The late afternoon sun pours through Dr. Flynn's picture windows casting shadows over the Persian rug that anchors his seating area. August is the only month in Seattle that you can rely on the sunshine. It taunts and teases me, mocks me. I've always hated August. Its been four weeks since I last saw John, longer than I've ever gone without seeing him, but it feels like I've been away for eternity. So much has happened in the past month. The wedding, the honeymoon, of course. In some compartment of the recesses on my mind I had envisioned this session as our last. This would be my happy ending, where John could set me free into the world a happily married well adjusted man. I supposed men aren't suppose to think of marriage in such storybooks terms, and god knows I was not one for fairy tales. In my storybook though, the happy ending includes the wife taking her husbands name.
"Welcome back Christian. It's been so boring without you. I thought you'd be more tan when you returned," he says with a wink.
"I think I'm just pale from the argument Ana and I just had." I feel the corners of my mouth sink into a pout. It feels odd to feel bad about getting your way. When I left Ana's office she agreed to change her name at work, but for some reason, I still feel bad. I don't understand.
John smirks and leans back into his chair, crossing his ankle over his knee. That chair must be so well worn to the contours of his body by now. He spends all day sitting in the one little spot. "What was the fight about Christian?"
"She didn't want to change her name at work. She wanted to keep Ana Steele for professional purposes. And I of course charged into her office and completely manipulated her into doing what I wanted her to do, and she finally capitulated."
I sigh a long exhale. A cool cleansing yogic breath, the type Claude taught me when he convinced me to add some downward dogs to my workout routine. It feels good to exhale.
"I don't understand, getting people to do what I want them to do used to make me happy. That was my whole joie de vivre, exerting my will over people. Now I just end up feeling bad about myself."
"Why do you feel bad?" John says.
"I feel unsatisfied. I feel like I didn't really tell Ana how I felt. I just created this artifice, this persona, that waltzed in and strong-armed her into doing what I wanted. And I thought it would make me feel close to her but instead I feel so far away from her right now."
"What would you have told Ana, if you were really being honest with her? What would you have said?"
The sun shifts readjusting its rays, re configuring the shadows cast throughout John's office. The shifting light shines on a stack of books on John's desk. All relationship books. One is called "Hold me tight." What an odd name for a relationship book.
"I would have told her that I felt rejected, when she said she wanted to keep her name at work. When I sent an e-mail to Anastasia Grey, and it bounced back, a flood of scary thought filled my head. She's leaving you, she's ashamed of you, she regrets marrying you. Intellectually I know there's nothing wrong with her keeping her maiden name professionally. My mother did, and I have no doubt that she loves my father any less because her patients know her as Doctor Trevelyn. I just had this vision, though, of her being Ana Grey, and everyone knowing that when they said her name she was married to Christian Grey."
"And that's important to you because..."
I pause. I know this is the part where John's prompt is suppose to lead me to some deeper understanding of myself. I feel so exhausted already, I just don't know if I can go any deeper.
"It's important because it feels like a public affirmation of her love, and in turn, an affirmation that I'm in fact loveable to begin with."
"You don't feel loveable?" John gives me his intrigued, I'm a psychotherapist look. I just don't believe after all this time anything I say in here could be that interesting.
"John, we've been over this. You know I don't feel loveable."
"What specific actions would Ana have to take in order for you to feel secure in her love for you? Do you think that he changing her professional name would make you feel more secure?"
I think for a moment about John's question. I actually do think taking my name would make me feel more secure. Its a silly little gesture, but it means a lot to me. "Yes. I actually think it would. I don't know why, but its just something that's important to me. I guess, I just don't feel entitled to ask her for it. So instead I just steamroll into her office and completely manipulate her."
"That seems easier to do than just asking her?"
"Its what I know. But what I know is working less and less for me."
"How so?" John asks.
I think back to walking through Saint-Paul-De-Vence. Ana's delicate finger clasped in mine, and the faint red welt around her wrist from where the handcuff bit into her skin.
"When we were in France, we, well we had a lot of sex on the honeymoon. Not just in Monte Carlo..." I don't know why I suddenly feel myself stuttering. I've told John all about all sorts of sexual exploits much more shocking than what I've done with Ana. Hell, couples out in the suburbs use handcuffs. O.k. maybe not as well as I use them, but still. "But I used some handcuffs on Ana, and they left a mark. They didn't hurt her. She said she enjoyed it. But I felt so awful seeing those marks. I don't understand. When I used to see the marks on my partners after playing, it was a turn on. I felt a sense of pride almost. I just don't understand why I feel so differently with Ana. I mean sexually. I know why I feel different about the other stuff in our relationship. Its because I love her. But guess I thought that loving her wouldn't change doing all the things I like to do to women, or at least I thought I liked to do..."
I hang my head in my hands. My hair is too long. I must tell Andrea to make me an appointment for a haircut. Shit I can't go to Elena's salon anymore.
"I can see that this is really making you question your identity, Christian."
I look up at John, puzzled.
"You see. I think your self-perception, your concept of your own identity, for a long time has been intertwined with your sexual identity. And for a while it was a coping mechanism that worked for you, and you achieved some great successes in life, probably because you had this coping mechanism that worked so well..."
John is in teacher mode again. I almost expect him to wheel out a blackboard and start drawing a diagram. But he is right, and I lean in to listen closer.
"You must not think of your past relationships as failures Christian, because they enabled you to achieve some great personal and professional successes. However, those coping mechanisms just aren't working for the goals you want to achieve in this stage in your life. So, with that in mind, why do you think you felt bad about seeing Ana's cuff marks? Because you said she enjoyed playing and that you didn't hurt her."
I look out the window again to see the orange glow of the setting sun. The neon signs in Pikes Market are starting to come to life. "I think, I don't know. I still really struggle with not being able to punish Ana. I know punishments are a hard limit for her. She doesn't mind playing, but she doesn't like punishment. But its hard for me because the whole talking things out and resolving issues without spanking or caning is still really new for me. And its hard. I'm not good at expressing myself through words. Hell, I didn't talk at all for many years of my childhood. It's a miracle I'm verbal at all. So I guess, when I cuffed Ana, it was a bit of a punishment in my mind. We had had a little argument. She did something that pissed me off, and instead of talking about it, we had sex. And I wanted to be rough with her. But I'm sure if she knew that I wanted to be rough because I was angry with her, she would have enjoyed it less. And I think that's why I felt guilty. Seeing the welts. I felt like I lied to Ana, and that made me feel guilty."
"Very good Christian. Why do you think Ana hates punishment so much?"
"I don't know. You'd have to ask her?"
John glances at the clock, determining whether we have enough time left for me to reach his intended insight on my own, or whether he should clue me in on the moral or the story. He opts for the latter.
"Well, you said earlier that when you do things that make you feel farther away from Ana, when you use artifice and manipulation, rather than exposing your true vulnerabilities, you end up feeling more distant and that makes you feel bad."
"I think I see what you're getting at. When I punish Ana, she feels distant from me. I guess I feel distant from her too."
"Sex, for most people, Christian, is a way to connect on a deep level. You're literally exposed and at your most vulnerable. So by using sex as punishment, it really flips it on its head. And it probably not the actual physical acts that you feel guilty about, especially if, as you say, you didn't hurt Ana and she enjoyed it. But I think what you were feeling was a guilt and sadness even at doing something that created more distance between you and Ana, rather than closeness."
"I crave intimacy with Ana. When we have sex, its like I can't get close enough. I can't get far enough inside to feel close enough. I just hate myself when I do things that create distance between us."
John gives me that look that says we're about out of time. "I know, Christian. But its a learning curve. Marriage is a constant learning process. If you stop learning, that's when the marriage starts to die. So now that you're back, are we planning on resuming our regular schedule?"
"I'll have to have Andrea check my calendar, but yes, I think so. I'm really glad to be back John."
"I'm glad you're back too Christian." And with that our session in over. I stretch my arms and rise from the soft cushions of John's sofa, ready to catch the last moments of the day's sunshine.