She was especially adept at defusing anger. Sarah wondered sometimes if she was even human. “Don’t you just want to give up sometimes?” Sarah had once asked her. The calm, collected empathy of the therapist’s response had partly soothed, partly infuriated her.

Now she only asked it in her mind, along with many other questions. Their relationship, though powerful in its depths of trust and openness, sometimes seemed a fragile shell that was up to Sarah to keep intact. Dr. Robin had been referred to Sarah by her friend, Laura, back when Sarah had first started experiencing blackout periods and those awful nightmares. Sarah was reluctant, but she had to admit that the incidents were affecting everyone and everything in her life. Laura, who’d been to see the therapist for some kind of postpartum care, had strongly suggested that Sarah give Dr. Robin a try. To her surprise, when Sarah brought up the idea with Eric, he’d insisted on it. Sarah looked around the spotless waiting area, unnerved by the perfect tidiness of the place. It always felt as if she was the doctor’s only patient, though she knew that wasn’t the case.

She’d seen other men and women come through, anonymous figures who smiled apologetically or made halfhearted attempts to shield their faces as they hurried past. She’d been concerned in the beginning that the proximity of the office to her own home would lead to awkward run-ins, but fortunately she’d never seen anyone she recognized. Dr. Robin, as her patient-friendly website pronounced, specialized in anxiety disorders and fears. Her “About Me” page featured a photo of the attractive, auburn-haired doctor, an appropriately inquisitive expression lighting up her hazel eyes, sitting on a bench somewhere. Underneath her bio were her credentials: M.D. from Cornell, specialization in Psychiatry; internship at Weill-Cornell Hospital in Manhattan; focused studies in psychobiology, the molecular basis of anxiety and psychotic disorders; background in clinical hypnotherapy. It all sounded very impressive to Sarah. But it was Dr.

Robin’s open face that made her seem most accessible and trustworthy. She also didn’t have any social media accounts, which, though unusual, struck Sarah as vaguely healthy. She was on LinkedIn —but that wasn’t really social media. Sarah wondered about Dr. Robin’s friends and family but never asked. “Dr. Robin uses hypnotherapy, in conjunction with traditional therapies, to help her patients transition to a new stage in their lives—one in which they feel empowered to overcome longlasting fears and anxieties.” That sounded just right for Sarah; when she read it, she realized she was willing to try anything to accomplish that particular transition. She wasn’t sure what the next stage would be, but a part of her life was most definitely over. Eric and the kids reminded her constantly of that.

The hypnosis sessions, as it turned out, were not at all what Sarah had imagined. She had pictured herself floating into a netherworld, like the first time she had smoked pot in her freshman year of college. That experience had been surprisingly blissful: an immersion into a quieter, more accepting place where everything needn’t be perfect. Sarah had loved it so much that it had terrified her, and she’d vowed never to do it again. Hypnosis was different. The first time she’d walked into Dr. Robin’s office, she had not felt calm at all; she’d been on edge, as tense as ever. Dr. Robin had sat down and spoken to her in a silky, soothing voice: “You don’t have anything to be afraid of, Sarah. We’re not going to do anything you haven’t done before in one way or another.

Hypnosis is essentially a state of heightened focus and receptivity, with the critical mind in abeyance. During such a state, the subconscious mind is left a bit more open, a bit more receptive and suggestible. It’s perfectly natural—in fact, you go in and out of it many times a day. Think of that half-hour before you fall asleep and after you wake up: that’s a hypnotic state. You could think of it in terms of creativity, or freedom of thought—that hypnotic state right before you fall asleep is often when the most interesting ideas will occur to you.” Sarah wasn’t sure what Dr. Robin meant at first. But after a session, she realized that hypnosis didn’t involve self-abandonment or paralysis or anything like that. It was just being in touch with herself on a deeper level, a level she didn’t always reach normally. During the sessions, she hardly knew she was under hypnosis; she felt entirely in control of herself and had to be assured by Dr.

Robin that a change had even taken place. She had been feeling better since coming to Dr. Robin. Now she attended regular sessions with the therapist and even almost looked forward to them sometimes. More than anything, the routine comforted her; it felt good to have the solidity of that schedule to rely upon. Still, the time leading up to each session was always fraught with anxiety. Today was no better. The barrage of feelings aroused by the stranger in the park had subsided into a vague annoyance with her own lack of self-control. She couldn’t remember the last time someone showed interest in her. Surely it wouldn’t kill her to indulge the friendly overtures of a stranger once in a while, especially one so handsome.

Judging from the wait, she certainly needn’t have hurried away so quickly on her therapist’s account. “Dr. Robin will see you now,” the receptionist called out. As always, she said it without looking up. Rude. The aggressive word felt good, so she said it out loud. “Rude.” “What was that?” the receptionist asked, finally looking up to acknowledge her. Sarah coughed, giggling to herself. “Nothing at all,” she smiled at the receptionist.

She entered the therapist’s empty office. She looked around the room. As with the ultra-clean waiting area, everything in Dr. Robin’s office was white—clean and crisp, like a clear mind. Only the windows offered any respite from the room’s starkness. The lack of photos or art had always made her nervous, though she understood the significance. It didn’t matter how many sessions she had: in this place, she always felt messy, as though her dark thoughts were visible blotches, or ragged encumbrances hanging off of her. At least, that’s how she always felt at first. And it was probably part of the point; it kept her focused on those disorderly thoughts, on accepting them and letting them go. You are your mind; your mind is not you—the phrase had sounded like psychobabble when Dr.

Robin had first mentioned it, but now Sarah often found herself returning to it, almost as a mantra. The repetition was soothing, a version of her own voice that grounded her rather than fighting her. “Your inner voice should be a friend, not an enemy,” the doctor had told her. “You wouldn’t keep someone around you who was negative all the time, would you? Let’s find you a new inner friend.” She relaxed into the soft white couch, bringing her breathing under control. She thought of calm places, of pleasant, clean things: the kids on the beach, little again, collecting shells; Eric with his surfboard, the saltwater in his hair. No one ever told you to hold onto those moments while they were happening; no one ever said how hard it would be to enjoy them once they were just memories. You are your mind; your mind is not you. “Hi there, Sarah,” Dr. Robin’s calm voice entered the room with her.

“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting.” The therapist sat down in her chair across from Sarah, a journal in her lap. She looked kind and understanding as always, her hair smooth and impeccably pulled back. Her features had always struck Sarah as oddly aristocratic, even regal: a straight nose and proud chin to go with her upright posture. She wasn’t tall—much shorter than Sarah, in fact—but in the chair, sitting up as she did, she never failed to look bigger. Her clothes were always neutral-colored with some small accent of color. Today she wore a cream-colored skirt and jacket with a little bird pin in the lapel, a robin, no doubt, with a ruby eye—a little quirkier than usual, but disarmingly cute nonetheless. “You look better today, if I may say so,” she smiled. “Do you feel better than when I last saw you?” “I guess so, a bit,” Sarah said diffidently. They always began their sessions this way, just talking, but this time felt different.

She wasn’t ready to get into anything just yet. “I walked over. The fall air feels good.” Sarah thought of Jason and Darcy, playing in the leaves. “The kids are home early tonight, too, so I’m looking forward to that.” “Right—boarding school,” Dr. Robin said. “I remember you telling me you had some mixed feelings about that before. Does seeing them on the weekends make that any easier to deal with?” “It can. It’s kind of a tradeoff, though.

The rest of the time…I’m sometimes more down than I would be otherwise.” She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “It’s hard for me when they’re away. Harder than I expected it would be, really. But we—ah—well, he feels that it’s best for them. Eric does.” Her voice already sounded like somebody else’s, faraway and quiet. She looked down at her hands in her lap, at her chewed fingernails. I have to quit the bad habits, she thought. What other ones did she have? “I see,” said Dr.

Robin, “and what about you?” “Me? I never really think about what I want.” “Do you think it’s best for them? As you say Eric does?” Sarah thought of the kids coming out of school with their backpacks and winter jackets, now so big. They seemed to change so much while they were away from her. She shrugged. “I guess so. It’s hard to say right now; I think I confuse it with how it makes me feel most of the time.” “Which is?” “Well, there are positives and negatives.” “What would you say are the positives?” “It definitely leaves me with a lot more time for myself.” “What do you do with it?” Sarah thought a moment. “I spent some time in the park today. Most of the time…well, I don’t know.” She picked at her fingernails. Might as well get it out there, she thought. “I spent last night going through Eric’s things,” she admitted. “Oh, Sarah,” Dr. Robin’s veneer cracked for an instant; her concern was visible, almost maternal. “Again?” “Yes.” “What did you expect to find?” Come on, Sarah thought. Forty percent of married men cheat on their wives, and you’re asking me what I expected to find? “Proof,” she said. “Proof?” “Yeah, proof. Hairs, makeup stains. I don’t know, anything.” Dr. Robin sighed. “And did you find any?” Sarah shook her head. “As you didn’t the last time.” “Yeah.” “But you still feel the need to look for it.” “Apparently.” Sarah looked at the doctor, impatient to change the subject. “I’m still having those nightmares,” she blurted out. “Nightmares?” At least Dr. Robin sounded interested. “You’ll have to remind me—which nightmares do you mean?” “Same as I always have,” Sarah sighed. “Eric and Juliette. It’s always them.” “You know it’s only a dream,” Dr. Robin reassured her. “And then I’m running, always running from something. Or to something,” she said. “There’s nothing there to run to, or from. Ever.” The therapist opened her journal and made a few notes. “What do you mean, nothing there?” she asked. “I am running. I’m outside, I’m wet, and it’s cold. And then the sky flashes and then there is thunder and a loud crash, then a scream and all goes dark.” “What do you make of it?” “It’s scary, and I feel alone.” “Of course. No one likes to have nightmares, though you know as well as I do that they can’t do anything to you. They aren’t real, they are a manifestation of how you feel, of your thoughts,” Dr. Robin explained. “Can we talk a little about your parents?” Sarah looked around feeling very vulnerable. “You were asking how I feel about the kids being in boarding school.” “Yes, but first let’s talk about your mother and your father,” Dr. Robin insisted. Sarah looked at her firmly, “I don’t want to talk about them. They were good parents, and they died when I was young.” “Were they?” Sarah persisted, “Yes, they were a great couple. I only wish Eric and I were more like them.” Dr. Robin took notes in her journal. “You asked me about boarding school,” Sarah reminded her, changing the subject. “Sure.” Dr. Robin nodded encouragingly. “If I’m being completely honest, I don’t like it at all. In fact, I hate it.” “What do you hate about it?” “It just feels unnatural. I mean, I want them with me, all the time. I know I can’t have that, but I want it. And when they come home on weekends, I feel distant from them. I just keep thinking of how things used to be. This way—I don’t know, it’s like they’re gone. Like they’ve left, and Eric’s left, and I’m just left behind.” “I understand.” “Do you?” Sarah felt her voice rise in response to a sudden heat within her. “Of course. What you’re talking about is loss. Everyone can understand that on some level.” “What have you lost?” Sarah said, raising her voice again. Isn’t that what these sessions were supposed to be teaching her? “Do you have kids in boarding school? Do you even have kids?” “You know that isn’t the point here, Sarah.” “That’s right, you never answer any of my questions,” Sarah muttered. She looked at her fingernails again. Dr. Robin let the silence hang, expecting her to go on. It always frustrated Sarah when she did that, though her expression now was not unkind. “He is seeing someone,” she went on, without looking up. “Eric is always out late, or needing to be somewhere else in a hurry, or just not at home at all. That’s why I keep looking through his things. It’s not jealousy. I can feel him acting different with me. He’s too busy for the kids, too busy for me,” Sarah sighed. “He’s never present.” “Never? Remember, that kind of unqualified language is rarely accurate, right?” “Fair enough, but it’s still true in this case.” “And you feel this absence because he’s having an affair and no other reason? You’ve thought that before, remember?” Dr. Robin said calmly. “And now it’s really true.” Sarah looked out the window. She knew how she sounded; it was impossible to convey the utter simplicity of it. “I know it is. I saw him with Juliette. He didn’t know I was there, but they were having lunch together. I watched them. I saw how he looked at her.” Dr. Robin wrote a bit more in her journal. Sarah hated that journal. She constantly wondered what was in it. “I can’t blame him, I guess,” Sarah reflected. “She is young and pretty.” “And you don’t feel that way yourself?” Sarah cringed inwardly. “No.” “Well, that’s something we might spend some time with in our session today,” the therapist said. “I should tell you that these are normal feelings—especially for women as they get older, and most especially for women with children. But for now—leaving aside the question of whether Eric is or isn’t having an affair in reality—can you tell me specifically how that thought, the thought that he is doing that, makes you feel?” “I almost can’t allow myself to think about it,” Sarah heard herself say. “It makes me too angry.” “Too angry in what sense?” “Like it would make me lose control.” “And do something?” “Maybe, yeah,” Sarah admitted. “What are you worried it would make you do?” It was the kind of thing Dr. Robin always seized on. But Sarah knew better than to answer that honestly. There were limits to patient confidentiality. “I haven’t thought that far ahead,” she said.

.

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