From Wheels on the bus
In 1990, teenaged girls from across the land began to fantasize about becoming prostitutes and then getting picked up by an absurdly sexy investment banker who would hire them for a week before falling passionately in love. If all went according to plan, our investment banker would be tall and slightly graying and would offer us a substantial sum of money to buy clothes on Rodeo Drive, where the salesladies, unable to see our hearts of gold, would refuse to serve us until a kindly hotel manager helped us out, introducing us to Bridget, who would invite us into her boutique and transform us with brown dresses covered in large white spots.
Early in their relationship, before the dinners, the opera, the polo game, and the sex on the hotel piano, Richard Gere tells Julia Roberts about how his father deserted him as a child. “I was very angry with him,” Gere says. “It cost me $10,000 in therapy to say that sentence. ‘I was very angry with him.’”
Now, I do not know what went on in those therapy sessions, but by my calculations, that is $1,666.67 per word, which is some pretty pricey analysis. That may have been Roberts’s point when she started talking about 88 inches of therapy for the bargain price of $3000, but even that seems a bit steep. Just a few years later, the spring I was twenty-two years old, I got my therapy even cheaper than that; it was free through my university.
And, I would argue that, if one is to judge the efficacy of therapy by the angry words it brings forth, my therapy was a hell of a lot more effective than Richard Gere’s. He only managed six rather mild words; I wrote three, single-spaced pages of vitriol. My counselor was actually on a week’s vacation when I sat down to write the letter to my aunt, so she did not know about it until afterwards, but I am still thinking I definitely got my money’s worth out of that therapeutic relationship.
I wrote this letter because I needed to speak my feelings, but I sent it because I wanted to confront Aunt Reed with the truth about me and her and our family. I wrote it because ten years with her had methodically built bitterness and resentment on top of one another, and I sent it because one insignificant argument had ignited my vehemence. The letter’s merits were veracity and bravery. Its drawback was unkindness.
What did Aunt Reed do in the moments after reading that letter? Did she put it down, then pick it back up again, in disbelief that she had not imagined it? Or, did she start to cry as the ugly truths expanded within her esophagus? Did she call my uncle right away? And when did she call my sister?
I know she called my sister at some point that day, because I got a call myself. “It made me sick to my stomach when I heard about it,” Helen said.
“Did you read it?” I asked.
“No. They offered, but I didn’t want to. I don’t want to know what it says.”
“Then how could it make you sick to your stomach?”
“It doesn’t matter what it says,” her voice spat back. “You shouldn’t have written that letter.”
Helen was disgusted, feeling that I had betrayed not only our aunt but her, as well. The rule that our first duty was gratitude towards our aunt was unspoken, which accounts for so much of its power. By putting words to our relationship, I had broken that spell, and Helen scrambled to resurrect the tacit boundaries despite the sledgehammer I had taken to them. Expressing even the mildest frustration was incredibly destructive.
Clearly, my sister had never seen Pretty Woman.