She worked hard to regulate her breathing, maintain her pace, and concentrate on the run, not on him. She squirted half a bottle of drinking water over the top of her head. "Freak! Lummox!" For she was not indifferent. She actively disliked him. Her disdain and abhorrence caught fire and she slowed to a walk, her intense focus on the run broken. Well, walking was still exercise. "God damn him." She fumed along, her head roaring with negative energy, the positive draining out through her pores. She felt her feet stomp hard as she thought about all the framed art in his home - "pitchers" - and the "picture" of beer he shared with buddies after golf each weekend. She felt backed into a corner, the right angle of two walls pressing against her back. Now he even made her crazy when he wasn't in her presence. She gave him entirely too much power to sap her strength and she hardly recognized herself. What had happened here?
Her son was concerned. "Would you like me to tell him you don't want to see him any more? I can do that nicely." She didn't want that. She was the parent, the adult. Her son was barely more than a kid. He shouldn't have to dig her out of situations. Her therapist asked, "What is your role in this? We know what's up with him. He's never had it so good. He has little self-esteem and he has you for a charm bracelet. He doesn't have to perform sexually or be responsible for you in any way. He's not going to change anything. He is a man for whom a little bit of nothing is sufficient." She tried to think what the real answer was. What was she doing? "He's not giving you money. He doesn't provide you a home. You have no common interests. He makes you insane. He seems unable or unwilling to care about any other person. You've lived - happily - uninvolved with anyone from time to time. What are you getting from this that you're so resistant to screaming 'Enough!'?" The tears began to roll. If this counselor really could not see the problem, she wanted a rebate for the $150 per hour she paid to be treated. Or was he trying to force her to see it for herself and say it out loud? For she knew, without question. It was the same old thing, new time, new station.
Her own personal flock of charlatan analysts was sufficiently large to break into subcategories. She only even exchanged holiday cards with a handful of them any longer. "Mehhhh," she thought, striking another from the list just last December. She'd been much analyzed, medicated and treated, for everyone knew there was something wrong with her since she was very young. Her disputed, dire potential and actual diagnoses filled volumes. This she hid behind a veil of (mostly) respectable and successful behavior, a life acted "as if". She was (mostly) a grand actress. Some of the professionals went far afield from time to time, suggesting some psychological malady that hadn't been considered previously. Those counselors, their diagnoses and treatment generally were dismissed shortly, for she and her primary health professionals felt they knew what the core issues were, and how to set her right for a peaceful life.
She could repeat the guidelines by rote, having heard them so often. "People who endured early childhood abuse and psychological neglect often develop a protective personality subself whose goal is to please others at all costs. The pleaser's intense, narrow focus is on protecting shamed, abandoned and scared young subselves from the pain of social rejection, scorn, disapproval, criticism and dislike." It didn't matter who the other people were, or what they asked for. Compliance and pleasing were paramount. She'd often found herself doing things she didn't want to do with people she did not like.
"Common behavioral clues of an overactive pleaser include:
- rarely confronting or disagreeing with people
- smiling and joking despite major inner pain
- focusing on others' needs and feelings while neglecting their own (self- abandonment)
- rarely asking for, or accepting, help.
Until the pleaser reduces shame and fear of abandonment through personal recovery, he will attract and seek out other wounded people for companionship, often the narcissist or the controller, whose needs are so many, the pleaser knows he will be completely consumed with pleasing the other and, thereby, protecting himself from abandonment."
When she was aged 5 and 15, she pleased with a smile on her face - oh, so sincere - asking about the next need on the list even before she'd finished with the pleasing act she was performing now. She was an adolescent the first time it dawned on her that she was working awfully hard, to the detriment of her own interests and fulfillment, to make others feel satisfied and fulfilled. She wasn't sure, then, what to do with that. The need to please pulled her in one direction, the anger and resentment at having her time, energy and will displaced in another. As she aged, the balance began to shift, the resentment growing in equal proportion to the diminishing need to please. But the deep seated need did not entirely disappear, and she grew to recognize in herself the hybrid disease she called submit-and-resent. Oh, yes, she could claim such boundaries as "I will not get out in the cold and snow" or "I will not be routed out of my bed early because you are prepunctual and impulsive". But she could not manage a firm, "No, I will not go to Brenton Mountain with you. I don't want to." The therapist said, "He does not believe you when you take a stand." She understood that.
He sat alone in a booth at Denny's, dour, at 4:45 p.m. He fist-gripped a fork, forgetting exactly what he had ordered, but enjoying the copious smothering of white gravy it sported. Who didn't like white gravy? He'd never met anyone who didn't like white gravy. Why was she such a bitch about food? Maybe she had one of those eating disorders. Whenever he ordered his favorite orange Fanta, she visibly winced. Why shouldn't a man order his favored orange soft drink? Was there something wrong with it? The longer he brooded, the more determined he became. Nothing was going to make him call her to see if she'd like to get together this evening. He'd go home and engage in some furniture rearranging, something he thoroughly enjoyed and yet another thing for her to bitch about. "You don't line up all the tables in a row like train cars," she crabbed. His staging of the upholstered furnishings never made sense to her, and she bitched incessantly about his placement of his pitchers. It was his home. She had nothing to say about it. And he wouldn't stoop to call her tonight.
"Hello." "Hi, are you in a better mood now?" Bad choice of greeting. "I wasn't in a bad mood earlier until I felt the hot breath of that red monster breathing right up the back of my running shorts." He remembered why he'd previously determined not to call her tonight. "I went to the VA clinic today. I got an appointment to have my hearing tested next week. I told them about my leg." She was happy to hear that. He was in fragile health due to the effects of his Agent Orange exposure in Viet Nam, suffering both near-terminal and fairly minor ailments from time to time. He now presented with a small area on his upper thigh that gave him intense and constant pain. There was no visible symptom and nothing could be felt internally upon palpation. They were both concerned about it. "What did they say about that?" He told her they weren't yet certain what was going on, but they had prescribed him something for the pain. She asked what they gave him. "A Lubriderm patch. They're really expensive. My co-pay was $45. The pharmacist said I could try half a patch to start and if that was effective, I'd get twice the use out of my prescription." Her head began to pound. Lubriderm patch? What? Was there reason to suspect he suffered from fatal dry skin? She'd never heard of skin lotion in patch form. She asked him to repeat what was prescribed. "Lubriderm patches. I bought a bottle of the lotion, too, for my hands." "So they're treating this mystery pain with an intense application of lotion?" "I guess."
She felt a sinking sensation, fatigued. His voice became a drone without words. Her friends enjoyed her laughter and sense of humor, but she hadn't guffawed in a long time, and couldn't work one up now. "Is your prescription near you as we're talking?" He said it was right at his fingertips. She asked him to read the name of the medication and he replied, "Lubriderm Patch." She thought, "What the hell? Don't make me come over there!" Finally she thought to ask him of pitchers/pictures, seen/saw to spell the name of the potion. "L-i-d-o-d-e-r-m Patch." Oh. That made sense. "That would be lidoderm, probably so named because it contains lidocaine, an analgesic painkiller. It has nothing to do with lotion or dry skin. It sounds really sensible to use that to control your pain while they figure out what the problem is." Silence. She waited for some response which she imagined would be the "Errr?" of Scooby Doo and Tim, the Tool Man, Taylor. The silence went on and on. Then the call was disconnected. She hadn't done it.
He roared aloud in the privacy of his own home. "I never knew anybody who knows everything about everything. Who the hell does she think she is, the bitch?" How was he supposed to know about medicines? He wasn't a doctor or a pharmacist. She began to prepare a salad in her kitchen with baby romaine, parmesan cheese, croutons and homemade vinaigrette. Her phone rang. Oh, no. No. She wasn't playing this. When he tried to call the fourth time, she turned off the call alert. She went through the house and closed all the blinds, stopping at the front door to arm the security system. She took her salad to her favorite, well-worn chair and sat down. Her mouth was full when she began to snicker. She quickly, but thoroughly, chewed and swallowed, because she felt it coming on. Her stomach and ribcage convulsed first, then her throat began to emit little bursts of air and energy. Her face broke into a smile that nearly hurt. When the guffaw emerged, it was stupendous. She was shocked there was that much reserve energy in her body. She nearly broke the sound barrier.