After Bridie left, I finished my note and sent off an email to Shirley, the social worker with the oncology team at St. Germaine’s hospital, noting our session and thanking her for the idea about the videos. Lowell was slouched in a corner chair when I walked out to see if he had arrived. The slouch, it turned out, was not an emotional retreat just the affectation of a teacher on a Friday afternoon. “I’m well.” Lowell proclaimed brightly. His connection with the LGB teachers group had bolstered his mood and his confidence. The news he was looking to share was a new relationship that he was a) hoping would be meaningful and b) hoping would facilitate transfer back to the city, where he could exist with a bit more anonymity.
In part, Lowell was justifiably irritated by what he saw as an unjust situation. I was happy to entertain his critique, having travelled that road. “How do you do it?” He mused, casually.
“Do what?” I replied, aiming for innocence.
“I know you are gay. I’ve known for weeks. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“What gave me away? The haircut?” I smiled and fluffed my short, almost-locks.
“No. I ran into people who know your partner – did it escape you that my situation is similar?”
I can’t run; I can’t hide! “Well, Lowell. You are correct.” Was I imagining his smug look? “My partner and are I are lesbian. She is a teacher at the high school and yes, she has experienced some of what you have. But clearly not all of it.”
“Do you think it might have helped if you had been straight with me? Excuse the pun.”
“That’s an interesting question.” I busied my hands piling up some stray paper on my desk and moving it to the side. “Actually, I wondered myself, early on. But I decided that my job is to hear and respond to your experience and facilitate your own conclusions based on what you are thinking and feeling. Mixing it up with my own experience may not have brought us to this same outcome. What do you think? Would it have made a difference?”
“I don’t know.” His curiosity was genuine.
“Say for instance,” I was curious about this myself. “…say I had shared my experience and inadvertently encouraged you to stay in Carter, to tell your principal the way I told my boss, and it had turned out badly. What if, being ‘out’ at school was a negative experience and made you very unhappy? What if, in despair, you had gone on a bender and harmed yourself. I wouldn’t have served you very well.”
“Do you think there’s a difference between me being a guy and you and your partner being girls?”
I did not want to go there but I didn’t know how to back out. Hesitation on my part would instantly telegraph my opinion. “You know the part you said before about unjust realities? I think the way we gender sexual orientation is similarly unjust…in fact, the way we gender people is unjust. As women, we are seen as less of a threat than a man is – not that I in any way see you as a threat.” I added quickly as I saw a flicker of angst in his glance over my shoulder to the painting on the wall.
“I know. That’s what hurts. I’ve even considered changing my career but I enjoy teaching and I am good at it. If only people could understand. My interest is absolutely adult males!”
“I guess if I were including myself in this discussion, which given your previous comments I am assuming you would endorse, I would say: what can we all do to change it?”
“Don’t even dream of trying to talk me into staying in Carter and making a stand…”He started to laugh…”Carter’s last stand!”
“Pretty good, for a school teacher!”
“Yeah, we can be funny too” Smirking. Then he resumed being serious again. “I can’t do it Hattie. I am not the fighter I want to be. I wish I was. I think I’m a turn-tail-and-run kinda guy. I’m not saying this man I met, this adult male…” He added with emphasis. “I’m not sure this is a relationship that might last but I’m pretty sure after the last few months that I may not find someone to have a relationship with here. I’m not saying I might not return another time but I need to grow a few more thorns first.”
“Thorns?” I didn’t catch his drift.
“I need to get more motivated to pursue my anger in a healthy way. I need to be more prickly – not just a pretty rose.” He smiled. “Right now I’m just angry, and frustrated, and disappointed.”
“And Pretty!” He laughed. “What can I do?” I wondered.
“You and your partner are already doing it. Thanks.”
“I meant what can ‘I’ do to help you with your decision, right now?” I pointed at my chest for emphasis. “Me. Crisis Worker, Therapist.”
“If you are asking about staying on in therapy, I think I’ve worked it through. I’ve made sense out of it all. I don’t like it but I understand the current state of affairs. In retrospect, you were probably right to keep your personal life out of our conversations. I felt safe with you because I knew we were similar but because you didn’t throw your own stuff at me, until I asked, I did in fact come to my own conclusions. And, just to sum up, clearly: I am not an alcoholic, I am not suicidal, I am a gay man looking for understanding. And in looking for understanding, I am moving on to a more anonymous pasture. You can close me out and send the insurance program my bill.”
“Glad to hear it. Lowell, it’s been a privilege to know you. I wish you well.” I stood with my hand out. Instead, he reached over and delivered a hug.
“Thank you Hattie. This did really help.” And Lowell was off to finish the term in Carter, then pursue his other dreams.