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On Counseling Classical Characters
She needed coffee.
Dr. Cora Davidson opened her eyes and glared over at her cell phone- the alarm was going off on silent, so she didn’t hear it. Frantically she turned off the alarm and checked the time- 7:30 AM. And she had to be at the office by 8:15 for her first appointment. Great. Another great start to another great day.
There was no time for coffee as she hustled fifteen minutes later into her car and sped to her office. The elevator was out of order so she had to jog up three flights of stairs in her heels, speed walk down the carpeted halls, and then sneak into her office through the back door. On her desk her secretary had put a clip board with the names of the patients she would be seeing that day. After straightening herself out and making sure she looked professional, so opened the door on the other side of the room which connected to the waiting room.
Reading off the list she said, “Bovary, Emma.”
The beautiful blonde haired woman dressed in French Victorian Era clothing looked up from her magazine and said, “I’m here.”
“Come in.” Dr. Davidson gestured. Cora was middle-aged, fairly short, and not particularly beautiful. She donned a bland gray colored pencil skirt, jacket, and heels, along with a plain white blouse. While driving on her way into the office she had managed to accurately apply a red colored lipstick to her lips that matched the color of her thick, squared framed glasses. As it always was, her thin, frizzy chestnut hair was pulled back in a small, tight bun at the nape of her neck.
Emma Bovary put down her reading material with a bookmark in the article “Fifty-Five Ways To Renew the Romance and Make Him Fall For You Again” and then walked through the set of two doors, which would block out the sound of the ensuing conversation. Dr. Davidson abruptly shut the door and sighed. “Take a seat.”
Various awards, academic achievements, and degrees were plastered on Cora’s walls. Along one wall was her very organized desk and to either side of it two large bookshelves. In a corner opposite that was a table with toys on it, intended to help children express their emotions or to help families to symbolically work out their issues. The carpet was a vomit green color, Cora had wanted to change that for years. In the very middle of the room were four chairs, one tall black one for Dr. Davidson that faced three others: a small red couch, a grey recliner, and a large orange bean bag seat. Emma chose the red couch and sat down.
“So, Mrs. Bovary, what brings you here today?” Dr. Davidson made no eye contact but instead stood pen ready at her notepad.
After a short pause Emma told her, “I’ve just never been happy. Ever.”
“Never is a very strong statement Mrs. Bovary.”
“Madame.” She corrected. “I can’t stand the term ‘Mrs.’. It’s too plain. I think Madame suits me much better. I am from France you know.”
“Forgive me, Madame Bovary- So you’re telling me that you can’t recall a single happy memory?” Dr. Davidson waited a moment for Emma to think, but the woman sitting across from her just looked up at the ceiling silently, so they moved on. “Tell me about your childhood.”
At this Emma’s facial expression changed from depressed to disgusted. “I was raised on a farm.” As if that should have been sufficient explanation she stopped to gage Dr. Davidson’s reaction to the revelation. Cora did not look up, but scribbled down notes on her pad. “I hate farms. I hate the smell. I hate the dirt. And I hate the isolation. It was 18 miles from the nearest town. 18 miles.”
Cora carefully wrote, Probably an extrovert…
“No, farm life is not for me. I dream of places like Paris! That’s what I was created for.” Emma raised her arms as if reaching for a dream beyond her grasp.
Recalling another one of her clients she asked, “Have you ever met Eustacia Yeobright?”
“Never mind, please continue.”
“The only saving grace of my childhood was that my schooling was in town at the convent. It was there that I was educated, and got to read books. Ah! Such books. I can’t get enough of them. And it was there that I decided it.” Emma said in quite a matter-of-fact tone.
“What’s that?” The doctor replied.
“That I was going to be in a book.” Emma sounded rather proud of herself. “A real heroine. A romantic heroine.”
“Oh.” Dr. Davidson replied and scratched on her pad, Slightly out of touch with reality. Highly romantic. After catching a glimpse of Emma’s wedding ring, Cora proceeded, “How has that aspiration worked for you? I see you are married. Is it everything you ever dreamed?”
“Oh no, Dr. Davidson, I can’t stand my marriage! My husband is repulsive. When we first got married, I thought I knew what love was, but it died so quickly. It couldn’t have been love. No, we weren’t in love. I’ve made such a dreadful mistake.”
“What is love, Madame Bovary?” Cora questioned her in a monotonous tone, rubbing her forehead, for by this time she was really suffering from her lack of coffee.
“I-I-I” Emma stammered, and then became quiet. She bit her lip, as she was in the habit of doing when she got quiet. “Well, it’s that feeling…”
Pretending she’d never asked the question, Cora continued, “Well, let’s talk about your husband. What bothers you about him? Is he short-tempered? Abusive? Uncaring? Apathetic? Prone to drinking? Unemployed? Living in his mother’s basement?”
“No. Worse.” Emma’s eyes widened. “He’s dull. He’s so stupid that he even eats slowly and his chewing is…I’d rather not go there. I didn’t know it was possible to be as dull as him. It’s a wonder he became a doctor. I mean, it’s his career and he can’t even do that right. He tried to perform a simple surgery and it ended in another doctor having to come and perform an amputation. He never says anything interesting. He’s is rather caring and loyal, I dare say he would probably make a good house pet, but certainly not a husband.”
Dissatisfied in marriage. Intellectually bored. Cora wrote. “You called your marriage a mistake. Does that mean you believe that there’s someone else out there for you? That you would have married someone else if given the chance?”
“If only.” Emma said, then nervously nibbled at one of her almond shaped fingernails. “This is a confidential appointment, correct?”
“Yes, Madame. Entirely confidential. Legally I am bound to keep your secrets.” And then under her breath, “Not that I have anyone to tell anyway…”
“I’ve had two affairs.” Emma said and feeling relieved to have said it she began to laugh hysterically. Cora raised her eyebrows. Coffee would be great right about now. Emma spoke more, “Both times I was so sure that I was in love, but it never worked out. The first was Rodolfe. Ah, Rodolfe and I were so madly and desperately in love- we’d even exchanged locks of hair and almost gotten wedding rings. When we were first together I was so alive- nearly on a high- and I couldn’t sleep for days at a time. I would just stay awake all night thinking of him.
“It got to the point where we were going to run away together. But that dear man is always thinking of me and what’s best for me. It broke my heart when I received the letter. I stopped eating- really I stopped functioning all together.” Emma then began to sob.
Questionable eating and sleeping habits. Highs and lows...
“Do you have the letter with you?” Dr. Davidson asked.
Emma nodded, sobbed, hiccupped, and handed over the tear stained letter.
Cora wanted to laugh after reading the letter, especially after seeing how he signed it from “your friend”, but she thought that highly unprofessional. Instead she asked, “You have a child, Madame Bovary?”
Emma delicately wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue and nodded yes. “A daughter. Berthe is her name.”
“You say you have no happy memories, but what about the moment you first held your daughter? Even if your marriage wasn’t-”
“When I first beheld Berthe I thought, ‘ what an ugly child.’. I can’t stand her. What an annoying nuisance she is. Always wants to be coddled and wants my attention. Its not as if…”
“You’re her mother?” Cora finished the statement. “But you are.” She sang, scribbling. Post partum depression (?). “Madame Bovary, when you feel really ‘alive’ as you described before, does a general feeling of sadness usual follow in almost like a cycle?”
“Why, yes.” Emma replied
“Like you find yourself days and days on end without sleeping and on such a high and then suddenly it stops and you’re lower than you’ve ever been before?” Cora asked.
“Oh, that describes me perfectly.” Emma smiled.
“Do you frequently find yourself impulsively doing things, like spending money?”
The light in Emma’s face disappeared. “How did you know about that? Did someone put you up to this, because let me say it’s not funny.”
“Have you ever been suicidal?”
After a second’s hesitation, “Yes.”
“Emma Bovary, I believe you have Bi-Polar Disorder.”
The conversation that followed had included lots of crying, laughing, denial, and finally acceptance. Dr. Davidson prescribed a medication for Emma and they set up a support system of people including her husband and a few other locals such as Charles’ friend’s wife, Madame Homais, Nurse Rollet, and Emma’s maid, Felicite, who would all moniter Emma’s behavior and make sure she took her medication. Cora felt optimistic that Emma could make progress, maybe even revive her marriage in proceeding sessions. Their time had run a little over and now it was 10 o’clock, her next appointment was 10:15. Just enough time to run downstairs, across the street, and pick up a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts to go.
Finally she’d had her coffee and felt nearly human again. The next session was with one of her regulars.
Opening the door she called, “Lung, O-lan.”
The Chinese woman had been sitting stoically in one of the waiting room chairs, intensely staring at the wall. Without a sound she rose, and walked past Cora, taking her usual seat in the bean bag chair. O-lan fixed her gaze steadily on Cora as she sat down and reread the notes from their last meeting.
“Now O-lan, I remember the last time we had just started to speak about your poor self image.” Actually, Cora had mostly lectured O-lan on the importance of a good self image. And the value in expressing emotions.
“Ok, well let’s continue with that. A poor self image is actually very common among women. Everyone has something about themselves that they feel most insecure about. What do you think bothers you most about your physical appearance?” Dr. Davidson asked, positioning her pen at the ready to write down the answer.
“My feet.” She said.
“My feet are too big. They were never bound.”
“O-lan I hardly think you’re feet are big! I wear a size 7 and my feet look large compared to yours! You’re feet are actually quite small.” Cora tried to reassure her.
“Not small enough.” It almost seemed as if she would stop there, but Cora had learned to wait patiently for O-lan to continue, the latter woman not being used to speaking to anyone about her frustrations. “Not small enough to keep my husband’s love. Not small enough to be appreciated. Not small enough for pearls. No, smaller than your size 7 will not do. Not in comparison to the all powerful Lotus whose feet are size 5 – and that’s in children’s sizes! Lotus has small feet. Lotus has resort room. Lotus has everything that Lotus wants. Lotus has pearls.
But what has Lotus done? Did Lotus work the land? Did she stick by him through thick and thin? Did she drown her own child so that their-our- MY family could survive? No!”
“Did you do that?” Dr. Davidson concernedly asked the woman who by now was standing, ranting in a fiery rage.
“Yes! All of it!” O-lan replied, impassioned. Then as an after-thought she added, “This is confidential, right?”
Dr. Davidson hesitantly nodded.
“All the same, don’t put that on the record.” O-lan said, resuming her seat, smoothing out her dress, and again staring blankly at Cora.
Dr. Davidson wavered and then decided and scratched out a few sentences of notes. “Very well.”
Pre-marital counseling was usually very interesting. Cora got a front row seat to two delusional lovers realizing that they don’t actually agree on how many children they want, career paths, or even wall paper color. Why yes it does bother some people to see others clipping their toenails, brushing their teeth, or touching velvet. Do you want to have a joint or individual bank account and who decides who spends what and how much money? And that’s not even including bedroom issues.
It was 1 o’clock. Cora had just had lunch- a bland spinach salad with various vegetables and no dressing, which was barely enough to satisfy her grumbling stomach after missing breakfast. She was watching her weight, not that it ever went anywhere. Before her sat an interesting looking couple, certainly not the typical bubbly lover birds that had to be dragged down from cloud nine in order to hear her questions.
“So how did you two meet?” she asked them.
“I stalked him at his job. He worked in a granite quarry.” The woman, Dominique, said. “And then I invited him over to help me with a repair in my house.”
“And you guys hit it off from there?” Dr. Davidson assumed
“Not exactly.” The two lovers glanced over at each other simultaneously as if they had some sort of special secret.
After waiting a sufficient amount of time for them to explain, she realized they would not and continued. “Now Dominique, I understand that you have been married twice already and neither of those marriages worked out. Let’s try and review those relationships so that you and Howard can have a better future, shall we?”
The couple shrugged.
“Ok.” She smiled, perhaps a little bit over enthusiastically. “Well, tell me Dominique, why do you think your first marriage ended?”
“My first husband was Peter Keating. I never loved him. In the end of our marriage,
he traded me for a business deal with Guy Francon, so I was married to him for awhile. During that time I did all that I could to destroy everything Howard did from afar.”
“Why is that?” Cora asked
“Because I am the only one who understands the genius of it!” Dominique said. “The world should not have the right to ruin with their filthy…”
“I take it architecture is very important to you, Howard?” the doctor asked
“I blew up a building.” Roark chimed in. “They changed it, so I had to get rid of it.”
Questionably sanity -> explosion…pyromaniac (?) Cora wrote down.
Again, not knowing what to say she continued on. “Well I hope you both understand marriage is a big commitment. You’re no longer living for yourself, but for another-” but she was abruptly stopped.
“No.” Howard said. “Selfishness is highly moral. Why would I live for her? The only thing I can do is live for myself. And she should live for herself. Altruism is the greatest evil of the modern world, Dr. Davidson.”
“There are many studies that show that people who are giving of their time and resources are much less stressed and are considerably more happy and fulfilled.” Dr. Davidson offered. She could already tell that they were not going to cover all that needed to be covered in one session. This was shaping up to be one long day.
Fifteen minutes after the soon to be Mr. and Mrs. Roark left, Cora was still downloading all of the information she had received. For a large portion of the appointment she argued back and forth with Howard about the value of living for others, especially in marriage, which she could not make him understand. Dominique had been found to be clinically depressed, so Dr. Davidson prescribed the appropriate medications. Perhaps with some more sessions privately with the woman she could help her work out her internal self esteem issues and shed light on the history of abuse Cora discovered in her relationship with Howard. Maybe the wedding would even be called off!
Her 2:30 appointment was probably already in the waiting room. She was definitely a regular customer and had been ever since tragedy struck her family. Unfortunately this appointment would require all of Cora’ attention, being that this patient was obviously not in the right state of mind.
A knock came at Cora’s door and she knew instantly that her client had arrived.
As she opened it, she said as cheerily as possible, “Why hello Ophelia dear, come in and take a seat.”
The youth walked in the room with a slightly wild glint in her eyes. She then began to ceremoniously sprinkle flower petals over Dr. Davidson’s room. “Ophelia, honey, what did I tell you last time about the flowers? I-A-A-A-CHOOO.” She sneezed. “I’m allergic.” Cora reached into her purse and popped a Claritin D, grabbed a tissue, blew her nose, and then smothered her hands in Purell.
“Oh.” Ophelia said in a high pitched voice and collapsed on the ground. “I’m soooooo sorry.” She then began to weep uncontrollably. “I said I wouldn’t bring the flowers again. And I did. He said that he loved me. But he doesn’t. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
“Now, now.” Cora awkwardly knelt down and patted Ophelia’s back in attempts to comfort her. She helped her into a specially prepared swivel chair. Ophelia usually liked to spin around as they talked, but now she just slumped back and sobbed.
“I could just die.” Ophelia shuddered with a sob.
“Come now, Ophelia, we must revive you then.” Dr. Davidson tried to sound optimistic.
“He put his head in my lap and flirted with me…and then told me I should become a prostitute or a nun. I’m not sure. I don’t understand it! I’m so confused. ‘Get thee to a nunnery’. I thought he loved me. But then…Why, Dr. Davidson? Why?” Ophelia cried. “Maybe I misunderstood. I think I’ll go talk to him and get things straightened out. His parents always did like me. I would make a great daughter-in-law. They will help me.” She said decidedly, getting up and making as if to go to the door.
Cora tried to stop her. “Wait now, Ophelia, sit down. Our appointment isn’t finished yet. Your brother won’t be here to pick you up until 4 o’clock.”
“Why isn’t my father coming to pick me up? Isn’t my brother away at college?” Ophelia asked innocently as Cora helped her back into her seat.
“Now, now Ophelia dear, we talked about this last time, your father is no longer with us.” Dr. Davidson told her
“What?” Ophelia questioned, “You mean he’s dead? How?”
Dr. Davidson was silent a moment as she waited for Ophelia to figure it out, as she always did. The medications she’d put her on were helping her to avoid becoming suicidal, but they weren’t doing much more. As matter of fact, Dr. Davidson worried they weren’t even doing that anymore. Ophelia’s bringing flowers was not a good sign.
The realization finally shone across the young girl’s face and she began to cry again, a sort of high-pitched squeaking noise that resembled the sound one would imagine a dying mouse would make. “Hamlet! Oh Hamlet! We were going to get married and I was going to be your princess. And at our wedding my father was going to walk me down the aisle and we were going to live happily ever after…no more.”
After she went on like this for ten minutes, Dr. Davidson knew it was time to change the subject. “Why that’s a nice dress Ophelia, where did you get it?”
“I made,” she shuddered, “it m-m-myself. Isn’t it pretty?”
“Yes, but it looks a bit heavy for midsummer.” Dr. Davidson said, remembering to be thankful for the air-conditioning blowing across her face and cringing at the thought of having to wear Ophelia’s dress outside in the 90 degree heat.
“Heavy like m-m-my heart.” Ophelia sobbed
Though it was against her nature, Cora stiffly opened her arms and offered, “Would you like a hug?”
Ophelia rushed towards her and captured her in a bear-like embrace, all the while humming a tune. “And will he not come again? And will he not come again. No, no he is deeeeeeeeeeaaaad!”
The day was almost over, thank goodness. Just two more appointments.
She had been seeing Adam Trask for a few months. Not seeing him as in dating him, no. Cora hadn’t been on a date for five years ever since her good-for-nothing-boyfriend had convinced her to pay for them to both take a vacation to Vegas where he mysteriously disappeared. She would find out months later he’d gotten married to some girl he met at a slot machine and ran away with her to Canada. Anyway, Adam Trask had issues letting go of his ex-wife, so there was certainly nothing going on between them. That, and, of course, it is not professional for doctors to be involved with their patients.
Today he had brought with him his two sons and house servant for family counseling. He said that after the holidays they’d realized they had a lot of relationship issues to work out. Adam was concerned about his sons. Neither of them was very thrilled with being brought to a shrink, but then again, who ever was? Except for maybe Zeena….
Cal, one of Adam’s sons, had taken the swivel chair left over from Ophelia’s appointment, Aron, his other son, had taken the bean bag chair. Adam sat on the couch and Lee, the house servant, sat on the recliner. After spending a few minutes getting to know a little bit about each of them, she decided it was time to plunge into the issues.
“Now, I understand, from what Adam has told me, that it was actually your idea, Lee, that he come here in the first place?” Cora addressed the middle aged Chinese man.
“Yes. Ever since Cathy, his wife,” he hesitated, “died, he hasn’t been a very attentive father. These boys deserve more. Things in that house are just not as they should be.”
Adam nodded in agreement, looking ashamed of his behavior.
“And you two boys agree that there are some problems in your family that need to be worked out, correct?” Cora questioned
The two boys nodded silently.
“All right, well I have an idea. Let’s take a walk over to that table over there and we’re going to play with some toys. I know you boys are all adults, but this is a psychological tool we physiatrists can use to help ourselves and you understand better what deeper emotional issue are being dealt with. I want you each to pick a toy you think represents yourself, and then act out a typical day.” Dr. Davidson instructed, and all four went over to the table.
It took them a few moments to decide what represented them best. Lee picked a sponge, Aron picked a baby doll, Adam picked an empty glass, and Cal chose a stuffed monster toy. Then she had them explain their choices. Lee said he felt he was always absorbing all the problems from around him, Aron wished- like the doll- that he could have a mother, Adam felt empty, and Cal refused to explain his choice.
After they played through a day, Dr. Davidson had them sit back in their seats to talk about it. “Well now, that was interesting, wasn’t it? So Cal, tell me, why did your object always seem to be irritated with Aron’s?”
“Dad likes him best.” Cal replied
“Now wait a minute…” Adam interrupted.
“Mr. Trask, please let your son finish.” Cora instructed. “Go on Cal, why do you think that your father likes Aron better.”
“I worked my butt off to get enough money to repay his debt. Aron gave him nothing and he still preferred Aron to me! Aron’s successful just because he’s alive. I try and use my talents to please him and he accuses me of robbing honest people of their money. That’s just an excuse. He obviously just wishes I wasn’t there. Then he would only have to look at Aron. Aron looks the most like her anyways.” Cal said poisonously.
“Who?” Aron asked innocently
“Our mother!” Cal answered.
Adam and Lee exchanged concerned looks.
“How do you know what she looks like?” Aron asked
“You wanna know what she looks like? You want to meet your mamma? Follow me brother dearest!” Cal grabbed his wrist and began to lead him out of the room.
“Wait, boys! BOYS!” Adam yelled, running after them. “Cal this isn’t fair to your brother! You have to think of what this will do to him!!!”
“Am I supposed to be responsible for my brother?” Cora heard Cal yell as the door slammed behind him. Adam and Lee rushed after the two boys and Dr. Davidson trailed far behind, shuffling in her heels, one of which had broken.
“Wait!” She called, “We can talk through this!” she slipped off her shoes and tried to find her clients, but to no avail. Just then her cell phone rang.
Emma had taken arsenic and was in the pangs of death. Cora rushed to her car, hoping to see Madame Bovary before she died, but as she turned the key in the ignition she got another call. Ophelia had jumped in the river, the beautiful dress had weighed her down, and she was dead. As if that weren’t enough her phone rang a third time, but she didn’t bother to pick it up. She just sat in her stifling hot car and clutched the steering wheel. Then she got a text. O-lan had a tumor.
Half an hour later her phone rang again, this time she picked up. Aron, after meeting his mother in the flesh, had joined the army. Adam had suffered a stroke. Cal was plagued with guilt and was coming to see her first thing next week. At that point she decided it was time to get out of her car, because she was late for her last appointment of the day.
Feeling rather defeated and useless, she dragged herself up the three flights of stairs, hoping that this last appointment would lighten her spirits. It was one of her favorite clients, and he’d been out for awhile due to some eye surgery. As she walked through the waiting room she realized it was full of clients, all without appointments. Two men dressed in ancient Roman garb were arguing but all she could hear was, “Ah! Et tu Brute?” and she felt indignant by the creature coughing what sounded like “Gollum, Gollum” that was barely clothed so much so that she said, “No shirt, no shoes, no service!”. He got up and began choking her saying, “Do you have the precious?! My precious!”. Dr. Davidson pushed him off of her nearly bumping into a man who was saying dreamily, “It is a far better thing that I have do then I have ever done.” And then bumping again into another who was saying, “I can’t get the blood of my hands! Not even the whole ocean can make me clean again!” This place was packed.
Hurriedly she disappeared into her room and a smile crept across her face. “Eddie! It’s so good to see you!” Then remembering the blindness of her client she was embarrassed, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” her voice trailed off as she glanced at her notes from their last visit.
The man sat there silently in the bean bag chair.
“Oh dear you don’t look so good, Eddie.” He was the only client she called by a nickname. She couldn’t quite remember what his real name was, though it was in his file. Something Greek. “Let’s see the last time we talked you were telling me about the pressures of being a public figure and how stressed you were about solving the food crisis. I also have there that you received a few peculiar messages that you were going to look in to. What did you find?”
“I killed my father.”
“Oh, are you quite sure? How did you find that out?”
“I married my mother.” He went on. “She committed suicide. I quit my job. Left the family.”
Dr. Davidson’s eyes widened as she clutched her clipboard until her knuckles were white. That was enough, she’d had it. What was she supposed to say to ‘killed father, married mother’? There was no course in her schooling that covered this, except for maybe her Senior English class, but from that she learned that this didn’t end well. No, she needed to quit while she was ahead. Cora had heard plumbers made a lot of money. Yes, plumbing – no people, no tragic pasts, no suicide, no one marrying their parents, just toilets.
Having made up her mind, she stood up, took a deep breath and said, “I quit.”