Shrinkage by Malina Saval.
There are many reasons that sleeping with my shrink would be a really bad idea, namely that he’s my shrink. My old shrink in grad school once slept with a patient and wound up getting his license suspended; if that happened to my current shrink, I’d have to switch shrinks again and I know from past experience that’s way too much effort.
My shrink is tall and athletic-looking, with eyes so blue you could dive inside them and swim a lap. He was on the varsity swim team during high school and college; his stroke was the Australian crawl. At night, I like to imagine him clawing his way through an Olympic-sized swimming pool wearing swim goggles and a green Speedo, drops of chlorinated water rolling off his pale, muscular back. My shrink is strong, virile, German. He’s got a tumbling crest of golden Gestapo-esque curls and comes from one of those upscale Midwestern suburbs with Methodist churches and lots of rosy-cheeked white people. He looks like one of those high school history book Vikings, with a small visible triangle of tangled blonde chest hair when he wears wool v-neck sweaters.
Because I’m Jewish and my shrink is everything that I’m not supposed to have, I want him even more. I like to pretend, and in various different historical periods from movies that I was forced to sit through during USC film school, that we’re madly, madly, madly in love.
In one fantasy it’s 1944. It’s winter. The end of the war is near. I’m Jewish, he’s German, but it makes no difference. We’re standing on a dock on the shores of Hamburg late at night, the icy wind whipping through my long, smooth mane of retro Rita Hayworth curls, my bangs swept to the side, secured with a platinum-and-rhinestone hair pin (My real–life Jewfro is miraculously absent). My shrink is wearing a thick wool scarf and one of those terrific World War II-era pea coats that figure prominently in J.D. Salinger stories. My skin is dewy soft and my lipstick is perfect even though my entire family has just been wiped out by the Nazis.
“I’ve arranged a fake passport,” says my fair-haired, Aryan shrink, clutching me against his chest, guarding me from the sweeping gusts. “I’ve arranged safe travel to Sweden.”
“And what about us?” I whimper.
“Don’t worry,” he says, brushing a pear-shaped tear from my cheek. “I’ll come for you as soon as I can. We’ll be together—I promise.” He pulls me slowly toward his ripe parted mouth. “I love you,” he tells me.
And then we kiss.
In another fantasy my shrink holds me naked in his arms and that’s all that ever happens.
And then I wonder, are lapsed German Methodists from the Midwest even good at that sort of thing?
I wonder if he’s in bed with someone, or if there’s a pretty girl’s long blonde hair draped across his arm.
It’s ridiculous, I know. But I’m a ridiculous person that’s been in therapy for the past thirty years, even since I was six years old. I was a neurotic kid, my parents were constantly fighting, and I never slept. Now, I’m a neurotic adult, my husband and I are constantly fighting, and I never sleep. When my husband was away in a drug rehab program, my shrink was a place that I could go to in my head where everything was serene, peaceful, perfect. Therapy, like my escapist daydreams, has always been a constant.
I’ve told myself a thousand times that I should terminate our relationship and take up with some octogenarian Jungian with a Ph.D. from Harvard and two failed marriages behind him, but from Pasadena to Santa Monica, I’d still have to trek the two hours once a week back and forth on the 134, 101 and 405 freeways in the height of LA traffic, so I figure, what’s the difference?
Everyone knows that all the good shrinks are on the Westside.
Every Wednesday at one p.m., my heart thumps uncomfortably as I climb the stairs to his office. Beads of sweat collect between my breasts in the crevice of D-cup cleavage. Blood rushes to that lonesome place beneath my underpants as I press the button next to his name.
He swings open his office door and motions me toward the lime green loveseat. Clean lines, metallic legs, and squared edges, it looks like it came from the set of Mad Men and, like the rest of the tidy, well-planned space with its trendy 1960’s aesthetic, makes me wonder if my shrink is gay. That and the fact that he went to the George Michael comeback concert in Vegas; saw Wicked at the Pantages and Avenue Q at the Mark Taper; and parties every New Year’s Eve with guy friends at a Palm Springs spa. Season One of American Idol he voted multiple times for Kelly Clarkson, but season eight was suspiciously anti-Adam Lambert. He also knows that baby wipes are great for treating sofa stains. And he once mentioned that he could easily eat his way through San Francisco.
Still, I’m not convinced, and I would never ask him to confirm. Because if I know for certain that my lovely German shrink is gay I’ll need to make some pretty major changes to my go-to damsel-in-distress sexual fantasies for those dim, depressing days when being married to a underemployed, sober alcoholic who recently got his 6-month chip, and raising two feral toddlers that piss in their beds and shit in the bathtub, becomes a classic textbook bore.
Technically, my shrink is a cognitive behavioral therapist, but mostly we just talk about Hall and Oats and our dogs. Occasionally, he’ll draw a diagram on the yellow legal pad he uses mostly as a prop, drafting concentric circles with the letters A (Activating Event), B (Beliefs about Activating event) and C (Consequences) inside them. Once we did an exercise where he wrote a series of open-ended sentences: When I think____ I feel______ I do_____.
I sometimes want to plug in the words and tell him exactly how I feel, but I don’t want things to change between us. I’m nervous that he’ll make me get another shrink or worse, send me home with Xeroxed copies of long, boring articles about Freud and erotic transference. Because this is where Freud gets it wrong: it has nothing to do with self-love. When you want to sleep with your therapist you really do want to sleep with your therapist. Truth is, he’s the best conversation that I have ever had.
Because my Gentile, likely-gay, flaxen-haired shrink is serious about his career and isn’t interested in throwing it away on a married girl with boundary issues, two kids and a thing for one-sided relationships, he tells me scant little about his personal life. I know his astrological sign and that he drives a Toyota hybrid. But I don’t know if he wears boxers or briefs or what he’s like going down on a girl (or boy) or whether he’s slept with anyone else in the four years that he and I have been together.
Sometimes I GOOGLE him, but nothing much comes up except lecture dates at mental health conventions, and he’s not on Facebook, which limits my access to private information considerably. He is, however, on IMDB, because, like most shrinks in Los Angeles, he used to freelance for an independent movie studio.
A couple of years back when I was a staffer at a celebrity news magazine, I found my shrink’s address using a database program favored by the CIA and entertainment reporters when tracking down stars to construct fake stories about. I only did a drive-by once—ok, twice—and quickly realized as I sped past his Mexican stucco house in the Santa Monica Canyon that psycho girl behavior is really only cute in your 20’s. Now when I happen to be in the area, I venture no further than the street perpendicular to the one he lives on.
But lest you conclude that I am completely crazy, please consider this: because my HMO doesn’t cover out of network providers, my shrink charges me on a sliding scale. Naturally, I fell a little in love with him. You would too.
Not long ago, I finally mustered the guts to ask my shrink why he doesn’t wear a wedding ring, to which he promptly responded: “Because I’m not married.” I laughed and laughed, and he kept asking what was so funny. That day, he was wearing the powder blue sweater that matches the color of his eyes and makes me want to run away with him. And for a split second, I thought about coming clean, admitting that I was madly in love with him and that I would do anything to leap into his arms. But then I had a truly frightening thought. What if my shrink is in love with me, too?
After all, that one year when I sent him a Rosh Hashanah card, he called to thank me and we spoke for five minutes on the phone, during which time I corrected his pronunciation of the Jewish holiday and he practiced it until I told him that he’d gotten it right. Another time, we saw one another in the parking lot outside his office and he waved at me and smiled; he was carrying a Brita pitcher and we both giggled a bit about what a nerd he was toting his own water to work. And then there was that time when I suggested he read a certain book on depression and not only did he read it but recommended it to his other patients. During one session when I was feeling especially down, he said to me, “I care about you.” So when he told me that he wasn’t married, I kind of freaked out. What if he told me everything there was to know about him, including the fact that he wanted to run away with me, too? What if we got to know one another outside the confines of a square office space and discovered that we didn’t like one another? What if suddenly my shrink wasn’t there for me, unconditionally, no matter what I did or what I said or how I acted, no matter how crazy it sounded?
Since then, I haven’t asked my shrink anything, because if I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure that I want to know.
Malina Saval is the author of “The Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens” (Basic Books, 2009) and the novel “Jewish Summer Camp Mafia.” She has been a featured guest on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” Fox News, the Patt Morrison show and Tavis Smiley. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Glamour, LA Weekly, the Jerusalem Post, Forward, Variety and “Now Write! Nonfiction: Memoir, Journalism and Creative Nonfiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers” (Penguin, 2010). Her website is www.MalinaSaval.com.