A story of Nick's journey through therapy, from the perspective of his therapist and through their sessions together, working to resolve issues from his past and rebuild relationships with those closest to him.
Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters:
Child Abuse, Sexual Assault/Rape
1. Prologue by YoursTruly
2. Introduction by YoursTruly
3. Session 1 by YoursTruly
4. Session 2 by YoursTruly
I sat at my desk, reviewing our notes from last week’s session and making sure everything was in order, and I glanced at the clock: 2:57. I wondered if he would come today. I had hoped, after watching him on this journey over the last several months, that he would honor the process by giving it a proper goodbye. But I wouldn’t be surprised. It happens often with therapy clients. They come in, build this weird sort of intimate relationship, and then struggle to terminate the process. Sometimes it’s too difficult to say goodbye to something so meaningful, sometimes they stop coming when they realize all that’s left to be said is all that they have avoided in the silences. Today would be the last meeting, the time to lay the rest of it on the table, the time to let go. As each minute blinked closer to 3:00, my hope dwindled.
At 3:05, as I was getting ready to send him a text asking if something came up or if he wanted to reschedule (which I doubted he would), there was a faint knock on my door.
“Come in”, I called to the closed door behind me. As it opened, I saw him standing there, grinning sheepishly and slinking into my office
“Sorry I’m late”, he mumbled while avoiding eye contact with me and flopping down onto a comfortable place on my leather couch.
“It’s okay”, I assured him. I shut the lid on my laptop, stowed my phone in the top desk drawer, and moved to my usual chair across from him. I smiled, “I’m glad you came”.
“Well, that makes one of us” he laughed, looking past me toward the clock on the wall.
“It can be really difficult to come for the last session, especially given what we talked about last week, but I think it took great courage for you to do it despite all that. And I think it can be really helpful to put a bookend on this whole process”.
“Yeah”, he said, “I thought about not coming, just avoiding your calls, saying something came up…”
“But you didn’t”, I reminded him, gently. The small talk could go on for the whole hour, if I allowed. He was nothing if not charming and could skirt around the issues at hand with ease. But we both knew there was work to be done. The silence hung heavily in the space between us, and I decided to break the polite chatter. “Were you able to bring the homework that we talked about?”.
“Um, yeah. I did. But I don’t know if I did it right or…if it makes any sense…I don’t know…”, he trailed off. He stood up off the couch for a moment and pulled a folded piece of lined notebook paper from his back pocket. He handed it to me as he sat back down, “here.”
I looked at him incredulously, “and what do you think I am going to do with this?”
“I don’t know. Read it, I guess?”
I laughed. “I could do that. But Nick, this assignment was for you, not for me. It was something I thought would help give you some closure on everything that we have discussed.”
“I don’t know if it was helpful. I mean, I wrote it, and that was really hard to do, but I’m not sure what it changes”.
I handed the paper back to him “That’s a fair point. But I had another idea for this. I was hoping, instead of having me read it, that maybe you could read it aloud, and see if speaking the words has any kind of different impact”
He furrowed his brows, uncertainty in his eyes, perhaps wondering if it was too late now to leave, or to pretend he accidentally brought the wrong paper from home. He thought for a moment and responded, “you mean like read it to you?”
“Well, here’s what I was thinking”, I said as I got up from my chair. I pulled the chair from behind my desk and sat it down near me, making a triangle of the three of us. “I wonder if you would be willing to read it as if the person you have written it to is sitting here with us. Because really, this is between you and him, right? I’m not really apart of this, I’m just here as a witness, a support”.
He shrugged, “I guess I can give it a try.” He carefully unfolded the paper in his hands and I could see his hands shaking as he did so. He breathed a heavy sight and ran his hands through his hair, trying to steady his voice and his nerves as he began.
“Dear Lou”, he glanced at me and then turned his gaze to the chair on my right.
Introduction by YoursTruly
I didn’t set out to be a therapist to the stars, so to speak. Far from it, actually. I never understood the appeal of celebrities and never wanted to work with them. To me, as I am sure to many others, celebrities seemed like aliens, inhabitants of a world and a culture that was entirely foreign. There is a reason why trashy magazines devote entire sections to trying to prove that celebrities are “just like us”…because they aren’t. Normal people don’t need to prove that they shop at Target, put gas in their cars, or eat at McDonald’s. I’ve done all those things in the past week and no one seemed to take notice. Because they are different than me, I have never known what to do with them. For a person who spends her life and makes her living talking to people, I have no idea what to say when I encounter someone famous.
Living in Las Vegas, I have seen and met a small share of celebrities over the years and our meetings always seems to go the same way. We approach and something along the lines of “Oh, you’re Channing Tatum!” comes out of my mouth. Once he confirms that he is, indeed, Channing Tatum, I am out of things to say. What does one say to Channing Tatum? Should I talk to him like a friend? Tell him about the really cool table I scored at a garage sale last week for $10? Should I talk to him like a client? Ask him about his childhood and how it makes him feel? In the end, I smile awkwardly and hope someone else is there to jump in. Aside from us both knowing who Channing Tatum is, I doubt we have much in common. Being around these people always manages to make me feel awkward and insecure rather than excited, so I tend, most of the time, to ignore them entirely.
When I became a therapist, I pictured myself as a champion of the downtrodden, helping those in need and making a difference. Famous people never fit into that equation for me. Naïve as it may have been, I just assumed that their problems would be inconsequential and shallow. I couldn’t picture myself transitioning from hearing about the plights of homelessness to the plights of choosing which $3,000 dress to wear to the Grammy’s (the fact that I have zero idea how much a dress for the Grammy’s costs should probably only underscore that I was ill-equipped to work with these people).
But sadly, the thing that made me different also made me desperate, namely, my lack of disposable income. Despite working as a therapist at a homeless shelter for 12 years, the transition to private practice had been difficult and it was challenging to build up consistent clients. I was slowly dipping into my savings just to afford my share of the rent on a modest 2-bedroom apartment. My roommate, Jackie, was the one who suggested I pursue a different type of clientele. Jackie was working as a promoter for Planet Hollywood and, at the time, was working with an artist who was, to put it kindly, a bit unstable. The artist had been keeping in touch with a long-term therapist back home but wanted someone to meet with her twice a week while she was working on her show in Vegas. I groaned my usual complaints about celebrities, but eventually, after taking a long hard look at my bank account, I acquiesced, telling myself that it would only be for a limited time, and it would be better money than I had been making.
Slowly but surely, my name began getting passed around the entertainment circuit and I became the go-to for musicians and entertainers who needed a little piece of sanity (and confidentiality) while caught up in the Vegas whirlwind. Slowly, I began to see another side of the people I worked with, saw their flaws, heard their stories, wiped away their tears. As much as I would like to credit my therapy skills, I realize that probably my greatest asset was my ability to keep my mouth shut. Once word got around that I wasn’t going to be paid off by tabloids or spread the juicy details of their lives through my inner circle (turns out my dog, Misty, wasn’t that interested in celebrity gossip, anyway), people opened up to me and found a confidant. My general lack of self-serving interest in the fabulous intricacies of fame and seeming inability to be starstruck seemed to be a benefit in this setting. Plus, being able to charge Los Angeles prices for out of town celebrities wasn’t too shabby for my bank account.
I was sitting on the couch watching a romantic comedy on Netflix and eating caramel corn one night after work when Jackie walked in. She threw down her bag on the chair next to me and said with a giddy smile, “you’ll never guess what I’ve got for you!”
“Ooh, another client?”
“Yes, and you’re going to die when I tell you who it is”.
I rolled my eyes at her. “I doubt I will die. I’ve been doing this for a while now and I haven’t drooled on any clients yet”.
“Okay”, she smiled, “but don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s a good one”. She laid a piece of paper down on the table and walked behind me toward the kitchen. I sighed, pulling myself to a sitting position and leaning from the couch to reach the paper on the coffee table. I unfolded it and felt my heart skip a beat and my eyes widen.
NICK CARTER: 888.721.4782 TXT ANYTIME
I took a deep breath as I hit “send” on my message.
“Hi, this is Cammie with Creative Counseling. Jackie had given me your number and indicated you may be interested in counseling, just wanted to see what days/times might work well for you to come in. Thanks!”
The reply came on Tuesday. I was taking a break between clients and eating a few grapes at my desk. I had just finished an exhausting hour of listening to a woman talk about how her children never called her. Sympathetic as I tried to be, I understood why they didn’t call. She was overbearing and narcissistic, and I found it difficult to deal with her just one hour a week. Remembering my phone in my desk drawer, I fished it out and my heart skipped a beat as I saw I had one new message.
“Hey, this is Nick Carter. I’m still interested in coming in but my schedule is crazy. Do you have anything available on Friday?”
I took a deep breath and tried to steady the phone in my shaking hands. I couldn’t understand my reaction. I tried to remind myself that this was just another client, potentially as draining and self-centered as the one I had just seen. But it was also him. Nick Carter.
Despite my general lack of interest in celebrity lives, this felt different. Growing up, I had a corner of my bedroom covered in magazine cutouts from Teen People, and Nick Carter was frequently the center of this shrine. To say I was an obsessed teenager was a grave understatement. I still remember clearly the day Millennium was released, almost 20 years later. I had begged my dad to drive me to Sam Goody after school, my babysitting money in hand. I was 15 and this felt like the biggest purchase of my life, I waited for in anticipation for months. I pored over that album for weeks, listening and following along with the lyrics in the liner notes until I knew every word and had memorized the thank-yous and acknowledgements. To this day, I should be ashamed to admit, I could still listen to any Backstreet Boys song and identify instantly who was singing.
At the center of this obsession was Nick. As a 15 year old girl, Nick was the only who seemed accessible to me, a mere 5 or 6 years older than me (the internet was new at this time and notoriously unreliable with these things. Kevin, more than 10 years my senior, may as well have been my grandfather. I traced pictures of Nick’s face into my sketchbook, trying my best to copy photos I had found on fan websites or from album covers, writing imaginary letter that he would never read (and, as an adult years later, hope I never tried to send).
I hit the height of Backstreet Boys fever around the time the internet was becoming easily accessible to suburban middle class teens. I spent hours (hours that prevented anyone else in my house from using the telephone) dragging the depths of the world wide web for any juicy tidbits of information. The coming of the internet age really aligned well with teenage obsession. It allowed us to find out anything we wanted about these mythical creatures, provided us free access to the information we yearned for, but couldn’t afford in magazines at the grocery store checkout. It was all there for us, the fans. And we took advantage. We created websites, we traded photos and quotes, we wrote fanfiction. It made them seem even more real to us.
I took a deep breath and replied. I would do this. I could face him. That was all in the past. We are both adults now, I can handle myself. I muttered this mantra to myself as I typed.
“I am free on Friday from 1:00 to 4:00 if that works for you. Anytime in between is fine if you have a preference.”
The reply came almost instantly, startling the phone still in my hands.
“3 would be great.”
“Okay, great. I’ll plan to see you then.”
I placed my phone back in the drawer and popped one more grape into my mouth before preparing for my next client. This would definitely not be cool. I would definitely not be cool.
The days between Tuesday and Friday drug on for years, and yet came crashing toward me like a freight train. I wasn’t prepared for this. Friday morning, I shaved my legs and put on a dress and heels. I used to dress this professionally when I first started counseling, a desperate attempt to convey a sense of professionalism and grown-up-ness that I didn’t feel. I was trying to cover up the fact that I often felt like a child in an adult world with designer handbags and heels I could barely walk in. But I looked nice. professional. Definitely not like a teenage girl obsessed with a boyband, right? I straightened the dress and gave myself one last look before leaving my apartment. I pet Misty on the head and threw a tube of lip gloss and my phone into my bag before shutting the door and calling out behind me “Wish me well, Misty girl”.
I’m not sure I heard a word any of my clients said that day, to be honest. I spent the entire morning and afternoon wondering what it would be like, what he would be like. Would I find the boy whose picture had adorned my teenage walls? Would I find this tabloid caricature that I had read about in years past? Would I find a normal human, insecure and anxious like me?
As three o clock neared, I reapplied my lip gloss and practice my greeting.
“Hello, welcome. I am Camille”
“Hi, I’m Cammie, Come on in”
“Hi there. How are you?”
“Hello, you must be Nick”
Each sounded more stupid than that last. I was deep in a debate between “hi and “hello” when I heard a knock on the door.
I plastered the most adult smile I could find on my face and inhaled as I took in the man in front of me. Tall, nearly a foot taller than me (even in my big girl heels) and muscular, smiling back at me.
He smiled at me and extended his hand. “Hi, you must be Cammie. I’m Nick.”
I took his hand and suppressed my urge to squeal in the vocal register only possessed by teenage girls. “Hi, it’s nice to meet you. Please come in.”
He entered past me and I caught a whiff of his cologne. He took a seat on the large leather couch under my window as I tried to remember how to walk like a human.
“Should I lie down?” he said as he lounged on the couch across from me.
I almost fainted. “No,” I smiled and gave a small polite laugh.” I think that’s just in the movies. You can feel free to sit. Unless you want to lie down, I guess. I won’t judge.”
“yeah, that would be nice. The no judgement thing, I mean.” And then came the awkward silence. God, we hadn’t even made it past three sentences.
I took a breath and steadied myself. “Breathe, Cammie”, I chided myself. “You know how to do this. Just like any client.” I exhaled and spoke.
“I’m glad you made it in. Do you want to tell me a little about what brings you here?”
“Um, I guess I’m not totally sure. You know, it’s just been really stressful and my wife, Lauren, suggested that I might want to talk to someone about some things. I don’t know though”.
I could sense something shift within him as he stumbled through a reply. The confidence seemed to falter, the charismatic smile faded a bit from his face that now looked more adult than boyish. He seemed almost human.
“Well, I can certainly understand coming in because of stress. And it’s natural that people feel uncomfortable about coming in and sharing things with a total stranger. It’s really a weird process.”
He returned a small smile. “Yeah, it’s pretty weird. I’m just used to not really talking to people about things. Not knowing who you can trust, you know? It’s hard to know who you can trust. For me at least”
I took a stab and hoped I still knew how to do this. “And maybe people only want to see a certain version of you.”
“Exactly” he exclaimed as he looked up and met my eyes. “They want to see nick carter, the boy band member, the heartthrob”. He made air quotes with his fingers around the word heartthrob and flashed a toothy smile for effect.
“Yeah, I imagine it makes you feel like you can’t be real, that it’s not okay to have struggles at times, even though its a normal thing for everyone.”
“Yeah, or sometimes it’s like the opposite. People want to see me struggle, they want to see my fail, they like me when I’m broken. And that’s somehow even weirder, like people want me to be traumatized. I don’t get it.”
He laughed out loud. “Can you say that? Aren’t you supposed to like people?”
“I do like people”, I protested. “I really enjoy talking to people, helping them work through what’s going on, but to be frank, people can also really suck sometimes.”
“Agreed”, he said with a smile and seemed to relax in his seat.
“You’ll probably find out I don’t always have the tact you might expect and I can have a pretty terrible sense of humor and be pretty frank sometimes. Just letting you know what you’re getting into.”
“I can get down with that. I’ve had some counselors before…” He used his finger to make the sign for ‘crazy’, circling his right ear with his hand.
“Oh yeah? Wasn’t a good fit?”
“I think it just felt like people never really got me. Kind of like the people I come into contact with all the time in my life, they could only see a certain part of me and, and it was like they couldn’t accept me being any different. One therapist I think didn’t really get what I do, how hard I work, what goes into what we do. I think she thought I was just some spoiled kid who ‘shouldn’t have problems’. She was older, no offense to her, but it just seemed like she thought of me as this whiny kid who just needed to get over myself.”
“It sounds like you’ve certainly had some negative experiences. Is there anything I can say to help you feel good about this one? Is there anything you have questions or expectations about?”
“Um…I’m not sure. I guess I just want to feel like I can be a whole person, you know”. I nodded. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, within reason.”
“Did you know who I was? Not to be presumptuous, but you seem like you’re the age where maybe you would have been familiar with me? Sorry, maybe I shouldn’t ask that.”
“No it’s fine, I’m okay answering that. Yeah, I know who you are. I grew up in the 90s, it was pretty hard to avoid knowing who the Backstreet Boys were.”
“Okay”, he said with some trepidation.
“How do you feel about that?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I think I expected you to probably know but…”
“but you’re worried that maybe I already have this idea about who you might be and that maybe I can’t see you differently than I did as a 13 year old.”
He laughed. “Yeah. That’s pretty much it.”
“Well, I can’t promise that I can erase anything I have known about you, but I can promise that I will try my best to set the past aside and allow you to tell me who you are, from your own perspective. I firmly believe in people being the authors of their own story. And if you catch me trying to write the story or influence it with what I think I know, I hope you will call me out on that.”
“I can do that”, he replied with confidence.
“I believe that!” I smiled in return.
He nodded, “you seem cool. Laid back. I think that might be cool.”
“I’m glad”, I said sincerely. “Now I know you said your wife suggested you see someone because of stress. Is there anything specific going on that’s contributing to the stress or going on that made you finally decide to come in? I assume there is always stress…anything different?”
“Um, I guess just mostly it’s been stressful being here and performing as much as we are. Being in Las Vegas feels different, you now? Bigger. When we were doing our shows, it was us traveling to the people who wanted to see us, showing up where fans were already at. Here, we are asking a lot more of people, you know? We are charging more for tickets and people will have to travel farther to see us for the most part. So, there have been a lot of nerves, I guess, about whether people will want to come all that way to see us. Like, are we good enough for that? Is this sustainable? Are we too old for this?” He laughed and ran a hand through his hair. “I mean, I’m pushing 40 and in a boy band. Kevin’s practically getting a senior citizen discount and here we are dancing around like teenagers. It feels a little weird sometimes.”
He paused telling his story as if he suddenly remembered I was in the room.
“Is it weird to talk about other people?”
“You mean like Kevin?”
“I mean, not really? I guess it’s a little odd because like you said, I have this idea in my head about who some of the people in your life are, have some concept of them. But to be honest, it’s not that much different. People often talk about other people who are important in their lives, and I never get a complete picture. I only know people through their eyes, so I imagine it will be like that with you as well. I will get to know the Kevin that you know, through your perspective. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah. Well anyway, there has just been a lot of stress. Plus, I don’t know if you know, but I have a son, He’s two and it’s been stressful at home with him. I feel super guilty that I’m not around him as much as I want to be. I feel like I didn’t have the greatest upbringing and I don’t want that for him. And I know things are different, I know the situation isn’t the same, but sometimes when I leave him, I feel like I’m a crappy parent”.
I saw the color drain from his face and for a moment, the façade crumbled . I wondered if he would keep going and talk about his family, but I didn’t think it would be that easy. I had learned, especially with high-profile clients, they are usually reticent to really open up about how things are and often struggle to get past the surface level story telling. But it was only our first meeting. I figured I would let it go for now.
The smile returned and I could tell he hit something a little too deep and was now retreating. “Plus, he’s two, you know? It’s just a challenging age. He gets overtired and I think the stress of traveling makes it hard for him to have a schedule and structure sometimes.”
I could sense we wouldn’t get much further today. but at least we were talking. And somewhere in the conversation, I had reverted back to what I knew, forgotten who I was talking to and approached this like I would any other client.
“Well, are there other things that you think are important for me to know?”
“Um, I guess maybe just to be patient with me? Like I said, I have tried the counseling thing in the past and I never really felt like I could talk to them, and I think they got frustrated with me. I felt like they wanted me to talk about something, but I didn’t always know what it was, and they were waiting for me to say something so then I felt like I was just guessing at what they wanted me to say and I felt like I wasn’t doing it right.”
“That sounds frustrating. I bet it was hard to keep showing up when it felt like that.”
“Yeah I would go for a couple of times and then just make up excuses not to come anymore. I do travel a lot so it was hard sometimes to make appointments and I guess I just let it go.”
I nodded. “That makes sense. I want to assure you that this is your time, and these sessions are for you to decide what to talk about. I’m not expecting to talk about anything specific. You can bring whatever you’re comfortable talking about. If there’s things you don’t want to talk about that’s fine too. I imagine it will take us a while to get comfortable so I really don’t expect you to open up your entire life to me today. it’s okay to take some time to build trust”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
“And I hope you will tell me if something isn’t working for you. I know you haven’t had great experiences in the past, and I don’t want that to happen for you. So, if for some reason you don’t think it’s going to work out, please let me know. Not everyone is a good fit for everyone, and I want you to be able to have a good experience and work with someone you can trust.”
He smiled “Thanks. I feel comfortable with you so far. You haven’t like asked for my autograph yet or anything like that.”
“Oh shit, I was just about to pull out my backstreet boys poster for you to sign. Too soon?” I teased.
“You’re funny, I like that.”
“Thanks. I’m glad you can appreciate it. I hope it will end up being a good fit”
“We’ve got a few minutes left. Anything else you want to talk about today?”
“Nah, I think I’m good. I actually talked more than I thought I would”, he confessed”
“Okay, well I know your schedule is a little crazy. How
often are you wanting to meet?”
“Maybe next week?”
“Sure, do you want to keep the same time?”
“Yeah, that should work”
“Okay I’ll plan to see you then.”
I stood up and opened the door to let him out of the office. He had returned to the charmer persona and flashed me a winning smile and a small wave as he said “see you next week.”
I closed the door behind me and breathed a sigh of relief. I did it. I made it through a session without squealing, blushing, or actually asking him to sign something (I didn’t really have a poster ready for him to sign, in case you were wondering. I’m at least somewhat professional).
Now I had a week to game plan how we were going to approach this. I had a feeling there was a lot more to the story than I had heard yet. And I would try to stay true to my word, to set aside my expectations of “Nick Carter” and allow him to write his own story.
I got a text Friday morning around 10am. I checked my phone briefly between sessions and saw a text message from NC. My next client had already arrived, and I didn’t have time to read the message, but I knew what was coming. First sessions are easy, in a sense. There is a lot of chit-chat, getting to know each other, small talk. Second sessions are tough. A blank canvas for clients to begin their work; it’s intimidating for them. To be honest, it’s intimidating for me too. Second sessions always have me feeling a little lost, like I need to be doing more, offering more, being more for my clients. Clients often want direction, guidance, and I often feel ill-equipped to provide it to them.
People often don’t come back after a first session for a few reasons that I can identify. Sometimes, people have gotten what they needed, vented their frustrations, feelings, trauma, vomited all of their life struggles out on my couch and walked away, needing nothing more. This explanation makes me feel better about myself. I was so amazing that they just didn’t need to come back for more. Fixed in one session!! This does happen, but it’s probably rarer than I would like to think. Secondly, people are afraid. They realize they may have revealed too much, or come to realize that the process will ask them to reveal too much, and they decide it’s too much to handle. Inevitably, I wonder if I pushed too hard, too fast, and scared them off.
When I finally got a chance to look through my messages during my lunch hour, I was surprised to see that Nick hadn’t canceled the appointment.
“Hey, sorry to do this, I’m stuck in a meeting that will probably run late. Could we meet any later than 3 today? So sorry”. Still, I wondered. Was this just delaying the inevitable of him not coming?
I replied, “I have a session at 4 but we could meet at 5 if that works for you”. I cringed a little as I hit “send”. I tried not to work past 5:00 (especially on Fridays) and I tried not to bend the boundaries I had set on my time for clients. I wondered to myself, would I have accommodated any other client like this?
Having set a later time for our appointment, I spent the rest of my lunch hour reflecting on our last session. It went well, I thought. He seemed open to the process, but I wondered about the limits of that openness. Second sessions were the test, to see what would really happen, if he would really engage. I was surprised when my client left at 4:50 and Nick was already in my waiting room. It caught me a little off guard, his being early, I felt like I hadn’t had enough time to prepare myself. Smiling, trying to pull it together, I said “hey, give me just a couple minutes to finish some things up and then we can get started?”
“No worries, I’m early”, he said, and went back to playing some sort of game on his phone. Back in my office, I took a few deep breaths and a drink of water. I fluffed the pillows on my couch and straightened a few books on the shelf to kill a little more time. 4:53. Time to go.
“Hey, you ready?” I said, trying not to startle him as I approached him from behind in the waiting room.
“yeah, just give me one second to finish this level”. I stood awkwardly as he continued on his phone for what seemed like an eternity. “okay, sorry. Just didn’t want to lose my place. I’m ready”.
We entered my office and he took his same spot on the leather couch. I followed and sat across from him.
“So….” he drew out his words and took a breath “what am I supposed to start with?”
I tried not to look flustered even though I hated when clients asked this, as if I knew exactly what they should talk about in order to make things better or different.
“Well, that’s up to you. We can talk about anything that seems important to you, whether it’s something going on currently, something from the past, or really anything that you think would be helpful”.
He shifted uncomfortably on the couch, crossing his arms. “I don’t really know. That’s pretty vague”
This was going nowhere in a hurry. I realized I was going to have to give him some kind of direction if we were going to actually talk today. “You’re right, it is. It seems like it is a little overwhelming to try and think of things to talk about. Maybe I could give some suggestions for narrowing it down?”
He nodded as he met my eyes “sure, that would be good”.
“well, when you first came in, you mentioned stress at home, particularly with your son. Is that something you would like to talk about?” I figured stress was an easy place to start. Nothing to deep, nothing too intimidating.
He exhaled and leaned forward, clasping his hands together and resting his elbows on his knees “Yeah, I guess.”
“Okay. Maybe you could tell me what has been most stressful at home?”
“Okay. Yeah. Well, I mentioned that I have a son?” I nodded. “Odin. He’s two. And he’s the best thing that’s probably ever happened to me. I really love him. I do. Sometimes he stresses me out though. Just being two, you know? I know it’s all normal stuff, and kids are frustrating sometimes, and he’s just really great, but sometimes it’s a lot. You know, cartoons and the park and diaper duty and tantrums. I mean, I love spending time with him, it’s great, but yeah”.
“It sounds like you really love and care about your son” I affirmed. He nodded in agreement. “And it also sounds like he can be frustrating to you at times”. He seemed a bit reticent to agree with that statement. I also noticed he hadn’t really answered my question.
“I wonder if it’s hard to admit, despite how much you love him, that sometimes you feel frustrated or angry with him”, I posed.
He sat quietly for a minute. “yeah”, he said in a quiet voice. “it feels like I should love every minute with him, and I do, but some of them are really hard. sometimes I do get frustrated”.
“Being frustrated as a parent is a pretty typical thing to feel. All parents get frustrated, not just you”. I attempted to normalize his experience. “What frustrates you the most?”
“Um…I guess just the normal stuff you know? Not picking up his toys or crying when he doesn’t get his way. Sometimes I just want him to grow up, you know?”
“I’m not sure I do. Tell me a little bit more about how you want him to grow up?”
He sighed as he searched for words. “it’s like, sometimes I just wish he could understand what I want him to do, or why I am doing things. It’s frustrating when he is upset and I can’t figure out how to make him understand. Sometimes I just wish he could grow up and get over it.”
“Get over it”, I repeated, quizzically.
“Yeah. I feel like sometimes I just want him to stop crying and get over it. Like, the world is tough, he will have to get used to it. I don’t want him to be too soft, you know??
“You want him to have a tough skin and you worry that maybe he is too sensitive or vulnerable” I reflected.
“Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I always felt like I knew how to pull it together, and I had it way worse than he does” he replied, without elaborating.
“What do you mean by that?” I questioned.
He sat back on the couch and took a breath. “I just mean, he has a good home, loving parents, everything he could ask for.”
I took a risk and said, “things that perhaps you didn’t have”.
He met my gaze and I watched his expression harden. “Of course I had those things, I mean, it was just different. I just wish he could understand how good he has it and appreciate it”.
“Hmm.” I stalled for a minute to gather my thoughts. “You know that your son has had a lot given to him in life, and it frustrates you that he can’t see or understand that.”
“yeah, I guess.” He seemed to soften a bit when we shifted to talking about his son rather than his own family growing up. “I mean, he gets so upset over little things, like if he can’t find the toy he wants. He has so many toys, but he will cry if I don’t give him the exact right toy. Like, you have so many toys, just pick another one. Don’t cry about it.” He seemed exasperated that his two year old acted, well, like a two year old.
“I wonder where that idea came from”, I pondered aloud.
“The idea that it’s not okay to cry about things, that you should just get over them”
He thought for a minute and then seemed to dismiss his own thoughts “I don’t know. I mean, it’s just the message that everyone gets, you know? Like you have to grow up and get over it. You can’t be a kid forever”.
“I’m not sure that is a message that everyone gets”, I offered uncertainly.
“Yeah, well maybe they should” he said, defensively. I could feel that I had struck some sort of nerve.
“You think it would be better if people adopted that mentality” I offered, trying to understand.
“Yeah. I think it would make people stronger, not so weak”
“What would that mean about them, if they were weak?”, I replied, unsure if this them he referred to was his son, himself, or anyone in particular.
“That they could get hurt, I guess. That they could be taken advantage of.” He shrugged.
Something clicked for me. “I wonder if you have felt that way from people in your life.’
“Yeah, probably. I mean, in the business I’m in, everyone wants something from you. So yeah, you can’t show weakness or they will use it against you”. Again with the mysterious they.
“That makes sense to me. What about your family?” I pried a little deeper.
“What about my family?”, he questioned, accusingly.
“Well, it occurred to me that maybe that message, the one about needing to grow up, not be weak, and get over things came from your family. If you weren’t allowed to be a child yourself, to experience the vulnerability of being a little kid, being upset, being comforted, and if maybe that makes you jealous or angry”. I threw it out there, not knowing what his reaction would be
“Jealous of who? Of Odin?” He looked at me and I saw his eyes shift from confusion to anger.
“Yes”. I had already said it, and I doubled down. “Jealous that he has received the childhood you were never allowed to have, and he isn’t even aware of it, he isn’t grateful for it. I wonder if that makes you angry”.
“I am not jealous of my son. I am not angry at my son.” He looked at me angrily and deflected “Although you are kind of pissing me off right now”
“I can understand that and it’s okay for you to be angry with me”. I assured him in a calm voice, though I was shaking inside.
He looked at the clock. 5:34. “Can I go now? I don’t think I’m getting anything out of this.”
I sat back in my chair, defeated. “You are always free to go, I’m not holding you here. We do still have some time left if you want, but I won’t force you to stay”
“Yeah, I’m gonna go.” He picked up his coat and walked past me before I even had a chance to get out of my chair. I heard him mutter “pointless” just before the door to my office slammed behind me. I sunk into my chair, kicked off my uncomfortable high heels, and rested my feet on the coffee table, equal parts confused, upset, and defeated. I wasn’t sure exactly sure where things went wrong, but they certainly had. Exasperated, I let out a sigh and said, to no one in particular “I gave up my Friday night for this??”
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