“You’re gonna sit silently the whole time?” Miriam’s voice rises as she examines Livia’s face, five minutes into their first couples session.
Livia crosses her arms as she speaks for the first time. “Why are we here?”
Miriam shifts in her seat. “I had that dream I told you about, and —”
Livia interrupts. “We’re spending time and money on couples therapy because you’re superstitious?”
“Not superstitious! I’m worried,” Miriam retorts. “The accident happened 25 years ago. Why would I dream about it now?”
Livia leans back. Miriam looks past Livia’s head.
Wow, I think. This must be a tipping point of something between them. I decide to say nothing to see how they handle the silence.
“So if you’re worried,” Livia finally says with resignation, “tell Dr. Joy the dream already.”
Miriam looks down at her hands. “It’s a memory of a car accident that really happened. But I’ve never dreamed about it before.” She continues:
I’m about 5 years old, sitting on my Dad’s lap as he’s driving. Mom sits in the passenger seat. Rain pelts the car’s front window. I grow drowsy watching the windshield wipers click-clack back and forth, struggling to clear water off the window. Mom unbuckles her seat belt, lifts me off Dad’s lap, and helps me climb into the back seat to lie down. Next thing I remember, I’m thrown against the back of the front seat. The car jolts, screeches, and spins around and around on the slippery wet road. It finally stops in the grass off the road’s shoulder. The passenger door has flung open…and my Mom is gone. Dad jumps out of the car.
I remember the hammering sound of rain on the car roof. A strange lady sticks her soaking wet head in through the open driver’s door. “Would you like to stay in our car where it’s warm until your Daddy comes back?” I scooch as far away from her as I can, against the opposite car wall. Terrified, words stick in my throat. I can’t speak.
Silence. “Sounds terrible.” I pause, then ask, “In the real accident, was anyone hurt?”
“My Mom was thrown out of the car as it spun around—flung across the narrow median and into oncoming traffic on the other side of the road.” Miriam winces slightly. “I think she spent several days in the hospital. My Dad broke 3 or 4 ribs. I wasn’t hurt.”
I nod, sympathetically. “And what was going on the day you had the dream?”
They look at one another.
Livia motions for Miriam to speak. “Two weeks ago, just before I called to make this appointment, Liv and I are at my Dad’s house for the weekend. My Aunt Bessie and her 2 kids are visiting also. One by one they bombard us with questions. When and where will the wedding be? Who will we get to officiate an interfaith wedding? Who’s paying? My Dad starts to say who’d he’d like, and not like, on the guest list… “
Livia interrupts. “Over the top. Intrusive. But I don’t listen. You listen.”
“Of course I listen. They’re my family—”
“Look.” Livia sits up taller. “Let’s get it straight. We did fine at your Dad’s. We both told your family we’re working on the details. In fact, we started to fight only after you told me that dream the night we got home. You made it sound like a dire warning. I can’t live like that, always worried about the future. Living like your glass is half empty, but no proof that it is.”
Miriam looks down. She rubs each thigh with her hand as if her palms are sweaty. So I ask Livia, “As you look at Miriam, what is she feeling?”
“Upset probably.” Livia pauses. “She has that far-away look like when she’s anxious.”
Miriam looks up at Livia, and nods.
Livia continues. “Look, I’m sorry you are remembering that accident now. But I don’t want your family’s B.S. to influence you. Or us. Hearing you tell about the accident again, yeah, it sounds scary.” Pause. “You’re making too big a deal of this. We’re doing okay. And I don’t want to talk about the past.”
“The dream was just two weeks ago. So my worries are now—not in the past.” Miriam’s voice is low and quiet. “I know you don’t want to talk about feelings, but I do.”
I say, “Yes. Feelings can be scary. Perhaps that’s the point? It’s a dream about process as well as content. You are driving on a journey together. And you each have feelings about that journey. Sounds like that’s the work and why you’re here.”