It was a few days before Christmas, and it was well past 7 p.m. Hilly was late to couples therapy.
DR. SELMAN: All right. I have to be out of here by 8:30. So how are you?
GEORGE: You had a party?
HILLY: Some thing … yeah.
GEORGE: You look really nice.
HILLY: Why don’t you just go ahead and talk first?
GEORGE: O.K.! I think I’ve been behaving better, showing more discipline. Last night I didn’t go out. I got a phone call: “Hey, what are you doing, I’m down at the Hog Pit!” So I put on music to get me revved up. In the past, I’d just go out, even if it was 3 a.m. But I stayed in. Had a little pinot noir and whiskey. I decided that’s the whole thing—as long as I don’t put myself in the position where things can escalate, then I’m O.K. We’re going to D.C. this weekend. Are you excited about that?
HILLY: Yeah! We’re going to see the panda.
Dr. SELMAN [to HILLY]: Did you have anything in particular you wanted to talk about?
HILLY: I thought I said to George, “Why don’t you talk?” so I can decompress.
HILLY [frustrated]: I can’t come to these sessions at 7 o’clock at night ever again. I either have to take 40—not 20—milligrams of Prozac and come to sessions at 7, or not come. One or the other. Because I cannot deal with the traffic getting here.
GEORGE: What just happened?
HILLY: I sort of screwed up my schedule. Three people were supposed to meet me at the party, but then, of course, they screwed me over and they weren’t there. And then, of course, the freaking car service screwed me over too, and then 15 people stole taxis from me.
GEORGE: Well, you made it.
HILLY: I hate them all.
GEORGE: You’re feeling some depression? I got that today, but I really think I did a good job keeping it under control. I went to the doctor and had a cyst removed from my back. In the doctor’s office, there was this young lady on her cell phone just talking away ….
HILLY: On a headset?
GEORGE: No, but there were about six of us sitting there.
HILLY: No way.
GEORGE: She was saying, “Oh. My. God. She bit you?” This lasted for 10 minutes. And I started to get …. Something happens inside of me. So after a while I go, “Is there any way you can have your conversation out in the hallway?” And she goes, “No, I can’t.” And I go—’cause I’ve done this before—I said, “Well, that’s what I would do if I got a call on my cell phone, and what you’re doing is incredibly rude.” So she said, “Are you gonna keep talking like a babbling fool?” Which made me laugh. Because she clearly was the babbling fool. She got back on the phone and said, “Apparently I’m talking too loud.” I couldn’t think of anything, so I said, “Apparently I’m the one who’s being completely ridiculous”—you know, as opposed to the girl on her cell phone in the doctor’s office. So before she got off she asked me, “Oh, do you want to say goodbye?” And I didn’t have a good snappy comeback, but I know how you feel. Did you do anything—lash out?
HILLY: I screamed a couple times. Do you see the broken blood vessels all around my face? ’Cause I puked all day yesterday. Viciously ill. Actually, I still feel a little nauseous.
DR. SELMAN: Were you aware that she was ill?
GEORGE: She told me today, but ….
HILLY: I puked at my desk into the garbage can. Three times.
DR. SELMAN: Morning sickness?
GEORGE: ’Cause Aunt Flow came recently. Right?
[DR. SELMAN and GEORGE look at HILLY.]
HILLY: What? I can’t sit here.
GEORGE: What’s wrong?
HILLY: I can’t take it. I don’t like all this pressure right now. I just came from work.
GEORGE: There have been two fights—not between us. There was one between her and Dave Attell. Should I tell that story?
GEORGE: It was very late, and this comedian, Dave Attell—he’s an insult comic; ever heard of him?—he walked into this bar, Bellevue, and he was talking to my friend Chris, so I went up, and instantly he started making fun of me. But I knew that this was what he does, so I was actually enjoying it. He was comparing me to Alan Alda—but I took that as a compliment, ’cause I’ve always liked him. But I think he was comparing me unfavorably to Alan Alda. So I was kind of absorbing this onslaught, and I think at some point I tried to insult him back. Hilly saw all this but didn’t know exactly what was going on. So she sort of lunged for him—
HILLY: I’m just sick of people being so rude to you at those places. Your friend who starts hitting you late at night—it’s just sleazy. No, it’s not sleazy; it’s just stupid, drunken behavior.
GEORGE: So she came to my defense, and then he lunged at her. It was like this crazy moment. They didn’t come to blows; it got broken up by the owner.
DR. SELMAN: How did you know what was going on?
HILLY: He was just shouting rude things at George.
GEORGE: I thought it was really sweet of you, but I was sort of enjoying myself.
HILLY: O.K., another night I walk into this bar where George was. He was supposed to call me like three hours earlier, but he didn’t, but I had something else to do. But then I came home and I happened to call him, and he told me to meet him. So I walk into this bar, and I find George in the bathroom with two drunk blondes.
GEORGE: What, in the bathroom?
HILLY: What are you talking about? You were in the bathroom with them!
DR. SELMAN: You just happened to walk into the bathroom?
GEORGE: These were friends of mine—and then later they were sitting next to me, got up to leave and kissed me on the cheek goodbye. And what did you do?
HILLY: Something rude, probably.
DR. SELMAN: This may sound like a dumb question, but what was going on in the bathroom?
GEORGE: Just chatting. Being social.
DR. SELMAN: Being social?
GEORGE: It’s a very small place, and that’s kind of the V.I.P. room.
DR. SELMAN [to HILLY]: You’re laughing hysterically. What are you finding amusing?
HILLY: It was just gross. Why hang out in the bathroom? It’s dirty.
GEORGE: O.K., so anyway ….
DR. SELMAN: But what comes to mind, if you want to answer that question?
GEORGE: They were just friends of mine. You made up with them, but when they said goodbye, you lashed out, called them “the Olsen twins” or something. This has happened before.
DR. SELMAN: You mean she has caught you in the bathroom with—
GEORGE: No, just being friendly with women who are friends, and she’s lashed out at them. So. It’s a communication thing. No reason to be jealous.
DR. SELMAN: Who said anything about jealousy? Is it true that you were jealous?
HILLY: Probably. I mean, he hadn’t called me and basically blew me off the whole night. And why? ’Cause he was hanging out with two, you know, midget floozies.
GEORGE: It was a guys’ night out; I was invited to this restaurant, where I was interviewing people. And I sort of explained this, and I think I had seen you the night before—
DR. SELMAN: And you had called Hilly to come down to meet you at this place?
GEORGE: I think that this was kind of a … free night … where I was going to be out interviewing. I was working on a story. You called me, said you wanted to go out, I said sure.
DR. SELMAN: Hilly, do you have any feelings about all this?
HILLY: Just that—
DR. SELMAN: There seems to be a lot of free-floating anger here, you know?
HILLY: I’m kind of over that whole thing, hanging out—I like going out; it’s fun when you actually can accomplish something, have conversations with someone. But you know, enough of bars in the wee hours of the morning when people are too drunk to even know what they’re talking about—what a waste of life.
GEORGE: I completely agree.
HILLY: And then it’s that much more incredibly insulting to me, when I think that you would prefer to do that than spend time with me.
GEORGE: We’ll have a nice time this weekend.
HILLY: But then I have to go away, and I won’t see you for a long time. In January, I have to be gone for a month.
GEORGE: A month? Come on. No way.
HILLY: I have to go to Washington, D.C., then Switzerland for 10 days for this training-session thing. Then I have to go to Rome for five days. Then I’ll come back for a while and then back to Italy. So you can hang out with your friends.
DR. SELMAN: Bring on the floozies!
GEORGE: Wait. Where is this coming from? This is not fair at all.
HILLY: Actually, I don’t mean it like that at all.
GEORGE: It’s not fair. I have changed in the past few months—in the past year.
HILLY: I know.
GEORGE: I like to stay at home and listen to evening music on NPR and have a drink or two and read. I don’t understand this. I’m not this guy anymore. That’s what I’m trying to say. All right?
DR. SELMAN: What guy?
GEORGE: The guy who was out all the time and, you know, the jackass and “Whoo, we’re having so much fun!” Going out at 3 in the morning. I’m not like that anymore. I mean, I kind of miss it. All I want to do is listen to classic swing and jazz, watch old movies—I don’t want anything after 1990.
DR. SELMAN: Well, when did that other guy leave?
GEORGE: It’s been gradual.
DR. SELMAN: But you’ve just described what sounded to me like a crazy, drunken brawl.
DR. SELMAN: And this was in the past six weeks.
GEORGE: Those evenings are the exceptions. That’s gonna happen once or twice a month, but I’m weaning it down.
DR. SELMAN: You’re a changed man?
GEORGE: You’re asking that—it sounds like you have some skepticism. I think something’s happened. I think this has helped. It doesn’t help when I pick up on that skepticism. It makes me think that your mind’s made up and there’s nothing I can do.
DR. SELMAN: What do you think, Hilly?
HILLY: Well, I think a lot of time you’re trying to stick up for me and give me that extra boost of confidence, so I stand up for myself. Maybe you think I’m not saying everything that I’m thinking or feeling, so maybe you’ll give me that extra boost of confidence. Like saying, “Bring on the floozies!” and I’ll say “Yeah!”
DR. SELMAN: Well, do you think I’m doing that now?
HILLY: A little bit.
DR. SELMAN: So, in other words, what I’m saying to you is what Hilly kind of thinks. Is that correct?
HILLY: No, I think you’re projecting what you think I think.
DR. SELMAN: Well, that’s why I’m trying to clarify this.
GEORGE: O.K.! I always get this feeling we’re forgetting about all the positive stuff. When I bring up these nights, the negative stuff, that’s the exception, not the rule. Do you acknowledge that, or do you think—
DR. SELMAN: I’m not the one bringing up the topics here. So the fact that I’m sitting here, and this is what you present me, makes me think, “Gee, all they talk about is stuff going on in bars.” Drinking. Drunken brawls. Anger.
HILLY: Yes, that’s what other people think, too. My mom told me today that I sound like Joan Kennedy.
GEORGE: We’re here to talk about problems, the stuff we need to work on. Should we try to talk about the positive stuff, the good times? O.K., you want to start?
HILLY: O.K. Well, it’s hard—
GEORGE: We had a nice Thanksgiving, right?
HILLY: We had a great Thanksgiving.
GEORGE: Took you to Daniel.
HILLY: Yes, it was lots of fun with your mom’s friends.
DR. SELMAN: What does that mean?
HILLY: I can’t wait till this weekend. Going to be so much fun.
GEORGE: Hilly, can you just tell Dr. Selman that most evenings we stay in together, give him some idea that this is not an alcoholic train wreck?
GEORGE: So I just think when we come here, we’re here to focus on stuff that needs improving. I got other things I’d like to bring up. I haven’t had TV in a year and a half. How do you feel about that?
HILLY: I think it’s kind of great. Because we don’t waste time watching silly stuff.
DR. SELMAN: Wasn’t there some show you watched together?
HILLY: Oh, 24. Oooh, that’s out—the fourth series.
GEORGE: Yeah, we rent TV shows. I don’t have TV ’cause I’ll just watch 10 hours straight of it, and I hate commercials.
HILLY: He gets so mad. He comes over to my house and watches TV for like 10 minutes and he gets so mad.
GEORGE: Could you live without TV?
HILLY: I could, but I mean ….
DR. SELMAN: I’m not clear what this has to do with your relationship.
GEORGE: ’Cause this is something we do together. Well, after Thanksgiving, after this nice $450 dinner ….
HILLY: Wait, please, please, please don’t discuss that now. Maybe next time. Please.
DR. SELMAN: So it sounds like there are these topics that are too hot to handle, so we go to these extraneous issues.
GEORGE: I’m just saying what I’ve been fixated on lately.
DR. SELMAN: But this is couples therapy.
GEORGE: Right, O.K. Well, politics is sort of a big deal.
DR. SELMAN [to HILLY]: Do you see where this is relevant to your relationship?
HILLY: I mean, maybe a little bit.
DR. SELMAN: A little bit. How little?
HILLY: It’s nothing I’ve really thought about for a while.
GEORGE: What do we normally talk about?
HILLY: Fluffy animals.
GEORGE: We definitely go into fantasyland.
HILLY: Ponies and pandas. Now the fox cat.
GEORGE: We talk like 6-year-olds, right?
DR. SELMAN: Well, that seems to be the good part of your relationship.
GEORGE: The only good part?
DR. SELMAN: Well, you seem to have more fun doing that than anything else.
HILLY: Well, it’s because a lot of the stuff I like to think about, George doesn’t like to think about. Christmas. Christmas trees. Last year I bought him this really great tree, tree stand and all these ornaments. And then I took the tree down and I packed away all the ornaments and now I can’t find them, and I asked him where they were and he won’t tell me.
GEORGE: I think I threw it away.
GEORGE: What, are you supposed to keep the tree all year?
HILLY: The ornaments, silly, and the stand.
GEORGE: Those are somewhere around. Hilly didn’t like the movie Lost in America.
HILLY: Parts of it were funny, but ….
GEORGE: You didn’t think it was funny after Julie Hagerty blew their nest egg in Vegas, and she was saying if you drop out of society you have to go with nothing, like in Easy Rider ….
HILLY: Yeah, that was funny.
GEORGE: And Albert Brooks goes, “They had a nest egg in Easy Rider, they sold cocaine!” I’d kind of like to do that—I had this idea that maybe next summer I’d go on the road, to Kansas City, then down to Texas, then up to Colorado, San Francisco, keep going ….
DR. SELMAN: Again, why are we talking about this?
GEORGE: I don’t know—maybe that’s something we could do. Road trip. To Alaska!
DR. SELMAN: What do you think, Hilly?
HILLY: I love road trips. But realistically, I don’t think I can go for six weeks. Maybe part of the road trip, and then I could fly back. I don’t know.
DR. SELMAN: Sure you want to continue this?
HILLY: Continue what?
DR. SELMAN: Couples therapy.
HILLY: Yes, but it’s gonna be a while—
GEORGE: You would prefer not to have to be here right now, right?
HILLY: No, but this time slot ….
DR. SELMAN: We could make a later time.
HILLY: That would be much better.
DR. SELMAN [to GEORGE]: You had that same thought, then?
GEORGE: Earlier, when I talked to her when she was on her way over, it sounded like she didn’t want to come at all.
HILLY: No, it was that I cannot cope with those animals.
HILLY: Animals! Those people, they don’t know how to pass each other on the sidewalk without being rude. Those horrible monsters at the car service who can’t even speak on the phone like a normal human being …. It’s awful.
HILLY: But don’t you think it would be good for us to get out and enjoy the holiday spirit this season? We could decorate the tree tonight ….
GEORGE: You want to get a tree? I’ll do that. Sure.
[To be continued.]
George and Hilly published 12/26/05
George and Hilly published 11/14/05
George and Hilly published 11/07/05
George and Hilly published 10/24/05
George and Hilly published 10/17/05
George and Hilly published 10/10/05
George and Hilly published 10/03/05
George ’n’ Hilly, Back in Couples, Turn on the Doc published 09/26/05
But Should We Get Married? Part III published 08/29/05
But Should We Get Married? published 08/15/05
Should I Get Married? My Hilly Joining Me In Couples Session published 08/08/05
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