We all must have experiences like this. Those were my words, or what I remember them to be, hours later, at my desk, when I want to believe that I have some mental distance from the experience in that other room, where I spend a few hours a week, fifty minutes at a time, to the minute, both at the beginning and at the end. The experience that I spoke about today, while he listened in silence behind me, was a memory that probably happened forty-four or forty-five years ago. What I just wrote is telling. The experience I’ve referred to now twice in these sentences wasn’t my own. My grandfather, now dead for twenty-four years, filmed it, back when no one had hand-held cameras. He was a maverick in his own way. We were in the countryside, I was there that evening, just before sunset, it must have been a beautiful summer day in the Pacific Northwest, some ninety miles northeast of Seattle, alongside a river, and surrounded by mountains. Maybe I was already in bed when my grandfather stood atop a small hill beyond the cabin that my father and his parents had built, and with his filming camera, saved for an unknown future evening images of calmness, of a river, of a mountain peak, all of which, forty-four or forty-five years later, watching these fleeting images on a television screen, remind me of silence. My father’s parents sold that cabin alongside the river some seven years later, after successive floods had robbed the land of its beauty. I think I said much of this in today’s session, on the couch, trusting in the process, trying to say whatever came to me in the moment. I want to spend more time with my grandfather’s images, our images, of all of us who were there that summer night. Time refuses to stop. Perhaps time doesn’t know what stopping means. Time comes before words, before meaning. Time and space have taken me back in time, forty-four or forty-five years ago, to a calm evening when my future, much of which is now part of the past, was unknown.
Another coffee would probably have helped. I could’ve gone to bed earlier last night. I’ve too much editing to do before a midday deadline. An image, which I wish would seem pleasant but doesn’t, reminds me of where I can’t go, at least not for several more weeks if not months. At seven in the morning the source of the problem seems clear: my commitment to therapy, to the couch, to the psychoanalytic process, to my analyst. This sentence disappears as soon as it arrives, or maybe I just tell myself it does. Our session isn’t until late afternoon. I want it. I need it. It’s the source of all my current problems. There I go again: blaming what’s in fact helping me. I’m seated at my desk, my laptop before me, and I’m about to start editing when my body seems to say: No! I’m on my feet and moving toward the kitchen. It’s never too late for another coffee. I know that caffeine itself can’t save me from myself. The thoughts and images and emotion that threaten to engulf me are more real this morning than the midday deadline. Work can wait. Such an inner statement would normally overwhelm me. Now, at 7:03 am, I’m relieved. Something inside of me finally makes sense. I don’t want to throw my psychoanalytic life out the window. That’s precisely what I don’t want to do. Patients in psychoanalysis have often been called analysands. I am one. A destructive, unconscious, part of me wants to put an end to my commitment to psychotherapy. I’ve prepared a coffee while these sentences write themselves in my mind. Editing awaits me. The rest of the day will last much longer than the coffee I’m about to drink. I have a future. The end has yet to arrive. Death is in the future. But I wanted to destroy myself today.
Where might he go after listening to me for fifty minutes? As I walked into his office and glanced at Martin on my way to the couch, something told me that he would leave this space after our hour together. He wore a red sweater as he often had in recent months. He didn’t appear in a hurry. My intuition told me he would leave soon after me. This uncertainty disappeared as the session itself became a dominant presence in my conscious mind. Unconscious images appeared as the hour progressed, in the form of a memory from decades earlier. I was surprised at how quickly time passed. When I heard Martin, seated behind me, say that our time was up, for a moment I thought he’d said something else. Misunderstandings were common enough. I wondered whether they even existed in psychoanalysis, in an atmosphere where the unconscious was given much room to play. I stood up, glanced at him again on my way out, rode the elevator four floors down, left the building, and found myself on a crowded sidewalk in downtown Seattle during lunchtime. As if it were following its own logic, my body seemed to move me toward the nearest coffee shop. I ordered a drip coffee without knowing why I did so. Work awaited me at home, which was where I usually had my afternoon coffee. I left the coffee shop and headed toward a light rail station. Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice while we waited to cross the street. He was talking on his cell phone. I noticed the red sweater first. Martin was also on his way somewhere. Before he could turn his head toward me, I hurried away, in the opposite direction. I would have plenty of time to think about these moments during tomorrow’s session.
I left his office in a hurry. The couch was forgotten the moment I walked out the door. Or was it? I hurried home, where I worked, and finished editing an article that I imagined should have been in my editor’s email inbox hours earlier. My imagination had also been busy on the analytic couch, where, this phrase came to me, magic sometimes happened, when I found myself in a sort of meditative state of mind. Things were forgotten on the couch. I remembered. I forgot. I spoke. I remained silent. I doubted. And I was sure of what I said. Moments after finishing editing the article, I realized that the work had taken much less time than I’d thought it would. I remembered that I’d hurried from Martin’s consulting room. I said too much or too little during the hour. Speaking the truth was painful. My mind became painful. I wasn’t supposed to edit my thoughts in psychoanalysis. What was my job on the couch? An unwelcome sentence came to me: to experience and suffer my own pain.
Wasn’t it him? It couldn’t have been anyone else. Why wouldn’t my feet move me toward him? He held a paperback in his hands, and since we were both standing in the psychology section, I imagined that the author whose words he was reading was a psychoanalyst or psychotherapist or both. I thought I verbalized these sentences during our session the following day. Since I was on the couch, I had to imagine how Martin reacted to my words or my fantasy or both. I walked away from him in my favorite bookstore in Seattle, or did I? I knew what I’d done the previous day. Martin asked me what the experience had been like. I’d been almost certain that I’d seen him. I was surprised at my reaction to his question and to his not confirming or denying my own question about his whereabouts at a particular moment the previous day. I was calm on the couch. I knew I’d imagined him holding that paperback in the psychology section. I was certain of it. In my imagination, I did see Martin in my favorite bookstore, in a city where few such stores remained. Subjective truth wasn’t only a fantasy to me.
I thought the problem was behind me. Or I didn’t recognize it as one. That would come later. On a Thursday, I arrived at my psychoanalyst’s office at the regular time. As I walked toward the couch, something felt irregular, as if Martin, standing alongside his chair, asked me about my morning. I thought about mentioning what I’d imagined, and almost did so once I was on the couch, before other things came to mind and I spoke about one thing and then another. Thirty or forty minutes passed before an interruption occurred. It was a psychological event. Suddenly, in mid sentence, I sat up on the couch, without turning my body to glance at Martin behind me. I felt incapable of doing something. This thought comes to me, during the act of writing, while I sit at my desk, awaiting the next word and sentence to arrive in finished form. I imagine that I felt unfinished, perhaps naked, without clothes, as I sat on the couch, no longer lying down. During those seconds, in my upright position, I became the problem, in my own eyes. Martin, seated behind me, waited in silence.
What I imagine myself doing feels impossible. I could write on paper right now. It could become a creative act in reality. This is reality, too, in my mind, which feels as if I’m in a dream. Maybe I’m in a waking one. I’m also speaking, and a listener sits out of sight. I’m in the spotlight. A Lacanian might say that my words are in the spotlight. A Freudian might listen for derivatives of aggression or libido. These fantasies seem real to me. I could record them on paper, now in the moment, on this couch, in this consulting room on the fourth floor, at 11:34 am (I glance at the clock beyond the couch). This would be possible if I’d brought pen and paper with me to this psychoanalytic session. Writing on the couch isn’t permitted in psychoanalysis. Is that a fantasy? I ask my psychoanalyst this question. He finally hears my voice. He remains silent. This is my hour. I speak about these things that have passed through my mind. Maybe that’s what this session is about: my mind.