I am sitting with Lila – or L as she insists on being called – in uncomfortable silence. A tall, heavy woman in her mid-twenties, with disheveled hair and wrinkled clothes that look as though they’ve been purchased at a thrift shop, L stares at the floor, occasionally glancing up to glare at me. We have been here many times before. I know I need to say something or L will leave, looking back at me with undisguised contempt.
L doesn’t want to be here. Her father insisted. Despite her obvious intelligence, she barely made through college and has done nothing since she graduated but sit glued to the TV or her computer. Her father, a wealthy businessman, insists that I “fix” his daughter. He travels for his company so isn’t home much, but hears from the servants that his daughter does nothing with her time. His ex-wife, he told me, is entirely out of the picture. She left with another man when L was a baby, leaving him to hire a succession of nannies.
“What are you feeling right now?” I ask lamely.
She sneers at me. “Five minutes of silence and you can’t do better than that?”
Although I agree with L’s assessment, I’m again becoming angry, a feeling that often plagues me in L’s sessions.
“What would you like me to ask?”
Another sneer. “What? So now you want me to do your job for you?”
“Okay,” I say. “Let’s start over. We both know if we continue along this path, we’ll both end up being angry and then you’ll leave.”
“Do you like to make me angry, L?”
“I can see that you might want to make me angry, that you might want me to feel what you feel.”
“So I’m angry. So what?”
“I can’t imagine that it feels good to be angry all the time.”
“Can you tell me why you’re angry, L?”
“Why don’t you tell me,” she snaps back.
Trying to keep the conversation going, I reply, “Well, at the very least, you’re angry about being here.”
“Wow what a brilliant insight! Give the lady a gold star! And you’re considered a great therapist because…?”
“You succeeded, L. I’m angry. But I still don’t know what purpose it serves you. Is it a way to keep me away, to make sure we never form a relationship? Is it a way to keep yourself safe?”
“Why don’t you just figure it out,” L says as she starts to leave.
Without thought, I’m up against the door barring her exit. “Stop it, Lila!” “Sit down.”
Towering over me, her eyes fill with fury. I wonder what compelled me to place myself in such a precarious situation.
“Why’d you call me Lila?” she says angrily. “My name’s L.”
Why did I call her Lila? I wonder. “No,” I say, “Your name is Lila and I’d like to know Lila. I’d like to know the person you were before you felt you had to rename yourself. I’d like to know you and I’d like you to stay.”
I watch the fury drain from Lila’s eyes. In its place I see surprise and confusion. She stumbles back to her chair.
“I can’t believe you did that,” she says. “I could have hurt you. Why did you do it?”
“I didn’t think much before I reacted. I know I was angry. And I know I wanted you to stay. And what I said is true. I do want to know you, Lila. I know there’s a sad, lonely kid underneath all that anger.”
“How do you know?” she asks, some of the defiance returning to her voice.
“Well, your mother abandoned you. Your father was never terribly interested in you. And you had a series of nannies who came and went. I can’t see how you could be anything but sad and lonely. And angry, of course.”
“So you think everything’s going to be rosy from now on?”
I smile. “No, I certainly don’t. And even if I did I know you’d show me very quickly I was wrong. No, Lila, I think we have a long road ahead of us. You’ve been hurt again and again and you’ve used your anger to wall yourself off from relationships and any more pain. But maybe we made a small inroad today.”
Lila nods. “It matters that you put yourself in danger because you wanted me to stay.”