We also did fold-dye, as I did years later with my godkids (see 9-9-19), only instead of using paper towels, I bought large sheets of elegant rice paper from a Japanese shop. Back then you could also buy a high-gloss transparent contact paper. So we created collage cards by arranging torn pieces of tissue paper on card stock that we fixed in place with the adhesive contact paper. Even after all these years the colors are still bright.



When I found out that my friend high school friend Meryl had taught an art class for the kids in her neighborhood, I decided try to earn some money doing the same. I put up fliers and wound up teaching two classes, with a handful of elementary-age students. Besides drawing, we did all kinds of craft projects, some of my own invention. For one assignment, I showed them photos of colorful beetles and asked them to draw one of their own. Their beetles were so spectacular, I wish I had copies of them to showcase on my blog, but back in those days we didn’t have Copymats. My very favorite, done by the one boy in my classes, I replicated and have kept all these years. I only wish I could remember his name so I could give credit where it’s due.

His creation is the one above. Below is one of mine.



After Dr. G, I started therapy with Dr. A, president of the American Psychiatric Association. Who could be more of an expert? I reasoned.

He was gray-haired, grandfatherly, and smoked a pipe, his office in a comfortable room in a beautiful Victorian house in San Francisco, which, unfortunately, was a forty-five minute drive from Concord. I have little memory of what our sessions were like in the ten months that followed because I never wrote about them.

I do remember I had such a desperate need to be heard—and believed!—that, since I could only afford one session a week, I spent the days in between unburdening myself in fantasy sessions in the run up to the real ones. But while I was voluble in my imaginary scenarios, face-to-face with Dr. A I felt anxious and constrained, though he seemed amiable enough—at first. I remember him saying on one occasion that I had the makings of a strong ego, which gave me hope. On another occasion, however, when I heard him in a phone conversation with another patient and I remarked (no doubt a little wistfully) how comfortable their relationship seemed, he told me that such a relationship had to be earned.

As I mentioned in my vignette “Shame,” for the longest time I didn’t dare ask him any personal questions because I was afraid if he told me he was divorced, it would be proof to me that love didn’t really exist—which I felt at the time would be more than I could bear. If such a prominent expert on mental health couldn’t make marriage work, what hope was there for me?

So it was many months before I found the courage to ask if he was married and if he had any children. In the interim I’d spotted his spotless black Mercedes Benz behind a chain link fence in the back of the building and seen him walking a frou-frou little dog— and I’d wondered if he wasn’t a bit of a snob. He said yes to my first question—and that his wife was an interior decorator—but no to the second. On the drive home I found myself wishing I had a therapist with four kids, a mutt for a dog, and a beat-up station wagon—someone who seemed more approachable.

I also remember that when I put up fliers all over my neighborhood and started teaching an art class for kids in my mother’s home, he was singularly unimpressed, though to me it seemed like a huge leap forward. I had always felt so constricted by the institutions that had structured my existence from as far back as I could remember—the educational system and the jobs I’d had—that the idea of being self-employed, even modestly so, felt…revolutionary!

Then one day he told me he didn’t believe that the wonderful, empowering conversation I’d just had with Ella about our friendship had happened the way I said it did. When I asked why, he said, “Because I don’t believe you’re capable of intimacy.”

If your therapist doesn’t believe you when you’re telling the truth, my advice is to head for the nearest exit.

Coincidentally, I’d just received a letter from my father announcing he wouldn’t be sending me any more money—this despite the fact that I was still struggling with depression. For all he knew, I was at a critical stage in my therapy, just as I had been with my voice lessons. My take-away was that my father didn’t care if I lived or died. And though Dr. A offered to lower his fee, I did head for the exit.



“Dear Ella,

“I’m so sorry I missed seeing you and Dale in Healdsburg. I hope you’ll pardon my not getting back to you. That week was the end of a brief—traumatic—affair with a man named Bob. It was also a big, traumatic week for therapy—I wound up leaving Dr. G soon after. I guess I should tell you the whole story—about Bob, I mean.

“He’s a young doctor, just out of med school, who had worked with my mother at Herrick Hospital a couple of years ago, saw my photograph on her desk, and wanted to take me out. Mom had mentioned this to me back then, but I wasn’t interested. He’d left Berkeley for a time and then showed up at Herrick one day with an emergency case of appendicitis—one of his patients, that is.

“He told Mom he now worked at a Chicano clinic in Oakland and that if I was looking for volunteer work, I might help out at the clinic. Then he called me up for a date. That’s how I met him—actually, it’s the only way I could have met him. I was too depressed to go out looking for a man.

“He was short, stocky, bearded—virile-looking, with a twinkly kind of smile. As I got to know him, I discovered he had a wacky sense of humor that delighted me, that he was very bright and knowledgeable (he graduated from Stanford) and versatile too. He loved music, played the piano a bit, enjoyed literature and poetry, dabbled in photography, sailed, skied, and water skied, etc. He’d even been president of Berkeley High, where I went to school!

“What’s more, he was friendly, gregarious, sensitive, and psychologically astute—and we had such fun together! We hiked, swam, sailed at Lake Tahoe, and had barbecues with his friends. In Mendocino we rented a little motel cabin on the 4th of July weekend, roamed the woods and the beaches, perused the little art galleries, and finished off the evenings with cocktails and dinner at fancy restaurants. In a few short weeks, he told me he felt closer to me than any woman he’d ever been with. For the first time in my life I thought, I could marry this man!

“Then one day we talked about attitudes towards marriage, and he announced that he wasn’t particularly committed to the idea of marital fidelity, nor was he willing to be monogamous with me—a deal-breaker…” Of course, he told me this after we became lovers. 

The letter goes on, but not with the whole story. What I failed to mention is that the night Bob told me this—at his apartment—once again I felt sucked down into a dark vortex of pain. When I went to my car to drive home, I thought of the relief a scream had brought me before and wondered if I could muster the determination to do it again. And though I worried that I would alarm the neighbors, who might think I was being assaulted, I did scream. But this time I felt no relief whatsoever. Still, I didn’t break up with Bob immediately, telling myself that maybe, if I just hung in there, he might have a change of heart. So when he invited me back up to his family’s cabin at Lake Tahoe, I accepted.

We drove up with a couple of his close friends—and just as I had with Steve years before, I felt shut out of the conversation. On arrival, we hiked over to another friend’s cabin, where more of his friends, including a couple of pretty girls, were gathered. Soon it was decided that we’d all go sailing. After we got back and everyone was lounging around, I asked Bob if he would go for a walk with me, but he refused. Hurt, I set off by myself, intending to make my way back to his cabin—but somehow I got lost. Eventually he came looking for me because I’d been gone so long. But at that point, even before he found me, I knew it was over.

That night he slept on the cabin sofa and allowed me to sleep in the bed. But I couldn’t sleep. Instead I spent the night grappling with the impulse to commit suicide. Again, I was in such pain, I felt the only way I could communicate it was by taking, or attempting to take, my own life. Since I’d been silenced by my family, never allowed to tell the truth about my despair, it seemed to me that killing myself would be the most honest, the most courageous and eloquent thing I could do—a last act to reclaim my own integrity, the consummate act of self-expression. Beyond this, I felt a sort of mortal exhaustion that I couldn’t go on trying anymore. I was ready to relinquish control and place myself in the hands of “fate.” It would be dishonest to make an unserious attempt, I thought, so, throughout the night, I wrestled with indecision. Then towards dawn I found my resolve—I would slit my wrists, I decided, but make no sound or cry for help. Whether I would be discovered in time to save my life or not I would leave to chance.

I went into the bathroom—but couldn’t get the blade out of Bob’s disposable razor. Afraid that unless I did, I wouldn’t be able to cut deep enough, I struggled with it for a time—until I realized it was hopeless and gave up.

Years later I talked to a neighbor friend of Arlen’s, Lois, who had attempted suicide and survived—and felt a powerful envy, wishing it had been me. But a few more years passed, and I heard from Arlen that Lois had tried again. This time she’d succeeded.

Some time later, my mother mentioned she’d run into Bob. He’d told her he was in therapy and that I was the angriest person he’d ever met, adding but maybe it was his own anger that he’d been afraid of.

For my part, I never saw Bob again—and he would never know how close he’d come to finding corpse in his bedroom the next morning.



ROOM OF GRAY RAIN (song lyrics)


There’s an empty room that needs a chair

A photo with no frame

A fireplace that’s cold and bare

A mailbox with no name

No one comes to visit there

To her it’s all the same

She sits and wiles away the hours

In a room full of gray rain


If someone asks, just say she’s fine

Just say she says hello

It’s no one’s fault these days and nights

She finds she’s going so slow

Of course she thinks of him sometimes

And wonders if he’s changed

But it’s so hard to think at all

In a room full of gray rain


A strange thing happened yesterday

It cleared before the dawn

And in the mirror she paused to see

Her own reflection gone



When I first came home, my mother treated me better for a time—because of my abortion, I believe, realizing that it had been a painful experience for me. She even allowed me to keep the cockatiel I’d bought in southern California—“Mutty,” for “muttonchops,” because when he fluffed up his neck feathers, it looked like that old-fashioned style of beard. But it wasn’t long before she lapsed into abusiveness again. As for my brother, he was as hostile towards me as ever. When I went out of my way to be nice to him, he snarled, “Leave me alone. I don’t want to be your friend!”

They’d moved to a new condominium in Concord, only a few blocks away from my grandmother and Uncle Rob. It had cream carpeting and mostly cream upholstery—and one wall of the living room was a mirror, which made the place look bigger. My mother always sat in a blue velvet chair facing the mirror—and when she caught a glimpse of herself, she would adjust her mouth into an odd, artificial-looking smile, apparently trying to look prettier or put on a more pleasant expression.

I slept on the living room sectional, while my mother and brother occupied the two bedrooms upstairs. Most of the few possessions I’d packed into a trunk before my move to southern California wound up in a cramped storage closet off the tiny back patio.

When I’d visited my dad, I’d told him how depressed I was and asked if he would help me financially to resume therapy with someone I chose, rather than someone who was assigned to me. He agreed—but said he would pay only as much as my mother did. Mom also agreed and recommended Dr. G, who had impressed her when he spoke at a conference she’d attended.

It was clear to me from our first session that Dr. G engaged far more with his clients than either of my psychiatrists had—and I left feeling a rush of hope. After the second session, however, I wrote:

I’d hoped that therapy would be different this time, that I’d find a therapist who would be a friend—someone who would like me, believe in me, trust me. I wanted a place to pour out everything that was inside—good and bad— and be able to trust my therapist to understand, to forgive the bad and appreciate the good.

But today when I walked out of Dr. Goren’s office and headed for the john, I felt a storm of tears threatening. And later I thought about committing suicide again. I feel I need empathy and understanding from a therapist—and that if I can’t find these things, the only alternative is suicide because I can’t go on living with these feelings—either half-dead with a desolating emptiness or in the throes of wild despair.

The main purpose of the session today was to find out why I was so excited after the last one and why I walked in so scared today. It was his theory that I became excited because I thought I was going to be remade by him in therapy. “A beautiful fantasy,” he said, “being remade.” But I think I was elated because, when he guided me in his questioning last week, it gave me a feeling of partnership. I imagined that I’d found the rapport I’ve been so starved for there aren’t even words to express it.

I saw Dr G only a few times, deciding to quit therapy with him after a session in which he tried to bully me into an admission that I was a lesbian. I’d gone home and cried bitterly, afraid he might be right, when all I’d ever wanted was a man to share my life with. I was so suggestible at the time I couldn’t even factor in what should have been obvious to me—that I was attracted to Dr. G himself.