The Sessions

Just seen it. It was really good. I might see it again.

It rang very true to me that Mark O’Brien, the subject of the film, said to a woman he’d just met, “you know, I’m not a virgin.” A friend who’s quadriplegic disclosed something like that to me, using almost the same words. To be able to say that you had a lover is about so much more than sex.

People who depend on others for the care of their bodies are touched all the time, by necessity. Keeping a paralyzed body safe from injury is a huge, endless task.

But intimacy, attraction, love are human needs that people with disabilities feel too. ‘The Sessions’ follows Mark O’Brien’s search for sex, and for love.

‘In a coma’ is a movie cliche. Usually the comatose actress (90% of the time it’s an actress) looks better with oxygen prongs up her nose than most of us look on our best day. But that’s fantasy. The reality is painful, ugly and heartbreaking.

Here’s a poem by Mark O’Brien,

Mrs. Garcia

I swear Garcia was a crazy bitch;
A nurse who liked to test my character
By swinging me about in the Hoyer lift
With just enough abandon to scare me good,
Just carefully enough so she could say:
“Now what was all the yelling about?
I didn’t hurt your feet. You’re in the chair.
You polios are screamers, always were.”
Exhausted by the terrors of the ride,
The turnings and the dips, I didn’t say
A word in my defense. She’d push me down
To Occupational Therapy, where I’d type
My skinny novel, think about revenge.
Marlene, tall, red-headed nurse, told me
“Garcia likes the way you scream. It gives
Her an excuse to hate and show the ward
How skilled she is. The hollering you do
Relives to boringness of working here.”
Perceiving this, I tried to keep myself
As silent as a Charlie Chaplin flick
As I went through my next Garcia lift.
It was a scary trip, as usual.
I felt an urge to make some sound, but sounds
That wouldn’t make her mad, and so I said,
“Rutabagas! Rutabagas!” “What?”
She asked and laughed a bit. “You’ve finally flipped.”
“What’s the price of rutabagas now?”
“I don’t know. I hate the nasty things.”
I had deprived Garcia of her fun.
It was a small revenge.

January, 1982

Mrs. Garcia shows up in ‘The Sessions’, and a graceful touch is that she is not utterly unsympathetic. Her exhaustion and emotional depletion are clear. Mark fires her, and he should.

I’m still under the spell of the movie, and mourning a little for a life so hard and so short.

Having been born during the years of epidemic polio and having the good fortune to have been lined up for the mass vaccination before the virus could come my way– I have one thing to say to the anti-vaccine activists. Mother Nature can be a real bitch. Vaccines are our friend when a really bad bug comes around.

And my admiration for Mark O’Brien grows as I follow his journalism. Here is a link to Mark’s account of his sessions, ‘On Seeing a Sex Surrogate’ from the magazine, ‘The Sun’. I am impressed by how faithful the movie was to Mark’s perspective, as is clear from reading his account.

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