“Yeah, really. I’ve never felt better.” I bring the speaker away from my mouth, the lie crushing my chest.
After a long moment, he says, “Good, good. I’m glad.” He inhales another sharp breath. “I don’t have much longer—”
“Lo,” I interject. Please don’t leave me just yet.
“I’m waiting for you.” I love you.
I imagine a smile spreading across his face. Even if it’s sad, it’s still one that I’ll hold onto in my dreams. “I knew you could.” He pauses. “I have a meeting with my counselor in a couple minutes. I’ll call again…”
I want to leave him with something better, something more satisfying. “You’re officially in my spank bank.” I fantasize about Lo every day. He’s my number one, go-to image.
“You’ve always been in mine.” Ohhh… “Talk to you later, love.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
“Me too.” With this, we hang up at the same time, and I stare at my phone, as though the conversation I just had was all constructed from my mind. I have to double check my recent history to verify.
Yes, it was real.
And what’s more than that—it’s going to happen again.
I sit in the therapist’s waiting room with Rose by my side. She skipped all of her classes for the day to be here with me. I’ve thanked her about a hundred times. My eyes dart between the exit and the door to the office. Fleeing sounds tempting, but with Rose here, I stay situated to the white couch cushion and refrain from biting my nails. A window overlooks the New York skyline, the interior just as modern with glass bookshelves and purple orchids.
When the door finally opens, I spring to my feet as though the couch electrocuted my butt. And the therapist greets me with a warm, sincere smile. Looking in her early forties, her chocolate brown hair bobs at her chin, and she wears a black skirt, fitted jacket, and a cream blouse. With her heels, she just barely reaches my height. She must be super short then.
“Hi Lily, I’m Dr. Banning.” She holds out her hand, and I shake it, momentarily embarrassed by my sweaty palm. When she lets go, I’m surprised she doesn’t wipe her hand on her skirt like she caught something infectious.
She gestures to the office, opening the door wider for me.
I look back at Rose.
“I’ll be right here,” she assures me. I try to soak in some of her confidence, but unfortunately, it’s never really been contagious.
I raise my chin, pretending to be strong, and enter Dr. Banning’s office. A few glass bookshelves line the walls, and her cherry oak desk sits off in the corner. In the center lies a white fur rug and two pieces of furniture: a brown leather chair and an identical brown leather couch.
“Take a seat,” she says, motioning to the couch.
I rest on the edge of it, my foot bouncing in anxiety. I glance out the large window, a park in direct view, the patch of green actually calming me a little.
Dr. Banning holds a notebook in her hands, and my eyes transfix to it for an extended second. My problems will be documented within the pages for (hopefully) only her to see.
“Are you going to tell me why I’m like this?” It’s the very first thing I ask. Not even starting off with a cordial ‘how’s your day?’ Nope. I begin by blurting out my biggest insecurity: what the hell is wrong with me?
“Maybe in time. Why don’t we begin by getting to know each other first?”
I nod. Oh my God. I even do therapy wrong…I can’t do anything right.
“I went to Yale for my PhD, and I’ve focused primarily on addiction, especially sex addiction. Now, tell me a little about yourself. It doesn’t have to be related to sex.”
This should be the easiest question she’ll ask, but my tongue feels heavy in my mouth. “Can I have some water?”
“Of course.” She stands and goes to her mini-fridge that sits beneath a Vincent van Gogh painting. When she returns with a bottle of water, I take a long minute to spin off the cap and sip.
“I…um, I grew up in a suburb outside of Philadelphia. I have three other sisters.” My eyes flicker nervously to her. “You’ve met one.”
Dr. Banning smiles encouragingly. “And your other sisters—are you as close to them as you are to Rose?”
“Not really,” I say. “Poppy is married, and she has a little girl. She’s much older than me, so I didn’t really grow up with her. And Daisy’s a lot younger, and when I entered high school, I kind of went my own way.”
“What were you like in high school?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. I was the quiet girl. No one bothered me unless I was pulled into Lo’s fights. Normally, no one ever really acknowledged me, except when there was a group project. I was kind of…just there.”
“Did you have any friends?”
“Yeah, Loren…my boyfriend. He, um, is in rehab.” I scratch my neck.
“It’s okay, Lily,” she says easily. “Rose explained your situation. We’re going to talk about him in time.”
I’m suddenly afraid she’s going to say that he’s the root of all of my problems. What if she tells me to never see him again? What if that’s the solution? My chest thrums with rapid anxiety that I end up blurting out, “I know that I have an unhealthy relationship with him, but there has to be a way that we can be together and work through our problems. Right?” Please say yes. Please don’t end this for me.
Dr. Banning inspects me for a long moment and tucks a piece of her bob behind her ear, but it pops back out, so thick and so much volume that it won’t stay in place. “For now, I want to concentrate on your addiction, Lily, and then we’ll talk about how your boyfriend plays into it. You don’t need to worry, okay? We’re going to try to work through this together to find the answers you want.”
I relax only a little and slide further back on the cushions to refrain from bolting out of the office. “Okay.”
“Okay,” she nods and glances at her notebook. “Let’s go back a little in time. I want you to tell me about your relationship with your parents. How did they fit into your life? And how do they fit into your life now?”
I squint, processing these relationships that I desperately tried not to quantify for the longest time. “When I was younger, my father was always busy. He still is. I’ve never hated him for it. His success has given me a lot of opportunities.” Hell, I wouldn’t have been accepted to Princeton or the University of Pennsylvania without my family’s prestige.
“You’ve never been upset that he couldn’t spend more time with you?”
I shrug. “Maybe when I was little and didn’t understand how his hard work paid for our house and our nice things. But now, I only wish he’d retire so he could have more time to himself.”
“And your mother? She doesn’t have a job, does she?”
“No,” I say. “My relationship with her is…” My brows furrow, trying to put to words how my mother used to treat me compared to the other girls. “…I’m not sure how it was. But now, she leaves me alone. We talk briefly here and there, but that’s about it. It’s probably mostly my fault. I just haven’t been around much.”
“Why is that?”
When I got to college, I started going to less and less of the weekly family luncheons. Then I just kind of stopped all together. It was really the only scheduled “family time” and I always found a way to bail. For sex.
I take a shallow breath before saying, “I didn’t find them all that important. Not compared to my own stuff, I guess.”
“Your own stuff being sex,” Dr. Banning clarifies for me, her tone clinical.
I nod once. “It sounds awful, doesn’t it?” I mutter, the shame slithering in like a virus.
“It sounds like you have a problem, and you’re seeking help for it. That’s a monumental step.”
“I just want it to stop,” I confess.
“Be more specific. What exactly do you want to stop? The sex?”
I shake my head. “Not all together. But my brain feels like it’s going to explode sometimes. Even if I’m not doing it, I’m thinking about it almost every minute of the day. It’s like I’m stuck on this loop and I don’t know how to get off it. It’s exhausting.”
“It’s normal for addicts to be consumed by their addiction, especially sex addicts where a large portion of the obsession is in terms of fantasizing. How have the fantasies changed since Lo left? Are they less frequent?”
I pause and think about this for a moment. “I think so,” I say with an unsure nod. “I spend more time missing him. So maybe, yeah.” Of course that might change if he returns to me. He’ll be home and I’ll have more energy to fantasize. God, I hope not. I just want my brain to stop.
I take another sip of water. “Are you going to ask me about sex?” So far, I feel like we’ve been beating around the topic. Aren’t therapists supposed to be direct?
Dr. Banning tilts her head a little, and I’m lost to her pretty brown eyes that remind me of Loren. Only, his have amber flecks that resemble his favorite alcohol. “Of course. Do you feel comfortable enough to talk about it? Rose says that the topic makes you nervous.”
She told her that? I wonder how transparent I am in front of my sister. “What do you want to know?” I ask.
“What does sex mean to you, Lily?”
I’ve never been questioned about sex before. Lo even dodged the topic in order to avoid the subject of alcohol in return. “It makes me feel good.”
“In your questionnaire, you wrote down that you like hav**g s*x in public places. Why are you okay with this, but you’re not comfortable with ménage or voyarism? Take your time to answer. I know you probably haven’t thought about this before.”
She’s right. I haven’t. And for some reason, my muscles begin to loosen at her words. I don’t feel as though she’s judging. She genuinely seems to want to help me. Kind of like Rose. “I like doing it in the bathroom or somewhere besides my apartment because it’s easier to get away afterwards. The moment can start and end with the sex, and I don’t have to wait to talk to the guy.”
“And when you’re with Lo?”
His name causes my cheeks to flush. “It adds to the excitement.” I remember the gym locker room. Where he grabbed my wrists and forced them above my head. I had a leg hiked around his hip while the other struggled to stay on ground, but he lifted me off the floor with each thrust inside. He filled me until I nearly burst at the seams. All the while, some guy could come around the corner and catch us. The alarm bristled my nerves and heightened the tension. I was on fire, flying seven feet above the ground with a high so natural that I nearly collapsed at the end of it.
“And why not the other two?”
“Two guys at once…” I cringe, remembering that happening one time. “Lo…he looked at me funny when I thought I slept with two guys. I drank too much, so I can’t recall the moment, but…I don’t want him to ever see me like that.” I bite my nails, catch myself, and bring my hand down quickly. “I can take the judgment from other guys, the ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ but I couldn’t have my best friend looking at me like that. And maybe for another girl, it would have been okay to reach those points, but I knew for me, my addiction was progressing to new extremes. And I couldn’t let it go there.”