Aug 1, 2022

In one of my early sessions with Beth, I said I felt like I was trapped in a vice:

“Beth is asking me, ‘What did you construct the two sides of the vise of?’ Turbulent impressions…I’m remembering stroking my own hair and cheek, as I would a disconsolate child’s, to quiet myself to sleep. I’m thinking, ‘She expects me to know.’ My little brother comes to my mother with sobs and this complaint, ‘I can’t start kindergarten yet! I don’t know how to read.’ How can I know something before I’ve had a chance to learn?

“My answer is a hedge—in more ways than one. She says I’ve done something or other again, and what I hear in her voice is not commendation. Ironic. Despite my efforts not to fail, I’ve failed…somehow.

“I struggle to make out nebulous obstructions. ‘If you’d said…’ She deprecates my suggestion. She chose her words deliberately, she insists. She’s sure of herself. Unfair advantage! Where is there a safe place? Yanking a flower, does it grow stronger or faster?

“One day long ago, I hugged Mrs. Unruh on the piano bench. She met demands, did not make them. She disarmed me with patience—divested me of the weapons I unwittingly use against myself—made it unnecessary for me to beat myself, like a dull or torpid or recalcitrant donkey that won’t go.

“Beth tells me I’ve misunderstood her intent. But how can I know what she intends until she tells me? Too often, I’ve felt like a suspect, muscled into a back room to be grilled, bullied, and intimidated. My mother was one who always demanded I give an accounting of myself. Out of flimsy alibis, I constructed a self-esteem like a house of cards.

“I’m trying to remember something Beth said to me the week before when I told her about John. I said it was like something ‘too big to swallow, that had left me gagging.’ It was ‘I think you set yourself up for disappointment.’

“I had said, ‘I feel every time I reach out for help I get kicked in the teeth.’ To make that statement, I’d had to clear a formidable hurdle of fear. Afterwards I’d flinched as though expecting a blow.

“What is it that I’m not allowed to express—my own craziness? Keep those psychic hobgoblins hidden, those two-headed, twelve-toed tenants of my head—bitterness, paranoia, self-pity. Must I then, always and only, manifest what is sane and sound and good and right?

“So I’m the one who constructed the vise—I’m the one who creates my own disappointments. A sense of culpability, like a powerful undertow, draws me down. I wish she wouldn’t make it all my fault. And to the extent that I am to blame—a child falls out of a tree and, broken and bleeding, is he to be told merely, ‘You did this to yourself. Now you’ll know better than to climb a tree.’ Will an object lesson bind his wounds and make him whole again?”

The other morning in the wee hours, I was sitting on the edge of my bed, sipping a cup of warm milk, hoping to put myself back to sleep, when I flashed on a family photo I’d recently discovered and inserted belatedly into my 9-23-19 blog “Dark Secret.” Below is a cropped version of it.

So Beth wanted me to believe I’d created the vise myself, I thought. Really? (Not only did my father have a tenacious grip on my mind for many years, evidence would eventually come to light that he’d likely sexually abused me too.)