“Julie’s not right with herself,” my mother put it during our first family session with Diana.
“Surely, Mrs. Greene,” Diana said, “that’s understating her condition.”
My mother waved her arms around dramatically. “She doesn’t like herself, that’s all!”
“Erna,” said my father, “let the therapist talk.”
My mother went on, “Julie screams at us! Throws things! She raids the cookie bin when nobody’s around!” My mother set her arms back into her lap and said quietly, “You know, I’ve had to lock up the hermit cookies, giant oatmeal-raisin cookies, and lemon squares in the liquor cabinet to keep her from eating them all!”
My father cleared his throat. “She’s completely abandoned her studies.”
My mother said, “She hasn’t touched a piece of music composition paper–”
“–or her trumpet.” My parents nodded in agreement.
My mother whined, “She doesn’t get any exercise! She drinks coffee all day long! Coffee!”
“Julie,” demanded my father, “when are you going to quit smoking?” He turned to Diana, who had already held her hands out in a “T”–“time out.” He ignored her. “And she’s friends with this Irene!”
“Irene’s not a good influence on Julie,” said my mother, her hands on her hips.
”No, and I don’t think she’s Jewish, either,” my father muttered.
I had long since buried my face in my hands. At last, Diana turned to me and said, “Julie, what would you like to say to your parents?”
I shook my head, and did not look up.
“Julie, you have this opportunity,” said Diana. “What would you like to tell them?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Nothing at all.”
Later, I sat with Diana in the Blue room. I was crying softly. “Now, I see what you mean,” Diana said. “Have they always been like this?”
“Your parents don’t listen, do they? Did they ever?”
I shook my head.
“They seem so closed-minded about Irene. But I’ll bet you’re just glad to have a friend, aren’t you? Someone you can talk to. Someone who listens. You know, a person only has a handful of really good friends in a lifetime, and I think you’ve found one of those people in Irene. A true friend you can trust.”
Diana said, “Mr. and Mrs. Greene, this is our last family therapy session before Julie leaves for Vermont. Is there anything you’d like to say to her?”
My father took a notebook out of his shirt pocket. He always took notes at our sessions. “Mr. Greene,” said Diana, “could you put that away, just this once? We’re talking to Julie now.”
“Well,” said my mother, “I’d like to remind Julie to get her car tuned up before she leaves.”
“Tell Julie,” said Diana. “She is sitting here, with us.”
“Erna,” said my father to my mother, “Ned will tune up Julie’s car. You don’t have to remind her about that.”
My mother said, “Julie’s car still needs lots of repairs. And she’s constantly borrowing mine. And she smokes in there! She’s still smoking! It makes my car stink!”
My father said, “Julie has to quit smoking.”
“Alan,” my mother went on, “at least she’s got Irene. She’s got a friend now.”
“Julie says Irene is a light smoker, Alan! Julie will have a roommate in Vermont! Isn’t that wonderful?”
My father said, “It’s this program that got Julie smoking!”
Diana held her hands in a “T.” “Mr. and Mrs. Greene, we can easily get hung up on the smoking issue, but I don’t think that’s the point here. We are saying goodbye to Julie.”
“Well,” said my mother, “I’ll be glad to have my car back, and I’ll put an air freshener in it, as soon as Julie’s gone.”
After the session, Diana took me aside and asked me what I thought. I said, “I don’t really think the car is the issue.” I wiped my nose with a tissue.
“No?” said Diana, smiling. “I guess they didn’t choose the most appropriate way to say goodbye to you.”
“They didn’t say anything to me, Diana.”
Diana said softly, “No, but I have something to say to you. Watch out for Irene. She may not be the best roommate for you.”
I inhaled. “What?”
“Just what I said. I have seen the way she operates. I have heard what she says to you. I think you should get out while you can. Tell her now. Tell her you don’t want her coming up to Vermont with you. Tell her. Your name is on the lease. I’m warning you–”
“What? You’ve got to be kidding! This is ridiculous! I can’t just–”
“Yes, you can.”
“Diana, I want a better life for Irene. With me. I’m devoted to Irene. She’s loves my dog. She’s fun. She listens. She cares. What more could I ask for in a friend?”
“There are plenty of other people out there who will love your dog, and are fun, and listen, and care.”
“But Irene is special,” I insisted.
“Julie, Irene is using you.”
“Irene needs me. There’s a difference.”
“And you should be very careful,” Diana warned, “of needy people, because they can pull you downhill along with them–fast.”