So you’ll just listen to what Alex says without interrupting. Listen and reflect back what she says,” Jules the couples counsellor patiently instructed Frankie.
“Without saying but at the end.”
“But when does she listen to me?” Frankie demanded.
“You’ll take turns. Alex will listen to you and you’ll listen to Alex, without judgment or justification. That will be your homework. When we fight we aren’t listening, we’re just waiting to make our next point and…”
“She’s the one who constantly interrupts,” Frankie snapped.
“…and being defensive. Now we’re learning to really listen.” Jules continued calmly. “So I’ll see you again next week and in the meantime you’ll transfer the payment for this week to my account.”
As Frankie and I splashed through the puddles to our car, Frankie exploded. “Avoidantly attached. What a load of shit. She’s the one with the trust issues. And you’ll transfer the money. I mean, really. Fuck off.”
I hadn’t expected our first couples counselling session to go well but I didn’t expect it to go this badly either. Frankie had agreed that we needed professional help to get our relationship back on track but changed her mind as soon as the day of the appointment arrived.
“I fucking love you and you know that. This is complete bullshit.” Frankie had yelled while tailgating in the rain on the way.
But I didn’t know that. All I knew was that this time last year we were excitedly preparing for our new life in Italy and now we were screaming and throwing things at each other and Frankie was staring at me with cold, angry eyes.
After the session Frankie checked her phone messages and I listened to the rain tapping rhythmically against the car window. I followed the drops as they slid slowly down the glass and disappeared from view. Can I disappear too? I wondered. I replayed the therapy session in my head, analysing every word. How was it possible that Frankie hated me this much? We came to therapy to sort things out. Was it possible that we were actually here to break up?
“Lola’s been shaking and collapsing,” Frankie snapped as she returned our friend Stela’s call. I tried to focus on her conversation but my eyes kept following the drops as my brain repeated the words down came the rain.
“I have a dog who needs urgent assessment. Can you get blood results tonight?” Frankie was saying, before calling Stela again and organising to meet her at the vet.
“I’ll drop you home,” she said as she started the car.
“No, I’m coming.”
“You’ll be in the way. I’ll take you home.”
“I’m coming.” There was no way I was going home on my own.
When we walked into the waiting room Stela was curled upon a white plastic chair. Her face was in her hands and she was crying.
After four turbulent and emotionally exhausting years, Stela and Caterina’s relationship imploded seven months ago. They had spent several months in counselling but after tiring of refereeing their bitter arguments, the therapist broke up with them and urged them to do the same with each other.
As hard as the relationship had been for Stela, breaking up had been harder. We did our best to be there for her but there wasn’t a lot we could do with her grief. It was hers and she just had to feel it.
“I’ll call Cat,” I offered. They’d bought Lola together so telling her was the right thing to do.
“I already texted. She didn’t reply,” Stela answered forlornly.
The vet finally called us in and Frankie discussed blood transfusions and bone marrow biopsies while Stela cried. I stood with my arm around Stela, nodding my head and pretending to understand what was going on.
“I’m going to tell her to go ahead. The transfusion is urgent. I’m going to tell her to go ahead, ok?” Frankie prodded Stela gently.
Stela stared blankly so Frankie stopped and explained.
“She’s dangerously anaemic so they’re giving her blood. That’s why she’s been getting weak and collapsing. The anaemia is an indication that we need to check her bone marrow. That’s all we know at this point.”
“Why bone marrow?” I asked.
“That’s where the red blood cells are produced. We need to see if the problem is there or not. We’ll know more tomorrow.”
On the way home I asked Frankie to tell me what was going on.
“It’s possibly a virus. Hopefully. Or something self-containing.”
“What does that mean?”
“That it contains itself.”
“It has a period and then goes away by itself.”
“It could be a complete aplasia of the bone marrow or something immune-mediated.”
“Immune mediated. Mediated by the immune system.”
“Could she die?”
“Don’t be dramatic.”
“Could she die???”
“That’s why we went to the vet, obviously.”
The next morning Stela looked even more fragile than the night before. I stood with her while Frankie talked to the vet about haemolysis and Myelodysplasia and Cyclospirin A and Corticosteroids. Then we headed to reception so Stela could pay the $2600 bill. The nurse carried Lola to us, wrapped in a blanket.
“Her eyes are yellow,” I whispered to Frankie.
“It’s the haemolysis.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“She has jaundice.”
“Oh I see, from the haemolysis.”
“You stop it. Explain everything to Stela in plain English.”
Frankie and I headed to the supermarket where we argued about what food to buy for Lola, then we drove to Stela’s house. She was crying when we got there. Cat had finally texted her back saying she was very busy and couldn’t call over the next few days but was sure Lola was in good hands.
“She’s our baby, why doesn’t she care?” Stela sobbed. “I can’t do this Frankie. I can’t lose Lola.”
“You won’t lose her,” Frankie said, looking agitated.
I listened as Frankie explained that Lola had an auto immune disease that was stopping her bone marrow from producing red blood cells. Hopefully the transfusion would hold and the drugs would work in a few weeks and eventually she would go into remission. Hopefully.
On the way home Frankie suddenly hit the steering wheel. “What the fuck is wrong with Cat?” she yelled.
“She doesn’t love her anymore.” I answered quietly as tears welled in my eyes. “I don’t think you love me anymore either and I don’t understand why. I feel like you’ve left me already and I’m Stela, all alone and trying to cope with how sad I am when I don’t know even what I’ve done. I just don’t understand.” I looked over the West Gate Bridge and felt a sudden urge to jump out of the car and into the water.
Frankie put her foot on the accelerator and sped down the freeway towards Kingsway, swerving and swearing and tailgating while I held on to the door for support.
At home I poured a glass of wine and sat down at my computer to work.
“I blame you…. for being stuck here… I blame you.” Frankie mumbled while staring at the TV.
I didn’t understand what she was saying. How could she possibly blame me after everything I’d given up for her? My hands curled into tight fists and I felt the nails digging into my skin.
“I gave up a film role for you, in December, remember? To go to Italy to sort this shit out. Then I gave up a TV show because we were supposed to be moving to Italy. For you. Everything I’ve done for the past two years has been for you.”
“For us.” Frankie corrected me coldly. “It was all for us. For the life we wanted for us.”
Frankie collapsed on the sofa as tears filled her eyes. “I’m supposed to be a Doctor but I’m not. I’m trapped here and it’s too late. It’s too fucking late.”
Frankie cried for a full hour. She cried for the opportunities she’d lost, the future she’d dreamed and the time that was running out.
The following week in therapy Jules asked us what we’d learnt from listening to each other.
“I learnt that Frankie loves me,” I replied.
Frankie thought for a moment. “I learnt that Alex has given everything to me and I couldn’t even see it. And she’s suffering because everything’s broken and my head is a mess.”
“Great work Frankie. So what are we going to do about that?” Jules pressed.
“Isn’t that why we’re here?” Frankie snapped.
“Absolutely. Why don’t we start by working on your anger?"