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To Disembark

12/04/2015 3:59 PM | Anonymous

*in reference to Gwendolyn Brooks’ book of poetry of the same name

The denouement of a ten-year psychoanalytic treatment brings to mind the story of Jane Eyre.  I was seven years deep into my analysis when I began to have the feeling that, like Jane’s blinded Mr. Rochester, my analyst had lost sight of me.

From the precise moment I met Jane, and I can still see her seated in a dark room surrounded by a family not her own, she became a dear companion.  Reading this novel in childhood, I was unable to set it down.  As I walked to school, took a bath, ate dinner, I read.  So intent was I on absorbing Bronte’s words, I parted with them only to sleep.  Such was their elixir-like power over a seven year old me.

Jane, “a motherless woman,” eventually makes her way as a governess. Late in the novel, and after much hesitation, she accepts the hand of her employer, Mr. Rochester, and in so doing delivers perhaps the most powerfully glib line in English literature: “Reader, I married him.”

An invisible woman for the bulk of her life, she agrees to nuptials only when her betrothed has been blinded in a terrible fire, in other words, when he can no longer see her.  The frenzy of the visible was simply too much for Jane.

I understood Jane’s inner dilemmas well.  While not an orphan, at age three I was knocking on neighbor’s doors singing Barbra Streisand’s “People”.  Jane learned to take a quiet pride in her abstemious response to being passed over and neglected.  Not me.

According to family lore, at seven, I came home from school and, watching my father take my brother outside to play catch once again, let whatever fledgling restraint I had developed unravel: I declared my hate.  In my seventh year of analysis, I declared the same to my analyst who, often enough during my hour, appeared to be metaphorically throwing the ball to someone else.

My father told me that he never recovered from my words.  My analyst said, “I know.”


When transference is in full effect the analysis is imbued with a dominant color, a decipherable texture, a specific form. In my two previous analyses of long duration I had never had the experience of full on misprision.  But I had had it with my father.  Indeed, it was maybe the one thing I could depend upon him for, a legacy of sorts.  So when beset with the terrible feeling that my analyst had become impervious to my very mode and mien, that he “just didn’t understand,” I knew we were in the thick of it; at first, I pulled the curtain, becoming an obscurantist. Then, I redoubled my efforts, working with exquisite precision to make myself heard.

Here is how, initially, it looked.  While lying on the couch, pouring my heart out about the trials of work, my love life, a dream I had had the night previous, I would hear my analyst ask me a question that felt wholly alien. I would then intervene, initially politely, asking, “Wait, did you think I was talking about my brother? Did I,” I asked us both, “mention him?”  Gas lighting myself to stay connected was old hat.

As time passed, I began to search for something concrete on which to pin these misunderstandings: As he was old enough to be my father, I considered his age.  The next time I felt misheard, taking a risk to see if something worse than deafness was afoot, I asked, in earnest, about his hearing. When he told me his hearing was fine, I spoke more loudly anyway.

As I had done with my father, I increased my laborious efforts.  I began to work with great diligence, cultivating an intense focus as one does when feeling imperiled—as one does when one denies that one is helpless to remedy the situation.

Eventually, as the struggle to make myself known continued to falter, I verbally threw up my hands from time to time.  I would exasperatedly exclaim, “really?” in response to hearing my analyst offer ideas that felt far removed from whatever was the subject under consideration.  Sometimes I would even sit up and look at him directly, asking, “How many years have we been working together?  Why have you lost sight of me?”

The more I tried to convey, the more his not understanding both frightened and infuriated.  If he dreaded my session hours, I can’t say I blame him.


I recall waiting for my father to pick me up at the end of half-day kindergarten, where, to survive the wait, I would unrelievedly count and recount the buttons on my dress.  As my little throat tightened, I worried I had swallowed one; I also worried I would die.  Better to die than to have him not show up.

This is how a child’s mind works.

Tired of being misunderstood, tired of being held less than close, I felt a thing perhaps dangerous for a girl to feel; I felt I was smarter than my father.  I don’t think I was actually smarter; rather I defensively attributed his inability to resonate with me as deriving from an intellectual deficit rather than from an emotional conflict.  True to transference, the more my analyst misunderstood me, the more I thought him daft.

Of course the attribution of intellectual inferiority to my father and to my analyst was, simply, a defense, protecting myself from the particular pain of being emotionally orphaned, seen but not known.  A precocious child, I spoke early, read early, and painted with passionate seriousness.  I lived in a world of dolls, words, and watercolors—a world that my father had no idea how to enter. Sometimes I thought myself charmless and inarticulate, unworthy of love.  Other times I thought these men were deficient.


There is a veritable cottage industry in psychoanalysis about the sources of an analyst’s feelings about the patient. I like the idea that patients may unconsciously position analysts to react in ways similar to significant figures from early life.  So around analytic year 8, while we were more or less drowning, I posed a question: “Dr., have I managed to get you to feel towards me as my own father felt?”  No slouch, he reversed my question adroitly: “What do you imagine your father felt towards you?”

I let a minute pass.  Maybe two.  Rather frightened, I uttered ideas I will never know the veracity of, (dear reader).  I uttered things we only feel and then reach for words so as to feebly narrate.  I speculated, saying, “You know the night before I went to college, on the precipice of beginning life outside the family, all our chances to connect through living daily life together fast drawing to a close, he, a young 49, suffered a massive heart attack. Maybe he had too much feeling for me?”

I liked this idea.  Maybe there was love underneath the immoveable thicket that lay between us.  If there was something there rather than a paucity of something, I could relax because I could cohere.

My analyst asked for more.

“When I would turn to him to share an accomplishment (never did I share with him my fears or worries) it was as if I had thrown him a ball he couldn’t catch and didn’t see coming.  Someone once used the phrase a deer in headlights.  That describes it.”

I then proceeded to speak the transference aloud: “And honestly, I feel the same way here Dr. as I try to reach you and you mishear my very words.  I fail to reach you. You can’t hear me. I watch myself disappear.”

A heavy silence coated the room followed by a paralyzing sadness both intense and sharp. I recall feeling a sudden rush of empathy for my father and for my analyst; I also recall wishing to disappear.

I hoped, with new words spoken, the analysis might come alive again.  I longed for the chance to open this closed door: it wasn’t always like this. I noticed I frequently watched the clock. The thought, “this is how it feels to be in quicksand” came and went and came and went. Then, an idea, buoyed by a fresh feeling, emerged.  I did not have to keep trying to be understood here, in this space, in this duo. I blush to think that it took Jane about as many years to decide to marry Mr. Rochester as it took me to have this seemingly facile yet unbelievably difficult thought.

So, with much still to analyze, dear reader, I left him. And while I decamped not quite mid-sentence, I took flight less than gracefully. Left to my own devices, I see even now that I repeat myself. You don’t have to tell me what I am doing, because this time I know, not that it stops me at all so here I go, here I go: are you listening to my confession, are you with me as I speak?  That is me, the one who wonders, the one who is still wondering, even now as you read me, can you actually hear me; can you hear what it is that I am trying to say?

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