He didn’t say a word about where he was going. He would be gone for a week. The rest was left to my imagination. Editing business articles, which didn’t interest me, kept me occupied while he was away. I had more time in my own office when I didn’t have to walk to his consulting room and back multiple times. I recorded a few dreams in my journal, and I often found myself thinking about all of those fifty-minute hours I’d spent on his couch, the couch, where psychoanalysis allows the unconscious to speak. The reality that he was away must have frightened me. I imagine that I needed to know, or to think that I knew, where my psychoanalyst was spending his week instead of listening to me for fifty minutes at a time. I should be the center of his universe. The unconscious shouldn’t speak so much. These thoughts made me uncomfortable. An idea about where he might be came to me, and in an instant that possibility became reality, in my mind. I knew where he was, didn’t I?
The first few sentences left my mouth as planned. I hadn’t thought through what I would say, but the words I heard myself speak didn’t make me uncomfortable. They didn’t upset me. I wasn’t disoriented. Then, a few minutes or five minutes later, as if I had no say in the matter, my spoken words affected my body in a different way. They were my words, yet there was something foreign about them. I didn’t switch languages in mid sentence, did I? I probably would’ve heard Martin move in his chair behind the couch if he’d heard me speak in Spanish (or maybe he’s fluent in Spanish, and such a sudden change in language wouldn’t have startled him). For a long moment I wondered if all of this was a waking dream. Maybe I’d been silent since arriving on the couch. How long ago was that? I didn’t dare glance at the clock beyond the couch. I was angry. Who were my words angry with? My father, my mother, everyone, or was it a silent anger? In that case, they would’ve been silent words. The thought returned that I hadn’t spoken. I spoke. Martin spoke. His words felt real, as if all of mine had existed only in my imagination. Something changed inside of me. Maybe I became aware of what I’d said to him. I’d said that I was afraid that I would stop the treatment. It was going too well. I wasn’t going to stop. Words might stop coming. Silence might become my second language. Martin would listen.
This wasn’t supposed to happen with him seated out of sight. I was afraid to imagine the look on his face. Frustration followed by anger was one possibility. Rejection seemed inevitable. I was attempting to pronounce someone’s name. Perhaps I hoped that my verbal failing would turn that someone into a nameless one. I’d been speaking words, until now, on this couch for what felt like half an hour. I glanced at the clock beyond the couch. Ten minutes shouldn’t feel so long. Would it take me an eternity to utter her name? It took me five or ten tries. We’d known each other in another country. She became a mother figure to me. We became friends. Then I spoke words that she rejected. I remember, as if it were yesterday, how frustrated I became with her. She became angry with me. She said things I hope I don’t remember. I returned to my own country a year later, where I thought those images of rejection would disappear. Perhaps what was happening in this psychoanalyst’s office was my attempt to reject that experience in that other country, as if doing so would erase the memory forever. Experiencing that rejection, years later, on the couch, with my listener out of sight, overwhelmed me. I needed to reject someone, and my speech became the victim. We weren’t out of time. Speech came to me. I started to remember what I had said and what she had said. The listener out of sight also spoke. Those images of anger and rejection no longer felt so threatening. Our time was up. I left his office with my images of rejection.
A few minutes remain. Words refuse to appear. I wait. There isn’t time for more coffee. Sometimes reading a few sentences or a paragraph of a book that seems related to what I’m working on helps. My body isn’t moving toward the bookshelves. I want to finish my thought, on paper, before I become a listener for another fifty minutes, and then for several more fifty-minute hours, until evening. The initial image of the incipient thought remains. It’s of the same human being that will be seated across from me five minutes from now, if he arrives on time. I haven’t written many articles based on my clinical experience with clients or patients. I wish I hadn’t reminded myself of that. These sentences in my mind have occupied time. Words start appearing on the piece of paper on my desk. I write one sentence, then a few more, about how I experience time while listening to him. The final sentence has been written, for now. I stand up and walk toward the door. In a few moments I’ll be seated again.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. I didn’t want to believe it. Everything was ready. In ten minutes, at 11 am, I would be connected to the Internet. A cup of coffee was alongside the laptop, up in the loft where the meeting of minds would happen. I almost wrote: unconscious minds. Skype wasn’t new to me. Neither was this acre of land, this cabin, or the beach below where I’d played as a child, the water, and the space upstairs with three skylights. I would start speaking, without knowing where the words would lead me, while the seemingly invisible other, supposedly in his downtown Seattle office, would listen and occasionally speak. I hoped the fire in the wood stove would last for fifty minutes. Maybe I should add another log. These first few days of January had been cold. I was wearing two tee shirts, a shirt, a sweater, and a jacket. The cabin was warming up. My mind was calming down. I wasn’t supposed to be in the San Juan Islands. I was in a four-times-a-week psychoanalysis. The couch was in a fourth floor office a block from Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. Why did my psychoanalyst agree to this? I added another log to the fire, glanced through the windows at Orcas Island in the distance, and was about to walk up the stairs to the loft when an answer to my question arrived: your analyst didn’t have a choice. He was part of the dream like you.
Fifteen years of reading and speaking in Spanish has its advantages. In my good moments during a day, I also think in my second language. These sentences come to me in English. I’m writing in this journal that I keep as a sort of record of what happens during each fifty-minute encounter with my psychoanalyst. Encounter can’t be the right word. What is a right word? He and I meet at scheduled times each week, both of us know the hours ahead of time, yet each session often becomes, to me, a surprise. The images that I’ve yet to record on paper, in sentences that have yet to be written, constitute a surprise. Our next session is in two hours. Other things besides this writing exercise demand my attention. But I can’t help myself. In my imagination, I’m in the office of another psychoanalyst, the gender remains a mystery, in Buenos Aires, in Argentina, where, according to what I read in Spanish yesterday online, psychoanalysis, especially Lacanian psychoanalysis, is alive and well. Am I alive and well? Is my work with Martin alive and well? Writing in this way reminds me of learning a new language. I feel as if I’m taking a risk in writing these sentences. Learning Spanish in Madrid was full of verbal and mental risks, on a daily basis. Psychoanalysis on the couch is similar. Each word spoken or unspoken, each silence, sometimes feels like a risk. As Martin listens and occasionally speaks, I learn, as if for the first time, to think and to feel and to experience. Language, speech, words, sentences, become real to me on the couch.
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.