On their way to becoming good friends, Miriam and Esther exchanged phone call after phone call during the days and nights that followed, as if Esther had a bottomless pit filled with personal questions for Miriam to answer. 'What ifs' and 'whys' were asked and answered several times a day sometimes, and Miriam drank it all in. Esther's decision was at hand, and though they both knew the answer already, Miriam patiently waited for Esther's courage for a first-time Lesbian encounter to surface. The rain had stopped as quickly as it began, allowing Miriam to go back to her gardening while Esther remained busy working in her shop and in the loft apartment. Miriam didn't visit even though her curiosity was high because she wanted Esther to come to her on her own terms. On the other hand, Miriam made her bed fresh and took to sleeping on the sofa or in the guest room, setting the stage and waiting with hope for Esther's entrance. Miriam's body and soul ran high with anticipation, but for all intent and purpose, her life went on as usual. Her mood was level most of the time and she had an abundance of good energy that she channeled toward making her life better. She ran errands, visited with Maddy, took the cats on their long journey, and generally took care of herself. She slept well at night thanks to sensual midnight phone chats from Esther, who was obviously as horny as Miriam was, if not more. Miriam wrote sonnets and poetry non-stop, and had begun a grave robbing story, which thanks to Laverne, was practically writing itself. She'd called Sammye often, which was something out of the ordinary for her, and confessed and obsessed over the possibility of a new romance. Sammye wanted to meet Esther immediately but Miriam explained how things were, or rather, how things were not, yet she promised Sammye that she'd keep her posted of any late breaking developments. Miriam's life was good. She hadn't felt this fit and energized in a very long time, yet she tried to stay focused just in case there was an empty pot at the end of the rainbow where Esther was concerned. Miriam was attempting to prepare herself mentally and physically for whatever lay in store, good or bad. However, just for good measure, she always kept her fingers crossed.
She also prepared for her trip to Shreveport. The trips to her doctor were an all day affair, mostly consumed with drab mileage to and from. And unfortunately for Miriam, she had lots of free time during the dreaded drive that would take her into the past, a past which seemingly loomed just over her shoulder. She always remembered to tote munchies and music to alleviate the monotony, and the upcoming trip would undoubtedly be no exception, except, she thought, that thinking of Esther might outweigh the negatives. She'd readied her truck the night before and talked with Esther one last time before heading to bed early as she recalled, just as she passed the college on the way to the interstate. As the sun rose brilliantly over an open field, Miriam thought of Esther and how the folks of Cool Lake would just be rising to face their day. And Miriam's soul ached with imagination of what it would be like to wake up beside Esther just once, a feeling that caused her to shiver with anticipation. Try though she might, realities of the past crept slowly into her imaginings of Esther, and with loathing in her heart, she hated her feelings of helplessness to control what she did and did not think in her own mind. To her credit, however, she'd learned to keep the bad thoughts at bay for the most part, but if they came, they came. And they stayed until they went away. Miriam jokingly named them her 'uninvited house guests' for lack of a better name, yet in reality, she knew it was no laughing matter. And Miriam missed her old self and the vanished life she once knew, when she felt truly happy inside and sure-footed and strong on the outside. It was then when her life was set and she knew exactly where she'd be in ten, twenty, even thirty years. But she buried that person twelve years ago and she hadn't been the same since. Never would be. The old Miriam was gone forever.
She'd suffered quite a bit of memory loss from her time before the accident. Most of her childhood had vanished, and her adult life seemed like a reel of film that played in slow motion with continuous commercial interruptions. She and Sammye were together when it all began, but even with Sammye's helpful recollection of past events, the recollections were ultimately Sammye's memories and not her own. The thing that bothered Miriam the most, she thought, was that she'd asked for help at a time when the accident was fresh, and over what appeared to her as nothing but a simple matter. Wrong though she'd been at the time, eventually Miriam learned that it took something very simple to alter her life forever, sacrificing the happiness that she once knew. The accident still effected her life detrimentally even on the best of days. And on weary days she felt as if it were a stone anchored deeply within, prohibiting her to make her way through more than a moment at a time. Not to empower the situation, Miriam tried to keep her life on an even keel with routines and lists. She decidedly kept her mind and her hands busy with gardening when the weather permitted, and concentrated on writing or housework and the like when it did not. She came to Cool Lake to get her shit together, and finally, after almost ten years of clean living, she was at least comfortable enough to be alone with herself again. As she drove, Miriam reflected on the simple things that lead her to the door of a psychologist for the first time in her life, twelve long years ago and long before she became an old pro with the examination questions and psychological tests. And it was those same tests that were once a meager beginning toward an accident that scarred her life forever.
Remembering back, Miriam knew she'd done a good job with the insurance firm where she'd worked diligently for nine plus years and had escalated nicely up the corporate ladder. She'd received regular pay raises and bonuses, and always received recognition for extra projects and jobs well done. That was until a new hire came aboard, Shirley something-or-other-who- didn't-matter-anymore. It was then that her boss, Mr. Carroll, asked her to conduct a two-week training course, which Miriam gladly agreed to as she had many times before. From the start, Shirley something-or-other-who-didn't-matter-anymore asked Miriam tons of personal questions, and Miriam attempted each time to courteously answer her questions and redirect Shirley back to the job that lay before them. Sometimes this worked for a moment and sometimes it didn't. Shirley was turning out to be Miriam's toughest student yet, as she'd take any opportunity to quiz Miriam about her home life and church affiliations. On the third day, Miriam went to Mr. Carroll with the dilemma. He'd explained politely that Shirley had come to their office highly recommended, and then brushed off Miriam's concerns with reassurances that if anyone could train a difficult student, she would be the one.
Miriam tried time and again to train her without success in the coming week, and then with a restful weekend behind her, she approached the situation with renewed strength and determination to teach her pupil the ropes by the time she boarded the elevator the following Monday afternoon. But on that fateful Monday morning, her hopes faded quickly when the relentless questions began again. Miriam spoke with Shirley in another fruitless attempt to get her focused in the right direction, and then Miriam returned to Mr. Carroll with a request to be relieved of the training responsibility. Instead of Miriam's freedom to voice her concerns regarding Shirley, Mr. Carroll coldly handed over a formal complaint letter placed against her by the new hire, and in it, Miriam found herself accused of misappropriate behavior. The letter stated that Miriam had inappropriately inquired into Shirley's personal life and that she'd done so in such a way that suggested sexual harassment. Furthermore, Shirley complained that Miriam's constant talk regarding her sexual orientation had distracted Shirley so much so, that it had hindered her from learning her job duties. Wrong, Miriam screamed in her mind. Suddenly, Miriam became furious and stormed out to her desk where she found Shirley something-or- other-who-didn't-matter-anymore riffling through papers in her drawer. That had been the proverbial last straw, and the last thing Miriam remembered from that day before she drew back her fist and punched Shirley square in the nose. Miriam woke up days later in the mental health ward of a local hospital, heavily sedated and very disoriented. Miriam had snapped.
Miriam felt a cold chill crawl up her spine and reached into the bag on the seat beside her for something salty. "Pretzels will do," she spoke aloud, and then eyeballed her music collection. She wisely selected Texas' own Stevie Ray Vaughn and pushed his CD into the player to relieve some tension. Checking the clock, Miriam saw that she'd made good time along the interstate and set her cruise control on 68 mph just to be certain that she'd avoid a fine. She hummed and snacked in an attempt to erase the thoughts in her head, but she couldn't help but smile to herself about punching Ms. Right Wing Shirley something-or-other-who-didn't- matter-anymore in the chops. Thinking back to Mr. Carroll, who had visited Miriam in the hospital with a proposition in hand, he'd asked her to come back to work if and when she'd agree to take some time off work. Her salary would continue, he explained, until she could utilize her short- and long-term disability benefits, but only if she'd seek therapy by a company approved psychologist. He offered that she could return to work without penalty and the incident would be erased from her record after she was released from treatment. Miriam agreed, thinking only that she didn't want to lose her years of service or her retirement benefits with the company. Sammye balked at the deal and begged Miriam to file a suit against the corporation, but Miriam stubbornly chose the path of least resistance. That was to be just a beginning of the conflicts she'd have with Sammye. After Miriam was released from the hospital, things at home went from bad to worse in just a few short painful months, and ultimately the disagreements destroyed their years of commitment.
Like a soldier, Miriam followed
through with the agreement and went willingly to a psychiatrist for her
medications after she was diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder accompanied
by explosive-anger disorder mixed with high anxiety. Whatever blah-blah,
Miriam thought. All she wanted to do was save her job. As instructed, she'd
start regular visits with the company psychologist, Dr. Kellie Grase, to
work through any lingering issues of anger and depression, and the first
visit went well although Miriam didn't actually speak with Dr. Grase. That
day, Miriam took the first in a line of many standardized tests and was
appointment for the following week and she returned dutifully to the doctor's office as
instructed. It all began smoothly. They both wanted to get to know one another, so in the weeks that followed Miriam revealed her basic history while Dr. Grase explained the different types of therapy methods she would use. Ultimately, the doctor became well acquainted with Miriam's weaknesses during the course of the following weeks, and Miriam began to trust her counselor with intimacies that she'd shared with no one else, but just when they'd reached a level that Miriam felt comfortable with, the visits changed. Dr. Grase reassured Miriam that although the sessions were going well, they must move forward to more intense methods so that she could regain her employment as soon as possible. After suggesting "touch therapy," which should bring Miriam's anger issues under control and lead her closer to recovery, Miriam agreed. And with Miriam's naiveté and trust in her grasp, Dr. Grase took Miriam into uncharted waters.
Up to that point, Miriam's relationship with her doctor had been professional for the most part. Although she thought Dr. Grase dressed provocatively at times and had moved to a hug rather than a handshake upon their greeting, Miriam had utmost faith that her counselor was acting in her best interest. But after they'd started the new touch therapy, Miriam began to have doubts. When she expressed concern over her discomfort with her treatment, she'd been assured that everyone felt uncomfortable at first, yet with time those tensions would subside. Dr. Grase insisted that once the therapy started, she'd follow the sessions up with phone calls at home in order to maintain Miriam's constant comfort level. But when the phone calls started, Dr. Grase often disclosed confidences to Miriam both about her own public and professional life, and then eventually revealed her private affairs, rather than comforting her patient. Always shamed if she refused, Miriam felt compelled to accompany Dr. Grase to see other patients when she'd call at odd hours, always fearful to make house calls alone. Gradually, almost unnoticeably, the lines of their professional and private lives began to fade until Miriam's life became the property of someone else - lock, stock, and barrel.
Although their romantic relationship had ended, Dr. Grase selfishly encouraged Miriam to let go of Sammye altogether, finally convincing her that Sammye was the weight that held her back from full recovery. And she prompted Miriam to forget about going back to work because it was there that her issues surfaced in the beginning. After the lines were completely blurred, the doctor made an unannounced house call to Miriam's apartment one night shortly after she and Sammye had stopped speaking to one another. Dr. Grase came scantily clad, dressed only in a black leather trench coat and spiked heels, and once again portrayed herself as helpless and weak and in desperate need of someone to hold and comfort her. Lead to believe that she was the only one Dr. Grase could trust in such a way, Miriam saw her doctor as distressed and pitiful and in need of someone to love her. Although she knew deep inside that it was wrong, she and Miriam had sex that night and many nights thereafter, with Dr. Grase returning as a maiden in distress and Miriam obliged to portray the knight in shining armor.
Eventually, sexual beatings were exchanged between the two, still under the touch therapy veil that Miriam had become familiar with. Dr. Grase elevated herself to the high rank of the ultimate dominatrix, and Miriam was led, for therapy's sake, into a deep underworld that involved rape and fisting. Dr. Kellie Grase evolved into Madame Barbie Doll, commanding Miriam's every move and thought. Miriam waited each evening in Madame Barbie Doll's stall at a club called Laughter in the seedy section of downtown, and when the doctor arrived, the slave was commanded to receive and inflict pain on her Mistress in the form of burns and lashes. And each session ended with one or both of the women receiving ultimate punishment in the form of vaginal rape or sodomy, and sometimes both at the same time. Miriam's mind twisted. She became harsh speaking and haggard looking, unapproachable by her friends until eventually she was isolated. Miriam didn't realize until it was too late that she'd been abused and taken advantage of by someone who cared very little about professionalism or reputation, a heartless creature that lacked benevolence for those who might be in fragile mental states. But in a momentary flash of clarity, Miriam realized how deeply she was involved in a world that she felt was deviant and sick and inescapable. She stood, unrecognizable to herself, in front of a mirror, busy with the usual routine of rubbing ointment on lash marks and festering sores. Staring through the grayness that she'd come to know all too well, Miriam held her breath and summoned up all of her courage, and then slashed her wrist.
On the road to recovery, she joined a group of twenty-three individuals who were in the same pursuit of justice against Dr. Kellie Grase by way of a lawsuit against her personally, and later against the insurance company that Miriam had so loved for utilizing the doctor's services. With her license revoked, Dr. Grase lost her profession. The criminal justice system sentenced both she and her secretary, who was found guilty of double billing and extortion, to time in a correctional facility for women. The prosecuting attorney stated it well in his summation, and Miriam found comfort in his words. "That was no car wreck, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that was a runaway train carrying twenty-four injured and delicate patients. Not along the tracks to recovery as they assumed, but on a track leading them toward their demise." With a great deal of sadness, Miriam would never forget his last phrase when he'd turned slowly toward the defense table and lifted his arm. Standing motionless and silent for a time with one accusatory finger pointing at Dr. Grase, he eventually shouted out his final words. "And there sits the conductor of evil."
Miriam had been awarded a hefty sum of money, enough to sustain her for the rest of her life if she continued to make wise investments, but there was no real dollar figure to be placed on the damage that she'd received. However, she'd been given a second chance to start again with a better understanding of life. Although she'd tried for a time to live in the big city and resume her position in the corporate world, it just wasn't inside her anymore to do so. She needed the simplicity of Cool Lake, and her Higher Power made sure she got there. She crawled literally from a dungeon of darkness, and with Sammye's help and the mercy of time, Miriam was able to regain her lost dignity. She'd spent weeks in a behavioral health center both before and after the trial, and she'd made great strides in putting the past behind her. Without fail, Miriam made the visits to Shreveport regularly to discuss the effectiveness of her medications with the psychiatrist, to receive a physical exam from an MD, and to attend an extensive therapy session with a gentle old psychologist that always offered stale cookies and pushed her to do her best.
As Miriam pulled into the parking lot and crossed to the building she felt as tired and weak as she usually did after the drive. Her trips managed to salt her old wounds just enough, perhaps, that she remained humbled by the tragedy yet renewed by hope. Inside the clinic, she signed in and found a resting-place, remaining deep in thought and reminding herself to mention the recent blackout to her doctor. And she wanted to talk with her psychologist, too, about the possibilities of a romance with Esther who was the most positive force in her life just then. She waited stationary and silent until the nurse stepped through the door, "Miriam Belle Sherry."
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