I made my first appointment with Gloria the autumn I realized that the nature preserve, near my home in southern Maine, was the only place that made sense to me anymore--the predictability of the seasons, leaves flying on the autumn wind like embers, the silky snow of milkweed trapped in grass. As I watched the ocean pound the beach at high tide, I felt an answering pressure in my chest.
In my search for a therapist, I'd heard a lot of things about Gloria--she'd been variously described as "intuitive," "politically aware," "funny when you least expect it," and "calm." I seized on calm: I wanted--no, needed--a still point, a peaceful promontory in the ocean of loud, unrepentant excuses I heard daily from the men I treated in a batterer-intervention program, men who committed unspeakable violence against those they claimed to love.
Gloria's office window overlooked a garden blazing with the last scream of color before slipping into winter dormancy. A carved Buddha rested between a burning bush and purple asters. Gloria herself had a flavor of the old-fashioned--silver hair pulled back in a chignon, shoulders draped with an Iranian shawl--and when she smiled and handed me a cup of steaming tea, a sliver of quiet entered me. Her eyes were observant behind wire-rimmed glasses. I knew she'd taken in the jittery swing of my crossed leg once I sank into an overstuffed chair.
Gloria sat down opposite me, tucked her feet beneath her, and watched me quietly for a…