This is not a stroke story.
It's an emotionally painful romance.
The only sex that approaches explicit is phone sex.
Karen the counsellor:
Lisa drove her and I followed and waited until she'd been inside a little while. Karen's office had a little lobby but no receptionist. Just a sign on the inner door that said: "In Session: Do not Disturb." It was a half hour before Karen came out and said, "She's ready Don, come on in."
Hope only looked at me one single time in Karen's office that day. She was quietly wipeing her eyes as Karen explained to me, "We have all afternoon, longer if we need it. Hope has some things to say that are going to be traumatic. She insists that you hear them too. So do I. This is going to be painful and you'll want to comfort her. You can't comfort her today. She'll be reliving terrible things that men have done to her and she said that you would understand why you couldn't comfort her. Do you?"
I was wiping tears too as I said, "Yes."
"Good. I expect to hold her and comfort her as much as I can while she struggles through this. Are you okay with that?"
"I'll appreciate all the comfort you can give her."
"Good. Hope, I've counseled couples for a lot of years and my first impressions are pretty reliable. I think you've found one of the very few men that can help you. If he could make this easy for you he would. I'm sorry to have to say this but no one can do that. Go ahead and start when you're ready and stop any time you need to."
"Okay." She sat still for a little bit and changed. She looked the same but she wasn't. It wasn't natural. "My twin brother Chris has always loved me and tried to protect me. I'll love him just as much, forever.
"Dad....was drunk that night....when he raped me the last time. Chris heard him. He called the cops. Dad went to jail. He hasn't looked at me since that night. Not even at the trial. Where he told everybody that I'd teased him since I was a little girl. He said awful things that were lies. And never looked at me. He said that I'd tried to get him to do it to me since my boobs started to grow. He said that I was the one that attacked him that night because he was too drunk to keep me away. He never looked at me once.
"Chris told them what he heard when Dad was doing it to me. Chris looked at me, he loves me. I was going to tell everybody that Chris was lying and that I did what Dad said I did. I didn't want Dad to stay in jail, we needed Dad to pay the bills. But the lawyer was real tricky. He tricked me into telling the truth. About what Dad did to me. I hate him. He made me feel like a little girl. I was a woman and he made me feel like a little girl. I knew I was a woman because I knew Lisa was growing in my belly. Everyone did by then.
"Mom hated me for Dad going to jail and for my Lisa. She tried to keep it secret from me but I could tell. The only one that loves me is Chris. And Lisa after she was born. Dad doesn't love me anymore. He won't even look at me. I'm glad he's in jail now."
"You're being very brave Hope. Don, are you proud of her?"
"I'm very proud of her. She's the best thing that's ever happened to me." I meant it.
"Okay Hope, tell me about Chris, when you're ready."
Hope looked down at her hands as she hugged her belly. "Dad raped me lots of times before the night Chris heard him doing it. He told me he would make Chris have a terrible accident if I ever told anyone. He was always careful to do it at the right time of the month. Until that night when he got drunk. I never told anybody about all the other times. Not even Chris." I'd never wanted to hold her more than I wanted to right then. Not ever.
You know how the most absurd things just pop into your head at the strangest times? It occured to me that the thirty-three year old woman that I loved looked like a pregnant six year old with big tits. Being held by her mom while she cried inconsolably. That was also when I realized finding Karen to help us was a miracle.
It took about two forevers before Hope had recovered enough for Karen to go back to her old overstuffed chair.
Hope's twin brother Chris:
"Chris loves me. He's always loved me. Even when all the hard things happened. He pretended he's Lisa's daddy because she didn't have one. He pretended we were married when I was lonely. He always cuddled me and loved me and made me feel like a real wife and mom. He was the only one that really loved me. Everything that Dad did bad, Chris did good. We've always loved each other and we still love each other.
"After Lisa was born, he even showed me how what Dad did to me could be really special if it was gentle and we loved each other. We made Chrissy the right way. With love. Mom hated me even more when she found out I had our Chrissy growing in my belly. She tried to keep it secret and I tried to pretend I couldn't tell but we both really knew. I'll always love Mom because she worked so hard and tried to keep loving me, even after the bad things. But Chris always loved me. And after she found out Crissy was growing in me, she pretended that she didn't know he snuck in and cuddled me every night. All night. Chris loved me and mom tried to. Then two weeks before Crissy was born, Chris didn't come home. Mom said I could still talk to him in my dreams. She said he was in a car wreck and had to leave. She told me he still loves me but I already knew that. He still does, even now. I want him back. And in my bed with me at night. Just like it used to be. I was safe then.
"I know he's gone. But he won't really die until I do."
Then Karen had to hold her while she cried again. For just as long. These were her Hard Things. That day was the hardest day of my life. Sitting there and not being able to hold her. Or even pretend to hold her while she listened to me talk to her on the phone.
"Hope honey, Don loves you now, just like Chris did."
"Don's trying to love me. Chris still does." Hope had forgotten that I was even in the room or it would have hurt even worse. She was in her nightmare past. I thanked God that Karen was there with her.
"I've never loved anyone as much as Chris and I love each other. Not even my husband. He can rot in hell too."
Hope's ex, Bill:
"Tell me about your husband. How did you meet him?
"He worked at the pharmacy. He was nice to me, he always asked me how I was doing. I was on a lot of meds after Chris left." She almost broke down completely again. She proved how tough she is that afternoon. "He noticed every time my meds got cut back as I started to get a little better. Part of why I tried to get better was just to make him smile. Mostly I tried so hard because Lisa and Crissy needed me to get better.
"It was right after Chrissy's first birthday when he asked me to marry him. We had a really good counselor then too. But I never told them about Dad, I mean what he was doing to me before the night he got so drunk. I was afraid it'd scare Bill off. I didn't tell them that Chris and I always slept together either. I was so lonely and I was starting to love him too. We got married three months later. It was my fault. I didn't know it would happen and I couldn't stop it. I called him Chris when I was half asleep. Not just once. And even sometimes when he made me cum really hard. Bill was a really good lover. He knew how to wear me out so I could sleep. I just couldn't stop calling him Chris sometimes. I can't blame him. I know how I'd have felt if he'd been calling me Susan or something." She'd started to sound like an old answering machine as soon as she started talking about her ex. No feelings as all.
"At first he just tried harder. He never said it but he finally gave up just before the twins were born. How could I blame him? I was sleeping in his bed, pregnant with his babies, and calling him another man's name. I couldn't stop myself. It just turned into another nightmare for both of us. He tried so hard. It was just like when Mom didn't want to hate me. After Dad went to prison. He just couldn't help it.
"I was still breast feeding the twins when he started to lose control sometimes and get mean. He was always sorry afterwards. He knew I was doing the best I could. We should have gotten a divorce. But I was too afraid of being alone and he knew how much I needed him. So we stayed together and it just got worse.
"It didn't help when he got laid off and had to go to work for his brother landscaping. It was mostly just mowing lawns. It wasn't enough money. That was when I started selling breast milk. We could still barely afford to eat but it was enough to get us by. It was also one of the things that led to me becoming a surrogate mother."
Then she slowly started to talk like a normal, reasonably happy person for the first time that day.
"I love having a baby growing inside me. And my body's good at it. Bill was attracted to pregnant women too. But four kids was a big enough family for both of us and he'd gotten fixed. So when I met another woman online that sold breast milk and had been a surrogate mother, we got to be friends, and she convinced me that I might like it. Bill and I talked about it and we decided to try it. I loved it and he tolerated it and we spread the money out over the three years that I've made my schedule.
"I'm getting older now though and these two babies are going to have to be the last ones I'm able to give to another couple. It's making them the most precious ones since Sarah and Peter. It always kills me to say goodbye to them. This time's going to be even worse. A lot worse." And that was the end of her sounding okay for the day.
She paused and Karen told her how brave and strong she was being. Then she said, "Tell us about your last hard thing when you're ready. We're not in any hurry."
"Two years ago Lisa got pregnant. She was fifteen at the time and she refused to name the father. She has a beautiful little boy. Then six months ago she got pregnant again. Bill is the father of both of them. She's been through the same thing that happened to me. Except she didn't have a twin brother to protect her. And so in three months she'll be the mother of two boys, both concieved while she was being raped by her step dad. His condoms didn't work any better than my dad's rhythm method in the end. This time she named him and two weeks ago he was sentenced. We won't have to worry about my dad or Bill again."
Then she looked up at Karen and said, "I've only got one more thing to say."
Karen looked at her and very slowly and quietly said, "You will never have to suffer this much in this room again."
Then Hope turned her whole body toward me and looked me in the eyes and said, "What do you think of me now?"
"I love you desperately." She flinched like I'd slaped her, closed her eyes, and curled up into a ball. Her whole body shook as she sobbed almost silently. Suddenly Karen was holding her and stroking her hair and telling her how brave and good she was. And looking right at me and shaking her head "No" just barely enough to nail my shoes to the floor. I hated her for being right. I loved her for comforting Hope.
The next thing I remember clearly was looking up at Karen as she said, "Lisa's driving Hope home. She'll be able to function when she wakes up tomorrow morning. Don't get up, we need to talk for a few minutes before you go. For your sake."
She went over to the loveseat where Hope had spent the afternoon, sat down, and started asking me questions.
"You'd light your body on fire and burn in hell forever if it would help her wouldn't you?"
I could only nod.
"You understand that the odds of you two being able to help each other aren't very good don't you?"
Another nod. She hesitated for a minute, then asked, "Why are you trying anyway?"
"I don't have a choice."
"How long ago did your ex wife leave you?"
It took me a minute to figure it out. "Twenty-three years."
"Would it be accurate to say that you never remarried because in those twenty-three years you didn't meet a woman that actually needed you?"
I nodded again.
"When did you figure that out?"
"That was when you realized how badly your ex wife had hurt you wasn't it?"
"You both understand that you are almost certainly each other's last chance don't you?"
"Do you have any questions for me?"
"What make's you think Hope and I have a chance?"
She took at least a full minute before she said, "You're both desperate. You're both severely wounded. You both have good values. And you're both in love. The real thing, not just infatuation or sexual attraction."
"When do you want to see us again?"
"I understand you both have fairly flexible schedules. I expect to work with each of you separately but always with the other present. It took me a while to convince Hope that it'll be best this way. Will Monday at 4:00 work for you?"
"I'll be here."
"One other thing, I don't take insurance. I expect you to pay me the lesser of what you think I've been worth or what you can easily afford. For as long as you're together and consider yourselves happy. I always have more income than I need and I donate the excess to the most worthy charities that I'm aware of. They do especially well around Christmas and Valentine's Day."
"Why so different?"
"It pays an average of about $300K a year and motivates both me and my clients. I also provide stamped, pre addressed envelopes and couldn't care less if you send cash, checks, or a note with a credit card number and an amount written on it. The only payment I've ever been disapointed by was a plain wedding band and a tiny note with three words: 'Paid in Full.' Whatever happens, please don't do that to me."
"Thank you, Monday at 4:00?"
"I'll see you both then."
I fixed breakfast and tried to relax while I waited for Hope to call Saturday morning. I didn't have to wait long. The phone rang at 9:00.
"Do you still love me?"
"More than ever. Are you okay?"
"I don't think so." She sounded a little shaky.
"I'm not feeling my best either."
"How do you feel about Chris and I?" Now she sounded a lot shaky.
"Chris can use my body to love you any time you need him to. I'll change my name if it will help you."
She hesitated and I panicked. Then she started laughing hysterically. This time I didn't think about hanging up. It made my morning when she trusted me enough to just let her laughing die out slowly.
After she took her time composing herself, she said, "You're willing to change your name for me. And I'm willing to change my breasts for you." Then she had an attack of the giggles and I felt so good that it almost hurt.
Then she said, "Yesterday while you waited, I told Karen my five minute version if my hard things. The whole rest of the time we talked about you. She wanted to know how we met, if we'd slept together, all sorts of things. But what seemed to be the most important to her was how long it has been since your ex wife left and what your love life has been like since then. I told her you said you were pretty self-sufficient and that I thought that you've been single for at least ten years. She said that those were all good signs and the only real deal breaker she was worried about was whether or not you realized how emotionally crippled you are. Then she said if she had to guess, she would guess that you were worse off inside than I was. Don, is that possible?"
"Can you tell me about it?"
"I've never been really loved. You and Chris really loved each other. I've been in love, two times. No one has ever truly loved me. Not ever. Until you."
"I'm so sorry."
"This last ten days have been one realization after another. You're not just almost certainly my last chance to find real love, you're the only chance that I've ever had. I didn't even know that no one had ever really loved me. I'm just now starting to learn what real love is. You're teaching me." Now it was my turn to try to cry so quietly that she wouldn't hear me. I'd never felt so sorry for myself in my whole life. I hadn't even realized what I'd missed for every single pitiful day of my pathetic life.
"Don, sweatheart, sit down where there's room for me beside you. Lean down against me and lay your head on my shoulder. Thank you for shaving this morning, I'm reaching one arm around your back and cradling your head against me with my other arm. I'm just holding you and rocking you the tiniest bit. I love you Don. I need you terribly. If you'll let me, I'll love you until hell freezes over. Until the moment I die....." She went on and on. I don't know how long. It was until after I fell asleep.
When I woke up it was noon and my neck was so stiff that I couldn't turn my head to the left. I had a cup of coffee and a sandwich and called my only Hope for the second time in my life. I said, "Thank you for loving me."
She said, "Your welcome. Thank you for needing my love. Even with Chris, all I ever really knew was how much I needed his love. You're teaching me how good it feels to be needed. Really needed."
Thanks for reading.
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