By P. Berman & K. Hecht & A. Hosack
He wrote me! He hates to write! Has he finally forgiven me? Are my dreams coming true?
Claire was walking on a cloud of white, she saw Larry ahead of her with his arms opened. She walked into his arms and he wrapped his arms around her. Larry whispered in her ear but then…. the daydream ended. Claire looked down at her letter- still unopened. She wanted to believe, just for another few minutes, that Larry had changed, he wanted to marry her, they could raise Davy together and be a real family.
These daydreams had started in High school. The girls’ bathrooms were gossip central. Claire had often hidden in a stall and listened in while other girls- girls who had friends- talked about their boyfriends. The gossip always included talk about the future. These girls always seemed so sure they would have a safe home. They would get married. They would have children. Claire had never had this certainty.
Once Claire met Larry, her daydreams always involved their living together forever as husband and wife. Their marriage would not be like her parents- no lifelong blood bath. Sometimes, Claire would watch a romantic movie with Mrs. Carson. No matter how strange the situation the girl found herself in, whether it was real danger or sometime of silly nonsense, the beloved guy was able to fix everything. Then, he would marry the girl, take over responsibility for financially supporting her, giving her a safe home, and loving her and their children forever; her problems were solved for life.
Larry never promised me any of these things. He hated marriage- he had told me that often enough. But, he could have changed his mind.
It was so hard to open the letter. What was inside had to be a big deal because Larry wouldn’t just write- something must be up. Second, Mrs. Carson saw the letter first. Claire knew she was now going to have to come clean and tell the Carsons she had been sending Larry letters for months. What would they say? Would they be furious? Sad? Disappointed? Claire hated the idea that they might be disappointed with her.
Claire looked down at the letter again and sighed; maybe her turn to ”live the fantasy” was coming?
“Hey mom, what are you thinking about?” Claire woke up abruptly and saw her sweet, real boy standing in front of her. He was only half dressed for bed. “Davy, I am so proud of you. You have your shirt and pants off but…. your bedtime story doesn’t start until your pajamas are on! Your goofy one,” Claire said with a laugh. Davy loved being called a goofy one; his mom always gave him a few tickles whenever she used this name for him. Davy rushed back to his chest of drawers, took out his pajamas and put them on.
Claire took her letter from Larry- still in the envelope- and placed it on her dresser top. It was hard but she would wait to read it till after Davy was in bed a sleep. That way, whether the letter had good news or bad, it wouldn’t hurt her Davy. Davy had scooted into his bed. Claire picked up the book with the beautiful Monarch butterfly on the front that was laying on the nightstand and began to read. (10- minutes later) “Goodnight butterfly!” Claire said, as she finished reading his “new” favorite book for the third time. Davy was gently breathing, eye. Claire walked quietly out of the room.
Down in the living room, the Carsons were waiting. They often chatted or played a game together once Davy was a sleep. This time, Claire put her letter down on the table between them. The Carsons looked at her quietly. “I need to tell you something before I open this letter”, Claire looked at each one of them and sighed. “I have been writing letters to Larry since that day in court. I know what you think of him. I agree that he was dangerous to me and Davy. But he was also my one and only friend. I am sorry I hid it from you that I have been writing to him. This is his first letter to me.”
Claire could see a look of shock on both their faces. She sighed again and then opened the envelope and began to read it silently to herself. Suddenly, she jumped up and kissed Mr. And Mrs. Carson on the cheek. “You will never believe this! Larry is finally learning to love Davy! Look at what he says here!” Claire was pointing to the words Larry had written, “the kid looks great in the picture. You must be feeding him good. It’s good he can count to 20. That sounds high for such a small kid. You’re a good mom.”
Mrs. Carson felt even more anxious than when she first found the letter. Claire was being snowed over by that Larry again. All he had to say was a few easy words and Claire was ecstatic; maybe, she should have made herself throw his letter away. Mr. Carson was worried too. He said to Claire, “how would you know if Larry meant what he was saying or not?” (3-minute pause).
Mr. Carson doesn’t trust Larry. He doesn’t think the letter means Larry has changed. But he doesn’t know how hard it was for Larry to write; I do.
“I don’t know if he is telling the truth or not. I do know that he wanted to get in touch with me badly. I had to help him with all his writing assignments at school. It must have been hard for him to say all these things. (2-minute pause) But, nothing is spelled wrong so someone must have been helping him write it. (deep sigh) I guess I am taking a lot for granted here.” Tears slowly coursed down Claire’s face. “I just so want to have a family to bring Davy up in, like you gave your children.”
“We can understand that Claire. We aren’t trying to make you unhappy when we ask questions about Larry,” Mrs. Carson said gently. “We just want you to be cautious. We wanted our kids to be cautious too. We are afraid of Larry because of how he treated you before and the way he acted in court.”
Claire was so touched to think the Carsons might be treating her the same way they had treated their own children. “You worried about whether your own kids were picking the right partners?” Claire asked. The Carsons both nodded. (2-minute pause) “What you say makes sense. Larry did threaten me many times and he did hit me many times. I know that he can be dangerous to me and Davy if he doesn’t change. (I-minute pause) Is it wrong that I still hope Larry can change?”
“How could it be wrong to believe it’s possible?” Mr. Carson said, “What worries me is, Larry hasn’t been going to therapy to learn to be different. He has been in jail for assault. People usually come out of jail more dangerous than they went in. This is wrong, jail shouldn’t be like that. But, right now this is how it is. You and Davy are too important to have any of us trust Larry too soon.” Claire sighed, “Yes, I need to be cautious for Davy’s sake.”
Claire went in to the kitchen to start getting everyone a dish of ice cream; she had bought fudge ripple with raspberry this time. As they sat slowly eating their treat, Mrs. Carson said, “We will figure this out together Claire. We will be cautious but be open to the possibility that Larry is trying to change. We can hope that he is trying to become a better father to Davy and partner for you.”
If Larry had married a pregnant Claire, rather than her ending up in foster care, life would have been very different for all of them. The only way Larry and Claire had seen spouses treat each other was through emotional and physical abuse. Whatever they might have planned, they would have been likely to fall into the patterns their parents set because they didn’t know how to be any different. This negative learning isn’t set in stone. Besides learning from their own parents, Claire and Larry could have learned about healthy relationships at school, in religious training, through observing healthy marriages around them, through media and books and so forth.
Do you think Claire and Larry should marry some day?
There are treatments that have been found effective in working with highly troubled couples. One, is described in the edited book: O’Farrell TJ. A behavioral marital therapy couples group program for alcoholics and their wives. In: O’Farrell TJ, editor. Marital and family therapy in alcoholism treatment. NY: Guilford; 1993. pp. 170–209.
Another approach that focuses specifically on trauma is called Cognitive-Behavioral Conjoint Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress disorder. This approach has been found to reduce symptoms of PTSD and increase marital satisfaction in couples. This approach is described in Monson CM, Fredman SJ. Cognitive-Behavioral Conjoint Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Harnessing the Healing Power of Relationships. New York, NY: Guilford; 2012.