“I’m loving college.” I was excited to tell Ian my news. “It’s great. We don’t have to do essays yet, just read and write a journal.”
It was strange knowing so little about this man I was seeing now 3 times a week (all at half price). I didn’t know if he had a wife, children or a gay lover. The other rooms in the flat (apart from the bathroom) had their doors closed. A few sessions previously Ian had invited me to lie on the couch, adjacent to the chair I was used to, is it lie or lay? Made me think, I didn’t lie to Ian, I just missed out bits because I was ashamed or embarrassed. Now on the couch I missed sitting opposite him, I’d been feeling more confident and had been enjoying looking him in the eye. The advantage of my position on the couch meant I could just see the top of Saint Pauls and lean over for a glimpse of Ian’s green eyes, if I wanted. He would either smile or look irritated but it was worth the risk.
“Here is the letter I promised.” He handed me a copy of the letter to Southwark housing. I glanced at it, not reading the main content because it harped on about MS. He continued talking. “As you are a patient at Guy’s hospital, I wanted you to know that if anything happened that you were in hospital there would be a way we could continue our work. I should be able to find a room there.”
“Ok,” I was confused and annoyed with him, then I thought how funny it would be to have Ian visit me in hospital. If he couldn’t find a room maybe he’d sit on my bed and pull the curtains across. I was used to visiting others, but not the other way round. I’d stayed in the ear nose and throat hospital as a child to have my tonsils out. I had to have them out in a London hospital as I’d been born with a hole in my heart and was under Great Ormond Street. I hated the ENT hospital, there were cockroaches everywhere and because of my heart hole I had to have injections 3 times a day. I would see the big black nurse (at age 8 I hadn’t seen a black person apart from in the Sambo books and on jam jars) come for me on the bed and I’d scream and would have to be pinned down as my little bottom got so swollen and bruised from each needle. At visiting times I waited eagerly to see my parents walk into the ward but they didn’t come until it was time for me to go home the week later.
“Parking in London is impossible” my mother had said on the train back to Essex. She hadn’t recovered from the parking fine she got outside the flower shop the day of granny Jones funeral.
I thought all this but remained silent during that session with Ian, watching the clouds swiping above the river Thames. My thoughts turned back to Fraser and how he might be since I’d told him I wouldn’t see him.
“You seem irritated, angry today.” Ian broke the silence.
“No!” I wasn’t but I was on the verge of thinking Ian had come up with something. I had been reading a book ‘The Healing Power of Illness’ and relating the text to my physical symptoms, and I was feeling angry with Fraser.
“I wonder if it makes you angry that I am concerned enough about you to take your condition seriously.” He broke the silence again, referring back to the letter.
“I’m not angry, it’s just boring talking about me when I’m worried about Fraser.”
So I continued to talk about Fraser and what he might do without me, would he attempt suicide? Overdose like Ray (No. 24) I’d spoken to callers at the Samaritans like him, at least I would be more prepared and I had the number of his drug support worker.
“What do your parents think about you having MS?” Ian was insistent in keeping the conversation on me.
“I don’t know. We don’t talk about it. My friend, who’s mum goes to the church, said that something had been read out in a Sunday service for everyone to pray for my family and there was a collection for the MS Society. I haven’t spoken with them since I rang my dad to get me from Fraser’s and he did. I stayed the night in Rayleigh. My stuff’s still there, him, me and Marni packed it all in his car. I had to leave the furniture, Mum was furious as they’d given me the matching wardrobe and chest of drawers.” I paused, then changed the subject.
“My friend had to fill in a form to get onto a counselling course, not the one I’m on, but they asked him whether he’d taken drugs and if he’d taken more than ten ecstasy or acid tabs they wouldn’t accept him.”
“You’re worried I may judge you as a trainee?”
“No, I’m talking more about Fraser’s drug taking.” It was too easy to get back onto the subject of Fraser. “I know I was in a co dependant relationship, we’ve touched on it in college. I took heroin but only because I wanted to be with him and I was jealous of his drug dealer. I don’t like needles, the hospital always bruises my arms with blood tests so I look like a junkie anyway.”
I sat up. The sky seemed clear, but my eye was playing up and my sight blurred, I wanted to itch it but didn’t want to dislodge the make up covering my bruised eye.
“We have reached the end today.” I was relieved.
On the walk back to Borough I thought about the session. At college we’d been studying different types of therapy. What I was experiencing was I thought based on Freud, Jung and a woman called Melanie Klein, I liked Melanie, I understood the good and bad breast, the splitting. I both hated and loved my parents, and Fraser. In class discussion some said that going to therapy more than once a week was indulgent and clients would become dependent. The counter argument was that some clients (the more fucked up ones I guess they meant) needed to become dependent on their therapist in order to be ‘re-parented’ and able to separate functionally, having had an emotional and psychological ‘holding’ experience, one they didn’t get as babies or had fucked up along the way somehow.
Most of the other students on my course were older than me, the typical counsellor types – white, middle aged women hippy types or nearly posh types wearing the cliché twin set and pearls, like Thatcher. There was one black woman and no men, just one man tutor who walked with a stick and I wondered if he had MS like me. We spent a lot of time talking about our experiences of personal therapy.
“My therapist has a print of Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ in his room, but only the hands bit, not the naked man bit.” I joked.
“That’s appropriate.” the tutor had said. I thought about my friends mum with dementia, and how she’d held my hand and how my mother hadn’t, I felt sad as it struck me that holding hands hadn’t featured in my life, not with my parents or my boyfriends, no hand holding or romantic stuff. Poor Fraser used to try, he’d bought me a rose one Valentine’s day but I hated carrying it around the west end and accidently on purpose left it in a pub bog.
Dear Mr Beckett,
RE: Elizabeth Bentley 25.6.64
I believe you are the housing officer for the above young woman. I am writing to support her recent application for council accommodation. I am Miss Bentley’s psychotherapist and have been working with her for the last 9 months – ongoing. Elizabeth was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1987. She has other autoimmune health conditions that are being investigated at Guy’s hospital. She has been homeless for the last year and this is affecting her condition, physically and psychologically. I am concerned that this could soon affect her working life.
I trust you will take this matter seriously.
Seriously? My ‘condition’ hadn’t been taken seriously before. After tests in Moorfields eye hospital and the Nervous diseases hospital (including an MRI scan and an EEG where wires were stuck on my head with glu and fucked up my Mohican so I ran out of the hospital chased by doctors) I was sent an appointment for Neurology at the Whittington Hospital. I sat alone in a quiet waiting room for at least an hour. There were no TV’s, just a table with leaflets and women’s magazines. I remember reading an interview with Margaret Thatcher in an old Women’s Own. She’d not long begun her third term as prime minister, the journalist asked her about divorce which had been on the increase and in the headlines.
“I have known families, both professionally as a lawyer, as a member of Parliament, and personally, where it was very much better that the family broke up because there was a streak of violence, there was constant rowing, and where the children have been better when it has broken up, and those things happen.”
My parents should have separated. My father should have left. I thought about my father and his affairs, the arguments with my mother. The only time I ever agreed with Thatcher.
“We’ve been studying ‘borderline personality disorder’.” I told Ian at our next session. “We were given a copy of a list from the DSM and if you ticked more than 6 boxes you would be diagnosed and I ticked at least 6.” I laughed, I was definitely trusting Ian more. “Before I got my job at the insurance office. I was bored. Marni and I had got back from the jamboree, helping my dad out, he was in charge of the stores. There were 2,500 scouts from all over the world and me and Marni were the only girls there apart from the woman my dad was having an affair with. Have I told you about her before? My parent’s relationship is pretty much like Charles and Diana’s. There are three in their marriage.”
“You knew about your father’s affair as a child?”
“Everyone knows, but no one says anything. I think they’re all at it.” I continued telling Ian about the family stories that had been creeping back into my awareness. “I’d thought it was the last straw when we all went on holiday together and when we came home mum screamed that she was leaving and taking us girls but she didn’t and we sat on the stairs listening to them arguing. Wishing they would separate.” Then I started to cry. I hadn’t cried before in a session and I didn’t know why I was crying now. I was confused, overwhelmed and again relieved when the session was over. I had learned in college that things sometimes got worse before they get better. “No Pain, no Gain” my tutor’s mantra. He’d said “In psychotherapy you don’t treat a symptom, you explore the underlying nature of the symptom, the symptom eventually becomes irrelevant to the client.” I had a weekend to go before my next session and I was feeling strangely vulnerable. Marni was away for the weekend with Lang and I was alone with no plans. I tried to eat a healthy meal then it all got out of control and I puked again. I longed for the weekend to be over then Wand came round with acid. I hadn’t done acid for years, I hated it but it was something to do. I had a bad trip and Wand left before I’d come down. I tried to write down what was happening but when I put pen to paper the ink came out red like blood and I couldn’t get Charles Manson’s face out of my head.
It was a relief to get back to work Monday, feeling jaded from the acid I dragged myself up the narrow staircase of the Annexe to the tiny upstairs office to sort through the post. Rumour was that the Marie Stopes Annexe used to be a sex shop, we had great delight in opening packages containing porn videos and vibrators.
“Mary!” I called down, we’ve got some new books!”
“Hello”, came the Scots accent back. I limped back down the stairs, my joints were so painful getting up/down. Fraser stood at the bottom.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” The door opened behind me and two women entered the clinic, both looked like they were too late for an abortion. They walked past Fraser and he smiled but he looked like shit, I couldn’t see past a grey sleeveless tee shirt that hung down over stained jeans hanging over his now dishevelled body. His arse had gone, his eyes were pinned and he stunk.
“Och aye,” his accent couldn’t anymore throw me back into love. Something had changed.
“Fraser, you have to go!” I ushered him out of the door.
“Liz, you ok?” Mary my colleague called from the kitchen.
I virtually pushed Fraser out of the clinic and we stood on the corner of the street across the road by the café where people sat with scones and coffees.
“I need some money, for a place, I’m moving out of Dougie’s. Need to get away. They’re no good for me Liz.” I could feel the eyes from the café punters on us, probably wondering what the fuck I was doing with this guy. I had been toning down my punk appearance to fit in with college and to be taken more seriously at work.
“Wait here.” I left Fraser by the café and went back into the clinic, picked up my bag from behind the reception desk.
“You really ok?” asked Mary.
“I don’t know.”
“Let me know if you need any help?”
There was now a queue of women in front of the reception desk and urine specimens were building up, some covered with plastic bags, some in large clear water bottles, we needed a small sample but women would sometimes hand us over a pint of early morning wee.
Fraser followed me to the cash point by Whitfield Street tube. He peered over as I took out all the money I had in my bank account. I counted out £80. He looked disappointed when I gave him £60.
“Fraser, I need £20 for myself, I need to eat.”
I watched his thin frame disappear down the escalator of Warren Street tube.
“That’s it Fraser. That’s really it. No more.”