When I was 10, living in Iowa, I watched my mom – from Highway 169 – hitchhike into a rusty, brown truck with two strange men. She was trying to save herself from my dad. I screamed after her, to take me with her, but it was too late. She was gone. And a short while later my brother, sister and I were sitting in the back of a police car, which took us to my mom; while my dad was taken away in a different police car.
Five years later – with Dad back in the picture – Mom moved on to saving other people. My parents owned a restaurant and employed several teenage girls, many of whom found themselves pregnant and homeless. Mom took them in, fixed up our spare bedrooms and made them comfortable as they bloomed and glowed.
Naturally, I wanted to fix people, too. Prisons are full of people to fix, so after college I began working as a Counselor at a medium/maximum security men’s prison. However, I wasn’t the born fixer that my mom was. In other words, I got off to a rocky start. I made a Satanist attend Alcoholics Anonymous. He had a bit of an alcohol problem, so I put AA on his treatment plan.
Being only 21 and fairly naïve, it didn’t click that AA believes in a higher power, which many groups refer to as God. Whereas, Satanists, well, they have an issue with God and worship Satan. Some might say this is a conflict of interest. After AA, the Satanist came to my office to confront me. I validated him, but at the same time, tried to justify my behavior by saying a higher power could be anything – even the chair I was placing in between us. He wasn’t buying it and left with the devil in his eyes.
During this time, my parents’ marriage crumbled, tearing our family apart. I wasn’t going down with them. I was going to do better for myself. So obviously, the only way I could do that, was to move to Phoenix.
To get me on my feet, my uncle gave me a job at his bank, which really isn’t worth getting into. In part because I only worked there for a year, but mostly because I have no idea what I did there – besides get paper cuts. By this time, I had my master’s in Clinical Psychology, so I was hired as a Therapist at the Arizona State Psychiatric Hospital – working with the Guilty Except Insane population – where I felt right at home. If you’re wondering what the place is like, it’s probably how you’d imagine it.
I worked with patients who strangled their mothers with phone cords, patients who walked around cuddling and kissing Cabbage Patch Dolls as if they were their children and also patients who were rapists.
Forty-year-old S was a rapist. I adored him. We had sort of a special relationship, whereas, he would come to my office every morning fill me in on the hospital gossip, tell me some pretty stellar jokes and devour the latest In Style magazine with me. But then, things got weird.
One winter morning, S came to my office with a grocery sack and handed it to me. I opened it to find a pair of red, silky pajamas. It was a set, you know, a pair of pants and a top. I carefully examined them. They were frayed and had visibly been worn. The sleeves and ankles were lined with black feathers. I detected must. And then, I saw the tag – size XL. He did not order these from Victoria’s Secret and I could not picture myself falling asleep in them, let alone simply wearing them around the house, drinking my morning cup of coffee, reading the news. I was offended. After all of the In Style’s we read together, how could S give me these? And then, he told me they were special. They were his mother’s.
Now, I feel like I’m probably sounding like the crazy one here. I’m describing these pajamas to you like they were a real Christmas present from a boyfriend – not a mentally ill person. Why would I do that? A normal person would probably have just shoved them right back in the bag and been super creeped out. I was becoming desensitized to his behavior and so, after five years of working with the criminally insane, I left.
I needed to make things better for myself. So clearly, the next career move for me would be to go to an adult boutique store and work as a Sex and Relationship Expert. I was totally qualified – I’ve had sex before.
I was not totally qualified. People were writing to me, asking my opinion on the best sex positions. What, there was more than just missionary? People wanted details on furry fetishes. Huh, did that mean spooning underneath a thick, furry blanket? And, I received questions wanting to know the proper way to ask someone to swing. Like, make love in a hammock?
I was clueless, but my intuition told me this was not what these people were referring to. Ultimately, I ended up doing more research for this job than I ever did for my dissertation.
I was writing about objects I had never seen or used before, teaching classes about activities I had never done or heard of, and overseeing events that made me more uncomfortable than wearing pantyhose in the middle of August. I began pathologizing every customer I came into contact with at these events.
Gauged ears, cheek and tongue rings, sleeved tattoos and she’s a dominatrix? Clearly this girl is into pain because she was sexually abused at some point, felt a loss of power and this is her way of controlling it. He dresses up as a baby, wears a collar and likes to be spanked by much older women? Surely, his mom abandoned him as an infant resulting in insecure attachment issues. And so on, and so forth.
And then, it hit me. These people were here for fun. I was here for work. Also, what gave me the right to pathologize them? What about me? Maybe I was the sick one. I kept putting myself in all of these chaotic, dysfunctional situations, after all.
And, so I entered the corporate world, writing about incredibly boring things. I encounter much fewer Satanists and rapists, and no longer receive hand-me-down pajamas, but it’s something I can live with. Because I came to Phoenix 10 years ago to escape dysfunction and finally, I have.