First Favor by Joan Mazza

Of all the scenes I could replay to rewrite or undo, one I go back to one again and again.

It’s the end of my therapy session and I sit up and slip into my shoes, pick up my purse, when Dr. Bob asks to speak with me a minute. I look up at him, unused to facing him.

“Let’s sit in the waiting area,” he says, and slides the pocket door open. I follow him out to the blue family room with a bar. Sliding glass doors open on two sides, facing the Intracoastal Waterway and a side canal.

Why doesn’t he talk to me in the office where we have our sessions? This is puzzling behavior, but I’m trained not to question him, so I wait until he speaks, not imagining possibilities or anticipating what he might say.

He tells me he’s going on vacation for two weeks, something I already know, and he would like me to come by each day to take care of his dog. Once a day, he says, as if it’s a small favor.

I don’t hesitate to say no. “That’s way too much driving.” He knows I work in Miami, live in Lauderhill, and his house is in east Fort Lauderdale. It’s a big triangle, tangled in traffic, driving after a workday in my Volkswagen Beetle without air-conditioning. His eyes flash anger, perhaps shock at my refusal. He leans in, says something like, “You can do this. It would be good for you to do something for someone else. I’m saying I trust you. You already drive here four times a week.”

Triangles within triangles
Alternative Realities by Daniel J Friedman. CC license.

This is a hinge moment, although it will be decades before I see it as the instant when our professional relationship changed. I would like to say that I told him, “I’m your patient. You’re not supposed to ask me for favors.” In fact, what he’s asking is illegal as well as unethical, the start of a dual relationship.

I did say, “Are you going to take care of my dog when I go on vacation?”

Flash of anger again before he catches himself, but doesn’t answer my concern. Will this be reciprocal arrangement? Is it fair? He doesn’t offer to pay me.

“I’m surprised you don’t see what this means, how this is an opportunity for your growth.”

I’m sure I frowned, unable to argue with that, or to follow its logic. He was the doctor; I was the crazy, neurotic patient, after all. I was paying him to show me what was wrong with me, to fix me. It was taking so long because I was resistant, as he kept reminding me.

He tells me he’ll give me a key and the security code to his house, that his wife will show me what to do for the dog. He’s already decided I will do this, doesn’t hear my no, doesn’t give me a chance to object further. I follow him to the other side of the house and his wife takes me out to Thunder’s chain link pen, shows me the shovel for his shit piles, how to scoop them into a bucket and cover it with a plank of wood. “It keeps the flies down,” she explains, and shows me how to let the dog into the yard while I hose down the pen. “He’ll come in when he hears you pour his food into the bowl.”

Dr. Bob does not participate in these instructions. He’s disappeared into his vast house. His wife’s a psychiatrist, too, but she’s the one in charge of shit.

This shouldn’t surprise me. I’d asked for a paper towel once, and he said, “You’ll have to ask my wife.”

We should both feel honored. Forever.


I have told this story, one tale of many when he overstepped his bounds, used the power of his position to demand a favor, my agreement. So why write this now?

He’s dead. Google Alerts let me know. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, just after I disconnected from him entirely, finally breaking free. I knew he wouldn’t live into his mid-eighties, as his parents had.

And though I haven’t been his patient since 1988, a part of me still fears him, like the devil on my shoulder accusing me, finding fault, telling me whatever I did was neurotic or paranoid. A perpetual wet blanket. Beloved introject.

Joan Mazza
Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, seminar leader, and has been a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam), and her poetry has appeared in Rattle, Whitefish Review, Kestrel, Slipstream, American Journal of Nursing, The MacGuffin, Mezzo Cammin, and The Nation. She ran away from the hurricanes of South Florida to be surprised by the earthquakes and tornadoes of rural central Virginia, where she writes poetry and does fabric and paper art. Find more of her work at

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