The Shoebox Ch. 01bySusanPSharpPHD©
My name is Dr. Susan P. Sharp and until last year, I was a practicing family therapist with over thirty years of clinical and private practice in marital and family counseling. I was formerly an adjunct professor at Rutgers Graduate School of Social Services and still lecture practicing counseling professionals. Before I retired last year, and except for my teaching and research work, I have conducted a private practice out of my home in an affluent suburb in Northern New Jersey. My clients are predominantly upper middle class and wealthy couples who live in surrounding communities.
For the last four years I have been reviewing my case notes for possible publication. My first published story at Literotica was "Kathleen's Secret Life" and was a project that was abstracted from my address, "Changing Norms in American Family Relationships" presented before the American Association of Family Therapists in November 2001 at our annual meeting in Las Vegas. At an informal gathering after my presentation, there was a lively discussion among my colleagues about the need to alert the general public about the lifestyle and behavioral changes we have all observed in the last twenty years among our married clients.
I have decided not to use the "case study" format for "The Shoe Box" as I did for my previous story, since I am making an attempt to publish this story more as "erotica" than as a case history.
Although this case history was recorded over eleven years ago, I remember these clients as if it happened yesterday. As I am writing this in my home-office, I can't help but stare at the same couch that this amazing husband and wife sat on during his therapy sessions and wonder to myself about the private lives of the people in my community – lives that only a handful of people really get a glimpse into. SPS February, 2006
The Shoebox – Chapter 1: Joe Powell.
It was a sunny morning in late spring. The verdant foliage from my side yard was projecting a green glow through the curtains of my office and the moist scent of budding plants wafted through the window. I must have been reviewing my notes for my afternoon sessions when the phone rang. I remember distinctly that it was a woman's voice, obviously a secretary, and obviously well trained, who first spoke to me.
"Dr. Sharp? Susan P. Sharp?"
"Yes" I answered trying to place the voice.
"Mr. Joseph Powell is on the line for you doctor, will you hold please."
Although my clients tend to be rather wealthy, I was surprised that a "new" patient would have the nerve to ask his personal secretary to call a marital and family therapist for an initial discussion. This is for two reasons. First, most people, no matter how callous, are not prone to tell their personal secretary that they are having marital problems. Second, it is not the most endearing way to impress your new therapist, who may or may not decide to take your case.
Although I was getting slightly annoyed waiting for Mr. Powell to pick up the line, I admit I was intrigued by a man who had the audacity, or perhaps stupidity, to begin a clinical relationship this way.
"Dr. Sharp?" Joe Powell's voice was deep and authoritative. He sounded like a man who was used to getting his own way. I immediately felt defensive and got my back up. I answered in a voice that was not as understanding and sympathetic as usual.
"Yes, Mr. Powell. What can I do for you?" The tone of my voice made it sound as if perhaps I thought that he was trying to sell me a mutual fund.
"Dr. Sharp, I have been referred to you by a former patient of yours, Ray Block."
I tried to search my memory. The name 'Ray Block" was not familiar. I scribbled the name down so that I could go through my confidential files and recall who that patient was.
"Yes Mr. Powell, but how can I help you?"
"I need to see a therapist - a marital therapist. There is a problem with my marriage."
I am ashamed to admit that my thoughts at that moment, for whatever reason, were not very therapeutic. I imagined Mr. Powell as one of those self-absorbed, "power-husbands" so common in our neighborhood. Men whose job and business come first and whose family comes second. I imagined poor Mrs. Powell in an apron trying to get her husband's attention at the breakfast table while he reads the Wall Street Journal, oblivious to the fact that she is a woman with needs and feelings. However, I have been a therapist long enough to know that my attitudes and feelings have no bearing on the truth of any matter or what my clients may need. I answered cautiously:
"Mr. Powell. I really am not interested in taking on new clients at this time. My schedule is full, and in a few weeks I begin teaching a six-week seminar at Rutgers. All these things will take up an inordinate amount of my time. I couldn't possibly . . ."
"Dr. Sharp, you must see me, even if it is only once." With that exclamation, Mr. Powell began to sob into the phone.
Oh no, now what have I done! I was not behaving very professionally. I paused and listened to the silence at the other end of the line. For some reason, my heart softened. My calendar book was on the desk in front of me and I scanned today's schedule. Rather than dismiss Mr. Powell I made a quick decision:
"Mr. Powell, I see that I have a cancellation this afternoon at 4:30. If you really need to see me, clear your calendar and come over. If not, maybe you need to make a few calls to other therapists."
"No, Ray says that you are the best. I must see you. I will be there at 4:30 this afternoon, Dr. Sharp. Thank you. Thank you very much."
Like a seasoned businessman, Mr. Powell hung up before I could change my mind or somehow wheedle out of the appointment I had just granted him. I was quite annoyed with myself. I didn't have any permanent openings for new clients at the time and the fact that one of my patients cancelled this afternoon didn't mean that I had any time in my schedule to take on a new one. I had done this before and regretted it. I allow a patient to have just one session, feel sorry for their plight and then overextend my schedule and my practice. Some therapist I am! Why can't I just learn to say "NO"?
* * * *
It was 4:15 that afternoon before I had a chance to check my client file lists. First I checked for "Powell" and there was no previous entry under that name. Then I checked for "Block". Ah, Pricilla and Raymond Block. That was years ago! I went to my file cabinets and pulled their dossier, laid it on top of the open draw and flipped open the file jacket.
The Blocks were a well known couple, now divorced. How could I forget the story of Pricilla Block? "Still waters run deep" I whispered to myself as I closed the file and put it back into place. I began to grin and then felt guilty. Now that was an interesting case! I was sure that Mr. Powell's problems would be nowhere near as interesting as the Block case. I sat down and began shuffling my new client forms in preparation for Mr. Powell's appointment still thinking about meek little Pricilla Block.
A knock at my office door woke me from my reverie. The rather handsome and tanned face of Mr. Powell peeked around the closed door. His eyes were dark and piercing and I must admit I was taken in by his physical appearance.
"Ah, Mr. Powell, come in." I rose, smiled and extended my hand.
Mr. Powell quickly and decisively entered the room, closing the door behind him.
"Joe Powell, Dr. Sharp. Thank you so much for giving me this appointment."
"Well, sit down Mr. Powell and we will see what we can do for you . . ."
I gestured to the overstuffed love seat against the wall and sat down in my "therapist chair" in front of my desk. As I shuffled the patient intake forms in my hands, I looked back up at him over my glasses and gave him a wry smile:
"if we can do anything, that is!"
As I handed Mr. Powell the sheath of patient intake forms, I gave him my standard speech and tried to evaluate him. Mr. Powell was quite a handsome guy! About 38 years old I guessed, dark eyes, olive complexion just under six feet tall and obviously athletic. The clothes he wore were understated but expensive. I imagined that he drove here in his BMW or Mercedes. This was a little game I played. By the second session I would know more about Mr. Powell than his wife did!
"So, Mr. Powell . . . "
"Please call me Joe, doctor."
"Alright then, Joe, what brings you here today? I assume you know that I am a marriage and family counselor. My practice is limited solely to that area and you did say that you were having marital problems."
"Yes, that's correct."
"And you were referred to me by Mr. Raymond Block."
"Yes, Ray told me you were terrific, and really helped him cope . . . "
"Did Mr. Block tell you that I always insist that both parties attend therapy?"
Mr. Powell looked down at his shoes and didn't speak.
"Mr. Powell, assuming that I agree to see you, and believe me it is almost impossible for me to fit in a new client at this time . . . "
I stared intently at Joe Powell, making sure that he was hearing what I had to say.
"Assuming that you become a client, I will eventually insist that I speak to the two of you – you and your wife. Otherwise, you might as well ask Mr. Block to recommend a divorce lawyer."
With that Mr. Powell looked up at me with eyes blazing.
"Doctor, I don't want a divorce. I love my wife. I love her more than life itself."
With that, strong, athletic, handsome Joe Powell began sobbing. My hand went instinctively to the tissue box that I always keep at the edge of my desk. I swiveled in my chair and handed it to Joe.
"Thank you Dr. Sharp, I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what, Joe. Crying? There is no need for you to apologize to me about your feelings."
I hoped my voice was the right mixture of tenderness and concern. I began wondering what horrible thing Joe Powell had done that had him crying like a baby after only twenty minutes on my sofa. Mr. Powell had indeed peeked my interest.
"Your wife, what is her name . . .?"
"Beth. Does she know you are here seeing me today?"
"No." Joe's voice was small and afraid.
"Why not Joe?"
"I, uh, I need time to think. I need someone to help me sort things out. I was hoping that you . . ."
Joe's voice trailed off as he looked at me with pleading eyes.
I looked at the clock behind the couch. The session was half-over and I barely knew this man's name yet. I needed to move things along so that I could decide whether or not to take this case.
"Why don't you tell me a little bit about your marriage? Tell me about Beth."
"Well," Joe began, clutching a tissue in his right hand, "Beth and I were married a few years after we graduated from college. We're both from around here and have known each other most of our lives. We have two children, two little girls, Hannah age 6, and Bethany age 9. We have been married for about twelve years now. Very happily married . . . at least that's what I thought until recently."
I was tempted to ask questions, but held back and let Joe continue.
"I have my own investment advisory firm. My office is nearby in Hasbrook Heights. Thank God, my business has been successful and I have been able to provide well for my family. Damn well, Dr. Sharp!"
"Does Beth work?"
"No, she was trained as a teacher. Before our girls were born, she taught kindergarten; but she hasn't worked since Bethany was born."
With that, Joe reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He flipped it open and handed it to me. He had pictures of his two adorable little girls taken when they were about 2 or 3 years old. I was surprised at the picture of his wife, Beth. I guess I was expecting someone more glamorous or attractive. Not that Beth wasn't pretty - she was. It's just that she looked rather "plain". I guess given Joe's rugged good looks, I was expecting his wife to be more . . . something - but certainly not plain.
I handed Joe back the pictures and said nothing. I was wondering how long it was going to take him to tell me about his tryst with his secretary or his new girl friend. I thought I had Joe pegged now. Handsome, young, athletic, well to do with a "plain-Jane" wife at home scrubbing pots and changing diapers. Not such an unusual set of facts in my practice.
How many dynamic young husbands, sexually and emotionally bored with their wives had I seen in my career? So this young man, hormones still raging, finds that not all women are shy and reserved about sex and gets a rush when he learns that they are still willing to jump in the sack with him. Then the guilt, the remorse sets in, and he comes to me - wanting me to tell him that it's all right, go home and be a good boy from now on. I flashed Joe a smile.
"You seem to have a lovely family Joe. What seems to be the problem with your marriage?"
Joe's eyes darted nervously about the room. He was obviously avoiding eye contact with me. He seemed like a caged cat, nervous and skittish.
"I discovered something this weekend that really upset me. I find it hard to talk about this Dr. Sharp, really hard."
My bubble of preconceptions about Joe's problem quickly burst. He must have seen the surprise in my eyes and looked at me suspiciously, as if I might know something already. I used my softest, calmest voice, almost a whisper:
"Joe, I'm your therapist, we are alone. Our conversation is protected by the law and by the ethical standards of my profession. Why don't you just tell me, simply and in your own words?"
I could see that Joe's muscles were tight; I could tell he was wound up like a spring. I smiled gently trying to reassure him.
"Dr. Sharp, I think, I mean . . . I know . . . that my wife is cheating on me – sexually. I think it has been going on for a long time. Oh God! I can't believe this is happening to me."
Joe began sobbing softly again. Again I held out the tissue box. I kept seeing that picture of his wife – "plain-Jane" was what I had pegged her as.
"Joe, that's a serious accusation. Are you sure?"
"Oh, I'm sure alright doctor, I'm sure!" Joe twisted the tissue in his two hands.
"Did you hire a private detective?"
"No, nothing like that." Joe nervously rose from the couch and began pacing in my small office.
"Beth had taken our daughters to visit her mother on Saturday. I was staying home to do some chores and relax. That's when I found it."
Joe stared at me with wild eyes, his mouth open, but no words were coming out. Impatiently I exclaimed:
"Found what? Joe, what did you find?"
"The shoebox! The fucking shoebox. It was on the top shelf of her walk-in closet."
Joe spit out the last words as if they were poison. I looked at the clock. The session was almost over.
"Joe, sit down. Try and calm down." I said in my most soothing voice.
Joe crumpled down in a heap onto the couch. He looked at me as if I now knew all there was to know. I was very frustrated and tried to suppress my desire to ask him all kinds of questions. I knew that it was Joe, not me, who had to work through the raw emotions that were tearing him apart.
"Joe, what was in that shoebox?" I said in a quiet voice.
"Pictures, Dr. Sharp, dirty, filthy, disgusting pictures. At first I didn't believe it. I mean, come on, Beth? My Beth? Dr. Sharp, she was a virgin on our wedding night. For Christ's sake Dr. Sharp, she teaches Sunday school at our church!"
"Was it pornography Joe? Is she into pornography? Is that what has upset you?"
I searched Joe's anguished face. Quietly I looked into Joe's tear-stained eyes, hoping that my calmness would have the effect of calming down his wild, nervous demeanor.
"Where are these pictures, Joe? Where is the shoebox?"
"In my car - it's locked in the trunk of my car. I haven't been able to look at it since Saturday. I just sat with it in my lap. It was as if my mind was in an endless loop. 'What the fuck is this?' I kept thinking to myself. 'What the fuck . . . What the fuck . . .' "
Joe's voice trailed off. He was obviously re-living his experience from last two days and, I must admit, I was starting to get frightened. It was as if the man just wasn't there in my office. He was somewhere else. The strong, take charge executive that bounded into my office was gone and a shell of a man was left. I remember cursing to myself thinking about how I was going to fit this man into my already overbooked schedule, because it was obvious to me that he needed help.
I stood up, grabbed my appointment calendar off my desk and scanned the next few days for possible openings. Nothing! I swallowed hard and looked at the clock. It was 5 PM and my day was over.
"Can you make it here at 5 PM on Tuesdays?" I asked trying to snap him back to the real world.
"Sure, 5 PM is great. OK. I can do that. I don't usually get home until seven. Sure, Tuesday at 5 PM."
"Tomorrow is Tuesday. You can make it tomorrow? Tomorrow at 5 PM?
I could see Joe coming back to reality. This time he was obviously going through his calendar in his head.
"Yes. This is the most important thing in my life. Whatever time it needs to be I will be here. I will see you at 5 PM - tomorrow."
Joe held out his hand and took my hand in his.
"Thank you Dr. Sharp, thank you for taking on my case. I feel more hopeful already."
As Joe turned and opened the door, I called to him.
"Joe, do you think that maybe you should give me the shoebox?"
Joe turned to me and froze for about ten seconds. I couldn't fathom what his reaction was. Then he looked at me with a start as if he just woke from a daydream.
"Yes. The shoebox. That's a good idea. It's driving me crazy in the trunk. It will be safer with you."
"Joe, I intend to look at the contents, you know that, don't you?"
"Yes, of course. That's why I brought it. I mean . . . you have to, don't you? Otherwise, how would you know?"
Joe turned and left the office. I waited at the door. He returned moments later with the shoebox and held it out to me. It was yellow with a fabric-like pattern of leaves and vines, slightly oversized and obviously from an expensive pair of woman's shoes. I took the box from his hands trying not to give it too much attention. I smiled at Joe, thanked him and closed the door.
I held the shoebox with two hands as I walked around my desk to the window behind it. My heart was beating fast, as if the box contained a bomb about to explode. I carefully pulled back the sheer curtains and watched out my window as Joe climbed into a late-model BMW and backed quickly out of the driveway. The sun was going down. It cast an orange hue over everything. Soon it would be dark.
I turned around and sat in my desk chair, gingerly placed the shoebox in the center of my desk and just stared at it. For some reason the shoebox seemed alive, animate!
What trouble this box has caused! I pictured Joe's two cute little girls and his normal looking wife. I then thought about how I now had to push my diner hour back until after six and imagined what my husband would say about that! I must have stared at the shoebox for quite a while, not wanting to open it. I was beginning to feel like a voyeur, a peeping Tom.
I realized that it was now getting dark and that I had no lights on in my office. I usually kept them off because of the pleasant afternoon sun that filters through my window.
I reached up and switched on my desk lamp. The golden yellow glow of the incandescent bulb illuminated the desktop and the shoebox. The lovely pattern of green leaves and vines on the outside of the shoebox seemed to slither over the top and down the side and pulsate against the bright yellow background.
On the short side of the shoebox was a hole, large enough for a finger, surrounded by a heavy silver grommet. This would allow someone to easily pull the box down from a shelf using only one hand. I could see dimly inside the box from this hole. There were papers, something white, not tissue paper and not shoes.