The Life Chronicles: “The Therapist’s Wife”

He sculpts characters out of them. The people who dig money out their pockets to sit on the sofa opposite and spill out the contents of their tiny minds. Listening to expansive life stories. The he-said, she-said of adult life. Branches spilling out like tributaries, he gets lost in a spiral for an hour before the timer goes off so he wraps it up and stuffs the fresh narrative in a file for next week.

My husband is a therapist. And his work relies on his ability to unpick the paintings which his clients create. He reads colour, tone, figures, faces and faults. He reads resentment, he reads guilt, he reads grief and he occasionally reads happiness. He starts with the large events in their lives and gets a feel for the objects and forms which they occupy and the space which they demand. He moulds copies of these rigid blockades in his own mind so that he has something to work with. Then he asks them to focus on the finite. He stops them picking up pieces from their narrative and asks them to examine particles. The fine dust which sits on their being: the molecules which make up their past.

He extracts this dusty canvas from them, and steps back, so he can begin to tell them about it. The thing is, these things are obvious. They are the things his clients cannot see for themselves because they are too close to the particles of their being to form any meaning from them. They pay for someone to read them from afar and decipher what is already there.

He tells an ageing woman with matted mousy hair that the reason she seeks control of her daughter’s life is because she feels like she lacks it in her own. He tells a man in his early thirties that he has not wasted his youth, he only feels he has because it didn’t go as intended. And he tells a woman who collects lavish silverware that she craves the upper-class lifestyle she missed out on when her husband divorced her. He tells people what they already know but cannot see.

At the end of each of these days, I am waiting for him when he slinks home from his office, having walked in from my 9-5 of teaching at a primary school only half an hour before. He brandishes a briefcase and a headache. I sit on a throne of stories and dialogues which unfurled throughout my day, the details of which he will never ask.

Hi darling. He will say.

I will kiss him and offer him tea. And whilst the kettle boils he will ask, How was work?

And I will answer, It was ok you know, the same old. Uninterested kids and a whole load of Crayolas.

Hah. He will snort.

And once the tea is ready, we will curl up beside one another on the sofa. We succumb to an evening of hearty sofa-lounging and dinner over winding conversations whilst in our pyjamas. A domestic dream.

When we retire to bed, he tells me he loves me and cradles me with one arm. A playful and tender clasp. He is searching me for information, unable to switch off from his day of analytics. But I never bore of his rampant searching. It is what keeps things interesting.

When he looks at me he sees with his eyes closed. A confusing medley of hieroglyphs and mixed signals, several fonts and several types. Assertions cannot be made when you are so close that the eyes cannot focus to read the text.

We lie in bed together and I give him hot palms, cools toes, and the beg of fingernails. But you cannot read minds no matter how long you stare into each other’s eyes. My body is catastrophic to the man who wants to make sense of it.

We lie in bed together and I give him the scent of my pink perfume. The musk of the day still clinging to me. The relentless pungency of smoke and sandalwood which clings to my serpentine hair. And I laugh at the idea that he wants to boil me down to neurology. Synapses and serotonin.

We lie in bed together and he hears my breathing like Morse code. Different breaths mean different things. Some shallow pulses, some drawn. He is so close he cannot make sense of it all.

I find myself retelling moments. I am talking, talking, a constant rambling monologue. A long winding script which he is attempting to follow. He observes, analyses, gathers and reads. He lays out hypotheses and attempts to predict conclusions. I can almost hear these lines unfurling in his head. He can ask me as many questions as he likes. We wander in circles sometimes, like a spirograph. I comply. Because I understand that love is biased and he will find nothing, unless he takes a step back.

– Emily Black

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