Friday, June 11, 2021

On Vacation

“I’m sorry I’m late calling,” Mia begins. “Lots of little things came up just as I was supposed to call.” Pause. “Of course, I’m sure you don’t care, just gives you 10 more minutes to do whatever you do.”


“Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“Sounds like you’re angry at me,” I respond.

“Why? Because I’m late calling? Why should I be angry with you? Are you feeling guilty about something?”

“So I assume you’re feeling angry because I’m not going to be here for two weeks.”


“It’s so stupid!” Mia says angrily. “I can’t believe you’d be dumb enough to actually go somewhere and risk getting Covid. Even I’m not ready to start traveling and I’m probably 50 years younger than you! I don’t really know how old you are, but you’re certainly not young!”

I realize Mia is goading me but, at least on this occasion, I don’t feel pulled into her provocation. “It sounds as though you’re feeling scared about losing me,” I say softly.

“So is that supposed to be the great interpretation that makes everything all right? That makes me understand, makes me less angry, makes me more accepting?”

“Why do you think you’re so angry, Mia?”

“I told you! You’re being stupid! And I can’t afford to have a stupid therapist! And not only that, you’ve been my therapist for years and I assume you’ve been secretly stupid the whole time. Maybe I’d be a lot further along if you were smarter.”

“Don’t you think it’s interesting, Mia, that you’re choosing to focus on my being ‘stupid’?”

“Why? Because my mother always told me I was stupid? One thing has nothing to do with the other. She’d accuse me of being stupid because she wanted to put me down. She was a bitch! And when my Dad was out of town there was no stopping her. She hated me and couldn’t stand for me to ever accomplish anything.”

“And you feel how about that Mia?”

“Don’t change the topic!”

Beginning to feel annoyed I say, “I’m not changing the topic. I’m trying to get underneath your anger, whether that’s your anger at me or at your mother. We know that anger is your first line of defense but that underneath you have lots of other feelings – fear, sadness, longing.”

“So I suppose now you want me to cry?”

“Mia, stop a moment. It’s not going to help you if you feel only pissed at me when I’m gone. You know …”

“You’re not going yet, right? I still have a couple of weeks, right?”

“That sounded almost like panic. Yes, you’re right, I’m not going for a couple of weeks.”

“So I still have time to change your mind.”

“Mia, you’re not going to change my mind. I’m going on vacation. I’ll be gone for two weeks. You know I’m fully vaccinated and I’ll be fine. Which doesn’t mean you can’t feel angry about my leaving, although I wouldn’t want you to worry that your anger could magically kill me. You can also feel scared and abandoned and alone. Sometimes you may even feel you won’t survive without me. But you will. You’re not a little girl any more. And even though it may feel like it, I’m not your Dad abandoning you to the uncontrollable rage of your mother.”

“Are you sure?” Mia asks, plaintively. “Right, here I go, just what you wanted, whining like a baby.”

“Mia, tell me what you’re feeling right now.”

“It’s just that I’ve gotten used to your always being here. It’s been a while since you’ve been away. It scares me. What if I need you? What if something terrible happens? What if my Dad dies? What if I’m sure you died?”

“So my being away increases your fear of something bad happening.”

“Yes.” Pause. “I can tell myself rationally that’s not the case, but that’s not how it feels.” Pause. “I guess it must be like when my Dad went away. Bad things did happen. Sometimes awful things.” Pause. “But my Mom can’t hurt me like that anymore, right?”


“’Cause I’m not a little girl, right?”


“And we still have time to work on this before you leave?”

“That’s right. And if you remember, Mia, I did tell you that I’ll be covering myself this time when I’m on vacation so if you have an emergency you can reach me.”

“That’s right! I totally forgot!” Pause. “You don’t usually do that.”

“No, I don’t usually, but I’m doing it for exactly the reason you mentioned. I’ve been here and available to all my patients for over 18 months - an unusual stretch for me - so I thought it might be hard for people to go cold turkey. I figured covering myself in an emergency is a sort of in between step.”

“I guess you really do care,” Mia says with a catch in her throat. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”


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