Chapter One

The Beginning

 

“You need to get out more, Kat” Meg said, taking a sip of her chardonnay.

“What are you talking about?” answered Katrina Van Tuyl. ““I’m out here, having lunch with you.”

“I mean, are you seeing anyone? You don’t ever seem to date. Are you getting laid?”

Kat glanced furtively around the restaurant, and then whispered across the table, “Not so loud! People will hear you.”

Meg laughed out loud and took another sip of wine. “Don’t worry, prude. No one is listening.”

Still whispering, Kat replied, “Sex just isn’t that important to me. I don’t really enjoy it that much.”

“What do you mean it’s not that important? You don’t enjoy it?” asked Meg incredulously. “You’re twenty-six. You’re beautiful and in your prime. You should be out there having a good time.”

Speaking in a more conversational timber, Kat said, “If you must know, I have trouble climaxing. I mean, in fact, I’ve never come with a guy.”

“You poor thing,” said Meg. She stopped eating and picked up her clutch. She pulled out a pen and one of her business cards, writing something on the back. She then passed the card to her friend.

Kat looked at it. On the back it read simply, “Dr. Paul Ulbrecht,” followed by a telephone number. “I have a gynecologist. Besides, I don’t think it’s a physiological problem. I mean, I do have orgasms.”

“I don’t think it’s physical either. He’s not a gynecologist. He’s a sex therapist.”

“A what?!” Kat exclaimed, almost forgetting that they were in the middle of a crowded—and fashionable—midtown restaurant. “How do you know the name and phone number of a sex therapist, Meg?”

Meg motioned with her hand, moving it up and down to signal her lunch partner that it was her turn to keep it down a little. “I went to him for a period of time last year. I had a little problem. Nothing important, but the point is that he was able to help me. He’s helped a lot of our friends.”

“Like who?” Kat asked, hardly believing what she was hearing.

Meg laughed again and drained the last of her wine. “You’d be surprised, but I’m not telling—and he certainly won’t. You know, doctor-patient confidentiality.”

Kat stared at the card. She was snapped back to the moment when her friend spoke, saying, “You should call him. Anyway, think about it…. Now, let’s get the check. I have to work for a living.”

It was true. The Van Tuyls had come to America from Holland in the seventeenth century, and there they prospered, building a fortune. Over the years that wealth had been diminished and fractionated, but Kat was a trust-fund baby with enough money of her own that she never had to work. An only child, she stood to inherit even more when her parents passed away. She had met Meg at Yale. Meg majored in political science and then went on to law school. Kat majored in English and art history, and after graduation moved on to a life of privilege. She had occasionally worked in galleries, but mainly she did volunteer work and was a woman of leisure.

When she got back to her apartment, Kat placed the business card on the corner of the dining room table. She left it there for over a week. Occasionally, she glanced at it as she walked by, but she never picked it up. Her conversation with her friend kept turning over in her mind. Finally, she picked up the phone and made an appointment. She thought, “I’ll show Meg. I’ll see her therapist a time or two. He’ll tell me that there’s nothing wrong with me and that there’s nothing to worry about.”

When the day of the appointment arrived, she almost called and canceled, but she didn’t. Her curiosity had been peaked. As instructed, she arrived twenty minutes early at the Upper Eastside address to sign in and fill out the required informational and insurance paperwork. The reception area was comfortable, tastefully decorated in soothing earth tones. There was no one else waiting, but this raised no red flags since it was 3:40, and her appointment was for four o’clock. The prior patient would be in the office, and it would be too early for the five o’clock, if one were scheduled. The receptionist appeared to Kat to be two or three years younger than she and very attractive. Other than this example of female pulchritude, there was no indication that this was the office of a sex therapist, though Kat had to admit to herself that she had no benchmark to judge what such a doctor’s quarters might look like.

Promptly at four o’clock, a clock chimed on the mantelpiece above a plugged-up fireplace. The receptionist rose from behind her desk and said, “The doctor will see you now. Please walk this way.” She led Kat to a closed door on the wall to the right of the reception desk. Opening it, she gestured for her to go in. “Please sit there,” she said, pointing at an armchair across from a desk, farthest from the door.

“Thank you,” Kat said as she took her seat. She had expected the doctor to be there, but he was not. She looked around the room. It could be any prosperous doctor’s office in the city. It had dark wood paneling extending halfway up the wall, capped by a chair rail. On the wall opposite the desk was a leather couch. Another wall was lined by built-in bookcases. To the left of the desk, a diploma hung on the wall. It was Ph.D. in psychology from an Ivy League university. Softly in the background played some synthesizer new age music with the sound of ocean waves behind that.

As she surveyed the room, the door opened. In stepped a man whom she judged to be about ten years older than she. He was six feet or six-one tall and quite handsome. His eyes were brown, as was his hair, which was almost the same shade as her own, a color she knew from her art history days as Van Dyck brown. He wore a tweed sport coat over a starched white shirt and pleated khakis. She expected him to sit behind the desk. Instead, he took the armchair next to hers and turned it to face her.

Paul Ulbrecht surveyed her up and down. Her hair cascaded in waves down just past her shoulders. She was demure and proper, attired in a blue blouse, tucked into a navy skirt. Her legs were crossed at the knees. The only thing that spoke of any license was her shoes. She wore stiletto heels, what were commonly and cheaply called “fuck-me-pumps.” Her shirt angled into her shirt without touching her stomach, indicating that she was both slender and large-breasted. He found her lovely.

Settling into his seat, he opened a leather notebook. “Ms. Van Tuyl, it is nice to meet you. Van Tuyl? That is a storied old Dutch name in this town. You’re a real Knickerbocker”

“Indeed,” Kat responded. “Our family came here in the 1660’s. Ulbrecht? A German name, I believe.”

“Austrian, actually. My great-grandparents came here in 1938, when it was evident what was going to happen in Europe. But you didn’t make an appointment with me to discuss our comparative genealogies.” He smiled. Kat liked it. It seemed to her a genuinely warm smile. “Why don’t you tell me why you’re here?”

Kat cleared her throat nervously. “I was referred to you by Meg Wallace. I…uh….” Words suddenly failed Katrina Van Tuyl for the first time in her life. “I guess you could say that I am frigid,” she finally blurted out.

“Stop,” he said, cutting her off. “We don’t use that word here. There is no such thing as a frigid woman—or man. Let’s just say that you have intimacy issues.”

Kat suddenly felt chastised, though the doctor’s tone had been calm and reassuring. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just that I have never climaxed when I have been with a man.”

“So, you have never come from vaginal penetration.” His tone was flat and clinical. It wasn’t so much a question as a statement, reflecting back what she had just told him.

“That’s right,” she replied.

“Have you ever experienced an orgasm?” he asked.

“Yes, of course,” Kat replied, annoyed by such a simple question.

“Then you masturbate?” the doctor continued.

Kat cast her eyes down and responded softly, “Yes.’

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. We all masturbate. The fact that you can come when you do masturbate means that you are not suffering from Coughlan’s syndrome, or anorgansmia.” He was reassuring. “When you pleasure yourself, do you use a vibrator or a dildo?” Kat blushed at the intimate question. “I’m sorry, but these are the kinds of things that I need to know.”

“No,” she replied, “I just use my hands, uh, my fingers.”

“And you’re able to satisfy yourself that way?”

“Yes, sir,” Kat replied.

“Do you ever get close to orgasm during intercourse?”

“Occasionally, but not very often.”

“Tell me about your childhood,” he said. The shift from intimate detail to a request for deep history jolted Kat. She told Ulbrecht about a rich father who, while not abusive, was emotionally aloof and who died when she was twelve. She spoke of a mother who shut down after her husband’s death. She told that and so much more in what seemed, contrary to her expectations, like a safe space.

At length, Dr. Ulbrecht said, “I believe I can help you Ms. Van Tuyl. I must tell you, however, that my methods are often considered controversial, though I prefer the term ‘unorthodox.’”

“What exactly are your techniques, doctor?”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Van Tuyl. Our fifty minutes are up. We’ll have to discuss that next time,” he said rather officiously.

Kat glanced at the degree on the wall. “Is that real?” she asked, matter-of-factly.

“Yes, absolutely. I have a degree from Columbia in developmental psychology.”

“I thought that developmental psychology was about childhood development.”

“That was its origin. But today it looks at development of the person throughout their life—or impediments to that development. I am also trained in clinical psychology…. At any rate, our time today is up. I’ll see you next week. Ulbrecht stood up and opened the door to the reception area. “I enjoyed meeting you, Ms. Van Tuyl. I look forward to our sessions.” Kat exited, and he watched her as she left. He smiled and thought to himself, “I do very much look forward to our future sessions.”