I held out as long as I could, I really did.
For weeks, I found excuses for giggling during therapy - knock-knock jokes, lines from sitcoms, bumper stickers. I tried as hard as I could to keep from mentioning how much mental energy I have expended of late thinking about my therapist's cat.
Yesterday, I failed.
I blame my mother.
John's birthday was the 24th, and my mother mentioned something about having a birthday party with the cat, and I mentioned something about giving the cat a party hat, and it went downhill from there. Yesterday, about two-thirds of the way through my hour, I pictured Mr. Whiskers in a party hat, and I lost it. It started with a choked-out laugh, scarcely suppressed.
John raised an eyebrow, clearly wondering what I found so amusing about having boundary issues. I tried to cover my laugh with a cough, but that only made things worse. I found myself wondering if John would say "Bless you" to his cat if the animal sneezed (do cats sneeze?), and I laughed again. Unbidden, the image of John and his cat in matching Christmas sweaters came to mind, and I found myself shaking like a hotel bed with Magic Fingers.
I laughed out loud, more of a bark than anything else, and the dreaded giggle loop came crashing down around me.
I bloody lost it.
John stared for a moment, clearly worried about my sanity. Then, perhaps realizing that as my therapist, he should have a better grasp on my sanity than to simply wonder, he asked me what I found so amusing.
Excuses flooded my mind, each less plausible than the last - I just got a joke I heard yesterday. I figured out the best way to exact revenge on my ex-boyfriend. I'm having a seizure.
Perhaps if I hadn't been trying so hard to come up with an excuse, I could have actually come up with one. But in this sudden surge of brain activity, I lost control over my tongue, and out came the words, "You have a cat!"
Understandably, John didn't see what was so funny about the fact that he owns a cat. I can't blame him. I laughed the laugh of the damned for another minute, and then the tale of Mr. Whiskers came tumbling out of my mouth. The cat's name. The leash. The screensaver. The matching Christmas sweaters.
John seemed particularly offended at that last bit. "Oh, gosh, no!" he exclaimed, and I could see him racking his brain, trying to figure out what he may have ever said to me to make me think that he was the sort of man to put a sweater on a cat.
I gave him the first excuse I could think of. I blamed my mother.
"She's a sick woman," I blurted out. "She needs medication!"
He raised an eyebrow, which gave him a rather unintelligent look owing to the fact that his mouth was still open, as it had been since I brought up the topic of cat sweaters.
"I don't know what's wrong with her," I continued. "It's got to be her ADD!"
John managed to compose himself at last. "Does she do that sort of thing often?" he asked. "Just take a topic and go off on it?"
I thought about that for a moment. "Yes," I lied.
I'm not sure if he believed me or not. He didn't seem to, but I could tell that he wanted to, that he would rather believe me than accept the fact that after working with me for four years, I am still mentally disturbed enough to spend the better part of two months imagining his life with his cat.
After the tale (no pun intended) came out, there was a moment or two of awkward silence, during which, I believe, John and I made a tacit agreement never to speak of Mr. Whiskers again. Then he asked me how long I'd been seeing him, and I cheerfully told him it's been four years.
I think a little bit of him died when I said that. I could see a bit of light leave his eyes. I smiled more widely. It is slightly perverse, I'll admit, but the truth is that, as much progress as I have made since 2005, I didn't feel I'd accomplished very much until just then, when I realized that, whether he liked it or not, John would never be able to forget me for the rest of his life.
And if I'm not mistaken, he's learned an important lesson about sharing bits of his personal life during an hour that someone else is paying for. And that, my friends, is progress.