Skip to main content



The Last Original Wife

Leslie and Wesley’s Present Situation

AtlAntA, September 2012
Welcome to Saint Magnolia’s Wounded Theater. At least that’s what I called it. Within these slick walls reside Atlanta’s pish-posh team of premier psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and relationship counsel­ors who specialize in the broken hearts/crushed egos of the privi­leged and renowned. Their lavish confessionals, perched high above the city, are, well, breathtaking. I was here because my husband, Wesley, insisted this was the only place he’d even consider receiving, as he was loath to say, therapy. And as it was on my first visit, the vast waiting area was packed.

Just for the record? Wesley needed therapy. I. Absolutely. Did. not.

The circular reception area held a large round workstation of bird’s-eye maple. The countertops of deep brown granite were chis­eled and polished. Behind them stood two young women who ap­peared to have fallen from the pages of Vogue magazine. Above them hung a chandelier worthy of an opera house that I imagined sailed right to America directly from the lips of the finest glassblowers of Murano. Every square foot of their offices was as beautiful as a ses­sion was insanely expensive, leaving me to wonder where exactly was this much heralded recession?

“I’m here to see Dr. Katz,” I said.

“And you’re Mrs. . . . ?”


“Thank you.” She pecked around on what looked like a keyboard from the Starship enterprise and smiled when she found my name among those on his appointment calendar. I was officially entered into the captain’s log.

“Please make yourself comfortable in the waiting area. There’s bottled water . . .”


My heels clicked across the beige marble flooring that was shot with veins of black and gold. When the veins of gold caught a stream of afternoon light, they sparkled like the proverbial streets of para­dise. Perhaps some people thought all this grandeur was a comfort; you know, they must be good at what they do if they can afford all this? Not me. The whole drama was a grand demonstration of con­spicuous consumption and their complete disregard for carbon foot­print. I shuddered.

I took a small bottle of cold water from the refreshment station and sank into one of only two unoccupied overstuffed velvet club chairs, unscrewed the cap, and took a long drink. Okay, I’d admit this much, as off-putting as the swank trappings were to me? Well, the chairs were like a beautiful womb, upholstered in swirls of deep purple and olive on a field of smooth ecru velvet. I could’ve slept in them. No, I could’ve lived in them. If I thought no one would have noticed, I might have pushed one through the door, down the hall, into the elevator, and somehow with God’s grace, I would’ve smooshed it into the back of my car. Just the thought of it gave me a little thrill, and this was a time in my life when thrills were not happening for me in Atlanta.

In between the chairs were small tables that held magazines on mental health, extreme adventure travel, vegan living, and every kind of yoga. You could tell a lot about the soul of an organization by the reading material in its waiting area. For my money, these par­ticular choices leaned a little to the side of wacko, but, I reminded myself, my son was a granola-boy who had been living in an ashram in Nepal for the last three years while he contemplated the uni­verse instead of completing his MBA. It wasn’t like Bertie aspired to climb Everest and then come home and become an adult, not that climbing Everest is a childish thing to do. I’m suggesting that’s a lofty goal. No, this was something different. He was completely under the spell of all things Hindu, Himalayan, and Tibetan. His current passion was to photograph the people as they went about their lives in the spectacular landscape near the Roof of the World. He was transfixed by the exotic temples and stupas, the smells of burning yak butter candles, and Buddhist monks seated in long lines on low cushions, chanting in guttural tones. He was completely taken by the regular people, their devotion to their faith, and their pilgrimages to Lake Manasarovar. His plan was to sell his pictures to a magazine like national Geographic or maybe put together a doc­umentary for PBS with Bill Moyers. I have to confess that while his photographs were out of this world stunningly beautiful, neither of these goals had yet to come anywhere close to fruition. So my beautiful son, Bertie, was still woven into the umbilical cord of his father’s wallet.

I have never been able to mail Bertie an additional check for even fifty dollars because my husband had some very deep-rooted and completely exhausting control issues. Therefore, I had lived on a very, very strict budget and never had an extra fifty dollars. All spending had to be justified in the accounting department of Wesley Carter’s stingy brain.

This unpleasant detail was one more item on my list entitled Why Am I Living Like This? Here’s how it went: Bertie called Wes and they made small talk. Eventually Bertie would politely and humbly ask him for some money to hold him over until this deal or that deal came through. Wes pitched a fit about it and then took it out on me for a month or so until Bertie called again. Life as Wes’s emotional dumping ground had long ago become tiresome and ridiculous. And odd as this may seem, part of me envied and also admired Bertie’s courage to be a nonconforming, unmaterialistic seeker. The only thing he ever spent any real money on was camera equipment. At least he had a passion. Thank God he wasn’t selling drugs to make ends meet. Or getting mixed up in human trafficking, which I knew went on in Asia because I had read about it somewhere. But maybe that was Thailand? I can’t remember. And wasn’t Thailand part of Asia? God, my brain is a piece of Swiss cheese. The important thing is that (a) he had a passion and (b) things could’ve been worse. And then there was my daughter, Charlotte, who is licensed to sell real estate but somehow rarely closes a deal. We’ll get to her.

I sighed hard and looked around. I imagined that this was how ultrahip offices in Los Angeles or New York looked. The large trees and fish tanks with exotic specimens made the space seem less clini­cal. It was obvious that a team of experts had given this whole envi­ronment much thought. The broad strokes of the interior decoration and even the low and warm lighting were designed to soothe the rankled nerves of those who came and went. Equate opulence with consolation, and one step inside these massive vaulted doors should make the most egregious elitists feel better even if the therapy didn’t solve their problems. My cynical gut told me that any place that was home to a dozen or so counselors who were this busy had to be an outpatient crazy house in disguise.

This was my second session with Dr. Harrison katz, the celeb­rity psychiatrist slash relationship consultant. He appeared on all the morning network and cable talk shows to offer his opinion whenever a celebrity couple or a politician got caught cheating or was consider­ing divorce, which would mean about every five minutes. I still had a little time to wait so I looked around to see who was there.

Seated right next to me, just my luck, was a painfully odd-looking woman with baby bangs and white cat-eye eyeglasses who might well have been there to cure Nosy Nellie disease. She kept leaning over, looking at my handbag, my shoes, sniffing so loudly that I wondered if I should offer her a recommendation for a good ENT doctor. It was becoming clear that she was determined to talk to me. She leaned forward and back about four times until finally, she cleared her throat and spoke.

“So I told my therapist that I needed to make some friends. That’s why I’m here. To learn how to make friends. He said I need to be more present in the moment and to read people more deeply when I try to engage them in conversation. Do you have any idea what he meant by that?”

“No,” I said, deliberately lowering the volume of my voice hoping that she would too. “I’m sorry, I don’t.” I noticed a small tattoo of a frog on her ankle. The frog’s lips were pursed.

“Well, I think it sounds like a lot of New Age blah blah, you know? I mean, how could I be more present in the moment? I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Yes,” I said quietly, focused on my magazine, trying hard not to make eye contact.

“If I were to read you right now, I’d say you don’t want to engage in conversation. Is that right?”

Oh, brother, I thought, this dame’s way off her meds.

“I’m just trying to gather my thoughts,” I said. “I’m sorry.” I got up to look at the magazines on another table and to send her a cue.

Then she called out to me, “So it’s probably none of my business, but why are you here?”

Really? I should answer this? I walked back to her and leaned down.

“Um, can you keep a secret?”


“I’m thinking of taking a chain saw to my husband while he’s sleeping? And you know, I just wanted to see what my counselor thought. Before I actually did anything. You know . . .”

“You’re right. It’s none of my business,” she said, embarrassed. “But you’re kidding, right?”

“Of course I’m kidding.” I smiled to be polite and said, “Look, it’s okay. I’m just trying to organize my brain before I go in there.”

“Oh, sure. But my therapist says if you want to make friends, encourage others to talk about themselves.”

“That’s good advice. Usually.”

I smiled at her and thought, Wow, this poor busybody only heard half the message; she missed the part about the right place and time. Maybe her bigger problem was situational awareness. And that frog. And the sniffing every other minute as though she was pulling back the high tide of the Atlantic Ocean. Jeez.

I moved to the other side of the office, picked up a yoga mag­azine, flipped through it, thinking about my idiotic life. What did Wes expect me to get out of therapy anyway? Unless there was a brain surgeon in one of the offices poised to give Wes a lobotomy, nothing was going to change.

Suddenly, Dr. katz’s door flew open, and a stylish woman of indeterminable age bolted out of his office, wailing. She stopped at the reception desk, announcing that she needed to make another ap­pointment for an immediate emergency private session. Meanwhile, I stood there evaluating her neck and eyebrows and lack of jowls, wondering who her plastic surgeon is because she looks amazing. Not that I’m a devotee of cosmetic surgery, but like every woman over thirty, okay fifty, I think about it from time to time. Okay, a lot. I think about it a lot these days. Then I thought, She’s got to be sixty but her face is forty, and somehow it’s not stretched tight like a snare drum. She was as skinny as a hanger, which would explain why the dress she was wearing looked so fabulous on her. I recognized it from some ad I had recently seen. Maybe it was Chanel. No matter. Still, she must’ve spent three thousand dollars on that bit of silk whimsy and lace and at least another thousand on the shoes.

My inner voice piped up to tell me that all the money in the world can’t buy happiness, and I told my inner voice she was an idiot. Money might not buy happiness, but not having any was just about guaranteed to make you miserable, unless you had the soul of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, which I did not. I was conflicted about some issues and certain of others.

I heard the brunette receptionist with the goddess ponytail say to her, “I’m very sorry, Mrs. Del Mastro, right now there are no extra sessions available for three weeks.”

Well, Mrs. Del Mastro with the amazing face-lift, apparently used to getting her way, was having no part of no and proceeded to show the receptionist some tooth.

“Wait a minute! How can this be? I’ve been coming here for years! I’m in the middle of the biggest disaster of my life . . .” She began to weep uncontrollably. She reached over the counter, violating sacred space, and grabbed a box of tissues. “Please! Find something for me!”

“Maybe we’ll have a cancellation . . . I can call you if—”

“Cancellation? My life’s hanging by a thread and I have to wait for a cancellation?”

Then she turned to face me. “Are you seeing Dr. katz?”

“Who, me?”

“Yes, you! I’ll buy your session from you! I’ll pay you double!”

I was so shocked that I kind of gasped.

“Triple!” she said. “Please!” Then she did the unthinkable and grabbed me by my arms, giving me a good shake. “Please! Help me!”

Apparently hearing the ruckus, Dr. katz rushed from his office to our sides, speaking to poor distraught Mrs. Del Mastro in the same voice he probably reserved for the criminally insane.

“Come now, Mrs. Del Mastro. Let’s unhand Mrs. Carter.”

“You don’t understand . . .” she sobbed, her comments directed to me. Then she dropped her arms to her side and spoke quietly. “I came home and he was in our daughter’s bed with two teenage girls, friends of our daughter, Emily. Teenagers!”

“My God!” I said. “What is this world coming to?”

“He’s just a horrible son of a bitch,” she said. “I just want to murder him!”

I wouldn’t have blamed her if she did. Not one bit.

“Nasty!” I said, offering what I thought was appropriate support.

“Mrs. Carter? I’m concerned about Mrs. Del Mastro’s state of mind and I was wondering if I might prevail upon your generosity to . . .” Dr. katz said, winding up for the pitch that I intended to accept. But I was suddenly determined to be compensated for the time I was about to gladly relinquish with just one tidbit of information.

“Can you step over here with me for a moment?” I said to her.

We walked away from Dr. katz and I whispered to her.

“You can have my time for nothing, but just tell me one thing.”

“Yes, anything!”

“Have you . . . you know . . .” I raised my forehead and cheeks with my thumbs and forefingers in that sign language all women over forty speak and whispered, “Had work?”

“Gerald Imber. New York,” she whispered back.

“Is that with an i or an e?” I began digging in my purse for a pen.

“An i.”

“Thank you. It’s time for you to divorce the bastard,” I said, scribbling Imber’s name on a scrap of paper. “Take all his money. Every last nickel. None of that divide by two bullshit.”

She stood back, awestruck, and stared at me for a few moments.

“Thank you! I will! You know what? I don’t know why I was waiting for someone to give me permission. Of course! I’ll divorce the bastard! Why didn’t I . . .”

“Because,” I whispered, “if you could muster the courage to rec­ognize you needed to get a divorce, our Dr. katz would go out of business.”

“By God, you’re right,” she said as though her eyes had been opened for the first time.

She smiled a little. The poor woman was exhausted. There was nothing on earth that could surpass the value of camaraderie be­tween women, especially women in crisis.

“See you next time?” Dr. katz said to me.

“No problem,” I said and waved them off.

“No, wait!” Mrs. Del Mastro said and turned to Dr. katz. “You know what? I’m fine. I know what to do now. So you go on and keep your appointment with Mrs. Carter. And I may or may not return. Ever.”

“What?” katz said, clearly shocked.

Mrs. Del Mastro bit her lower lip, self-doubt returning. “I’ll let you know,” she said and turned to me. “Want to have lunch some­time?”

“Sure,” I said.

She reached in her gorgeous orange handbag, pulled out a small case, and clicked it open. She handed me her card.

“Call me,” she said. “I think I’m going to have some free time on my hands.”

“I will.” And I would. We smiled at each other, and she went to the door and stopped. She looked at katz and said, “I’ll call you.”

Then she was gone.

Something heavy hung in the air in the next moment as I quickly wondered if katz would blame me for losing his patient. He did not. Dr. katz arched one eyebrow and appraised me in bemused suspi­cion. He could not have cared less.

“What?” I said.

“Nothing,” he said. “Shall we?”

I followed him into his office. I sat in the same chair I had a last time and waited for him to find his place in his notes. I still wasn’t quite comfortable with the idea of someone having a big fat bulging file containing my feelings and thoughts, but at this point it was still a pretty skinny file and I suppose he needed something in writing so that he didn’t confuse one patient with another. Anyway, I had nothing to say that was so revolutionary. I was certain he had heard my complaint from a very high percentage of women who came to him for help. The difference between them and me was that I wasn’t throwing a fit in the waiting area. No, I had actually done something about it.

“Now, Mrs. Carter, when I saw you last, you were about to tell me about, let’s see, you called them the Barbies and about a trip to Edinburgh? Let’s see . . . ah! Can you pinpoint any conversation or a specific event that triggered your general disgust with the institution of marriage?”

“Well, that’s a pretty cold clinical way to put it. I wouldn’t say I am generally disgusted with the institution of marriage. I just think that at a certain point in your life you reassess things.”

“Like what? Unrealized goals?”

“Maybe to a point, but for me it’s more like just what in the hell am I doing here?”

“Do you think you might have unrealistic expectations?”

I thought about his question for a moment and had a sudden day­dream of myself as a young woman, dressed in my wedding gown, leaving the church on Wes’s arm, rose petals swirling all around us in the air. My heart was overflowing with joy for our future. I was also two months’ pregnant with Bertie and had dropped out of col­lege in my last semester to rush to the altar. What was it that caused the first little piece of my heart to die? Was it the overfried eggs he threw in the sink because they had brown spots on the bottom or the fact that I didn’t make the bed the same way his mother did, mitering the corners? Maybe it was because I could never remember to rotate the dinner plates or his underwear so that they all became worn evenly. I was trapped with nowhere to run. So was he.

“Dr. katz? It’s a little bit like the chicken and the egg. That ques­tion is so old it just doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Then you tell me. What is the question?”

“Well, there is more than one, but let’s start with this: Are you giving up way more than you’re given to the point that your mar­riage is so lopsided that it’s obvious to everyone? Has your marriage become absurd? Does he actually care if you’re happy or about even being a part of what makes you happy?”

“Don’t you think your husband wants you to be happy?”

“As long as it doesn’t cost him any time, effort, or money. Look, I don’t think he ever thinks about it or views my happiness or any part of it as his responsibility.”

“Okay. What do you think you gave up that was so unfair?”

“Dr. katz? I gave up everything—my own identity, my ambi­tions, my self-respect, and I very nearly gave up my own brother. My only sibling.”

“How’s that?” I looked at him, trying to decide if I had the desire to continue. “Because Wes hates gay men. He would not allow my only brother into our house.” “I see. Hopefully, we can resolve that issue in a joint session.” “We won’t. There is no solution to it. Wes just is who he is, and nothing short of a miracle is ever going to change that.” 

The Last Original Wife
by by Dorothea Benton Frank

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0062132466
  • ISBN-13: 9780062132468