Oh shit. I thought I’d be alright. Last time I spent the whole hour 'bawling like a calf’. That’s what Grandma would say, ‘bawling like a calf.’ I hope I don’t do that again today.
Once again, and for the third time, Pete stands with Dr. Waldt in the doorway of the psychoanalyst’s consultation room.
“Please come in Pete. Have a seat.” Dr. Waldt motions toward the burgundy couch.
Three long strides brings Pete to the couch. Instead of turning to sit, he stands facing the couch, looking at the raven print. “Has the jewel always been green?” He puts his hands on the back of the couch, places one knee on the seat and leans forward until he comes face to face with the raven. Still studying the print, he says, “I never noticed the jewel is green.”
“Yes, it is green. It has always been green.”
“Funny that I did not notice that before.”
“Pete, what does the color green mean, do you think? Does it stand for something? That shade of green?”
Pete remains kneeling and leaning into the raven for another moment before responding, “It reminds me of the earth. The green of the earth from space, something like that, I think.”
Pete turns and sits down. He looks at the couch to his right and left. Then looks down at his feet on the floor and repositions them so that they fit precisely inside of the carpet’s square patterning. I did not check; I might have stepped on some cracks on the way over. He leans back and places the palms of his hands flat upon his thighs. And I forgot to think about stuffing Waldt into the trunk of his car. I’m thinking about it now; but that doesn’t count. Noticing that I did not think a thought is not the same as thinking a thought, right? Right.
“How are you doing today Pete?”
“I ask because when you were last here you remembered how grieved you were at the age of nine when you understood that your Grandma was dead.”
“Oh God, I still can’t believe she is gone. Just gone.” He shakes his head. He purses his lips. His eyes are squinting shut. I’m losing it. I know I’m going to lose it again. Pete takes his right hand off his thigh and reaches over and removes the box of tissues from the couch’s side table and sets it on his lap. He places his two hands around the box, cradling it.
“You must have been very close to your grandmother. Seems she was special in your life,” Waldt said.
“My dad left when I was four. Then Grandma moved in down the block. I went to her house after school and on weekends. You might say she raised me. From four till nine she was my family.”
“You lost everyone when you lost her.”
The tissue box drops to the floor as Pete makes his hands into fists and begins pounding and rocking.
Dr. Waldt continues, “A nine-year old needs someone to take care of him. Who was there for you when she died?”
“No one really,” he stopped rocking and pounding and placed his hands back on his thighs. “I mean my mom was still alive then and I lived with her. But she was a basket case. It was more like I took care of her, than she took care of me.”
“How was she a basket case?”
“She was a hoarder. I mean I did not know that then. I didn’t have a name for it then. But now I know—she was definitely a hoarder. Or at least that was part of it.”
“Pete, do you mind if I take some notes? It helps me to be able to understand families when I see them drawn out in a genogram. Family histories are important.” Waldt opens the drawer beside him, takes out the miniature Sisyphus statue and places it on the closed lap top that sits atop his side table. With his fountain pen he draws sweeping lines across the yellow pad. “Can we backtrack to your dad first?”
“Sure. I don’t know much about him. He left when I was four. He never came back. I never saw him again. I don’t even know if he is still alive.”
“These days, if you should decide to find him, I bet you could.”
“I’ve never even considered doing that. Mom said Dad left because I was bad. But Grandma toId me that was not true. Even so, I figure he does not want to see me. Otherwise he would look me up, right?”
“What a painful thing for your mom to say. And it’s crazy. Can you imagine telling a four year old that he was the cause of his father’s decision to leave? Your mother was wrong about that. You know that right?”
“I believed her at first. Because I was bad.”
“How were you bad? I don’t get how a four year old can be bad.”
“I’d forget to line up my toys along the wall, or mess up the couch pillows when I watched TV. Or maybe she’d see me step on sidewalk cracks on the way home from school. That sort of thing.”
Dr. Waldt’s face stretches in length. HIs already edgy features become sharper. His voice is hoarse when he asks his next question. He says each word as though he is pulling it up out of a well. A well so deep, it is beneath his mouth, beneath his vocal cords even. The words seem to come from a space near his heart. “What would happen when your toys were not lined up along the wall?”
Instead of answering, Pete stands up and turns his back to Dr. Waldt. He lifts up his polo shirt, all the way to his neck, revealing his long, thin torso and the prominent bones of his spinal column. “Oh dear,” Dr Waldt says and sets his pad and pen on the side table, leans forward with his elbows on his thighs and wraps his hands together. “Oh dear,” he repeats. Pete pulls down his shirt, turns and sits back down on the couch. He is pale. He sits perfectly still, looking down at the floor.
“Tell me what I’m seeing, Pete.”
“What does it look like?”
“It looks like cigarette burns. Symmetrical and evenly spaced, running along both sides of your spinal column.”
“But not all the way. The burns start about four inches from my neck and do not go all the way down to the bottom of my back. That’s because Mom started burning me after Dad left. She stopped when Grandma came. My mother never touched me again after Grandma came.” Pete balls his hands into fists and positions them to resume fist pounding. When Dr. Waldt begins to speak, Pete un-fists his hands and places them down flat on his thighs.
Dr. Waldt continues to speak from his heart, “How horrible for you. And to be alone with no protection. You needed protection from your mother. She was no mere hoarder. She was also a very dangerous woman. I am so, so sorry that happened to you. I’m so very sorry you had to go through being tortured by your own mother.”
“She was not always dangerous. In fact, I think she was probably a good mother in my earliest years. I have nice memories of her, rocking me, reading to me and telling me bedtime stories. I even remember her pushing me on the swing. It’s a short memory; she gives me a push, then runs underneath the swing and waves at me. We laugh and laugh. I think she might have done it over and over.”
“I bet you never got tired of it. She pushing you on the swing and the two of you laughing. I’m glad you have those good memories of her.”
“Me too.” Pete is smiling and looking out into memory’s middle space. Then his focus changes and settles on Dr. Waldt. Pete’s smile fades and he says, “It’s almost like I had two different mothers.”
“Yes, it seems like something changed for her. Something changed in her mind.”
“I’ve never talked about this before. Never.”
“Not even to Cindy?”
“Not even to Cindy. I made her promise not to ever ask me about the scars on my back. And she never has.”
“She is loyal. You have a loyal wife, Pete.”
“You’ve called her that before ‘loyal’. You called her ‘loyal.’” Pete puts the heels of his hands against his forehead and rubs in circles. He stops rubbing, replaces his hands and speaks, “I guess because I did not talk about it I also did not think about it. Because now that I think about it—have two different mothers. The one pushing the swing and the one burning me with cigarettes. Two different mothers.”
“I wonder if that transformation from the first mother to the second mother—I wonder if that transformation was gradual or sudden.” Dr. Waldt says. Talking to himself more than to Pete.
“I don’t know. I’d have to think about it,” Pete says.
“It’s probably not important now. We can figure that out later. For now, I’d like to ask. Now that you are thinking about it and putting things together. Now that you are grown up. What do you suppose caused your father to leave?”
“I think it was Mom. She was probably too nuts to live with. My father did not know what to do and just left.”
“We can probably figure a way to find out more about his decision and what became of him later. But the thing I would like you to notice is that in no way were you to blame for his leaving. Your mother was wrong about that.”
“Yes Mom was wrong about that. Grandma was right. Mom was wrong. It was not my fault that Dad left.”
“How does that feel, to hear yourself say it was not your fault. How does that feel?
“Like a thousand pounds lifted off my shoulders. I feel a million pounds lighter.”
Dr. Waldt straightens up in his rocker, takes up his yellow pad and pen and begins to write. “Let’s make some notes about the ground we covered today, and the coping skills you have at your disposal until our next session.”
“I want to tell Cindy about the burns. Do you think that is a good idea, Dr. Waldt?”
“Yes, if you are ready to tell her, I think it is a very good idea. If you are worried or unsure about telling her, remember you have the option of meeting together with Melissa, your couples counselor.”
“No, I’m not worried. Like you said, ‘Cindy is loyal.’ She is the world to me. The same as Grandma was the world to me. I will tell her as soon as I get home.”
Pete and Dr. Waldt stand up. Dr. Waldt walks forward and hands Pete the sheet from his yellow pad. They shake hands. Then Pete turns and puts his hands on the back of the couch and leans in closer to the print and says, “It’s the world that the raven is holding. He is holding on to the whole world.”