The images behind the sentences I wrote overwhelmed me. So I wrote fewer words, fewer images arrived, or the ones that did troubled me less, and they didn’t seem to interfere with the words that appeared on the screen. These words I’m writing now constitute a fresh start. It might be time for the overwhelming images to return. I’m lying on a couch, the same one I do in reality, in the same therapeutic space where I entered and left several hours ago, and I start to scream. The last four words appeared without my permission, and I wonder whether I give too much or too little importance to the “I” who gave permission. In reality, I’ve never screamed in a psychotherapist’s office. I’ve been speaking on a psychoanalytic couch for nearly a year, and I believe my voice has never made me as uncomfortable as it would if I were to scream. I’m not a screamer, or am I? As I reread the last two sentences, I found myself rewriting the clause, I’ve been speaking on a psychoanalytic couch, in my mind: I’ve been screaming on a couch. The overwhelming images I mentioned in the opening sentence have become all too real in my imagination. I’ve been a stutterer since birth (I’m trying to allow free association more say in what appears), and what I know of the human mind from personal experience seems inseparable from the difficulties I have in listening to my own voice. Stuttering can be a sort of scream for help. One’s voice, or one’s voices, need experience to be heard as they really are. The images of a screaming me are about pain, pain I experience as a human being, and I imagine these images saying to me: scream, scream, scream, scream, and learn from your screaming voice.
I was so anxious about setting foot in a psychoanalyst’s office for the first time that I didn’t imagine what might happen while I was there. I’m not thinking clearly, which means that I’m not writing clearly. This wouldn’t be the first time I’d set foot in a psychoanalyst’s office. It would be the first time I would speak with an analyst about the possibility of me becoming a patient or analysand on the analytic couch. Perhaps the confusion I’ve experienced while writing these one, two, five sentences reflects the confused state of mind I was in both before and during my first face-to-face conversation with a psychoanalyst about transforming a dream into reality. This last word, reality, makes me pause. In rereading the notes I took last summer while searching for a potential psychoanalyst in Seattle, I didn’t sound confused about reality. When I’m in a dream that is happening to me, reality remains far away, no? These last few sentences remind me of what I discovered later on, when the dream had become reality, and I spoke on the couch a few times a week, with only windows in front of me, my analyst seated out of sight, behind me. Speaking, or writing, without conscious control can disorientate me. I’m disorientated right now. Last August, a psychoanalyst and I spoke on the phone on a Friday, and we met face-to-face for the first time the following Tuesday. There seemed to be no hurry for me to lie on the couch. Yet I was in a hurry to set foot in her office. Before I appeared unannounced at her open door, she’d known only my anxious voice. In this way, our first session started a minute or two early. I shouldn’t have let the waiting room. I blamed my confusion on anxiety. I couldn’t remember whether I was supposed to wait for her in the waiting room or appear at her door at the designated hour. Thought was far away. The part of me that demanded certainty won, and I appeared at her door, which was when thought returned, and I realized I should have waited in my seat in the waiting room. She wasn’t ready for me. She let me enter. I was safely inside what had long been a dream space to me. Where was reality in this image?
We met for the first time on a warm Tuesday afternoon in mid August. For a few years before that day, after returning to Seattle from Madrid where I’d lived for nearly a decade, I passed the building countless times without imagining it, as if part of my future remained near me in silence. Our voices had met on the phone the previous Friday. I’d already left her a message when I left another, and she called twenty or thirty minutes later. Writing about this phone conversation ten months later, I’m relying more on my imagination than on anything else. I’ve read the notes I took afterwards. They don’t help me much in trying to discover what kind of narrative I want to write. Sometimes writing sentences helps me feel as if I were on a psychoanalyst’s couch. How I wish I could write freely without having to stop to correct something, which perhaps is why I try to welcome fantasy into my sentences. Fortunately, reality doesn’t disappear, either here in my writing room or on my psychoanalyst’s couch. My efforts of these last ten months to free-associate for fifty minutes at a time in Mary’s consulting room have convinced me that Freud’s ambition was limitless. Saying whatever comes to mind can sometimes feel like an impossible task to me, and I haven’t felt much better about myself after reading papers by psychoanalysts who agree with me. I can’t remember for how long Mary and I spoke on the phone. Maybe I’m afraid to remember. It was a frightening experience, which is not what I’d hoped to write. She could have said no to treating me. It’s difficult to see my anxiety in the last sentence. The phone call ended, and over the weekend I wondered what might happen on Tuesday when I would enter the building I’d never imagined for the first time.
His words were doing something to me. Did I just say his? Her words were moving my imagination in unexpected directions, which was a good sign. The therapeutic process was in motion. Yet part of me seemed unprepared for this receptive role, which alarmed me since listening to others was at the heart of what I did. We’d been in the room together for eight or ten minutes. In therapeutic time, hours remained before we would say goodbye. Or maybe there wouldn’t be a goodbye, the images of which made me anxious: she would walk out of the room without glancing at me, or the look on her face would make me doubt that I would see her next week. Part of the reason I’d been in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis myself for years was to learn how to deal with such inner conflictual moments. Yet here I was, struggling with images in my mind and emotions in my body, while the woman across from me remembered a trip to Rome with her family years earlier. On some level, was she speaking about wanting to escape from daily life? This didn’t feel right, at least for the moment, and once again I thought: her words are doing something to me. Minutes were disappearing into what would soon be a previous session. The trip to Rome years ago had become part of the present in her mind. It was the last time she remembered having enjoyable moments with both of her parents. As I listened to her say this, something inside of me started to change, a moment to moment kind of change. Everything happening inside of me was fluid. Fear had disappeared, for now.
I heard his voice. I heard his words. Several minutes passed in this way. It was Monday. Twenty-four hours earlier, I’d been reading a book by one of my favorite psychotherapists on an airplane. I felt my body telling me that not all of me was back in the office. For months this client had been sitting across from me once a week. The psychotherapist I’d read the day before wrote as if he were a novelist. I often felt as if I were in the room with him and his clients as an invisible observer, which was how I felt now, during this fifty-minute hour: invisible. This word felt unwelcome. I felt unwelcome in my own office. My client was speaking about an email he’d written yesterday. I imagined reading his sentences, as if I would be a welcomed reader. I was welcomed in his mind sometimes, and I wondered whether fatigue was preventing me from discovering if I was welcomed there now. He was asking me what I thought about the email he’d sent. I wished I’d felt more welcomed at the workshop I’d attended and returned home from last night. My client was silent. Maybe he didn’t feel welcomed, either in his own mind or by me, and he was searching for a way to connect with me, right now. The psychotherapist who wrote as if he were a novelist came to mind again. In his books he was honest about his struggles as he listened to clients. I was struggling, right now. And this wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time. This was not the time for me to be invisible to myself. We were seated across from each other. What was happening between us, in silence? The silence in the room seemed to invite me to listen.
I had no idea why I was calming down. Tomorrow morning a dream of mine would come true. I almost wrote that tomorrow a dream would come to me, as if I thought myself capable of foreseeing the immediate future. Tomorrow felt overwhelming. The meeting wasn’t so important. I would talk with an author whose books I’d enjoyed reading. We would meet over coffee. Why did I write meeting? I hoped it would be more informal than that. What would be formal about two people talking over coffee? It was hard to admit that this dream would soon come true. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe he would send me an email at the last minute and say he was busy writing and didn’t have time to talk to me about writing. I was anxious again. This dream was so real. I was ready to wake up. But the author hadn’t rejected me yet. My dream of speaking with an author whom I’d enjoyed reading couldn’t come true. He would have no reason to drink coffee with me. As if I’d forgotten, I remembered that we were related somehow and that he was in Seattle for a few nights. And somehow, each of us knew that the other was in psychoanalysis. I might have something to write about afterwards. Or maybe he would. Or maybe both of us would. The dream had to finish first.
I was in a hurry in my mind. I wanted to be anywhere instead of where I was in my own head. There was something dangerous and unknown about where I seemed to be inside of myself. Danger and unknowns seemed connected in a threatening way. I wasn’t alone in my mind. Something awaited me in mental darkness. Don’t forget about me, I felt my body saying as I fidgeted on the couch. I imagined myself saying in a defiant tone: there’s no room in me for sadness. Then I heard myself speak, and I felt the person seated behind me listening: Darkness, sadness, body, and mind are all together, in me. But it’s a crime for me to think these things. More words left my mouth, as if arriving out of nowhere: I don’t want to witness what’s sad and dark in me. Seated behind me, Mary said something about me being a witness to my own mind. I associated the word witness with a crime or an accident, as if I were breaking the law by thinking creatively. I stared out the window at the dark sky. I glanced up at the ceiling, at bookshelves across the room, and I imagined turning around and looking at my psychoanalyst, which I knew I shouldn’t do. Should I speak or should I be silent? As if the realization had been waiting for this particular moment to reveal itself to me, I realized I was no longer in a hurry in my mind. I was remaining in what had felt like a threatening mental and bodily space, and I was sad. I said this aloud. Something important was happening inside of me. I imagined a cross, thought of sacrifice, and I was sad. And it wasn’t a crime.