I am sitting in the nice green leather chair with high back and foot rest that I once found so comfortable. Martin the shrink sits across, about six feet from me on a matching chair. I have traveled into the city – two hours on the bus – and paid him $75 for 45 minutes of his attention and I don’t know what to say and the minutes are ticking and soon he will be standing up, my time will be up and I will be back on the bus for another two hours. When I first started coming here – a month or so ago – I talked up a storm. Now I feel stuck. Why am I even coming? I forget. This is crazy.
Martin asks about the so-called selflessness that yoga, generally speaking, advocates. I think he is wondering how I square that with starting therapy. I say something about how that part of ashram life came pretty easy to me. “I grew up pretty stoic,” I say. “Pretty spartan. Not a materialistic life.” I am thinking of my mother. I don’t think of my father with those words. I think of my mother, and Martin asks for more and so I focus on my mother for awhile – though it feels like I’m walking down a fruitless path.
I say how she grew up on a farm with six brothers and sisters on the frontier in British Columbia during the Depression, one-room schoolhouse, carrying her shoes to school so they’d last longer. “My mother,” I say, “has never told me a story about anyone ever cherishing her, or even liking her much.”
“Like what?” asks Martin. It’s painful having to give him a whole tapestry thread by thread, a tapestry that has been woven since I was born.
“Like the way her brothers and sisters always ran away from her, and how someone killed all her rabbits one day.“ This I know is a very vile story that I think still haunts my mother, the day she discovered the hutches all open, the rabbits dead. It was that kind of life. People were cruel to each other. At Christmastime her brothers and sisters wrapped up whatever they already had to give to each other – a pretty stone, an old doll they didn’t want anymore -- and then they’d fight and take things back. My mother always tells these little tales with a laugh as if they were amusing. School was finished at 8th grade. If you wanted more you got it by correspondence course. My mother was the only person in her family, besides the oldest child, a boy, who put herself through high school by correspondence. They called her a snob.
Then I talk of my mother’s rages. How my father tiptoed around her. How I did too. We tried very hard not to set her off. I’ve thought of and talked of and written about this before, but when I say it today it feels new.
Then I stop. I pause, unable to keep going. My mind is freezing up. I manage to voice the thought that is coming up. I say, “I’m afraid you will dismiss me. You’ll wonder why I’m here.” It is so hard to talk here, to believe that whatever I say is acceptable. It feels like I am being asked to slide downhill holding onto nothing. This is much harder than I expected.
Martin says it’s funny I should say that just at that moment because he was just thinking how my childhood sounds very difficult to him.
I cannot bear to examine it. I have spent my whole life bending it all so I could bear it, finding a way to look at it that made it merely quaint.
I know I want to look at it in a new way. “It’s hard for me to sympathize with myself,” I say to Martin.
Part of me is starting to advise that I quit now, give up on the possibility of fruitful therapy with Martin. But it’s a small voice and I don’t take it too seriously, but something in me is very uncomfortable.
“Does it feel like betrayal?” asks Martin.
I feel like I’ve moved past betrayal long ago. Why is he asking me such a banal question? Maybe he’s a bad shrink.
My throat though is tight and there have been tears hovering most of this session. I am holding them back. I don’t know why they are there and I don’t mention them to Martin. Not on purpose, I just don’t get that far.
Martin says something about how when I first came to him I was talking about wanting to be very independent of my family, but that probably I have actually a very important interest in understanding the family more. I don’t like it at all that he characterizes me as someone who thought she could be Miss Independence. I’ve always liked Martin until now, but I’m not sure today how much we are connecting and I have a hard time understanding him. But it seems it’s all about revisiting and re-examining that family, those years. I would like to do that. But our time is up and I am back out on the street.
I think of jumping quickly onto a subway, fleeing the city, catching the earlier bus and just getting the hell out of here as fast as I can. I am tempted, but I question it. I recognize a certain feeling inherent in the desire to get the hell out. There’s something self-destructive about it. I’m in the city. It’s a warm light summer evening. I could enjoy it, but instead I want to rip it away, dive away into my sadness.
No, I think, I’ll stay as planned another hour or two. I’ll go to a bookstore. If I see something I like I’ll buy it. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve really wanted to buy a book, but right now it feels necessary, like salve on a wound.
I scan the group of new memoirs where last week and the week before I saw nothing of interest. My eye today falls immediately on a new book. I pick it up, open it. A woman who finds herself in abusive relationships. A sister who is killed by her lover. The writer hunts through her past to find the roots of all this. I scan the writing. It looks good. The book feels alive in my hands, like something, an ally, that has come to help me. I haven’t been thinking about abuse today, but suddenly I feel right at home. I buy the book.