Laura meets Olivia
|Dr. Goodfellow had done her homework and given Laura a list of therapists who specialize in emotions. Dr. Flake was the first name on that list. Goodfellow had noted that this woman had once headed up the treatment program at Kennedy. Apparently, she had trained directly with Marsha Linehan the woman who had invented Dialectical Behavioral Therapy otherwise known as DBT which was considered the foremost way to treat Borderline Personality Disorder. Laura found that to be interesting but she had her doubts that anyone who could head up a psych ward could be all that pleasant to work with closely. Laura consulted with the doorman and then walked through the corridor of the dark pre-war lobby past the elevators towards the back. The door opened and there stood a woman whose nose dominated her features. Laura’s dislike for Dr. Flake was almost immediate and visceral. Something about the woman’s energy felt off to Laura.
“How can I help you?”
Instantly Laura didn’t like Flake’s energy. Which meant the stakes were low here and she could relax. In fact, this could be her entertainment for the day. Laura had googled her naturally before arriving. She had read something about her running for her children’s school board. Laura had a hard time picturing her as a mother. There didn’t seem anything maternal about her. She cut to the chase. “I had an issue with my previous therapists and I was arrested.”
Laura could feel Dr. Flake cringe and Laura didn’t care.
Regardless of her audience, unexpected tears did start welling up in Laura at the thought of the enormity of what she was dealing with. They started rolling down her cheek. Flake was kind enough to offer up a tissue box. Laura took several. Laura tried to get her tears under control.
“I’ve had one or two issues with clients that got too attached myself. “ Dr. Flake volunteered potentially adding logs onto Laura’s growing fire. All Laura could think though was “don't flatter yourself”.
Now it was Laura who was grimacing. She felt her heart go out to those lost hurt souls who desired more of a relationship with Flake.
“I feel like I am passed this phase of becoming too attached to therapists. I do not think it will happen again.”
Laura shifted in her seat and continued.
“One of the things I did is I ended up writing them a negative review online.” Laura continued on with her own story.
“Now, to me, that sounds vengeful.” Commented Flake.
Laura had not exactly considered that word before relating to the reviews. It seemed like the harshest way of putting it.
“Do you not review and benefit from the reviews of restaurants or books? What is the difference?” Laura challenged. She hated the idea of how she felt doctors for so long got away with being mediocre because the way the systems had been set up they did not have to be responsive to feedback. In Laura’s mind, responsive doctors that cared about how they were perceived by their patients was a modern good thing.
“You make a point. I'd have to think on that.”
“How can I be sure you won't do that to me?”
Laura hated this question. There was no way to answer it. She hated the automatic assumption that history would repeat itself. She wanted to say “because I am sure you’d be a better doctor and we’d have a better relationship”. That was the right answer but flake wasn’t the right person. Laura just shrugged her shoulders and refrained from answering.
“You know all of this history about me because I am the one telling it to you. I don't see why you, therefore, do not feel you could trust me from the outset in the same way you trusted that I told you my history. Why are you willing to trust me on the one hand and not on the other?”
Flake nodded with some sense of recognition that she understood what Laura meant.
The time was thankfully up.
Flake got up and thumbed through her planner, “Well you do seem lovely and I would see you again… but I'd have to keep a very close eye on you to make sure there are no boundary violations.”
Laura had already decided this was a no go.
“Uh, thank you. I am actually interviewing a few therapists... I can follow up with you if I am still in need of help“ Laura was not thankful. She was just happy to get the hell out of there and away from this woman’s bad energy.
Meeting Dr. Olivia Dunn
The next name on the list was Dr. Olivia Dunn.
She called and left a pretty generic message for Dr. Olivia Dunn.
Two hours later the phone rang.
“Hi, is this Laura?”
“I got your message... ” Laura can hear the voice of a small child in the background.
“Mommy will play with you in a minute honey..”
Dunn could be heard saying in a muffled voice. Dunn’s voice sounded sweet like honey.
“I am sorry I don’t have childcare on Fridays,” Dunn said returning to the conversation. Laura found Dunn’s balancing act sweet. It made her like Dunn more to know she was the mother of a small child.
“I will be in San Francisco at a conference until next week so we can schedule for then”
“Sounds good to me”
She had also googled Olivia Dunn before she arrived at her first appointment. There were clips that featured Dunn as an expert on the Dr. Oxford medical talk show. Dunn was articulate and had that “you and I are the only people in the world that matters right now” quality to her when she was speaking. They were perfect little sound bites. She was an emotions expert. She was trained in and practiced Dialectical Behavioral Therapy which from what Laura had Googled was supposedly a premiere was to treat a Borderline Personality sufferer. “You can’t feel what you are feeling. One of her clips announced.”
Dunn’s office was located in the armpit of Columbus Circle across the street from the AOL mall building. It was massive but a bit overlooked hybrid building between residential real estate and office suites which Laura knew comparatively kept the rents down for both.
It was also located just two blocks from Laura’s apartment so it could not have been more convenient. It was a shared office.
Olivia was shorter than expected but she was beautiful in person “How can I help you?” She smiled broadly.
Olivia appeared about ten years older than her online pictures but this didn’t bother or throw Laura for a loop. It was actually also common that real estate agents didn’t update their profile images online. The office was bright. Laura thought that Olivo had struck a perfect balance of modern and comfortable with the furniture. It was on a low floor which gave it a much more visually interact perspective of the street below.
By the time she had landed on Olivia’s beige sofa, Laura had already been disappointed by so many people so many times that she thought about this time entirely skipping over explaining what had landed her there and talking about anything else. There was this grand great hope that with Olivia everything could be ok.
“So what brings you here?”
“I was recently arrested.”
“Stalking my previous therapists.”
Olivia made a frowny face as her entire body language shifted. Having fallen a little into her chair she caught herself and now pressed her chest forward while uncrossing and crossing her legs with the opposite leg now situated on top. She then tugged at her skirt making sure she maintained an adequate level of modesty.
“Well tell me more. How did it happen? You don't strike me as a criminal.”.
“I know, right?”
They both let out a hearty laugh which Laura took as a good sign.
There was clearly chemistry there.
Did you have to go to prison?
“Prison, no. Jail, yes. Just one very long day.”
“I could imagine”.
Well... I’ll tell you sort of what happened...
“For starters, me and the first therapist, Dr. Bender, had overlap in our lives. Her son was in my sister’s class at the elementary and middle school that I went to. Bender was the neighbor with this boy I liked. Bender’s husband was also the Chairman of that school. We came from sort of the same community”
“Ethically, she should have never seen you.”
“Well I mean I didn’t really bring it up to her until after she was seeing me for six months already. She vaguely knew but I didn’t really elaborate until we had been seeing each other for a few months.”
“Still, she should have ended it immediately.”
“She did blame me for years for seeing her having known as much as I did about her. I was seventeen when I first started seeing her. I didn’t know how the parameters of therapy worked. After it ended and she was still blaming me I finally said to her ‘Haven’t you ever done anything you regret when you were seventeen’, that shut her up.”
“What was the reason it ended between you and Bender?” I called her at her house.
25 years earlier
A boy approached Laura in the hall outside the synagogue area. She knew he was. He was Asher’s neighbor Ruben Bender.
“Is Francesca Nickelbaum your sister?”
“Your sister is a loser,” he let out a loud chuckle and walked on.
later on that day.
“Do you know the Benders?”
“Why?” Francesca asked.
“What’s with Ruben Bender?”
Francesca just made a face.
“What does that mean?.
“Why?” Francesca repeated.
“He came up to me today and told me you were a loser.”
“The Benders aren’t nice people.”
“He is so popular. Do you think he is attractive?
Francesca made a goofy face.
“Let me put it like this. Ruben Bender has a face that only a mother could love.”
21 years earlier
Francesca had a Polaroid of herself walking on the moon. She was chewing on some candy from a bag that had her name in large letters and in smaller white letters it said “Ruben Bender’s Bar Mitzvah.”
“How was the party?”
“Fancy. Those people have too much money. Their house even has a secret passage in it.”
Laura imagined a Great Gatsby style bar mitzvah with a circular driveway, caterers in catering jackets and an endless supply of elegant hors d'oeuvres in a mansion that overlooked the Hudson River.
17 Years earlier
“I really really care about you, Laura.” The words were great to hear. Here was this woman who was at the center of her community growing up telling her she was important and special. It seemed to hold within it some hope she could feel whole from feeling like such a social outsider for so long. But Laura was going through such a hard time. She didn’t feel grounded. Her self esteem was so decimated by feeling invisible for so long that she had lost any sense of who she was to even be worth someone caring about.
“I don’t believe that anyone could care about me.” She just felt damaged and unlovable. Bender challenging that for 45 minutes a week was awesome but it wasn’t enough. It was stirring up all of these feelings of inadequacy inside of her. Calling Bender regularly often midweek between sessions had more to do with getting extra attention and emotional assurance than confirming the appointments.
Laura called Asher. He actually picked up the phone.
“Hey, it's me, Luara.”
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Same old. How are you liking school?”
“I like it. damn it. Can you hold on one second please?”
“I just spilled coke on myself. See Laura, I am not perfect. I spill.”
That was a kind of an out of the blue comment from him. SHe never knew he thought that she thought he was perfect. She never did actually think he was perfect. Just privileged.
“Did you ever think I was dangerous?”
“No. I think you are harmless”
Laura found comfort in those words. In a way who knew her better than Asher. He had known her since she was seven years old.
What are you doing for Passover?
“I’ll be home in Riverdale”
“I randomly started seeing Dr. Bender as my therapist.”
“Goldie (that was her Yiddish name)? she’s my neighbor, “I think some of the Benders are coming over to my house for next Shabbat lunch.”
Laura had only heard rumors of what Asher’s house looked like. Apparently, it was entirely decked out in modern 90s furniture and shades of gray. He had always been so obsessed with his clothing that she was sure the house was a showstopper.
A week later
The goal was to raise twenty-five-thousand dollars from calling alumni and supporters. One of the other students had even constructed a poster complete with a moveable mountaineer to track the fundraising progress.
There it was in the pile. The name and phone # of Gertrude and Charles Bender. It's not like she didn’t have access to it from her sister’s old class lists. Unlike the tumult in Laura’s life of her parents divorcing and moving into Manhattan when she was a Freshman in College, Bender’s number had not changed.
Laura dialed. She wondered which family member would pick up. She heard modern Jewish music in the background. A girl picked up.
“Hello, I am calling from Boston College about donating to the Akiba House.”
“Hold please,” the young woman said.
“Hello,” It was the recognizable comforting nasally voice of Gertrude Bender, her therapist.
“Hi, It's me, Laura. I am calling because you are on the list for Boston College donors and we are doing a fundraiser.” She knew she could have someone else call but she couldn’t resist calling.
“Send the form in the mail. Laura, you can’t call me here at home.”
A Week Later
All Laura wanted to do was chafe at those therapy boundaries.
“Hey, It's me.”
“Laura, I told you, you can’t call me at home. I have to stop seeing you.”
“If you don’t call me for a year then we can talk in a year.”
Laura knew that was going to be too hard.
“One night I couldn't sleep. I was browsing around online in bed late at night. I had this idea kind of out of the blue to attend my old elementary school’s dinner.
And then she saw IT. And I thought at first no! it couldn’t be. It's not possible”
“Saw what?” Olivia interrupted
“I saw a photo of them embracing.” Laura’s look was pained.
Despite Altheim’s head being half turned away from the camera, Laura recognized those stupid teardrop earrings Altheim used to wear inappropriately with and her fair as fuck skin. It was unmistakably her. In the photo, Altheim and Bender were fucking hugging each other
”at a dinner in honor of Bender while Bender was introducing Altheim to her son!” “ I saw it and I like screamed. This was late like maybe 3:00 am.”
“I knew it was her but out of an abundance of politeness emailed her asking if it was her. I also asked if she was aware of how hurtful that would for me to see that she was there at a dinner in honor of Bender. This was a woman I had tried to reconcile with for years and for years she ignored me and ignored all of my messages.”
Olivia was listening intently.
“She actually did write me back the next morning and confirmed it was her. She never gave me her email. I just found it somewhere only She wrote that she understood why the photo would hurt me and then she started making excuses for herself and she had the nerve to lie and tell me her daughter was going to that school and that is why she was there. Maybe it was too much of me but I got really suspicious and was able to locate her daughter’s profile and see that she was going to be going to that school but she did not go there yet.” Laura shuttered at the memory as she once again imagines what it all meant. Altheim had gone out of her way to be there for a dinner in honor of Dr. Bender.
“I was so disgusted. I wrote back asking her what kind of role model she was being for her daughter? I just got really really angry. and I asked her how could she do that? and Altheim responded back to that first email I sent” Laura said.
“What did she say?” Olivia asked.
“Well, the first time she acknowledged that she knew to see that would hurt me. She also lied and told my daughter was a student there and that she was there at the event for her daughter.”
“How did you know she was lying?” Olivia asked.
“I knew how to navigate to her daughter's Facebook page. It indicated she wasn’t even a student there yet. She was slated to begin at RJS the following year. It would have been highly unusual for her to be there as the parent of someone who didn’t even go to the school.” That discrepancy expressed to Laura how Altheim had really gone out of her to not only deceive Laura but also to go out of her way to court and celebrate Bender.
“I called her out on her daughter not being a student and I continued to ask why and how could you?” After that initial email, her only response was ‘Please respect my request to not contact me’ I just couldn’t though. I was just too upset. I was reeling from it. I am sure just in those first few days I wrote her fifteen emails asking her ‘how could she and why would she’?
“Why didn’t she just block you?”
“I don’t know. I assume she was probably collecting my words at some point to build a case against me. I am told it was Bendheim who initiated going to the police. Bendheim may have had some contact at the Manhattan DA’s office” It was a little bizarre to me that Altheim didn’t block me. that she bothered to write that back after every single time I wrote. Laura could tell by the way the Altheim’s email replies came back to her as deluge that they were not automated. It took some orchestrated effort on Altheim’s part to send that reply. Each time they arrived Laura’s inbox it felt like a punch to the gut. Laura remembered her exasperation at the wall of Altheim’s silence. She remembered the days of waking up with throbbing headaches from balling her eyes out which felt like the worst hangover ever. For two months her heart raced and her head ached after seeing their betrayal and she couldn’t eat and she couldn’t sleep.
“Where was Bender in all of this? Did you try reaching out to her?”
“I didn’t have Bender’s phone number any longer as I hadn’t been in touch. I thought maybe she had retired. The place I used to see her had been shuttered. Altheim gave Dr. Ferrari the number for me. Altheim said it was the only number she had for Bender. It was Bender’s home number. I called her and her only words to me were ‘Laura, you may not call me here and she hung up the phone.’”
Laura remembered feeling all alone with it like the weight of the universe upon her.
Her thoughts returned to Olivia and how nicely selected her jewelry was.
“Mostly in these stalking situations, it can be a made-up relationship. Like a lover or maybe they think they are married to them or something” Olivia was asking...
“No. No. I didn't think they were my lovers or anything like that.”
Laura’s chuckling broke the heaviness that had saturated the room like how rain breaks unbearable humidity.
“Ok, I just wanted to make sure of that.”
Olivia sighed. It felt like they were both members of the same club able to affirm a common understanding of reality shared by those who are sane.
Laura noticed Olivia’s cleavage.
It reminded her of when she was about 6 or maybe she was 8 and a young mother at the Institute whipped out her boob and began breastfeeding her toddler in front of Laura. Laura remembered being intrigued by it. She was torn between wanting to watch and averting her eyes.
I had hired Dr. Altheim to help me because things hadn’t ended well with Dr. Bender. She kicked me out of therapy for calling her at home. You have to understand that Dr. Gertrude Bender was this big important person in my community growing up.
For about 10 years I had asked both of them for their help in reconciling. They just ignored me.
I would think because this was therapy that eventually they would have responded? Olivia questioned.
“Nope, they just ignored me. Well, Altheim and I from the outset did not get along well.”
Olivia had this instant warmth about her. Her smile was wide and engaging. Apart from the part where each conversation was going to cost two hundred and fifty dollars, talking to Olivia felt like they were two girlfriends hold up at a ski lodge sipping cider and munching popcorn in front of a roaring fire or two women dateless on a Friday night at a wine bar sharing a pile of teriyaki buffalo wings and Prosecco as they poured over Laura’s past as if it were a board game. It had that kind of intimacy about it. None of it felt forced. Dunn kind of reminded her a little Rachel Delray. Dunn wore her hair pulled back into a ponytail.
“I don't have any sense that you are dangerous” Dunn reassured.
Of course, people give off vibes but Laura thought it might be a little early in the process for Olivia to come to that conclusion but she appreciated the vote of confidence.
“Well um, thanks I guess.”
Olivia just kind of made a sound that almost sounded like a purr of approval.
I guess I’d be a little concerned about you putting me up on some pedestal only to knock me down. I would be hurt if you wrote a negative review of me.
Laura couldn’t imagine she could ever have anything bad to say about Olivia. She seemed pretty perfect to her.
Laura felt like she was settling nicely into therapy with Olivia. Just having Olivia’s energy felt reassuring.
“I don't have any sense that you are dangerous” Olivia reassured.
Of course, people give off vibes but Laura thought it might still be a little early in the process for Olivia to come to that conclusion but she appreciated the vote of confidence.
“Well um, thanks I guess.”
Olivia just kind of made a sound that almost sounded like a purr of approval.
I guess I’d be a little concerned about you putting me up on a pedestal only to knock them down. I would be hurt if you were ever to write a negative review of me. “There was a client that I did not get along with once.”
“What was the problem?”
“Our personalities just didn’t click”
“We were able to resolve it actually just recently”
Laura couldn’t imagine ever having anything bad to say about Olivia. Laura couldn’t easily imagine a patient not gelling well with Olivia. I care about ALL my patients Olivia declared. I am the kind of therapist where I like to keep in touch and from time to time know how you are doing. Because I do care.”
“What will prevent you front contacting the doctors again?” Every time I think of any version of contacting them I can’t stop picturing myself in an orange jumpsuit.”
“That’s good. That’s actually a really good technique. Truthfully, I lost my interest in ever wanting anything to do with them again.”
“Good,” Dunn said.
Olivia looked at her phone”
“Time is up. We have to stop now... “
“I’ll be away for the Thanksgiving break,” Laura said.
They didn’t have a set day or time established for their sessions. Olivia got out a scheduling notebook at they mutually selected a date and time for the next visit.
“I will see you in about two and a half weeks then,” Olivia said.”
“I'm going to give you some homework to track your emotions.”
“If you need me to speak to your attorney I am happy to do so.”
Laura rode an escalator up to the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center to her favorite French bakery. Given New York is the center of the Universe and this was Columbus Circle this was a place where you could site a celebrity. Laura had once spotted Caroline Kennedy with her son.
Every time she bought a new type of sandwich there she hated it at first because the flavors were so intense and overwhelming. Once she ate it she would end up dwelling on the pungent garlic and savory vinegar with notes of floral basil over the next days such that she knew that she’d then start longing for it. She wondered if this was the essence of good cooking. Flavors that smacked you in the face so much so that you craved them. Funny how the mind works she thought. The thick rich signature chocolate chip cookies there as large as her whole hand was a pairing of childhood memories mixed with the decadent chocolate of “everything you ever wanted as an adult”. They were sure to momentary clear up any bleak session. Also being there made Laura feel rich. The splash of cool iced coffee to rinse the flavors down with. This could be her spot where she’d recover from an intense session sitting at the marble covered communal table. She searched the faces of these strangers as she thought about what these properly dressed princes and princess of Manhattan might think if they knew they were sitting with a stalker. The anarchist in Laura made her giggle while it brought a tear to the rest of her.
This would be part of a new reality for her. It made her think about how limited her life could be if she ended up with her record. Who’d ever want to marry her? A conviction was where she was headed. Thought made her feel like she was being physically maimed. She ordered the Mediterranean tuna with olive tapenade as she eavesdropped. She escaped into listening to the lunchtime sounds and stories around her of other people’s lives.