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 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.
It was a question of time, he said. My mind was both with his words and somewhere else. For a long moment, I was uncertain what he was referring to, and then, without warning, his previous words returned to me. He was here, on this couch, several times a week, because, in his words, he couldn’t seem to accept that loss in life was inevitable. Reality appeared to tell him it was so. His mother had died a year earlier. Yet both this loss and that of others close to him who had died never seemed real enough to him. Perhaps death had become an overwhelming presence inside of him. New beginnings, such as this treatment or his recent decision to train to become a psychotherapist in his mid forties, didn’t seem any easier for him. It occurred to me that he was experiencing another kind of loss during this session, related to speech. His sentences seemed without freedom of movement, as if they lacked action and stopped before they’d started. Then I became aware of my own body: I seemed filled with anxiety and sadness, which seemed connected to what my patient was experiencing on the couch. Overwhelming anxiety and sadness might have been making it hard for him to construct sentences. “It was a question of time.” This was the same sentence that had surprised me minutes earlier. He continued: “I wanted and needed to experience this form of intensive psychotherapy a long time ago. But I didn’t think I could afford it or make such a time commitment.” Without thinking about the words that came to me, I reminded myself what I was listening to: my patient’s inner world. Then my own inner world reminded me that it too was involved: where were my own words in the room? I realized that part of me felt I should speak. Seconds later, the word “should” appeared in one of his sentences: “I should be happy about what I’m doing in my life, but right now I’m not.” Time, loss, sadness, determination, and hope all came to me simultaneously. I waited for them, or for other words, to appear together in a sentence or sentences that felt right to me. Then I might speak.
I heard the word patience and thought of impatience. Was he impatient with me? He said that he hadn’t lost patience with me. The word lost seemed important. He’d recently lost his job. Losing came to mind. A week or two earlier he’d told me that he was afraid of losing his mind, which I associated with total destruction. Seconds after the word destruction came to me, I realized that he was silent on the couch. His silence seemed partly responsible for the following thought: the room belonged to his silence. A few minutes later his words seemed to become the room. He said that I should listen carefully to his words about patience, because they were based on his own experiences. Was he frustrated or envious that I was younger than him? I was becoming frustrated. Frustration became the room. He was silent again. It was unlike him not to be speaking on the couch. I was anxious. He said that he was frustrated with me for being silent all of the time. I wasn’t doing my job well enough. The phrase “all of the time” seemed important. Did he want something from me all of the time? What might he want or not want from himself all of the time? He didn’t seem patient with himself. The word “unlike” returned. It was my word, not his. Maybe he was struggling to make contact with a part of himself that was unlike the him that he thought he was. He seemed to be waiting for me to say something. I seemed to be waiting, too. For what, I wondered.
The word no had appeared in three or four of his sentences in the last few minutes. We’d been in my office together for a few minutes. I wondered whether no originated in Old English. He spoke in English, though both of us also spoke Spanish, and there had been moments in previous sessions when he’d spoken in español. I glanced at the Oxford Dictionary of English on a shelf across the room from the couch, which would be occupied for another forty-five minutes or so. I imagined looking up the word confusion, which seemed to describe my current state of mind. How had he used no? His use of it seemed to have affected my ability to think. He uttered it again: there was no excuse for what she had done. She was his wife, no? Another sentence came to me: there was no time left. Who needed more time? Maybe my patient on the couch felt that time was running out. What had his wife done that was hurting him? Perhaps he was the one he wouldn’t excuse. After a pause, he started speaking again. He wasn’t angry with his wife. A female colleague had criticized him in a meeting at work. Silence returned. How long did it last? Then he said: she was right. There was something more than sadness in his voice. Hope seemed present too.
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.