Part 3, section 1; it is now the first section of Chapter 5. Hope that
isn't too confusing.
Despite vowing that I would never go back, on Monday afternoon at 4:00 I was sitting opposite Dr. Vincent J. DiGiglio in his leather-bound office.
"There's only one reason I'm here," I began.
Dr. DiGiglio raised one black eyebrow. "Oh?"
I sank down deeply into the big leather chair, trying to lose myself. "Last week I was determined that I was finished with therapy. Over. Done. That was it."
Dr. DiGiglio frowned. "And why did you come to that unequivocal conclusion?"
Brilliant question. Too bad I didn't have a brilliant answer.
"Because I felt like I was going nowhere. That we kept going around and around with the same damn issues and nothing never got resolved! Nothing ever got better!"
"And whose fault is that, Shea?" Dr. DiGiglio asked pointedly.
Another good question. Doctor Di always asks good questions. "Mine. It's my fault. But that's no help. I still don't know what to do about it."
We were both quiet for what seemed like a long time, but was probably less than a minute. Every moment seems longer when there's a painful silence.
Finally Dr. DiGiglio spoke. "So why did you come back?" His deep, husky voice was surprisingly gentle.
"My partner is cheating on me." Just saying the words was like conceding my own defeat.
"Are you certain?" He leaned forward in his chair, as if he didn't want to miss a word. "What happened this week?"
"Aaron was out of town, visiting his new campus. On Saturday his graduate student came over, looking for him. The guy was so upset I knew something was up. I knew there was something between them. I just... knew. I thought about it all Saturday night. I couldn't sleep thinking about it. And when Aaron came home yesterday, I confronted him."
Now Dr. DiGiglio seemed very interested. Finally, a little drama in my drab life! "Did he admit his infidelity?"
"No," I replied. "He denied it completely. He said he loved me more than anything in the world and would never hurt me like that. He also said Lowell, the grad student, was delusional. That he was angry because Aaron was leaving BSU and would no longer be his mentor. That he had a crush on Aaron and Aaron had rebuffed him. And, finally, that Lowell was jealous of me because Aaron and I were in a long-term relationship." I paused to take a breath. It felt like someone was sticking a hot poker in my heart. "The trouble is that Lowell never told me he was having an affair with Aaron. It was more a gut feeling I had. But Aaron immediately assumed that's what he'd told me. He went on the defensive and tried to throw it all back on Lowell. That's when I knew it was true. My partner's been playing me. And I feel like a fucking fool!"
Dr. DiGiglio handed me the box of Kleenex that always sat on his desk, but I waved it away. The last thing I wanted to do was cry, especially in front of the Italian Leather Master!
"I'm sure this is a difficult revelation, especially since you are about to make a major life move with this man."
"Tell me about it!" I coughed. "I've trusted Aaron and let him make all of the decisions in my life since I was 17! And he's still making all the decisions! But what am I supposed to do? Leave him? Stay in Boston without him? If I do, I couldn't afford to live in our apartment on my instructor's salary. I don't have my own car. Without his BSU partners' benefits I won't have any health insurance. I'm 28 years old and I have nothing that's mine! But what's even worse is..." I almost reached for the Kleenex, but I stopped myself. This was no time to break down. "Is that I still love him. Yes, stupid, ridiculous Shea is still in love with this man who treats me like crap! I slept on the couch last night, but what I really wanted was to be in bed with Aaron! Holding him. Making love with him. Even after I knew the truth. Don't you think that's psychotic?"
"Psychotic, no," said Dr. DiGiglio. "Mentally unhealthy, yes. Bad for your self-esteem, certainly. But it's not an uncommon emotion. You've loved this man for... how many years?"
I knew the number as well as I knew my own name. "Eleven." Almost half my life. Pitiful.
"I see it often in my practice. One partner invests her entire being in a relationship and then is devastated when it goes wrong."
"Her!" I blasted. "You said 'her'! That's the thing! I'm not a fucking girl! I'm a man -- or I should be one!"
"Shea, this has nothing to do with gender," he said, trying to calm me. "I used the female pronoun because... well, because..."
"Because you think I'm a little bitch, right?" I countered. "Because this is a 'woman's problem'? Fuck you, Dr. DiGiglio!" I stood up. "I knew I shouldn't have come back here! I have to put up with this shit from Aaron, and now I have to put up with it from you! Well, fuck it! Just fuck it!"
"Shea! Sit down!" Dr. DiGiglio commanded.
I sat down.
"Now calm down."
I nodded. "I'm sorry. No, I'm not sorry! I mean... I don't know what the fuck I mean! But I don't feel calm! I feel angry. I feel betrayed. I feel like I don't matter. Aaron -- he doesn't even LIKE Lowell! He's always talking about how annoying he is. Maybe that was just a cover. Maybe he really loves Lowell instead of me. Maybe..."
"Shea," said Dr. DiGiglio. "Stop. These are questions you need to ask your partner. Things you need to work out with him. Speculating about them is useless."
"But if he keeps denying it, if he won't admit that anything is going on, then what?" Yes, what the hell was I supposed to do?
"Before you say anything else, I need to ask you an important question." Dr. DiGiglio's face was grave.
"Okay." What now?
"Are you and your partner practicing safe sex?"
My hands began to shake. I hadn't smoked in almost ten years, but I suddenly wanted a cigarette. Or anything I could hold to keep my hands steady.
"No," I answered. My mouth was dry.
"We did. We always did. Until..."
From the time I got out of the rehab unit of the hospital and moved into the Blumenthals' house, I didn't have sex with anyone but Aaron until I was a junior at NYU. That year Aaron got a fellowship to teach at the University of Waterlands in East Anglia in England. He was going to be gone for eight months. Before he left we made a tacit agreement that we would be free to do whatever we needed to do while we were apart, no questions asked. It felt strange, but it was also a kind of test: was this what we really wanted? Just the two of us, together forever? This was a chance to see.
I knew Aaron had never had sex with a man before me and I assumed he hadn't had sex with anyone else since we'd been together, so this was his opportunity to experiment. And I was at the university. I was living in New York City. I was young and horny. Guys were hitting on me all the time. So this was my chance to spread my wings, too, so to speak.
And I did. For the first couple months after Aaron left I slutted around all over town. I hit the bars and the clubs. I was living in our apartment near NYU and plenty of men passed through that door and into my empty bed. I had a good time, but that's all it was. And when I say my bed was empty, I mean it. Guys came and went, but rarely more than once or twice. Without Aaron, I still felt alone. And every time I talked to him on the phone or read his letters, I knew he felt the same way. I knew he was fucking other guys, but that's all it was. It was sex -- and if anyone knew how meaningless mere sex could be, it was me.
I stopped going to the bars and focused on my studies. Occasionally I'd hook up with someone, but I always wished Aaron was in bed with me instead of this stranger. When his fellowship was over and he came home, Aaron seemed as relieved as I was. I remember that first night he was back. I clung to him like I was afraid he would disappear. And he kept reassuring me that he had missed me so much he almost couldn't stand it. I was more in love with him than I'd ever been.
I never even considered fucking another guy after that. I knew who I wanted and that was Aaron.
Before we had our commitment ceremony, in October of 1995, we got tested together. We ordinarily took the HIV test once a year or so, since we were monogamous, but we still always used protection. After the ceremony, we went skin-to-skin. Of course, it was Aaron's idea. And I thought it was the most romantic, telling thing we could do. The final proof of our commitment to each other. That we would never need anyone else. First, last, and always.
"That's very, very foolish, Shea," said Dr. DiGiglio. His laser-like eyes were boring a hole right through me. "And very dangerous."
"I know! But... but what do I do now?"
He glanced at his watch. Our session was over.
"Get tested," he said. "Immediately."