The phone would ring and I’d hear that deep bass voice say, “He-e-e-llo, Annie,” and I would settle in for a good chat. We would talk about everything under and over the sun. We would share stories of our history and argue about the conclusions of our old age. We were both sixty-five and it was a joy to talk with someone who remembered the same things I did—and remembered them in the same way.
I had asked him to be my therapist and he said I couldn’t afford him but we could be friends and so we talked on that basis—sort of. In the beginning, he would push me. “Ann-i-i-i-e-e . . .” I had to tell him everything. I would say that I didn’t want to talk about X, Y or Z, or I’d rather not respond to some question, and he wouldn’t accept it. A friend would have; a friend would respect boundaries.
He didn’t. He was a therapist. He viewed it as an obstacle to therapy, not a boundary set by a friend. Obstacles are to be overcome and he worked hard to break down all my defenses. He would cajole and beguile. He would use patience or firm, insistent questioning. He made it clear that until I told him how I really felt, there would be no conversation about anything else. And in the end, it felt so good, you know?
To have a best friend, a friend you trusted with your innermost feelings . . . that was a blessed relief. There was so much pain in my life—damaged by psychiatry, abandoned by my family, impoverished by the inability to work, homebound and often bedridden by illness, ignored by my church, alone, alone, alone—and now I had this wonderful, faithful friend.
He was smart and funny, kind and understanding, and he believed in me. He thought I was wonderful, courageous, brilliant, generous and wise; he told me so. I was an incredibly good person in unbelievably bad circumstances, and he was there for me. When I was hospitalized, he was there, on the phone. When I had bad medical appointments, he went with me by phone. When I needed a rehab center, he made phone calls. He was a Care Manager; that’s what he did.
If he’d been a carpenter, he would have built me a deck. If he’d been an editor, he would have gotten me published. He was a therapist, so he helped me emotionally. Don’t we all share our professional expertise with our friends? Then why did I, sometimes, get angry and accuse this friend of treating me like a patient? Many months went by before I understood what I meant: he was acting like a therapist, not a friend—wasn’t he? He wasn’t self-revealing.
He would call me on Monday morning and ask about my weekend. I’d tell him where I went, what I did, who I talked to, and how I felt about it all. I would ask about his weekend—friends do, don’t they?—and he would reply, “Chores around the house,” and change the subject. We were not to talk about him; we were to talk about me. Isn’t “me” everybody’s favorite subject? And wasn’t he totally other-directed?
He didn’t want money or sex or power or fame: he just wanted to help other people. He was an amazing man and I was entranced by him. I loved him and he loved me. He told me so; this splendid, wonderful man told me he loved me—until the lawsuit.
We spent hours every week on the phone with each other, sometimes talking several times a day, then the phone calls stopped. He neither called nor accepted my calls for one long, dark week. When we finally spoke again, he told me that he was being sued. He wouldn’t tell me why, but he was devastated. His ex-patient-friend was suing him. He felt hurt and betrayed, and I could not comfort or reassure him. He—who was so positive, so upbeat, so optimistic—said he was going to lose his license and his livelihood. What did he know that he wasn’t telling me?
But he stopped telling me he loved me. I didn’t make the connection, then, between the lawsuit and the I-love-you’s. By then, I was totally confused about our relationship. He said we were friends, but wouldn’t let me call him at home. He said we weren’t lovers, but he told me he loved me. He said he wasn’t my therapist, but all our conversations took place while he was in his professional office.
I stopped trying to make sense of him and just accepted him. If talking about me made him happier than talking about him, then okay, we’d talk about me. What woman has ever understood a man? I’d ask him how I could help and he would reply, “Just be yourself.” What the heck did that mean? So I would babble on, not knowing anything—not knowing who he really was, not knowing what our relationship really was, not knowing what the boundaries really were.
He was my friend and I accepted him as he was. That’s what friends do, don’t they? And he was my friend.