July 11, 2000
To Whom it May Concern,
The other day someone suggested to me that I might be defensive.
"Me?" I said. "I am not. I really don't think so. What gives you the right to make that judgement?"
"Well," she said, "I am your therapist."
"Oh," I said, "and that somehow gives you insights into my personal life?"
"I've been your therapist for two years," she replied.
"Big deal," I responded, wittily.
"Twice a week."
"Oh yeah, right, 'doctor.' That's impressive."
"It's simply been my observation that you might be somewhat defensive in your personal relationships."
What an idiot. She knows nothing about me, I thought. But later on I started wondering about it. What if she's right? What if I AM defensive? That's not a good thing to be, "defensive," is it? That's not an attractive personality trait. Actually it's pretty much a fault. I felt vulnerable. It was just possible that I could legitimately be criticized for my defensive posturing. Damn it. Something had to be done. I must, I reasoned, become less defensive, TODAY, before someone else figured it out and so cruelly blindsided me.
This was a breakthrough.
Strategically, I knew that until I had this minor personality flaw ironed out, it would be best if I retreated to a more defensible position. My house is tall, and when under siege, I occupy the upper floors. As a last resort I have determined that the third-floor shower, with me armed with a bottle of wine, a good (though wet) book, and a razor, is by far the most defensible position in my house. "I can't talk now," I can say if anyone calls. "I'm in the shower, at the end of a really good book, and I have to shave my legs, and you can't take any of this seriously because I'm drunk."
Once a week my therapist and I get together and examine that core question of modern psychoanalysis, "What the fuck is wrong with Tabatha?" And when I think of the progress I've made I'm, well, I'm defensive, but still: progress, it's there, okay?
Consider this: about a year after we separated, my ex-husband took me out for a lovely dinner by the ocean, at one of our favorite restaurants. After the main course, he looked up at me from the dessert menu and asked, knowingly, "So, are you going to order the crème brulé?" That bastard. I was very upset but I couldn't figure out exactly why, until my therapist suggested to me that the level of intimacy the question implied bothered me. After eleven years of marriage, that man had the nerve to assume that he knew what my favorite dessert was.
That was another breakthrough.
My therapist and I talked it through for a while, and I was able to use my new self-awareness to arrive at a solution. Next time I'm in a long-term relationship with a man, I'm always going to order the almond torte with orange sherbet. That way, when we split up after eleven years and he takes me out for dinner and says, "So, are you going to order the almond torte with orange sherbet?" I can say, "No, I hate almond torte. I don't like orange sherbet. You know nothing about me." My therapist asked whether eleven years of bad dessert and self-denial would be worth this "small victory." Sometimes I wonder if she's even listening.
Although I rely on geographic isolation, living as I do at the top of a fully detached late-Victorian alp, I am still capable of strategic advances. It's another Saturday night, and I've not only maintained my position, I also opened last week's mail. Greenpeace is asking if I want to renew my support. What the hell is that supposed to mean? My Clinique bonus is waiting for me at Holt Renfrew. I knew that. And you, the Committee of Adjustment, have turned down my application for a portcullis at the front door. It's against the stupid building code.