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 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.
There was no doubt in his mind that I was wrong. Was there no doubt in his mind? He had a good reason for wanting some certainty in those initial minutes in my office, on the couch, with me seated out of sight, surrounded by uncertainty. What was I wrong about in his mind? I couldn’t remember what he’d been speaking about. I might have been seeking my own certainty. Experience had taught me that it didn’t help to try to remember anything during a session. Anything or everything would come to me on its own. It was unclear what he thought I was wrong about. I realized that I was confused in part because I’d yet to speak since he’d walked through the door five or six minutes ago. Was he referring to something from our last session? It was unusual for me to remain quiet this long. My own silence might have created too much uncertainty in myself. I wasn’t the only silent person in the room. “I was wrong” were the last words he’d spoken. Or maybe I was wrong about that. The few sentences he’d uttered had seemed to disappear. I wanted some certainty, a fact, something I could be sure of, during this silence. Suddenly, the opening minutes of the session returned to me: he’s spoken in a low voice and said that he was frustrated with himself because he wanted me to tell him that he was wrong and I was right (about what was unclear). There were no facts in my head. I wanted no doubts in my mind. Both of us were afraid of being wrong.
It was 10:07 on a Monday morning. I felt his frustration as if it were mine. The rain pattered against the window. I was anxious as another week of work started. I took a deep breath. I had yet to speak. Images of him at his office over the weekend surprised me. The number nine was repeating itself in my head. Where did it come from? Did he just ask me a question? Had he said anything about working at his office over the weekend? He said that he had to work nine more days before flying to Boston to visit family. Wasn’t his family in New York? Wasn’t I frustrated? He said that he’d worked over the weekend, at home. I imagined him with his laptop, on a sofa, in bed. He became silent. Sentences arrived in my mind uninvited. He blamed me for his troubles. He was frustrated with me for not speaking. The session wouldn’t end well. It was 10:16. I imagined that both of us were listening to the rain pattering against the window. He was on the couch. I was seated behind him. Our minds were separate, whether we liked it or not. Maybe he was frustrated. Maybe I was too.
Practice makes perfect weren’t the words I’d expected to hear repeating themselves in my head at 4:30 am. It was dark inside the cabin. As I walked down the stairs from the loft, I imagined myself falling down and reaching the ground floor with something broken. There was no doctor or hospital on the island. I hadn’t imagined such a situation before. No one would know that I’d fallen. I would need a miracle. Someone would need to rescue me. Rescue felt like a familiar word. This early morning departure and the trip to Seattle seemed connected to being rescued. I thought of practice again, this time without perfect. The following three days would be about practice, wouldn’t they? I was in the small kitchen, with the lights on, I prepared myself coffee, and practice makes perfect appeared again, along with images of one of my favorite former professional basketball players, Chris Mullin, who retired years ago. The images were inner versions of what I’d seen on YouTube, a few minutes of footage from a game in the mid 1990s in which Mullin’s shots seemed effortless. He played that well. I felt as if I were watching an artist at work. These words, the ones I created sentences with each and every day, were the heart of my practice. I needed caffeine to think. I was a vignette writer, wasn’t I? Whatever I wanted to call what I wrote, I wrote as many of them as possible, and although I hoped all of them were good, I knew that both life and writing didn’t work that way. Chris Mullin must have had games when he felt that all of his practice in the gym had been worthless. Worthless wasn’t a welcoming word. Maybe it would come to mind during one of my psychoanalytic sessions on the couch in the next three days. Living in this cabin in the San Juan Islands a few days a week was new to me, and I sometimes felt as if I’d never set foot inside before. I would be both here and in Seattle, where I had yet to rent out the four-room condo that, like this cabin, I’d received through inheritance. The writing group I’d joined was also new to me. Finally, I had caffeine in my system. Maybe I would have a good day. Maybe I wouldn’t feel worthless. I didn’t want to just practice. I wanted to play in the game. Was I really living my life?
There’s no tomorrow. It’s Monday. I’ve had two coffees this morning. I’m awake. What’s so important about today? Maybe two or three of these sentences came to me as I crossed the threshold of Mary’s office. The fifty minutes wouldn’t last long. The session had already started, when I’d left the waiting room and walked up the stairs to the second floor. She glanced at me as I passed her on my way to the couch. What might have been on her mind? I hadn’t filled it with anything yet. Maybe she saw something on my face as my eyes moved from her to the couch. The couch was why we were here. I could never seem to focus on it before I lay down. I was afraid to look around. The silence in the room intimidated me. Why might there be no tomorrow in my mind? It seems a good question. Both of us were in our respective positions when I mentioned the no tomorrow. She said something. I think she said Monday. The back and forth between present and past tense in my mind is confusing me. Maybe it also was confusing me. How can there be a tomorrow if I haven’t arrived in today yet? I wanted to speak about my thought regarding the couch: it was why we were here. The silence in the room seemed to say that I wasn’t ready. Ready for what? I wonder. Today, tomorrow, or yesterday?