Today is my first appointment with my psychotherapist, Lloyd Barret. I’m tearing myself up with anxiety. I try to stop myself from imagining what might happen but I can’t stop.
Sweat drips down my forehead; my fingers tap rapidly on the arm of the chair, almost perfectly timed with the pling-pling of the nurse’s typewriter. On the stool beside me is an issue of Reader’s Digest. I’m tired, I haven’t slept all night, or for the last couple of nights for that matter. I glance at the clock. 12:58 A.M. Any second now, I think, eager to get it all over with, eager for this nightmare to end.
A door opens and a tall middle-aged man steps through. He’s dressed professionally in a suit: white dress shirt, black slacks, tie, dress shoes that have been scrubbed to a shine, hair slicked back. He holds a clipboard in one hand, which looks clean; I can’t help but notice his nails have been clipped. He has bright green eyes. He’s very handsome. I wonder what it would be like to feel his hand on the back of my neck. And then I remember why I’m here and what he does and what will happen and I feel something shrivel up inside me. I feel myself shrink back in my chair. If he shows any signs of noticing my discomfort it’s hidden behind his perfectly white teeth, his charming smile.
“Johnny?” he says.
I nod, somehow managing to stand.
“I’m Dr. Lloyd Barret.”
We shake hands. His hands are soft and warm while mine are undoubtedly clammy. He leads me out of the room via a long white-walled hallway with wooden flooring. His office, he says, is the last room on the corner. I step in nervously, expecting the door to slam shut behind me, to lock itself so I can never get out. Of course no such thing happens.
His office is moderately sized. There’s one armchair on one side of a wooden desk, where he undoubtedly sits, and two more across from me. On the wall behind him there are several plaques with awards and a diploma. To the left, over by the door, is a wooden shelves full of leather bound books. Other than that the room is utterly blank. There is nothing in this room that comforts, that makes me feel as if I’m in a safe place, as if I’m about to do something positive, something that will push my life in the right direction. Instead the room seems cold, formal; it does not match the man who led me back here, the man I just shook hands with.
“You look nervous,” the doctor says, pulling out a drawer in his desk. “It’s okay. You wouldn’t be the first.”
I’m not nervous, I want to tell him. I’m scared shitless. But I can’t find the words. I glance momentarily out the window. From two stories up I have a perfect view of the beautiful property the Adermoor Institute sits on: its beautiful lawn, the trimmed rose bushes, and trees. It looks like a happy place, not the kind of place where they do shock therapy and lobotomies. Fortunately for me, for the moment at least, I’m outpatient not inpatient, which makes my visits with Lloyd Barret a special matter. I don’t understand all the rules and stipulations behind it, but I’m glad I’m not being kept in a white-padded cell.
“I’m going to jump right into things,” Lloyd Barret says; he steeples his hands together. “You already know why you’re here.”
“Because I have a problem,” I say. “Because I’m broken, right?”
He smiles. “You’re not ‘broken.’ Homosexuality is not a permanent disease. It can be cured through psychotherapy. Through hard work, dedication, and consistency you can live a normal, happy life. You can have a wife, kids.”
“How?” I ask.
“There are several ways but the one I want to try is a mixture of psychoanalysis and a drug called stilboestrol, a drug that will decrease your sexual libido. Through those two avenues of treatment I think we can get you back on the right path. The path God wants you to be on.”
I look down at my hands, stiffly folded in my lap. I know I’m getting ready to cry: my throat works, my eyes burn. I can still hear the dean of New York University expelling me from the school for “indecent behavior.” I remember leaving my apartment the next morning and finding my car, my beautiful Plymouth Fury my parents had bought me, gone - just gone. You can get it all back, Dad said, looking at me with a mixture of disgust, shame, and love. You can fix it. Your Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda say they know of a specialist where they live, a psychotherapist, who can help you with your condition. They also have a college you can go while you live there…I remember going to see Tony’s apartment, needing to be with him, needing his comfort, needing his love. When the door opened it was his parent that had been there and they’d slammed the door in my face. We were both being treated like naughty children even though we were adults and could do whatever what we wanted whether God deemed it a sin or not. Within days it’d all been taken from me, sucked into a black hole.
There is no getting it back.
Because if this works I will come out on the other side a completely different person.
Somehow I manage to keep the tears back. “Alright. I’ll do it.”
At first it’s not so bad. Dr. Lloyd starts by asking me questions:
When did you first notice you were attracted to men?
“I was eight. Yeah, I think I was eight.”
Tell me about this epiphany.
“I was going to this day camp that was through my parents’ church and there was this counselor. He was seventeen and I was eight...and I had a crush on him.”
Did you know what you were feeling back then?
“No. I was eight. But I know what it is now, and I know it’s wrong.”
When he’s done, Dr. Lloyd gets up out of his chair, smiling. He looks pleased. “Thank you, Johnny, for being honest. I know it mustn’t have been easy but honesty is a crucial part to this journey you and I are undertaking together.”
There’s a knock on the door and a nurse in a white gown comes in, pushing a little metal table on wheels. She gives me a sweet smile that only makes my heart beat all the faster. It gives me the chills. Dr. Lloyd explains to me that the nurse is administering the stilboestrol; he also tells me he’s writing me prescriptions to help with diarrhea and nausea, which were common side effects of the drug. The needle stings a little going in but doesn’t hurt.
All I can think about as I walk towards my aunt and uncle’s car, prescription in hand, is of the drug coursing through my veins like a plague.
The Sunday following my first appointment with Dr. Lloyd Berret I go to church with Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda. I can’t remember the last time I’ve gone to church - it’s at least been a couple of years. Mom and Dad were constantly hounding me to go back to my dad’s church. I always told them - and myself - that I was simply too busy with school to go but in truth I couldn’t stand the idea of sitting in the front row and listening to another one of my father’s sermon; or that I had drifted away from God and was lost out at sea.
When I wake up in the morning I shower and put on the clothes Aunt Tilda had set out for me: a pressed white dress shirt, black dress pants, and black dress shoes. She tells me they might be a smidge big on me since they belong to my uncle - “It’s the best I can do until we can get out and buy you church clothes of your own,” she says. I shower and shave (I haven’t shaved in a week), and put mousse in my hair.
The church my aunt and uncle goes to sits on a hill which overlooks the dock and the ocean; I remember seeing it when I came off the ferry to meet them. We get there half an hour before the service begins. Parents lead their children up the cement path, stepping in through the double doors of the church. Everyone is dressed up: The men wear suits, their hair slicked back just like mine is; the women wear dresses, their hair curled or put up by hair pins. Tulips in full-boom line both sides of the entrance. The church itself is made out of wood and painted white, the trim around the windows and the witch-hat roof painted brown. The stain-glass windows reflect the morning sunlight. Seagulls swoop overhead, greeting the church goers with throaty squawks. The inside of the church smells like polished wood. An elderly woman hands my aunt and uncle a program. The church’s agenda was written in white on a chalkboard neat, loopy handwriting.
Aunt Tilda introduces me to several couples; I can’t help but think most of them are older than God, their veins pressing up against doughy flesh. Old people love God, I think. Aunt Tilda tells them, “Johnny has come from New York City to live with us while he goes to college here, at Adermoor Cove.” She doesn’t tell them the rest of why I’m really here and to her I’m grateful for that. Despite her religious view and the resentment I’ve been feeling towards her since I arrived to the island, Aunt Tilda is at least compassionate unlike Uncle Bo. They’re so different from one another that I often wonder how in the world they got together.
Everyone’s polite: They shake my hand, make sounds of interest when Aunt Tilda tells them I’m from New York City. But I can’t help but feel as though their politeness, their interest is superficial. People in Maine are cold, Johnny, I remember Dad telling me once. You either have to be from there, or have lived in town for twenty years before they warm up to you.
Then we meet Mr. and Mrs. Dowager and their daughter, Gwen, who is just a few years younger than myself. She’s a pretty girl with blonde hair and hazel eyes and high cheekbones. As Aunt Tilda informs me that Mrs. Dowager works at the elementary school and Mr. Dowager is a lawyer, Gwen keeps flashing me smiles. Her persistent gaze makes me blush no matter how hard I try not to.
“You must be a Yankees fan, being from New York and all,” Mr. Dowager says.
“My dad took me once, when I was six,” I tell him with a chuckle, trying to ignore Gwen’s burning gaze.
“Well we don’t have anything like the Yankees here in our humble Adermoor Cove but we do have a college baseball game. I get free tickets to the game and the best seats. Perhaps, with baseball season coming up, you would like to join us for a game or two. We three are huge baseball fans.”
I tell him I would like that even though I can’t think of anything I would want to do less...except maybe another appointment with my psychotherapist.
I used to think I was pretty close with God. I’m a pastor’s kid and during my childhood there was not a time where I didn’t feel like I wasn’t surrounded by God. I was taught to say grace every night at the dinner table and before I went to bed; I’ve knelt before the altar and prayed to God; I’ve fasted; I’ve been baptized. When my father saw I had an aptitude for writing he would let me write some of his sermons. I would write them after dinner, right before I went to bed, flipping through the Bible, picking out the verses I thought to be relevant to the sermon. When I was done writing them by hand I would type them out on a typewriter and hand them to my dad. He’d read them over. For me the greatest moment, and the moment when I think I loved my dad and God the most, was when he’d look up at me and smile, tears in his eyes, and tell me, “You write beautifully, Johnny.”
But listening to Michael Jenkins, the pastor of Adermoor Cove Baptist Ministries I feel like an angel flung out of heaven. I don’t feel the presence of God like I used to: that strange tingling sensation that let me know He was there, He was listening to me and He cared. The pastor starts by reading an article printed just yesterday: On April 9th NASA had announced its first military pilots who would become the first astronauts of the United States. “Some may see this as a fathomless miracle,” says Michael Jenkins, pausing for dramatic effect, looking at the crowd before him with wide eyes. “That exploring the abyss beyond our planet will somehow take us closer to God. But I fear it will take us further away from Him as we continue to make advancements in science and technology.”
Always with the doomsaying. What most people were too afraid to admit was how depressing going to church could be.
After the service, Uncle Bo, Aunt Tilda, and I meet up with the Dowagers again. Mr Dowager chides my uncle into having the three of us join them for dinner. “They just opened up The Treasure Cove!” Gwen tells me excitedly. “They have the best milkshakes in town!”
I’m actually glad to be going with them: I want nothing more than to be away from the church. It will also be good to get away from the house; I’m tired of looking at the same blank four walls of my room. We follow the Dowagers in their Cadillac; Adermoor Cove’s square is rather packed as churchgoers search for somewhere to have lunch. One thing can be said about church: It makes everyone hungry.
To my relief Gwen and I get our own booth. We sit across from each other; she sits on the side closer to the window so that the sunlight catches her hair. She really is quite pretty.
“Adermoor Cove must be quite different from New York,” she says.
“Very,” I say.
“You must hate it.”
I shrug. “Hard for me to say. I haven’t been here for very long.” But the truth is I do hate it - I’ve never felt so homesick. And yet I don’t want to be negative in front of Gwen. Though we’ve just met she seems like a nice girl.
“So you’re in college?” she says.
“What are you studying for?”
“Liberal arts. I want to be a writer.”
“That’s what I’m studying!” she says excitedly. Then, sheepishly, she adds, “I want to be a writer too.”
“Really? What do you want to write?”
“Poetry mostly. But I think I might want to write a novel too, I’m just not sure what about. Sometimes I think I’d like to write a memoir but then I feel like that would be boring, you know. Interesting things have to happen in your life and nothing interesting has happened in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in Adermoor Cove and all, but nothin’ interesting ever happens here.”
“Nothin’?” I ask.
“Well I guess if you’re into fishing...or baseball. But who’s into that? Since you’re into writing you must like reading.”
“Have a favorite author?” Gwen asks, peering down at her menu.
I think for a minute. I have so many favorites I always have a hard time picking. “Daphne du Maurier,” I say after a moment.
Gwen looks up, frowns. “Never heard of her. What does she write?”
“Mystery and romance - a mixture of the two mostly.” I didn’t add that du Maurier’s novels were often grim and depressing and rarely had happy endings, which made her work more outstanding in my mind’s eye. While, before moving to Adermoor Cove, I never saw a therapist or took medicine of any kind, I’d always struggled with changes of mood, flitting between giddiness and depression. The last few years it seems I’ve experienced more bouts of depression than happiness.
“Are you younglings behaving over there?” Mr. Dowager asks from the next booth over, tipping us a wink.
“We’re fine, Dad.” Gwen leans forward so only I can hear her. “Even though I’m only twenty-one he treats me like I’m twelve. Daddy’s little girl and all that.”
Our waitress finally comes over and asks what we want to drink; the diner, between it having just being opened and the church crowd, is full. I’m glad we arrived when we did. We both order milkshakes. Every once in a while Mr. Dowager glances over at us, me in particular. Does he think I’m sitting over here hitting on his daughter? Ludicrous. If he only knew I was incapable of hitting on women; I wouldn’t know what to do if I was in bed alone with one.
And then I feel something nudging against my leg, rising slowly towards my crotch.
What the hell?
It takes me a moment to realize it’s Gwen. She’s biting her lip, trying to hide a smile.
I scootch over to the right. I can’t believe she’s doing this. Not only did we just meet but she’s supposed to be a church girl.
Suddenly I’m not so hungry anymore.
Four days before my new classes start I meet with Dr. Lloyd Berret for the second time. I tell him about meeting Gwen at church.
He leans forward, seeming to be very interested. “And do you like her?”
“Yes, I guess,” I say. “We both like reading and writing. We’re both studying for the same thing. I think we’re enrolled in the same writing class.”
“Wow. It seems like God has put the perfect match in your path,” Lloyd says. “Don’t you think?”
I feel the urge to tell him, I can’t think about God right now. I can’t even masterbate right now. But instead I say, “Yeah, I guess.”
“And do you find her attractive?”
“You mean sexually?”
He grins and spreads his hands. The gesture appears friendly but I feel stupid all the same. “Of course. What else would I mean? That’s why we’re here, right, to get you liking girls?”
I nod. I tell him about my reaction to her nudging me at The Treasure Cove; I tell him about my reaction.
Looking sad, he nods. “It saddens me greatly to hear that. However, this is only our second appointment together. Unless God were to intervene, which I would say at this point he already has, we’re not going to experience results immediately. This could take weeks. Months. A year at most.”
A year, I think. I don’t think I can do this for a year. A year of taking the strange drug he gives me, a drug that makes it impossible for me to masturbate, that keeps me up every night because I’m vomiting my guts out despite the nausea medication he prescribed me. But I nod, I tell him what he wants to hear, anything to get out of his office, away from him faster. This is a temporary situation I tell myself.