Laura gets out of jail.
|There was a level of nostalgia to it. Laura’s earliest memory of Dr. Bender went all the way back to when she was six years old. Dr. Bender’s daughter was spending the weekend at the house of a girl who lived in Scarsdale and was on Laura’s bus. Bender had forgotten to pack a hairbrush for her daughter. That was the first time Laura laid eyes on Gertrude Bender. This effervescent middle-aged woman is far cuter than she was beautiful who was gifted with an abundance of confidence and motherly concern emerging onto her bus that day all those years ago. Gertrude Bender had yet to even become a psychologist. She was at that time merely the wife of a wealthy and powerful businessman and the mother of seven. Laura now chuckled at the thought that neither would have had an idea then how the fate of the six-year-old girl eyeing her in the second row and her own would collide one day with such force.
Thinking of the origins of knowing Dr. Bender always unavoidably made her think of her dysfunctional and one-sided relationship with Asher Klein. Her first crush.
She had developed a thing for Asher somewhere around the third grade. She loved his auburn straight hair. He was using a hair product even back then. Laura’s mother would never allow her to use hairspray as she said it contained too many chemicals. Laura just yearned to fit in.
The Hebrew teacher “Morah Tora” used to call the class to sit on the carpeted floor at the front of the room except the three boys were allowed to stay in their seats in the front row. Laura would stair between his legs with utter curiosity. It wasn’t so much sexual at that age as she just wondered what he looked like there.
By around the sixth grade, Laura noticed there was a pattern if not a logic to when Asher wore which outfit. He would further color coordinate his Yarmulka to go with them. On Mondays, it was black jeans with a black and white striped shirt and black yarmulka. On Tuesdays, it was khakis with either a pink or blue shirt and suede blue yarmulka. On Wednesday’s it was green corduroys to go with a plaid shirt with a navy blue knit yarmulke with rainbow patterning that had his name on it. On Thursdays, he wore an orange Champion sweatshirt or a sweater with black jeans and Friday’s were always a wild card. Once she saw there was a pattern she was excited every day to confirm it or see if he had deviated from it. She dissected his clothing choices her head like a tv pundit discussing the president’s tie at the “State of the Union Address”. She had once asked Asher about it and all he said was his mother picked out his clothing. It was like Asher had his whole life mapped out for him and Laura admired the security in that.
Bender had always said to her “if your home life had been happy school wouldn’t have been so emotionally fraught”. To which Laura politely replied “That makes complete sense” but what she was really thinking was “no shit Sherlock” and “please make it all feel ok”. It had annoyed Laura from a young enough age that the Benders were deeply admired for their money. It annoyed Laura because for all the platitudes there were at SJR it was already such an uneven playing field and to be exposed to that from such a young age was disheartening. It came down from the very top including the inner circle of parents most involved with the school. They were too oblivious to halt the stroking of their own egos. There was one executive principal there who pretty much exclusively greeted the children of the wealthy and powerful. She acted like she didn’t remember or couldn’t be bothered to get to know who anybody else was.
Laura’s parents weren’t involved with the school apart from going to “parent-teacher night”. The parents of Laura’s classmates were admired for donating both time and money but the Benders were at another level. They were a legend. They donated money and were constantly being given awards by the school for giving money. Every five or so years it seemed like the annual school dinner was held to honor the Benders.
Altheim had at least thankfully acknowledged “Maybe ignoring you wasn’t necessarily the best way to handle the situation.” Laura was surprised Dr. Ferrari had coaxed that admission out of Altheim.
“So you can acknowledge that perhaps ignoring Laura was not the best course of action”. Dr. Ferrari said. Dr. Altheim nodded.
July 24th, 2000 11:00 A.M.
There was friction with Altheim from the start.
Laura was twenty-one years old. She had just graduated from college in Boston that summer. She wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do with her life. She had turned back to what was her summer job selling apartments as an assistant. It would now become her regular job.
Altheim had been recommended by, Dr. Harvey Fish, the therapist Laura had seen in Boston for the last six months of college. Laura had the impression early on Dr. Fish was kind of a dick. He was apparently some kind of a big deal in the world of academic Boston psychology circles. Laura wondered if he knew things about the mind she didn’t know. He reminded her of an uglier version of Sean Connery. He saw her in an office with a separate entrance at the side of his house. Sometimes she’d have to ring the bell at the main house as she was instructed to do if he did not respond in a timely fashion. Presumably, it was his wife who sometimes answered. It was an awkward encounter. The house was in a beautiful cozy upper-class neighborhood that reminded her of the leafy suburbia she had grown up in. Sometimes she would arrive purposefully early and go for a walk to look at the houses and collect her thoughts. The most annoying feature of that therapy was that he would leave his answering machine on loudly listening to the messages of people calling in as they had their session. It was both disruptive and there was something creepy about it.
She saw Fish after Bender had kicked her out of therapy. He had spoken to Bender one time. Bender had promised her she would speak to her next therapist and answer any unanswered questions. Bender told Laura that they could not speak for a year. Why a year? Laura couldn’t cope past the week. It took Laura well over a year to have more than one session with a new therapist. She had left many messages for Bender.
By the time she saw Fish things had already taken a turn for the negative and were rather hostile between Bender and. Hostile to the point that Bender would just hang up the phone on Laura if Laura reached Bender when she called. Fish said it was hands down the worst breakdown of therapy that he had ever seen. His main advice to Laura was that she should focus on boys. That she needed to care more about having sex and less about her ex-therapist. Laura only saw him for a handful of months. Presumably, the connection between Altheim and him is he had been her teacher or supervisor. Laura had this sense about Dr. Fish that he had kept in touch with Altheim because he was attracted to her and wanted to bone her.
There was a heavy steel door with a punch code lock that opened into a tight entranceway. At first, it wasn’t obvious that the waiting room area was the narrow hallway. She figured it was best to wait here rather than waltzing in and risk interrupting someone else’s session. Reprints of well-dressed ladies and gentleman from another era enjoying a day of leisure at the beach lined one wall. The granny floral blue and white pattern wallpaper reminded Laura of the South of France. The opposing wall was exposed brick with intricate imperfections that had probably stood there bearing witness to the lives of it's New York inhabitants for the last one hundred years. The hall was flanked by two labeled doctors offices on opposite sides and a clinical looking white tiled petite bathroom off at one end. The hall was so narrow that without excellent posture and some finesse the knee of a seated patient might knock the knee of an exiting patient.
Altheim’s pale skin with contrasting jet black hair and fair eyes gave her a striking appearance. There was a magnificent stone fireplace that brought warmth without ever needing to be lit. It evoked another time and place. The entire room was dripping with quaint. There was a french door at the back that led out to an outdoor patio area. There was a magnificent Victorian style dollhouse that made Laura want to be six again and two additional doors. One door was slightly ajar as if a staticky hem clinging too high to reveal panties. It offered a glimpse into a back office that held a computer and the purpose of the other door was a mystery. It was probably just a closet but Laura could spend a good amount of time fantasizing about where that door leads. A blonde wood desk was cleverly built into the architecture of the slanted wall underneath what was undoubtedly the staircase in the exterior hallway leading to the residential aspect of the building.
It was not lost on Laura that Altheim had both her arms and legs crossed firmly against herself producing a self-hug. This would be a common posture of Altheim’s. Although Alfheim’s her hair was down she oddly wore teardrop earrings. Laura was not so concerned with Altheim’s matronly sense of fashion but this was clearly a fashion faux pas so grave it more than suggested Altheim had NOT grown up in New York.
“Laura, I am here because I want to help,” Altheim said with a generous smile.
Laura’s eyes avoided Altheim’s while still searching around the room.
“What is it, Laura?”
Laura sat there wanting to emotionally vomit everything of her past just to get it all out there and over with.
Laura was also just generally terrified of opening up but she would do it anyway in part because she was paying for it and in part because she wanted to be a hero for herself if not find some form of kinship with Altheim.
“I am here first of all because I had a problem with my previous therapist.”
Immediately after speaking those words Laura regretted them as if they were in a Rwandan Refugee safe house acknowledging she was a Tutsi to a Hutu soldier. It was clear the air hung so thick between them it was as if Laura would have to swim through current and crashing waves to find dry land. As if Laura could hear her thoughts out loud Laura understood that Altheim had grave concern that history would repeat itself here.
“It's complicated.” Laura blurted out. “Gertrude Bender. The Benders. They were this big hugely influential rich important family in the community I grew up in.” If Altheim moved in certain Jewish circles it would be impossible for her not to know of Dr. Bender and the Benders.
“No I don’t know of them,” Altheim said dismissively.
Laura felt relief.
Laura returned for the next session.
“Laura, I want to mention I've been getting hang-up phone calls at my house. Was that you?”
“No.” But the question had made Laura tremble she was so put off by the question which actually sounded more like an accusation to Laura. There was no way she was going to be calling Altheim a week after knowing her at home. That’s not how it worked. Altheim did not understand. It did, however, make Laura feel like she had to prove herself to Altheim. She felt she had to prove that she was safe. That she wasn’t the version of Altheim that Altheim might be somehow biased to see her as.
Laura thought back to when Dr. Altheim refused to tell her almost anything about herself and so Laura Googled her and found an article written in Swedish of all languages.
She proceeded to use Google to translate and voila! learned Dr. Altheim’s husband worked in finance and she had three children.
March 22, 2002
Again, Laura stared at the mysterious door in Altheim’s office. Perhaps it was just a closet or in Laura’s desire to imagine the fantastic when confronting her mundane pain in that room it was a portal to another realm. A realm where families were happy. And mothers and daughters got along and fathers didn’t assault their daughters out of misdirected rage.
At the end of a session, she left the English translation of the Swedish it for Dr. Altheim on her desk as if she had just decoded a crossword puzzle. However, Dr. Altheim was not amused.
“You raped me!” Dr. Altheim cried out at their next session.
“What? How is that rape? I am sorry I wanted to know anything about you.”
There was another session where the neighbor had come down from his apartment to the outdoor area outside Altheim’s office. He must have been a brand new neighbor. He said “hello,” and waived. Altheim’s response was to draw the curtains right in his face. Laura thought was so rude.
“Why did you just do that? He was being nice and saying hello?
“I did it to protect YOUR privacy”.
“Well please don’t ever protect MY privacy or do anything for me like that again. That’s not nice.” Laura was surprised at herself for scolding Altheim. She was growing weary of Altheim’s coldness. She could maybe stand up better for the neighbor, in what was a clear cut rude situation, than she could stand up against Altheim’s aloofness. Sometimes Laura would arrive early and the outer door was locked to Altheim’s office. She saw that other patients had the code to Altheim’s steel outdoor. They didn’t have to wait in the townhouse stairwell if the office was not yet open. The code was never offered to her and she was too afraid to ask for it sensing instant rejection. Altheim would come and unlock the door as Laura waited behind her trying to behave as normal and tension free as possible. Laura had almost absolute certainty that she could sense the tension in Altheim’s body as Altheim deactivated the keypad to open the door. As if she assumed Laura could bare down on her from behind and attack her at any moment.
The thicker the tension between them the more Laura yearned to be accepted and loved by Altheim.
“I’ve been seeing you now as my doctor for three years and I can not recall a single compliment that you have ever given me,” Laura said. Laura had been spoiled by Bender and her own mother who showered praise.
“I don’t just give it compliments. There has to be something that makes me feel spontaneous like giving a compliment”.
Laura was disappointed. She could certainly see from that passing and goings of other clients that Altheim was not this stingy with everyone.
August 14th, 2006
Dr. Bender called me. She told me you threatened her children.
We have to stop. We are ending this relationship. I will give you two weeks to wrap up this up.
“Yes, that’s it. Two weeks, after that, if you contact me again I will call the police.”
‘The POLICE! What? How did the police enter into this?’
“What? The police? Wait. What? Why? I never threatened her children. My words are being totally twisted.” Laura’s heart felt like it was being twisted.
Laura had been knocked over by the hurricane of Altheim’s words.
“Well, whatever you said Bender was scared.”
“What about how I feel?” Laura muttered.
Laura could see it in Altheim’s face. It was over.
“I am guessing this means we can’t ever be friends?”
It sounded like such a silly question even to Laura given the situation but Laura still felt compelled to ask.
“We can’t even stay just a little bit in touch?” Laura wasn’t ready for this.
Altheim gave her a look that made Laura understand that asking anything further on the matter was useless.
For Laura to have the end of therapy end in such an extreme way with Altheim - it was as if the sky had fallen. This was an unimaginable existential crisis. Losing Altheim would be like losing a construct of her own identity. She had taken Altheim home with her in an ongoing internal dialogue that lasted long past their sessions and she saw herself most clearly only sometimes through how she thought Altheim saw her. And now the relationship wasn't just bent, tarnished or stained it was gone. Erased. Laura felt erased. The sidewalk melted beneath her feet and the earth swallowed her. Now Altheim would be forever unknowable to her. After such regular contact for five years knowing they’d not be in touch forever seemed impossible to fathom. And one of the hardest aspects for Laura was dealing with her one-sided feelings.
She imagined how easy this would be for Altheim. She had just been a cog to Altheim. An abstraction of a full living breathing person.
A month later Laura received a formal certified letter in the mail stating the relationship had “been terminated” and reiterating Altheim’s threats of going to the police if there was any further contact.
Laura could not understand the harshness and alienation from someone she had spent five years confiding in. It all felt so aggressive and hurtful and emotionally tone deaf of Altheim.
Laura was angry and so on one auspicious day, she countered with writing her own formal letter for the state to investigate Altheim. She relayed her torment of being rejected to the State investigator over the phone. He was only interested in details that matched the states official ethics requirements. He had turned Laura on to the idea of requesting her therapy notes. As such per New York State law Laura sent a letter demanding her therapy notes which Altheim had previously refused to release to her. If Altheim was going to strong arm her than she would strong arm back. She didn’t believe Altmann had bothered to keep any notes. When Laura had ever inquired about therapy notes Altmann had always seemed to act as if the task was tedious and beneath her.
Within thirty days she did receive a thick package of notes.
Eight months went by before Laura caught the door after someone entered the little red townhouse one block away from Central Park. She then waited and entered after someone exited the first-floor therapy offices. She had even fantasized about waiting in the tiny elevator but decided that was too creepy. There she was. Her pulse pounding. It was mere coincidence that she had been brought back to the area. The paintings of gentlemen and gentlewomen at leisure greeted her like old friends. The frilly wallpaper smiled. Altheim was finishing with a patient and had now spotted her. Her tone shifted from the lighthearted goodbye to a patient to ominous once Altheim laid her eyes on Laura.
Altheim’s light blue eyes were piercing daggers. “Feel free to wait there as I call the police” Altheim offered. It wasn’t what Laura expected. She didn’t think Altheim would follow through with the threat. Laura just felt so attached. Her mind didn’t want to go. Laura didn’t see a point of leaving and miss seeing Altheim’s interaction with the police.
Laura had always been to follow the rules. She had therefore never experienced being treated like a criminal before. It felt like it was part of Altheim’s diagnosis.
Laura agreed. Standing there frozen a spectacle now for the other therapist to see too the commotion in the narrow hall. Perhaps no one could ever understand it including Altheim but she took some comfort in being in those familiar surroundings as if they themselves offered some kind of stability in her ever-changing world.
Two officers arrived a white man with a hearty Irish accent and a black policewoman. The woman stood back silently as the policeman came forward to speak with Altheim who had immediately identified herself as the caller. Laura stood to listen in. The policeman motioned for Laura to get back as he said: “this does not concern you”.
Altheim corrected and explained it did concern her. That the peaceful woman standing there frozen was, in fact, the troublemaker. Altheim lied and said she had asked Laura to leave which she hadn’t. Altheim went on to make this crazed statement to the police officer that Laura had ruined her life. The police officer was perhaps not the brightest bulb and also not up to speed on the conflict and thus it was as if Altheim was forced much to her shagreen to directly address Laura. Which was that which she was theoretically avoiding - addressing Laura?
Altheim’s words ‘that Laura had ruined her life’ both shocked and upset Laura. She now knew Altheim was a liar and prone to exaggerating but Laura never imagined she had much of an impact on Altheim ever at all as she often sat stoically in their sessions almost like an unknowable statue. An icon of a theoretical person but not necessarily flesh and blood. Laura felt a whiff of compassion for Altheim but she also felt like Altheim made no sense. Cutting her off so swiftly and severely had never made too much sense to Laura. Really what Laura wanted was to chat with Altheim. She wanted to understand Altheim’s reasoning and her humanity.
“She’s harassing me” Altheim then also declared. “This woman is ruining my life”. That was an exaggeration if ever Laura had heard one.
Did she break in?
The police officer asked Altheim what she wanted?
For her to leave. She pointed at Laura.
He then turned to Laura and screamed.
“You were asked to leave, so leave.”
Laura without resistance left. She rationalized she had only stayed so as not to delay whatever trouble she might have already been in for popping in there uninvited. She was also sad and dejected about how emotionally violent that had all been.
Why couldn’t Altheim just chat with her?
Laura never felt so conflicted about anyone before. She had tried so hard to be close with Altheim. She had been utterly heart-wrenchingly rejected.
Laura remembered when she came across Altheim’s son’s Facebook page with the privacy settings set to ‘friend of a friend’. It didn’t take long for her friend request to be accepted from one of his friends. When she first found him, it was a total revelation to Laura. She had longed to know what Altheim’s family looked like. She had pictured them entirely different from how they were. One of her expectations was to see the son with straight black hair just like his mom’s when in reality it was blonde and slightly curly. In fact, of all the therapists, Altheim physically resembled Laura the most. This had an impact on Laura. When Laura had begun therapy with Altheim, she was unfamiliar with the concept of transference. There was definitely this notion that Laura saw Altheim as a more feminine and older version of herself.
Laura wanted to know about Altheim’s family because to Laura, she felt like if Altheim could have a family and find happiness, maybe Laura could too. Altheim’s son very much reminded Laura of her brother. It was the blonde hair and lean body type. There was also something in the face.
She had saved the photo to study their faces but luckily, she had deleted it a day or so later, so it no longer lived on her phone. While Laura knew it might have been construed as creepy to someone who didn’t understand had it remained, she knew to have it was not a crime.
One notable thing Laura did observe about the reality of Altheim’s son is that in all of his social media clips and photos, he had his hands all over other people. Like he couldn’t keep them to himself. Laura wondered if this wasn’t the outcome of having Emily Altheim as his mother. A mother who did not hug him enough? Her thought was that she wasn’t the only one who suffered from Altheim’s coldness.
Her interest in the Bender’s had been sparked by her interest in Asher Klein.
December 5th, 1990
Paul climbed onto the yellow school bus and handed Laura a large pile of confetti.
“Asher told me to hand this to you”.
The pieces were large enough to see it was the homemade Bart Simpson card she had made for Asher for his birthday.
Paul laughed and then Jeremy laughed.
“Do you like Asher? Because he doesn’t like you.”
“Asher and Laura!” Jeremy sang out. “in Laura’s dreams” Paul chided with sheer cruelty and delight.
A few hours after getting home that night she went downstairs not bothering to turn on the lights she sat there alone in the kitchen. She preferred the darkness because it allowed her a better ability to focus.
“Is Asher there please?”
“Who may I say is calling?”
“Laura. I'm in his class.”
This was the first time she had ever called his house.
“One moment please.”
Hi Asher. It's Laura.
Well, first of all, happy birthday!
“Was it you that tore up the birthday card I made you?”
“Her voice was slightly whiny.”
There was a long pause.
“No. I didn’t.”
But Laura could hear it in his voice that he was lying.
“I’m sorry Laura.”
They hung up.
She went up to her room and cried into her pillow.
Laura was the only girl who liked playing sports with the boys at recess. Asher was always the one who said: “let her play if she wants to play”.
Calling Asher became a regular thing...
Laura ran up to the third floor of her house in Scarsdale and sat on the carpet under the ironing board. Her parents fighting could still be heard behind the closed door.
She took out her class list and dialed Asher.
He had actually picked up this time.
He sounded annoyed.
“Hi. She didn't really know what she wanted to say.”
“What's your favorite show?”
“I watch 90210,” Laura replied.
“I don’t believe you”
“Doesn't seem like something you'd be into it.”
“Brenda and Brandon? The peach pit?”
She had started watching it because she knew he liked it. But he didn't need to know that.
“Tell me about your pussy.”
She redirects.. ignoring him
“What’s your deal with the Benders?”
“Our parents are great friends. Um, They are like really really rich.” Asher explained.
“And very religious,” Laura added.
“You are not religious enough”
“I am religious. I keep Shabbat and I am kosher”
“I don’t believe you. Everyone worships the Benders. Not just me. How many pubes do you have? What color?” Asher Asked.
“Mmmm None of your business?”
“Tell me or I am hanging up on you”
“Nice. How many? Tell me or I am going to hang up.”
He hung up.
Her parents were still fighting.
She didn't feel like bothering to call him back that night as she often did after he hung up on her.
She put away her class list and pulled out her brother’s class list and browsed through it until she saw the name of Mr. Charles & Dr. Gertrude Bender. Bender’s son was in Laura’s sister’s class. Touching the names with her index finger as if the letters themselves were magical.
She closed her eyes and dialed. Maybe it was if she had said a little prayer she imagined one day she could have a life as enviable as the Benders instead of being hunkered down under an ironing board on the top floor of her house listening to her parent's fight. She covered the mouthpiece of the receiver as she heard the words and a nasal voice Hello? Hello? She wished she could crawl through the phone and be anything other than where and who she was.
She hung up.
She wished she felt like enough but she just didn’t. That’s why all of this stuff she knew needed to be sorted out in her mind. The hierarchy of the Jewish community and her classmates compounded how she felt. Every morning at school the kids in her grade before the bell rang would jockey to see who could sit closest to Sabrina and Heather. It would be her some of her first lessons ever on “real estate”. They were the two most popular girls in school. Living in Scarsdale was a bit of a disadvantage socially too. The Riverdale click could spend the entire Shabbat together. Everyone knew each other’s parents. The Scarsdale community was nice and cozy too in its own way. It featured beautiful houses with manicured lawns. Laura would spend Shabbat often with her friend Sarah and that family. Sarah went to a different school. Sarah was very sincere in her devotion to Judaism and Laura always admired that about her. Laura found her in ways even more peculiar than her own self. She adored her but also meant they could be friends but up until a point in which Laura couldn’t fully relate. Sarah actually had more friends than Laura in Scarsdale. And Occasionally they would hop to different friends of Sarah’s in the community on Saturday afternoons.
They were always this sense of stability and plentifulness as the community was secure and prosperous. Most Saturday afternoon there was a “Kiddish” after the praying where the community could indulge in an abundance of overly sweet Jewish wine and gourmet kosher cakes and cookies. Sometimes even there would be a hot “kiddish” of tuna fish and kugel and cholent.
Laura had never once growing up in Westchester ever experienced any a sense of antisemitism.
It had been Laura’s mother’s idea to relocate the family to Scarsdale from a different corner of Westchester County. A corner that was bland and cultureless in comparison. It had been Laura’s father’s mother who had turned her mother on to the Yoga Center in Pennsylvania and it had been the Swami there who had turned her onto Judaism.
“You are a Jewish mother,” he had said. At first, she was rather insulted by this thinking how dare he calls me a Jewish mother. But she realized he wasn’t insulting her but rather he was heaping on praise to her. He told her that before she explored Eastern philosophies she needed to explore her own roots which she had grown up rather estranged from. She had come back from the institute wanting to send her children to a private orthodox Jewish School. Laura’s father’s response to wanting to send her and her sister to private school was “that’s fine as long as you get a job and can pay for it”. Within a matter of weeks, Gertrude Nickelbaum had gotten hired to teach English at a top private in Manhattan.
Laura had adored her mother, especially as a baby and youngster. She was a very loving mother and very affectionate. It was a visceral love of her mother. But the older Laura got the more distant they had grown. Laura felt her mother too often had her head up in the clouds. One way her mother was very grounded was she was an extremely hard worker. Gertrude Nickelbaum was an excellent teacher. She loved a good story and she knew how to teach writing. She turned many of her high school aged students on to writing. Gertrude Nickelbaum wasn’t one for superficiality or idle banter and had never developed a taste for any kind of popular culture. Gertrude Nickelbaum was interested in philosophy and spirituality and generally feeding her soul.
It seems at least once a month Laura’s mother would have her bag packed and pick her up from RJS and spoil her with warm knishes, mouth-watering thinly sliced turkey sandwiches from the Kosher deli with a sour pickle and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda because she wanted to go to the yoga center and get away from Laura’s father for the weekend. They would sing Shabbat songs in the car like “Shalom Aleichem” as darkness approached. The sky was like a Van Gogh Painting as the sun set over the Poconos. One of Laura’s most favorite songs that they would sing together on that road trip was “I lift up my eyes up to the mountains from where does my help come, it comes from the Lord, the Lord our God creator of heaven and earth”. It felt so spiritual and made her feel loved and close to her mom. Laura also would end up feeling guilty as they would arrive after dark and driving on the Sabbath was not consistent with being orthodox and Laura since the fourth grade was trying to be orthodox. You could hear the crickets in Pennsylvania and see the stars and smell the fresh grass.
“How do you wish to plead?”
“Not guilty your honor,” she was glad someone was there to speak for her as she had no words at this public flogging that she could think of to say.
“Your honor,” her attorney explained.
“This is simply a matter of a therapy gone bad. Nothing more.”
Laura could not have summarized it better herself.
“The state is asking for two-thousand dollars bail.” Some asshole from the ADAs office, who was not Megan, but also had no clue on who Laura is was or could be, said.
“Bail will be set at zero dollars.” The judge banged the gavel down with the fervor of a man who enjoyed rebuffing the prosecutors.
Laura’s mind was in a mental fog but it did “breakdance moves’, including picturing some excellent hip action, in celebration.
She had not at all expected it to go in her favor.
The judge then turned and wagged a hefty finger at Laura. “You better get yourself into therapy immediately.”
‘Had the judge not been listening? Would it not be obvious to him that maybe sending her directly back into therapy would be like requiring a drunk driver to find sobriety at the corner bar at the bottom of a bottle of tequila?’
And so, that was that. She was handed the additional humiliation of two no-contact orders by a clerk. A kind of extra ‘Fuck You’ from Altheim and Bender gifted by the state.
She thought her lawyer had done a solid job at capturing the emotional essence of the situation.
He pulled her to the side, “you that the judge can't just order you into therapy like that,” he mumbled.
“So what do you charge?”
“My fee to take on the entire case will be six-thousand dollars.”
Laura didn’t know what was reasonable or not but that sounded like a lot of money for a misdemeanor. It sounded too high.
She was expecting a large check to clear to her account in the next days from a large transaction she had complete that had taken her almost an entire year to complete but she just didn’t have much money in her account right now, and that was making her nervous.
“I can’t afford that.”
“Well, good luck.”
And just like that, the interaction ended.
From the moment she stepped outside she could finally feel the cool rush of autumn air on her cheeks. She spread her arms wide in the plaza outside of the courthouse taking in what freedom felt like. At that hour there were only a few people walking out on the street. For a moment all she could think of is if they not realize how free they truly were. It was as if she wanted to go up to each one of them and ask them if they did not realize how privileged they were and how precious was this moment. Just the ability to move around like that unrestricted. The night air blowing on their faces, running its fingers through people's hair. Not chained up. Not held in a dungeon below the earth, stuck behind bars and concrete and steel metal as a prisoner of the state.
She was determined to find anything open at this hour as she was famished. That led her to the lights of nearby Chinatown.
She found a steamy noodle house that was still open. They seated her towards the back next to the only other westerner in there”. She was so hungry she ordered two of the entrees. To amuse herself she did tell the man sitting next to her that she had just gotten out of jail. He didn’t seem phased by it at all which felt like a relief to her. She was going to have to figure out how she’d ever been able to talk about it and tell people that she was a criminal. He, in turn, told her about his recent career change from an accountant to a dietician.
She had no strength or patience left after her meal to navigate the subway. She flagged a cab and it sped her home pulling into the luxury driveway. Apparently, only approximately 10% of residential buildings in Manhattan have driveways.
She waived to the doormen.
Finally, she peeled off all of her clothing. She was too tired to shower or take a bath although she desperately wanted to wash off prison. She crawled into her amazingly plush bed a free person and fell into the deepest slumber. It was the middle of the afternoon when her eyes finally opened. She drew her shades completely so as to blot out the sun.