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Bonzer Words!: The Session

Carla Sari tells a tale of tensions in the therapy group.

Carla writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please do visit www.bonzer.org.au

The car accident had left me with depression and recurrent nightmares. Soon after, I lost my job. My doctor recommended group therapy and my husband encouraged me to try.

The meeting place was a room with a few armchairs and lithographs of early Melbourne. A brunette with thick glasses followed me inside. “Hi, Pedro,” she said to a young man. The therapist introduced me to him and Magda and later to Ted and Rob. “Pam will be here shortly,” he said.

Rob started the session. His wife was expecting. He’d been promoted to marketing manager of his tobacco company and was both happy and worried.

“When I see a pregnant woman smoking I feel guilty,” he said. “Should I look for another job?”

He turned to the therapist, who replied with a phrase I was to hear repeatedly, “What do you think?”

I was busy trying to fit names to faces when Pam, a slim red-head, rushed in. She dropped her bundle of books, glanced at me and took control.

In the following weeks I gathered that Pam stopped at a library on her way home from work to read up on current affairs. Her memory was phenomenal. I had a problem recalling the morning news.

On the fifth night, Pam lashed out as soon as she arrived. “I'm disgusted with this group. Nothing ever happens. We’re not working!” Her face was flushed and her green eyes glowed.

I could hear Magda’s shuffling feet. Rob and Pedro were speechless. Ted squirmed in his seat and the therapist looked at the ceiling. He was clearing his throat when words flew out of my mouth. “Who do you think you are? Why force people to talk when they're not ready?”

“Trouble is you're never ready,” she snapped.

After that night, I made a point of discussing what had been bothering me during the week. Pam would interrupt mid-sentence and change the subject. I'd leave the group tired and angry.

“How did you go?” my husband asked, one evening.

“That bitch won’t let me get a word in. I’ve had a gutful.”

I now had a new nightmare. I was a pilot in a plane endlessly circling, unable to find a runway.

Two months later, cheered by the thought that I’d decided to leave, I psyched myself up for a showdown. I was going to give Pam a serve.

She arrived very late and, after taking her seat, looked around and asked, “Where’s Pedro?” She dropped her books. “I’m glad he’s not here. I’ve got a bone to pick with him. It’s his accent. I realise that his background . . . I don’t mean his culture . . . He’s not unintelligent . . . but I’ve always had this thing about language and speech.”

“You’d be correcting Conrad,” I interjected. “He spoke broken English all his life.”

“Conrad?”

“Conrad, the Polish writer. You’ve got one of his books.” I pointed to the pile at her feet.

“And you’ve got a chip on your shoulder.”

“Pedro’s English is as good as yours,” I said. “He speaks like his mates. Language is made of arbitrary sounds and symbols. No set is superior or inferior . . . ” I went on and on, stopping when I saw Ted and Rob exchanging amused glances.

“Yes, maybe it's something I should look at.” Pam’s face was white. “Why does it bother me so much? At school I did well in English. I used to write poems for the school magazine. A teacher encouraged me to put them into a booklet. I gave it to Mum for Mother’s Day. A month later I asked her what she’d done with it. She couldn’t remember.” Pam’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Lost, probably thrown away with the rubbish. I didn’t speak to her for weeks.”

Pam sat with clasped hands, then bent down to fiddle with her laces. As she straightened, her voice rose. “What are you thinking about?”

“I’m so sorry,” I stammered, unsure whether the question was directed at me.

“Time’s up,” the therapist cut in. “Next week is Cup Day. We’ll have a break.”

On the way out Pam was standing at the gate. She handed me Heart of Darkness “Have you read it? It's a great book. It’s due the day we come back.”

“No, I haven’t read it. Thanks. Do you still write poems?”

“Maybe one of these days, I’ll try again.”

“You look happy. Did you give Pam a blast?” my husband asked.

“No,” I replied, hugging the book. “She lent me this.”


© Carla Sari

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