A proper cup of tea
The session was over. René led him back to the vestibule for his jacket and shoes before seeing him out the door.
Since he was still dressed, René decided to go to the mall which was close by. He was having his two adult children with their spouses and children over for a movie and popcorn night in a few days and he needed a few groceries, a couple of bottles of wine, some fake wine for the kids, and an assortment of snack foods. As well, René needed to get out of the house for a while to process his session with Richard. It was a bit cool, but not as cold as normal for early November in Ottawa. Just before he went out the door, my phone rang.
It was Frieda calling. Once René had been home for almost a week, Frieda had contacted him on the Internet putting the doubts he had about her being real to rest. Since then she called him about once a week. René hadn’t expected to hear from her until late in the afternoon. The five hours difference in time zones meant that they usually kept to a routine time with their calls.
“Hi Frieda. You caught me just before I went out the door for some groceries.”
“Good, I just wanted you to know that I will call you a bit later than normal this evening as I am heading out to dine with some of my friends,” Frieda explained. “I’ll call you later if you’re going to be home.”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll be here,” he promised. “I’ll make sure that my calendar is cleared so that I will have some quality phone time with you,” he added in a voice that he hoped sounded sexy and a bit husky.”
After the phone was put back into its stand for charging, René left for the shopping mall. An hour and a half later, he was back home where he wasted little time in getting comfortable before heading back into his office so that he could begin Richard’s file. Wearing only a light robe, he retreated into a corner where he had a small gas fireplace and his favourite chair. René turned on the fireplace so that the chill would be soon replaced with warmth. He placed a mug of tea on the side table and made himself comfortable, placing the robe behind himself in case he got chilled.
René opened up his laptop and created a new document which he then placed in a new folder that was then placed in another folder which held the files of other clients. Everything that had to do with René’s psychotherapy practice was protected with encryption, a requirement mandated by the profession. René backed up all his files onto a protected external hard drive once a week which he then kept locked up in a filing cabinet. René took his counselling work seriously and that included respecting the rights of his clients to security and privacy.
Staring at the laptop after having entered the first bits of information, René began to think about how Richard’s story had triggered his own issues from the past. No sooner had he noted the affect rising within himself, he realised that he’d have to seek out his own therapist to avoid mixing Richard’s issues with his own. He didn’t want transference issues to sabotage the work to come. René would need to connect with Jacques to be his sounding board. As a trained analyst, Jacques would alert René to the problems that cropped up and then work through them as needed. René filed that thought away knowing he would call Jacques once the counselling work with Richard began in earnest.
It didn’t take long to record the information from the initial meeting with Richard. The room had warmed up and René sat back facing the fireplace with a cup of tea in hand. The glow from the fireplace warmed his body, giving it a red glow. Closing his eyes to bask in the warmth, René’s mind drifted away in time.
“I can’t do it anymore!” I cried to my wife, Rosaline. “I can’t keep all the pieces together, making sure that you, the kids, work, and our other commitments are taken care of. I can’t sleep without nightmares. I struggle to get to work and stay there until quitting time. I’d fire me if I was in charge.”
“René,” soothed Rosaline. “You’ll feel better in the morning. You always do. Maybe tomorrow will be a good day.”
That scene had taken place just two days before René found himself crying at work, sitting in the men’s washroom unable to return to his office where a report was waiting for his attention. René was a mess. He slept just four hours a day. René couldn’t blame work for stealing the time as he had been doing as little as possible without getting in trouble with the clinic manager. René couldn’t blame his children for taking up too much of his time. The truth was, he was overdoing it, going to all of their practices, games and performances. He was getting in the way of their own journeys of becoming independent. René couldn’t blame Rosaline for she was filling in the gaps that had opened up while René’s life had been falling apart.
“You just don’t understand, Rosaline, it’s getting worse, not better. Can’t you see that I’m in trouble? Can’t you tell that I’m becoming a basket case? You just can’t wish it away with a smile and positive sayings. I can feel it in you, too. You tighten up and go silent every time I screw up in small ways. I see you pull away in your mind, and I feel like shit.“
Rosaline retreated from his onslaught into silence until she couldn’t take any more of René’s self-pity which had a sharp edge that directed cuts at her. Then, like almost every other time, she reacted with sharp words of her own. These night wars had been going on for more than a few years becoming more frequent and wounding both in the process.
“I don’t understand? What kind of asshole are you? Of course I understand.” Rosaline fired back. “You are feeling guilty and that guilt is eating away at you.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I said through clenched teeth not wanting to wake up the kids. “What has this got to do with feeling guilty?”
That scene from the past, passed through René’s thoughts while he sat by the fire. It wasn’t long after that eruption that René had suffered his first burnout, which left both his personal and professional life in shambles and sent him in search of help twenty-one years ago. René was thirty-seven years old at that time, about the same age as Richard. Like Richard, René looked outside of his city for help as he was too ashamed to let people know that he was broken. Luckily it wasn’t that far to travel to see a psychoanalyst in Montréal. Another similarity with what René had learned so far about Richard is the perception that they both had what others saw as the perfect families.
René’s tea had turned cold as he had forgotten it was there as he got lost in thought. René was used to this, having hot drinks grow cold because of his head taking off to wander in inner worlds. René got up from my chair in front of the fireplace and wandered into the kitchen in order to warm up his tea in the microwave. With the mug of tea re-heated, he was about to return to his comfortable chair when the door opened. It was Jacques who upon seeing René standing there with the mug of tea, remarked:
“Why is it every time I come here you are stark naked? Don’t just stand there with your mouth open, go back into the kitchen and pour me a cup of tea, in a proper cup, not a mug.”
“If it bothers you to see me naked in my own house, knock and wait until I have time to put something on so that your sensibilities aren’t disturbed.” René retorted as he set his mug down and headed back into the kitchen remarking, “Go make yourself comfortable by the fireplace. I’ll be right back with your proper cup of tea – one sugar and double cream coming up.”
Jacques was a psychoanalyst in his mid-eighties. The two men had become friends about fifteen years ago when René met him at a depth psychology conference in Toronto. René had been working as a therapist for almost five years at that time and was still exploring various counselling techniques which would help him work with my older clients. For adolescents and adults in the first half of life, Gestalt therapy and Solution-Focused Brief therapy worked well for René. For those who came with issues such as Richard’s, something more was needed.
At the conference, Jacques had taken a seat at a table near the front of the convention room which was in a large hotel with round tables with seating for six people at each table. Though the other chairs were still empty as most people took seats closer to the back of the room, Jacques had sat immediately beside René. A Jungian psychoanalyst and author was giving a presentation on something called archetypes, presences within each human, part of the individual and collective unconscious. The idea was that somehow those archetypes were independent of ego. It all sounded quite confusing, but it was interesting, even fascinating.
Since that initial meeting, Jacques often visited unannounced, always walking in as if René’s house was his home. Somehow, he only did so when René was alone, when there were no clients or family to disturb. And typically, it was when René had need of him whether he was consciously aware of that need or not. René had become used to Jacques showing up unannounced. However, in the beginning, it was kind of shocking to see him walk into the house without ringing the bell or knocking. At the beginning René seriously was upset that Jacques didn’t respect René’s space and simply acted as if he owned the space. Jacques had since become René’s mentor, his father-confessor, an amiable pain-in-the-ass when René needed a figurative kick in the pants.
René walked back into the office carrying a small tray with an old English teapot, a cup and saucer, sugar cubes and a shot glass filled with condensed milk, Jacques idea of cream. Setting the tray on a TV tray beside Jacques’ favourite chair, a rocking chair with upholstered fabric the same as that used on the reclining arm chair and the basket swivel chair, René reached for my robe to cover up before sitting down.
“What? Are you all of a sudden turning into a prude?” criticized Jacques as René began to wrap the robe around himself. “It’s not like I haven’t seen you toute nue before.”
“But, you were complaining just a few minutes ago about my nudity.”
“No I wasn’t, I simply made an observation that you need to think about. Now,” he continued, “Sit down and enjoy your tea before it gets cold.”
René left his robe on as he sat, still feeling uncomfortable with what Jacques had intimated. They didn’t say much while Jacques poured himself a cup of proper tea. After several quiet moments savouring his tea, Jacques brought up the reason for his visit.
“So, how did it go with Richard?”
René stared at Jacques with incredulity. “How did you know about Richard?”
“Harrumph! I sent him to you of course. How else do you think someone from Hawkesbury would even know about you? It’s not like you advertise your practice. He needs help and you are the best person to help him.”
Without thinking about it, René reacted to his words that sounded like praise from my mentor with a smile, “I didn’t know you thought I was the best therapist.”
“Good Lord! I didn’t say any such thing. I said that you would be the best for Richard and his particular issues. You have both been down the same road. You know that particular broken road intimately,” he finished with exasperation.
I considered myself suitably humbled by Jacques’ statement. “I am sure he will come back,” René finally answered in response to Jacques’ earlier question. “We have arranged for alternate weekends, Saturdays and Sundays, until Christmas. We will see how it goes from there.”
“So,” continued Jacques, “When is Frieda coming back? I like her. Can’t figure out what she sees in you though.”
Jacques had been a frequent visitor to the house when Frieda came two weeks after René’s return from walking the Camino together with her. She had stayed for four days before heading back to Europe and her home in Norway. Frieda loved the old man and it was obvious that Jacques appreciated her as well.
“She told me yesterday that she will be here next Tuesday. She intends on having her own place here near the city, an acreage with lots of trees near water.” René explained to his mentor. “She wants to begin looking now so she can see what she is getting through the eyes of winter. She knows winter and long nights.”
“Good,” smiled Jacques. “I’m looking forward to seeing her again. Now, it’s time for me to leave. I’ve got a dinner engagement to attend,” he continued as he rose from the chair by the fireplace. “Say ‘Hello,’ to your grandchildren for me when you see them on Friday.”
‘How is it that he knew about the movie night with the grandchildren and their parents? I know that I had not mentioned it to them,’ thought René with more than a bit of confusion.
“You look surprised,” chuckled Jacques. “You always have them over on Friday nights when there isn’t a conference, a presentation, or a journey out of the city at hand. You are so predictable.”
Jacques left with his usual formal shaking of my hand. He wasn’t one for giving or receiving hugs. Alone once again, René was hesitant to return to sit by the fireplace and wait for Frieda’s phone call, so I went in the kitchen to make himself a salad for his supper.