Since Lauren just left the big accounting firm to go out on her own, I insisted on paying the bill. I handed my credit card to the server.
Lauren told me how at the end of her first therapy appointment she'd tried to pay the fee with her credit card but the therapist only accepted cheques.
"Don't worry", the therapist had told her. "You can bring a cheque along next time."
But Lauren was mortified and dropped the cheque off later that day instead.
"And from that point on", Lauren told me, she "always brought two; one for that session and one for the next", so that she would never be late again.
"What did your therapist say about that?"
"I dunno. Nothing? Why?"
"It's just your reaction... it's interesting..."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it's just that you were so upset about owing her the money. So much so that you pay for two sessions up front, even though the therapist seemed fine with it...I don't know, I just think that's interesting. Sometimes when our reactions are particularly strong, it tells us something about ourselves."
Partway through my point, I picked up a hint of irritation in her face. At first I ignored it. I guess I was tired of pandering to other people's shit. No one's jumping through hoops for me, but when her annoyance became too obvious to ignore, I paused, a little impatient.
"Hey, what's with the look? I'm just making conversation here", I said and then looked down at the bill, mentally calculating the tip.
"Yeah, your just being yourself; an idiot."
I stopped cold for a brief moment and then I looked up.
"You know what? You might want to work on THAT in therapy." I'd had enough.
"Oh my G-D", she said, "sweety, you know I was just joking, right?"
"No", I answered. "I don't think you were."
At first I resisted the temptation to make it easier for her. It was hard, but I was taking her out to dinner, listening to everything she had to say, like I always do, even when she's difficult and temperamental, which she almost always is. I wasn't doing it this time.
She apologized and I accepted, very simply, but I didn't sweep away the debris. It was the first tense interaction we'd had in our two decade friendship, thanks to me for always knowing who she needed me to be, but for that moment, I stood my ground. For that moment.
The atmosphere didn't bounce back easily. I guess that's what happens when I don't do my thing; the friction, the lack of coordination, the awkwardness. Unfortunately, in this way both parties paid, and so before too long I found myself filling her in on an idea I had; an 'invention' of sorts that I'd come up with that week in response to a bit of a 'situation'; a wardrobe malfunction, if you will. Somehow giving her material to laugh at, at my expense, made everything ok. And then I gave her my scarf because she was wearing a thin jacket and I could only leave her in the cold for so long. Part of me was disappointed I couldn't last a little longer, but at least I wasn't paying for two sessions up front.