“So how did you do?” Dr. Nolan asked cheerfully, but expectantly.
“Well, I didn’t write the letter.” She had decided while driving to the therapist’s office to be straightforward, direct, and honest about her progress.
“I see,” Dr. Nolan replied matter-of-factly. “Do you want to tell me why?”
“I started writing it, but I didn’t get very far, I’m afraid.” With that, she pulled the notepad from her bag, tore off the top page, and handed it to the doctor.
She also told Dr. Nolan about her trip to the lake and coffee shop, sparing no detail, while the doctor listened intently. She even told her about drawing the heart on the foggy window of the diner. When she had finished describing the events of that afternoon and evening, she realized that she again felt exhausted.
The two women sat quietly for a few moments, Dr. Nolan nodding empathetically as she searched her eyes for clues to any details she might have omitted. Seemingly satisfied, she at last broke the silence.
“I think you’ve had a very productive week and made some real progress,” she pronounced. “I’m very pleased that you finally got up the courage to return to the lake and even spent some time in the coffee shop thinking about things.”
“But I didn’t write the letter,” she said sadly.
“To be honest, I didn’t think you would,” Dr. Nolan confessed. “But you have pleasantly surprised me with your bravery. And I’m thrilled that you managed to get as many words on the page as you did.”
“Really?” she barely whispered. “I was feeling pretty much like a failure.”
“Really,” Dr. Nolan smiled warmly. “That’s a pretty large skeleton rattling around in the closet. I figured that it would have to be coaxed out into the room gradually, not pulled suddenly.”
“That’s one way of looking at it,” she mused softly.
“You know, you don’t have to tell him about things in a letter,” Dr. Nolan reminded her. “We’ve talked about this several times . . . should we revisit and reevaluate the approach we agreed upon?”
“No,” she shook her head emphatically. “I could never call him or just show up on his doorstep unannounced. I would not be able to look at him. And I would have to see the look on his face, hear the anger in his voice . . . I guess it will be anger . . . ” her voice trailed off.
“I really think it will be better if he reads the truth in the letter when he is, hopefully, alone. That way he can think about it and if he contacts us, we’ll know that he’s reaching out because he wants to.”
“All right,” Dr. Nolan agreed. “I told you that I would support your decision to tell him in the way that you are most comfortable with. But you have to tell him. You have to tell both of them. Eventually.”
“Don’t you mean all of them?” she replied, a dash of sarcasm in her tone, as she absent-mindedly twisted the wedding band on her left ring finger.
“Well, yes,” Dr. Nolan said softly with genuine concern. “But, of course, the news is most likely only going to have meaning for the two of them. We don’t know if . . . ” She raised her hands, palms up and shrugged her shoulders resolutely. “What I mean is . . . as you know, there is no way to be sure whether Dennis will be able to understand and comprehend. In all likelihood, he will not. Have you spoken with Dr. Lee about this?”
“No,” she said as a single tear began rolling down her cheek. “I haven’t been able to bring myself to discuss it with him. I try not to talk to him more than I have to because I know he is already upset with me for not being able to keep the promise I made to Dennis. Well, promises, really, but . . . you know. He doesn’t know all of the details. He only knows that I could not go through with the plan.”
Dr. Nolan sat quietly, watching her fiddle with her wedding ring. After a couple of moments, she looked up and when she saw Dr. Nolan observing her, she folded her hands and sat quietly.
“Do you want to talk about your ring? Why are you still wearing it?” Dr. Nolan asked directly.
“Because we are still married,” she replied somewhat defensively. “Legally anyway.”
“I know, but how many times did you tell me that you didn’t feel married? Before, that is,” Dr. Nolan pressed the issue. “And now, after all this time, I find it curious that you have started wearing it again, especially when Dennis is even less able to be a husband to you than he was before.”
“Well, Dr. Nolan, the reality is that I am married. I am married to a man who is in coma and will always be in a coma. Before he became comatose, I didn’t feel like he was my husband any longer and I don’t think he really cared about being my husband, although, as you know, he never came right out and said it. Now I’ll never know for sure because he can’t answer my questions or tell me how he feels . . . or felt . . . ” her words were flying out of her so quickly, her emotions punctuating every syllable, that she was stammering a bit as she struggled to express the feelings she had buried for so many years.
“I’m a failure, Dr. Nolan,” she exclaimed. “A failure. Oh, everyone thinks I’m a big success. They congratulate me on all my professional achievements and they pat me on the shoulder and whisper things like ‘Oh, your handsome young son must be such a comfort to you during these days,’ but they have no idea about what a colossal failure I really am. They don’t know the truth.”
Dr. Nolan leaned forward with her elbows on her knees, gently handing her a tissue and silently encouraging her to continue speaking, even though her words were now disjointed and interrupted by her breathless, uncontrollable sobs.
“I know. Every day I look in the mirror and I see a big, fat failure,” she continued. “I let the only man I ever really loved get away from me because I was too naive and afraid to open my arms to him when he finally . . . finally . . . returned my feelings. So I married Dennis because I thought I could be happy with him and, well . . . he loved my son. Our son. And I tried to make the marriage work . . . I really tried, but I just couldn’t pretend any more. And then, just when I had worked up the courage to tell Dennis . . . the accident . . . and now . . . now . . . ”
“Breathe,” Dr. Nolan moved to the couch next to her, put her arm around her shoulders, willing her to take several deep breaths and bring her sobbing under control before she tried to continue speaking.
After several minutes, she regained her composure. Dr. Nolan continued sitting beside her, gently patting her shoulder in silent affirmation of her commitment to and support of the difficult choices that her client had to make.
When she was finally able to speak, she turned and looked at Dr. Nolan and whispered a single question: “Dr. Nolan, what is going to happen after he gets that letter from me telling him that my son is also his son?”
Click here to read Chapter Eight