Twenty Hours and Ten Minutes of Therapy

Reflections at 50 on being young, scared, and coming out.

  • "I can't foresee a time when society will support two women as a couple. We are never going to get to a point where everyone understands that two women can be united for life. Toni agrees."
    Photo by Flickr/Guian Bolisay

Session 1: Date Unknown

Friends recommended the therapist. Every lesbian or possible lesbian in Olympia, Washington, in 1985 went to the woman I am calling Toni. The first session of therapy is lost to history, but Toni suggested I record our sessions on a portable cassette recorder, and I carted those cassette tapes around for decades. Just after I turned 50, I was finally ready to listen. I opened the lid of the wicker basket.

There were 19 60-minute TDK tapes, each with the date in my handwriting, some with cryptic notes:  “pain,” “raining pots and pans dream,” “pros & cons of what I am, anyway,” and “preparing to come out.”  I found the first tape and slid it into the borrowed tape deck. My voice at 23: me, but a different me. A much, much younger me.

I had just graduated from college, and I was working as an assistant to the director of an adoption agency, half the week in her Olympia home and half in the Seattle office. For the first autumn since I had come to Olympia, I wasn’t annotating pages for seminar; I was typing dictation, lifting my foot from the pedal to type, pressing it to listen. And I was falling in love with a social worker at the agency, a woman.

Now, I leaned back in my desk chair, looking at the trees out the window of the Seattle apartment my partner, Arline, and I had bought after deciding that, in our older years, we would rather travel than maintain a house. Washington State had recently legalized same-sex marriage; we were planning our wedding for Labor Day weekend. But now Arline was teaching the summer session, and I had the place to myself. I would need solitude over the next few weeks to relive the difficult events of that fall and winter. But in the first recorded moments, I was dizzy with new love.

Session 2: October 29, 1985

Karen and I are so romantic, I tell Toni; I drove up to Seattle early one morning to have breakfast with her before work. She lives on the top floor of an old house, half a block from Alki Beach. She is eight-and-a-half years older than me and has the nicer furniture than the pieces my boyfriend and I scrounged in our three years together. A little room up the stairs from her bathroom has a claw-foot tub. Karen has candles; she has rose bath oil. It is not like our bathroom, where tiny roaches scuttle along the baseboard.

Toni is more interested in how I am feeling about the ongoing breakup with Chris. I am feeling guilty.

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