My own words insisted that I listen to them. There wasn’t much else for me to do. The silence in the room reminded me of what I’d just said: I really felt bad that I had to reschedule our next session. I knew that wasn’t true. I didn’t feel bad at all. There was something else I had to do that day. The word “really” demanded my attention. Listening to these sentences in my head, I felt that I was overconfident about what was happening in my mind. How could I know if the words in my head were insisting on something? My spoken words ended the silence, and I heard myself say that I wanted to postpone our next session. I corrected myself. I wanted to reschedule it, which I’d said a minute or two earlier. But it was too late. My words had spoken. Were my words separate from me? They were expressing things against my will. Suddenly, my will, whatever it was, didn’t seem important. Our next session would be important, and I realized that I didn’t want to reschedule it. I wanted to be here on that day. She would be away for a week after that. The word “separate” returned to me. I felt more than thought that I didn’t want to be separate from her. It would only be a week. She wasn’t my mother. The words in my head were overwhelming me. I needed inner silence. I also needed a name for what I was experiencing.
There was no time for me to do what I wanted. I wished I knew what that was. Time was running out. I glanced at the clock across the small room, and I realized I was anxious. The couch was between me and the clock on the window sill. My sense of time in this room would soon change. The couch’s lone occupant would arrive, I hoped, in fourteen minutes. Time was on my mind. Or maybe my mind was lost in a mysterious sort of time in which seconds and minutes weren’t part of the equation. Or maybe they were, but I would never know for sure. Was something trying to figure itself out in my head? A long moment seemed to refuse to end. Then I turned my chair back toward the desk and checked my email on my laptop. There was a new mail that must have arrived in the last few minutes. A colleague commented on the book our study group was reading. It was difficult reading for me. The book was antiquated somehow, as if I weren’t satisfied with it. Maybe it wasn’t satisfied with me or my work with patients. Or maybe I was antiquated. Perhaps I needed to change how I worked. This was too much irrationality and uncertainty twelve minutes before a session. What work was I referring to? My own inner work was the most important, and doing it was the only way I could help anyone else. Time always seemed to be running out. Maybe I had to forget about time and numbers, for a minute.
I was stuck in traffic. I would probably arrive late to my office, and he wouldn’t know what had happened to me. He didn’t have a cell phone. If I were to send him an email right now, he might see it before leaving home to walk to my office. He didn’t drive and he didn’t have a cell phone. The word primitive came to mind. I was frustrated that I couldn’t call him. Whether or not to send him an email would be an interesting therapeutic decision for me, or maybe not. Did the word primitive refer to part of my own mind? He was my only patient in psychoanalysis. In addition to my regular psychotherapy practice, I saw him four times a week as part of my training to become a psychoanalyst. I was about to start writing an email on my phone when a disturbing thought came to me: I was never sure of anything in my work with him. All of the cars around me were motionless. Maybe that’s how I felt in my mind. If I was going to send him an email, I should do it now while he might still be seated in front of his computer. The sentences in my head seemed to have become repetitive. Perhaps that’s what I hoped for, a sort of mental push to help me decide what to do. My fingers started to type words on my phone. I deleted them. Then I wrote another first sentence, added one or two more, and sent it. I wrote that I might be a bit late. I wasn’t sure yet. The cars in front of me started moving again. I was moving again, both in my car and in my mind. The email was sent. I still didn’t know whether I would arrive late to my office. Was I facing what was happening in my own mind, or was I avoiding something? Uncertainty was overwhelming me, for the moment. I seemed afraid of becoming both stuck and unstuck.
I realized I had no idea what would find me in the psychology section of the bookstore where I would meet a friend in half an hour. Thirty minutes was enough time for me to walk there, but I wasn’t on the sidewalk yet. I hoped to have time to glance at some titles before meeting him in the coffee shop that was connected to the bookstore. My shoes were on and I was about to open the door when it came to me that maybe something surprising would happen to me in front of the shelves. I was excited about walking. As a psychotherapist, I spent much of the week seated in a chair. I realized I was less excited to meet my childhood friend for coffee. Why did the words “childhood friend” come to me? In reality, we had met at university. He was in Seattle for a few days, and I’d thought I was looking forward to seeing him again. His life seemed to have creative purpose. And mine didn’t? I’d been a confused and unhappy child. My dream had always been to spend my life doing something meaningful, meaningful to me first and foremost. The last few sentences came to me as I was about to enter the bookstore. I decided to spend a few moments in the psychology section before facing another reminder of my past in the coffee shop. The twenty-five or thirty minutes of walking had helped. I no longer felt confused or lost. A few minutes later, in front of my favorite books, I felt as if I were dreaming on my feet. The hardcover on the history of the psychoanalytic couch might as well have appeared to me in a dream. I’d imagined finding a book like this. Now I held it in my hands. I was a therapist. I was training to be a psychoanalyst. My own dreams were finding me.
I had seven minutes to watch my mom’s early childhood appear and disappear before my eyes. The airplane wouldn’t wait for me. The present that became the future that then became the past wouldn’t wait either. Time seemed to listen to itself. I didn’t have to catch the flight, did I? I would fly from Seattle to San Francisco and return a few days later. No one would miss me at the conference. In eight minutes I would be missing the same experience in this room that I imagined was about to make the next seven minutes unforgettable. Several of us stood or sat around my mom, who was seated in her chair in the living room of the small condo that my parents now called home. I couldn’t experience seventy some years of moments in seven minutes. My mom’s Parkinson’s seemed to progress in its own time. Why didn’t I skip the psychotherapy conference? There would be another one soon enough. The minutes and maybe hours that the others in the room would spend with the photos from when my mom’s entire life was in front of her wouldn’t return. Maybe I would still be here in ten minutes. The relative from Norway who’d brought the photos with her would fly back to Oslo in a few days. I had seven minutes to decide what I would do the minute after that.
I listened to his words about a dream with his sister, and it came to me that maybe he was afraid the images would become reality. They were together in a basement from their childhood, two adults in their forties arguing about what she was doing with a hammer in her hand. In reality, the basement was now his. In the dream, was it his, hers, or were they intruders in someone else’s house? My patient on the couch sounded tired. I was suddenly tired. He described the hammer that his sister gripped with one hand. He couldn’t remember if the handle of the hammer was red or black in the dream. They stood facing each other. Then, without warning, she hit it against the cement floor, one, two, three times, before he told her to stop. As I listened to him describe this, I reminded myself that this was our first session in a week. He’d been away with a hammer. Did I just say that to myself? He’d been away on business for a week. He woke up with these dream images in his head a day or two after our last session. Perhaps I was part of the dream. Maybe unconsciously he saw me as his angry sister who wanted to destroy the foundation of our work together. In reality, he knew very little about me. I became many things to him. And I experienced him in many ways. Perhaps, in both of our minds, we were in that basement, facing each other. I glanced at the clock beyond the couch where he was lying. Our time was up for today.
I thought I heard him say he was sick in mind. It didn’t sound like something he would say. How could I know what he would say next? He was supposed to attempt to say whatever came to mind. Sick in bed came to my mind. Why was I questioning his associations on the couch? My job was to listen. Perhaps he was judging himself for something he’d done either in reality or in his imagination or in both. Fantasy was important in this room. He’d stopped speaking. For how long had he been silent? His words, sick in mind, returned to me. I heard myself say aloud: “You sound sad, as if you believe that you are sick in mind and that you can’t recover from it.” “I feel as if I were in bed and I don’t want to get up.” Maybe he felt trapped, in his mind, in his body, and he experienced himself as helpless. Perhaps I felt trapped. Trapped and helpless reminded me of his words, sick in mind. Now I remembered more of what he’d said along with those words. The words had come to him in a dream, in which a man, who stood nearby in the darkness, said that he was sick in mind. Awake, on the couch, my patient seemed to believe the dream figure’s words. Was I somehow this figure in the darkness? I imagined myself lying down. Maybe the middle-aged man before me on the couch was ready to get to his feet and walk out the door. I would become the one sick in mind and unable to recover. Time was running out. In a few minutes we would separate until next time. Until then our focus would be his mind.