Word count, start of day -- 46,200
"How can you possibly blame yourself for this?"
I dropped my head into my hands. I was just barely controlling myself. This was my third session with the counselor since I heard the news about Gwen's death. The news flew around the accounting department at Canterbury like a cannon shot. Dr. Alba was a woman I had seen a few times last year, too. She was a very good listener. I thought she would be someone good to talk to about all of this stuff I was dealing with.
"She was obviously a troubled person, from what you've told me," the psychologist persisted.
"I know," I answered, "but I can't help thinking I was part of the trouble she was having."
"Did she know you were having an affair with her husband?"
We had spent out entire first session together fighting over what to call my relationship with Brian. We were not "sleeping together" because we had not had sex. We fought over that issue half our time, whether we had had sex or not. I passed on the term "lover" for the same reason. The best we could come up with, that we could agree on, was "having an affair." It was undefined enough to fit what we were doing, but had a sense of relationship, a sense of ongoing, a sense of continuation.
Of course, since that night nothing had continued. Brian and I had not spoken. Neither of us had tried to contact the other. I could not even bring myself to sign the card. Carrie had brought the sympathy card for us all to sign from the accounting department. All I could do was graffiti some artwork in the corner. A little heart was all I could put on the card. He would have to search hard to even find it. Then he had to notice it. Then he had to interpret it. No wonder he had not called since then. And now I was so confused I did not know what to do. So I had come to see Dr. Alba.
"No, she did not know about me," I answered her. But then I had corrected myself. "Well, she knew about me, I mean we had met, but she did know about Brian and me. Being together, I mean, she did not know about us, no." We had agreed to not tell our spouses about us unless we both agreed to it.
"Do you think she suspected?"
"She was jealous of me, but that was months and months ago, before we even started a relationship."
The psychologist nodded and jotted something down on her pad. "But if she didn't know, then you were not responsible. Can you understand that?" She looked me straight in the eyes. "Not can you feel that?" she said, tapping her chest, "but can you understand that?" She tapped her forehead.
I nodded. "I guess so." It made sense. I knew what she was getting at.
"As long as you think that way," she said to me, "you'll eventually feel that way."
I nodded again. Dr. Alba had good little expressions like that. Things I could really grab hold of. Things that were really helpful to me.
"Do you think this is the end of your relationship with Brian?"
I closed my eyes and shuddered. "I hope not."
"But you think it might be?"
"Why do you say that?"
I looked at her like she was from another planet. "Why?" I exploded on her. "Why? Because he has not spoken to me since that night. Why else would he not call me? He does not want to see me?" I sighed, my breath caught and myself calmed back down.
"Is there any other possible reason why he has not called you?"
I stared at her dumbly.
"Let me ask you this, Annie. Do you consider Brian a respectful person? Or is he sort of polite in an old-fashioned sort of way?"
I thought about this and told her that sounded about right. "I mean, he is a decent guy and like order."
"Propriety? Would you say he likes things to be proper?"
I nodded. "I think so."
"He may consider it improper to call you so short a time after his wife's death. I admit, it may be a little of an old-fashioned attitude, but it's not of the question. He may just be acting appropriately for the way he views the world."
I nodded and admitted that might be so.
"One of the problems with relationships that are not socially sanctioned is the lack of socially accepted norms." Dr. Alba may have realized that she was speaking over my head. When she continued, it was in language I could better understand. "People who are living together, gay couples, and affairs, for example. These are relationships that do not have the same social status are married couples. Therefore, when the relationship ends, there is similarly no social safety net. In your case, you and Brian have no public status and are there no accepted rules for how you deal with things in your relationship.
I nodded slowly, digesting this. She was good. "Yeah, there are no rules for how I should behave."
"And there are no standards to measure Brian's performance against."
"I guess that's true. It's just so confusing."
"Let me ask you something else," she went on, changing the subject. "Who has been the aggressor in this relationship?" My silence revealed that I did not quite get the question. "Who made the first move?" She clarified. "Who kissed whom first?"
"I did. On both of those counts."
"Why do you think he didn't make these moves? Men are usually the aggressors. Not as much as the old stays, but that old stereotypes is still pretty true."
"Well, he was married," I offered as my defense.
"That didn't stop you," she said bluntly.
I flared up at this statement, but then realized she had not meant it as an insult. It was just a true statement. "No, it did not stop me."
"Again, why didn't he make the move on you?"
These sessions always made me think about things I would never otherwise think about. I appreciated Dr. Alba for that. "Because it wasn't proper."
She nodded. "You can certainly argue that responding to your advances was not proper, either, but I would argue that being the aggressor is less proper, at least in his mind."
We talked about this and related topics until the end of our time together. I left the fifty-minute session with an eased mind. Dr. Alba made sense of Brian's inaction.
I ended up less angry at Brian that I had been. I thought I was ready to deal with him again. But I also decided that this time I would not be the aggressor, I would not be the one to approach him. I was prepared to wait for him, but if he really wanted to speak with me, this time he could make the first move.