Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
Can We Change?
— I’ve been avoiding Anne, Fiona admits to Luc. I’m afraid she’ll get me to fess up that I’ve known about the affair for months. Long before Georges told her. I feel so guilty for not telling her.
— Hey, I’m the one who’s Catholic! I thought we’d cornered the market on guilt!
— Apparently not.
Luc gives her a hug.
— You’re too sweet, Fee. There’s no reason to feel guilty. You did the right thing. We had no way of knowing Georges would lie to us too.
— He’s the weasel! And we’re all paying for it.
— If you tell Anne, you’ll just hurt her even more and she’ll be pissed at you.
— I know, I know, says Fiona. I’ll give her a call.
She invites Anne over for a bit of a wine and whine while their men are playing pool. Fiona prepares some rosemary cashews* as a special treat for them and opens her current favourite red, a Carmenere from Chili, Casillero del Diablo. Anne’s punctual, as always.
— Fee! It’s been so long. How are you?
They kiss each other on both cheeks.
— I’m great. Busy times, eh?
— Yes, says Anne, settling at the kitchen table. This counselling, on top of everything else….
— How’s that going? Oh, let me get you a glass of wine.
— Thanks. It’s going well. I guess. Twice a week though. It’s a bit intense. And now our counsellor — Dr. Travis — he wants Georges to do some solo therapy too.
— You always make something special. Thanks, Fee.
— Therapy for Georges? What does he say about that?
— Mmmm, these are delicious! Georges didn’t say much. He’s still in the doghouse, so he’ll do anything. He knows he’s got more than his share of emotional baggage. You know about his father, don’t you?
— Vaguely. He was violent or something, says Fiona.
— It was ugly. You know Georges’ youngest brother is mentally delayed. Well, Georges says it’s because his father beat his mom when she was pregnant. She was hospitalized twice for it.
— That’s terrible! And Georges? Were things bad for him?
— Not so bad when he was young, says Anne. I guess his mom got the worst of it. But his dad started picking on Georges when he got older — probably because he was trying to protect his mother.
— How awful!
— Yeah, but then Georges moved out and went to a CEGEP in Gatineau. We’ve talked about his family a lot. Especially in our first few years together. I think he’s dealt with it — in so far as that’s possible. I really don’t know how useful it’s going to be to unearth it all again.
— Isn’t that the basis of therapy, of recovery? asks Fiona.
— Yes, but I’m really starting to wonder if that’s the best way. In the first place, it’s all based on our interpretation of the past, of what happened. With all our distortions. I mean truth is nebulous enough in the present. In the past? Well, knowing the truth is impossible. So that means we base our therapy, our impetus to change, on a lot of half-truths.
— Yeah, “truth” is a relative thing, but if the patient — the person — believes it’s the truth, isn’t that what matters?
— Maybe. But a lot of time it’s not very constructive.
— I’m surprised to hear you saying that about therapy.
— It’s been a long time coming, Fee. I’ve referred a lot of patients to psychotherapy. Some make progress, but most don’t. I think the main thing is that most people just don’t have the capacity for psychotherapy, for the work and self-reflection it demands to get to the emotional truth. And even if they do have the capacity, a lot don’t have the time.
— It can be really time-consuming, acknowledges Fiona. But isn’t it helpful just to talk about things? To have someone listen to you?
— Maybe. For some people. I mean, I’m not belittling the fact that unspeakable things happen in people’s lives, and I’m not discounting their horror, but what’s the point in dredging up the minutia again and again? Is that the way to recovery — through feeling miserable? Or would it be better to deal with the symptoms, to make people’s day-to-day life better.
— Exactly. We are a sum of our past, good and bad, and we can’t ever go back and change that. Maybe all we can reasonably strive for is normalcy. To be functional in the now.
— Georges does have an unhappiness tucked away in him.
— Nicely put, Fee! And it definitely relates to his parents, his upbringing. But still, it’s part of who he is. His point of vulnerability. It’s the thing that makes him human, unique.
— I know what you mean, Anne. At a certain age, it’s probably best to deal with what’s at hand. At least for most people…. Like you say, those who haven’t got the capacity for reflection. And Georges?
— He hasn’t got it, says Anne.
— Travis is a sort of a hybrid therapist. He’s getting us to recap the past, just so he understands, but he’s primarily into the behavioural stuff. I just hope Georges doesn’t start wallowing around in self-pity when he’s talking about all this. I mean, I’m the one who deserves some sympathy. He cheated on me, after all.
— Oh, Anne. You know it’s not that simple. Given his background, he might need constant reassurance of love, or his worthiness to be loved.
— And I’m not enough?
Anne flashes a piercing look.
— Of course you are, Fiona says hurriedly, for a person without heavy baggage. But him?
— Are you making excuses for him?
— Not at all. I guess I’m thinking of Luc. Luc and I.
— What’s going on?
— We went to see Dr. F a few weeks ago and we finally had it out over Luc wanting control all the time.
— Oh, so you finally got down to that? You’ve been talking about it for years.
— Have I?
— His control, all that. So was it helpful?
— Yeah, for me. I mean, I know Luc’s from a big family, but I hadn’t really considered how that affected his need to be in control, him being bossed around all through his childhood.
— And him?
— Oh, he knew, but he hadn’t really given it enough thought either. So now it’s out there. Just acknowledging it seems to have helped us both. Especially sexually.
She grins, then notices Anne’s downcast eyes and frown. I’ve been insensitive, thinks Fiona. Just when things are obviously going so badly with Anne.
— I mean it’s a whole different thing for you guys, says Fiona. Georges has to be held accountable. I agree. I guess what I’m saying is maybe you should take his weaknesses into account. I mean he seems so strong, but we all have our vulnerabilities. Our Achilles heel.
— Travis agrees with you, more or less. He says the reasons behind affairs concern both partners.
— It’s so complicated. One thing he said that was practical though is that we need to make time for each other. I’ve been saying that to Georges for years, but now that Travis has said it, well, suddenly Georges is all interested.
She sounds so bitter, notes Fiona.
— We tried the Wednesday night date thing, says Anne. That lasted about a month.
— So did you pick a different night? asks Fiona.
— Thursday. And we’ve both agreed that nothing, short of a medical emergency, takes precedence.
— Well, that’s a good start, says Fiona.
— It’s all about taking baby steps, says Anne.
— And maybe the therapy will help him be a little more self-aware. To tell you what he needs, to express himself.
— I’m not holding my breath.
— Baby steps, echoes Fiona.
She reaches across the table and grasps Anne’s hand.
— And you need to take care of yourself, Anne. Let’s go to the spa next week. Mani, pedi, the whole nine yards. Lots of time for chatting. Diversion. What do you say?
— Sounds great!
1 pound roasted, unsalted cashews
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 350 °F.
- Spread cashews on a rimmed cookie sheet. Toast until warm (about 5 minutes)
In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Toss in the warm cashews. Mix. Serve warm. Store leftovers in fridge, and microwave briefly before serving.