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Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summer by Mathias B. Freese Book Tour



Life’s struggles, adversaries, and miseries offers material for a novel like this on time-beings. Well done!

on April 27, 2016
In 2015 I reviewed I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust. Mathias B. Freese’s latest title, the memoir Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers, discloses the memories since the author’s birth in 1940 up to 2015 with a focus on 2 life-changing summers in Woodstock. 1968 and 1969 were pivotal in entering adulthood. As retired psychotherapist Freese uses both a therapist, himself, his son and a wife as alternating protagonists in this novel. “What I knew of my limited world was hand fed to me in pieces, tessera, haphazardly at that, and I had no inner apparatus to understand my feelings or sense of it.” Tessara should be plural here, as much as homo sapien had to be homo sapiens. So far my editorial comments on the use of Latin. The author uses words to feed his readers bit by bit, sometimes repeating himself, jumping back and forth in time, to make sense of his own life. He uses films, books, important events in history ranging from the Korean War and the first landing on the Moon, to frame his coming of age.

His Jewish roots versus Christian culture makes him whisper Amazing Grace. His repressive and sexual agnostic youth was countered by the discovery of naked Big Beautiful Woman and failing relationships with merely ordinary specimens. Woodstock for him is Time itself. Now in his seventies, Freese has a compelling gravity to look back to the past, to remember, relive and transfer to e.g. his son Jordan. But life is larger than words, the author’s more than the personality he described in Tesserae. Life’s struggles, adversaries, and miseries offers material for a novel like this on time-beings. Well done!




April 17, 2016

Reviewed by Molly Martin

A Memoir of Two Summers
by Mathias B Freese
Paperback: 236 pages, February 15, 2016, ISBN-13: 978-1627873536


By definition a tesserae is a small block or piece of glass, pebbles, tile, bone, or other materials employed in the creation of a mosaic. Using this definition; the title of this book, Tesserae, indicates to the reader that a mosaic of vibrant narrative pieces will be conveyed to generate an interesting, perhaps uplifting, array.  I found myself becoming drawn into the work through a shared sense of nostalgia.  Freese carries the reader along from summers spent in Woodstock, into his life during the sixties, through to the current time. The 1963 political scene, black and white TV, skinny dipping, high school friends, an affair and the ending of that affair, the sixties and an awareness of the self, Woodstock summers, sharing difficult memories, musing over daily happenings, and at last musing from the period well beyond the sixties and coming to grips with everything in between leave the reader with an understanding of the ‘unconscious forces which human beings generally dismiss as so much climate change chatter and we really can’t get our minds around evolutionary psychology which, with monumental and ever growing scientific evidence, states that our genes rule us, that we are simply host bodies, that our genes mutate and struggle for what is best for their survival. ‘

Freese’s writing is charming. As each chapter focuses on a phase of Freese’s life: his memories and feelings concerning marriage, youth, aging, regret, and memory, Freese weaves a narrative rich in human frailty and humanity. His reflections regarding life, affection and the way we all change and become who we are now, may serve to motivate the reader toward exploring and perhaps setting down memories for themselves. Freese’s writing is distinctive and well-written with universal appeal. Tesserae is a work to be read and perhaps re-read, for the perceptions it offers into memory and the nature of the self.

Reviewed by: molly martin



Please tell us about yourself.

Retired English teacher and analytic psychotherapist, I have been a writer for almost 50 years. I am self-taught, with the deficits of any autodidact. I resist being shown how to write. I prefer to reinvent the wheel – in that is a learning by itself. Suffering has taught me a great deal. Writing simply reveals that anguish. The purpose of all my written works has been to educate myself about who I am and for that no teacher can work with me except to hand me a copy of Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style, and leave me be. Consequently my writing reveals an awakening of intelligence, as Krishnamurti phrased it. I am a seeker and marketing of my books is a kind of perverse expression. I would like to be read, although I consistently refuse to shape my work for any market. That is a writer’s sellout, capitalistic perversion of the highest order. I say what I have to say whether you like it or not. The resistance to my latest effort has been strong. I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust has been reviewed splendidly; however, some bloggers, some editors and some reviewers reject even reviewing it. That says more about the Holocaust than it says about me.

When I come across an individual who is empty, I will on occasion tell him or her that he or she is not a serious human being. To be serious about how one lives one’s life is essential to my make-up. I don’t suffer fools.

Please tell us your latest news.

I am glad to report that I won The Beverly Hills Book Award 2015 in the category of short stories. That was a thrill. For writers I would suggest that they submit their work to as many contests as possible, Poets & Writers lists dozens of them with deadlines and entry fees, if any. At least you have judges looking at your work, so you are being read.

When and why did you begin writing?

My first expression was a poem I wrote at 18 that was accepted by the Yearbook. As I look back it clearly references the depression I was in. To add to that, the teacher-editor threw out the original title and missed entirely the basic theme of the poem. So much for English teachers who think they are editors. It didn’t help my depression, just made me angry.

In 1968 an article, “Is content enough?” was accepted by an educational journal and was the first professionally piece accepted by a publication. It took 10 years to secrete another effort. I had no idea I was moving into writing. I can say, looking back, that early fiction and non-fiction pieces were written to work out or work through psychological and emotional feelings of long standing. Consequently I view writing as a personal therapy, a working through, to use psych-speak, of what harassed my emotional states.

For 30 years I wrote my stories and I promised myself that someday I would publish all of them, for some, indeed, had been published in little magazines. In 2008, I self-published Down to a Sunless Sea at the age of 68. It was reviewed favorably. A novel about the Holocaust, The i Tetralogy, was published in 2005, and a book of essays, This Mobius Strip of Ifs,” a prize-winner as well, in 2012. So as I age the rewards come. I am the Aesopian tortoise.

What inspired you to write your first book?

The i Tetralogy took me several years and it is graphic, overwhelming and heart-rending; reviewers have said that. It is like Rashomon. I explore the mind and life of a concentration camp victim, and then I explore the mind of his perpetrator. I may not spell well, I may not be grammatically correct all the time, but what I have learned is that my imagination is first rate. But that is not enough. As a psychotherapist I learned to master to a large degree to be empathetic. Combining empathy and imagination allowed me to creep into the mind of both victim and victimizer. And so my first book revealed my feelings about what it is to be a Jew.

The Spanish Inquisition in 1492 based on racial purity led directly, indeed, was the template for the Hitlerian Holocaust. I wanted to learn how that came about. I have several reasons and understandings about all that. Chalk it up to the species being damaged; we are beyond remediation. All this is in the Tetralogy.

What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?

I say pompously that I do a lot of reflection, but is that being pompous, or is that what this collapsed culture thinks about it. For decades I have read the works of Krishnamurti as a kind of thread as I walk through the maze. So I am a seeker, believing wholeheartedly that the observer is the observed. Read his Think on These Things (Harper) and write me a note. I am a dedicated cinephile and, of course, I recommend that you see Pandora by Pabst, and the glorious work of Louise Brooks ( her book, Lucille in Hollywood, is a hoot). I am a real lover of anything Art Nouveau, and seek out objects, whether valuable or not, that reveal that era. Gustave Klimt is a favorite. I admire the Pre-Raphaelites as well. I recently over extended myself and bought a Degas print at an auction. Since I don’t play golf or revel in sports, you will now appreciate the responses above all the better.

Did you learn anything from writing your book, and what was it?

As a former psychotherapist I see that all 27 short stories in Lament, reveal much about myself; that I have better skills now; instead of croaking my themes I sing them.

What is your marketing plan?

In Auschwitz, it was reported that an inmate asked a guard this question: “Why?’ And the guard responded, “Here there is no why.”

Consequently I used several tools to market this difficult book – this interview, per se; a book tour; entering contests, as many as I could afford; querying hundreds of reviewers, bloggers, et al. Like the guard’s answer, there is no answer to how this book has been received, too much Holocaust fear and historical ignorance among reviewers.

I accept that there is no answer. I am pleased to have made this work reveal the best of what talents and skills I have.

What do you plan for the future?

As Harold Bloom opined, we are all “near death” experiences. And so I have finished a memoir. Although professionally edited, I will work it over, for it may be my last book. I am 74. Sometimes I think the well may have run dry. I feel that all literature is worked over unconsciously and that the unconscious is a true friend if only we trust it. In short, when a story or a poem is written, it really is the second version. So we shall see.


What do you think is the difference between writing short stories and novels?

Short stories are epiphanies; short stories teach writers how to write novels. The Bible is beyond masterful in some stories, forget the religiosity and learn about the brevity from these stories. Writing short stories gives you an opportunity to see the whole, to see the arc of what it is you are saying. Short stories are the opened back of a Patek-Philippe. You can tinker or repair as long as you like. The great novel should read like an intense, passionate short story. Of course, the poem is the hardest epiphany of them all; some poems are novels.

Is there a message in your stories that you want readers to grasp?

When asked if a movie in production had a message, Sam Goldwyn reportedly replied, “If you want a message go to Western Union.” I never write with a message at hand; a feeling, yes; a mood state; yes. I like to be surprised with what I have written. Grasp this about me! I write like my hormones need to excrete. I am not into purpose. Some teachers take an idea or concept and parse it, analyze it, break it into components and then synthesize it for their students. When I taught I took an idea, turned it into fractals, sought no endgame, and let the pieces fall where they may. Consequently don’t ask me to plot out a novel; I am too intuitive to do that.

If you had to choose, which short story writer would you consider a mentor?

I have always been impressed with the humanity, the empathy and psychological understanding of Sherwood Anderson’s, Winesburg , Ohio. Hemingway admired this book but never gave Anderson his due, but that is Hemingway. Anderson could write about the neurasthenic, to use an old term, woman; Hemingway had trouble writing about women.

Do you have any advice for other short story writers?

Write dozens of stories and then keep only a few; or slave over one story interminably only to realize it doesn’t work. Notice the trick or conditioning in this question. Advice? Has the human race ever asked for advice? Essentially, find your own way, work on being inner-directed and in this way the need for advice melts away. All writing is an extension of how much you have grown into a human being. Work on yourself and what you write will reveal this. Avoid all conditioning, religion, in particular.


What do you do when you’re not writing?

Contemplate my end, which we should all do on a daily basis; and we can do that without regret or remembrance of things past. In fact, cogitating over this might make life that much more dear.

I also have a grand sense of humor so that compensates for what life teaches me. Awareness is the key. Get cracking, reader!

What books have most influenced your life?

Kazantzakis’s Report to Greco and The Last Temptation of Christ; Elias Canetti’s, The Crowd;

Krishnamurti’s Think on These Things, The Flight of the Eagle, and The Awakening of Intelligence.

Gillian Mercurio’s Recent Review of TESSERA

  Readers familiar with the works of Matthew Freese will expect the best and will not be disappointed by his new book, “Tesserae”, a memoir in which he reveals much of his early life and his struggles with the demons of his past that shaped him into the man he has become: educator, psychotherapist and author. Although the story focuses on two summers in the late 1960s, it is told in context of his childhood and events in his later life, even up to the present time.
This is a raw, often heart wrenching, insight into the life of a young man who seems to be drawn into – or seeks? – disastrous relationships in a tumultuous time in our history dominated by war, the sexual revolution and the search for individual freedom and expression. The memoir is richly populated by fascinating characters whose lives intersect with that of the author and leave the reader anxious for more. The writing style is brilliant, blunt and sometimes darkly humorous. However, Mr. Freese tells his story in such a detached manner that I often forgot I was reading of true events. Once or twice he even relinquishes his voice to that of another. I imagine this was deliberate on his part, as a way of distancing himself from discomfort. To me, the most compelling quote from the book occurs after he describes the conclusion of a painful affair, an ending due in large part to the egregious professional behavior of his therapist – who is simultaneously counseling his lover. His rage toward this person was immense and, I venture to guess, persists until this day. However, he believes that he himself became a more skilled therapist due to that incident. The quote to which I refer is found in another context later in the book, but is very apropos: “Often, in practice as a therapist, when a client was buffeted by choices and overwhelmed by competing priorities, I would suggest that another choice would be to delay.” Wise words indeed.
Gillian Galbraith; author of “Kisimba



Contact: Mathias B. Freese

1786 Tanner Circle

Henderson, NV 89012

Cell 702 715 0683

702 685 2446

Publisher’s link:


The quiescence found in Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers has a staying effect upon the mind; this memoir lingers in the reader’s memory for some time.  – Steven Berndt, Professor of American Literature, College of Southern Nevada

 In 1941 Citizen Kane premiered and the author was one year old. The snowglobe Rosebud weaves in and out of his memoir, cinema’s consummate symbol of attachment and separation, the classic dyad of the human being. And its precipitate — loss.

This memoir discloses and reveals achingly so, often in astonishing and agonizing ways, one man’s travail. Freese is not satisfied to merely recall, to remember, but to metabolize what he has experienced throughout his seven decades. The furnace for his emergence into mature adulthood took place in the sixties, that irrepressible decade that changed America culture forever.

As a retired psychotherapist Freese knows that relationships between one human being with another is a critical human learning we master or we do not, for it facilitates our personally idiosyncratic journey through life.

Tesserae is not only a remembrance of things past but a reworking and critical recollection of experience and events Freese encountered in his late twenties.

The most telling – and compelling aspect – is his capacity to learn from struggle.

In the summers of ’68 and ’69 Freese lived in Woodstock, and his life was transformed. Tesserae richly explores how the counterculture kneaded him, how it enlarged his perspective, and how it encouraged him to be more open and express.

In his seventies now, Freese looks back not so much in regret but in knowing he had experienced that rare spiritual event, an awakening of intelligence. The reader now shares in his tested perceptions, his hard-earned observations about relationships; of how many of us go to our graves unknown to our selves.

Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers concludes on an existential note. A man who has faced considerable adversity in his life, Freese has prevailed.

Endorsement: “In reading Mathias Freese’s Tesserae, however, it becomes clear that this is no mere pastiche of other works; his memoir stands above much of the crowd in its commitment to ask, “What is it to remember? To recall, retrieve, reflect, to go back for a moment, to feel a period of time long since gone.” By posing these questions, Freese works within the answers by tenderly plaiting a web that spreads from Woodstock, Las Vegas, Long Island and North Carolina. The author locates friends and family, lovers now long since gone, desire and passion sometimes quenched sometimes unrequited, and the harrowing agony that comes from that most soul crushing word of all, regret.”  Steven Berndt, M.A.

Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers by Mathias B. Freese; Wheatmark; Non-fiction; Soft Cover 978-1-62787-353-6 $12.95


MATHIAS B. FREESE is a writer, teacher and psychotherapist. His recent collection of essays, This Mobius Strip of Ifs, was the winner of the National Indie Excellence Book Award of 2012 in general non-fiction and a 2012 Global Ebook Award finalist. His I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust was the winner of the Beverly Hills Book Awards, Reader’s Favorite Book Award, Finalist of the Indie Excellence Book Awards, and finalist at The Paris Book Festival and the Amsterdam Book Festival.


The book can be ordered from or the author at Publication date mid-February 2016

A recent article in the New York Times noted that “Imitation runs rampant in memoir land,” and this observation underscores many of the memoirs that exist currently in the writing market. In reading Mathias Freese’s Tesserae, however, it becomes clear that this is no mere pastiche of other works; his memoir stands above much of the crowd in its commitment to ask, “What is it to remember? To recall, retrieve, reflect, to go back for a moment, to feel a period of time long since gone.” By posing these questions, Freese works within the answers by tenderly plaiting a web that spreads from Woodstock, Las Vegas, Long Island and North Carolina. The author locates friends and family, lovers now long since gone, desire and passion sometimes quenched sometimes unrequited, and the harrowing agony that comes from that most soul crushing word of all, regret.

Through Freese’s eyes and prose he reminds the reader of the universalities among mankind that could unite us as humans, but more often than not turns us inwardly upon ourselves with sadness and lamentation of our profound distance and separateness. Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers is not a work of sadness and grief. Rather, it is an effort from a trained psychotherapist adept at understanding the feelings that we all have. This therapeutic perspective enriches the memoir, grounding the reader in reminding us that the author is working to understand his past and how it has shaped his life. None are spared from the ravages of time and memory, not even Mathias Freese.

His memoir reminds the reader “that insight is never enough, that feelings are the royal road to consciousness, that awareness in itself is an action, that memory is sweet but often an attack of the heart.” In Freese’s worldview, we all may attain “a measure of peace.” Or what Hemingway called a clean well-lighted place. The quiescence found in Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers has a staying effect upon the mind; this memoir lingers in the reader’s memory for some time.

Steven Berndt, M.A.—American Literature

Steven Berndt is an English instructor who specializes in proletarian literature of the Thirties.



Sometime during the day, at odd moments, I experience memories and reminiscences. I associate to the old blinds with “pulls.” As I pull down the blind one more day is gone, and in the morning I raise the blind as if I have another day given to me as I inexorably march off to my end.  At 75 I am saturated with all kinds of reflections of my childhood and all the concomitant cliches that come with that. I am drawn back in time like a receding tide and reminisce mostly of my dull relationship with my mother, a classic depressive. While I ponder about our interactions, I am drawn to a series of unpleasant, unhappy observations of myself as a child, and then I extrapolate from who I was then and cast this pall over all the decades since and consider how the cards given me then have turned into the hands I’ve played. In short, for a large measure of my beginning years as a child, toddler and teenager I was incorporative as a human being. I had not acquired, nor was I shown, the tools of exchange, of embrace and engagement. I was not open to the world. Subterranean, I was a nether aquifer.

I will get to it quickly for after that it is mostly commentary. I feel I was not cared for by my mother nor did she engage me as her son. I could say I was abandoned by her but caring holds a greater valence for me. You need not consider my father, who virtually did not exist, either for his self or for me. The real measure of my humanity would be tied up with my mother and it is here that she failed me miserably.  This is the wound.

I will cut deeper into the feeling. I experience myself then as devoid of emotional supplies, self-nutrients, classic givens from which to thrive as a young human being. My mother never read to me, a child placid and gentle in nature. I do so see myself as I look back. I was unobtrusive, a mother’s dream, especially for a depressive. I babysat myself. I really cannot feel or sense that I received much in terms of parental affection, love or caring from her.

Only of late, as I reconsider my life and the travail I have endured, do I examine a little more deeply the lack of impact my mother had on me, and that very lack of impact has made all the difference in my life. After all, to age, by definition, is to recollect. Lucky is the mature human being who does this moment to moment, for he or she is express and in the world, an awakening of intelligence. Recently, in session, my therapist said that I had an abundance of awareness. I was elated, the transferential “mother” had stroked me; at 75, if it is me, and it is me, I savored that un-elicited interpretation.

The kind of wound I speak of here is the kind that defines us for the rest of our lives. (Have you asked that of yourself?) A wound that by definition changes everything that follows in our life. It is beyond being indelible, for it becomes the matrix from which the quilt of your life is woven. The wool of life is knitted from this. To understand the wound intelligibly, thoroughly and with intense empathy and feeling is to give you a measure of understanding that explains most of the calamitous misfortunes of your experience. The wound is forever; however, it does become much less inflamed and after a while, amenable to consideration and thought. Growing old can help if you are somewhat aware. I cannot imagine an extant human being who has not been wounded in such a way. Unfortunately we often come to our ends avoiding the wound and its circumstances. I choose not to do so. As Nietzsche said, “knowledge is death.” It also sets you psychologically free. And in a special way, it may give you a compassionate stoicism to get on with the rest of your days. Kazantzakis said it best, for it is his epitaph: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

In fact, as I see how I have lived as a passive-aggressive in my life, not sustaining relationships with men and women, too self-contained, private and self-sufficient, if you will, not reaching out to others in communicable and feeling ways, I realize that I was protecting what little nutrients I had for myself. It was an enforced self-sufficiency and that has proven most fatiguing as a human being. The psychological and emotional costs are significant. That is why I write, and that is why I became a therapist and teacher (unconsciously so): to know, learn, reap and garner so as to fill in the gaping holes, the empty aquifer. I dreaded engaging the Other, for the responses were unknown to me. I dared not risk, for I had no inner resolve for that. My negative perceptions of my fellow man and of others close to me have been shaped and configured by my first impressions and experiences of how I was related to by my mother, a maternal indifference. I have self-crucified myself on a cross of distrust. Benign neglect is ultimately malignant.

I lost my wife Jane because I fled from myself. At moments repression turns us into cowards. I have been a coward in my time.

I imagine that I am in a morgue, an apt metaphor, and the coroner has spread open my rib cage using retractors, delving into my organs for a look-see. The clamps attached to bone, sinew and flesh expose a gaping wound. It is here that he takes, in my mind, a measuring cup and dips it into my abdominal cavity and ladles out what liquids he can access for a toxicology sample. I associate to these liquids as an immense splash across my existence as I paraded through the decades. Ain’t much there to spread about, and it’s not wholesome at all.

As I age all is pattern. I have a special sadness for what could have been and what was not done. I see all the lost opportunities between myself and my mother, of books, ideas, understandings between parent and child that were not openly said and not surmised or thought of, guesswork that is not good for the young person. A child needs to know through word and touch that he is seen, that a measure of who he is becomes important to both mother and child, that an exchange of affection creates that irritant from which a pearl is formed. I lacked such an irritant, and what is grievous here is that I sought it out at some primitive level or need. And when I look back, which is my task as a human being at 75, not a new car or new set of hybrid golf clubs, when I assess my pilgrimage to nowhere in particular, for I am not on a journey, I am intensely saddened. I am just merely engaging and experiencing as the blinds go up and down every day.

I believe my mother also to have been vastly deprived as a child, for she could not engage me as her son, nor read to me, or play board games with me, or discuss my daily life with me. Although she never did go to work throughout my childhood and youth, I was home with her and played alone, as I recall. The more I reflect about it the more it exhausts and appalls me: the waste, the lack of attention to a child who would have touched the stars with the palms of his hands if he had been encouraged. I know now I was a gifted child and, like an abandoned tricycle, left outdoors to rust. And I did rust well. I feel that I had so much more in me throughout my life that had gone unexpressed. I had been stymied early and being stymied is an unusually agonizing, frustrating feeling – at least for me. I remember years in adolescence afraid to initiate or touch young girls of my age as if I were a crystal that might shatter. I was a frozen self. All my rearing led to an immature adulthood. The greater part of my life has been in restoration, grading the soil, weeding, breaking new paths, using quarried stones to build walkways. I plant trees, seedlings, as they do in Israel, sometimes in memoriam.

A few unexplained nagging doubts and perplexities come to mind when I remember the years from birth to about 10 years old, 1950, to be exact, on Brighton Second Street, in Brooklyn, Brighton Beach Avenue with the grumpy El at the end of the block. I could go back to that place tomorrow and trace out the courtyards, lanes and hidden places I frequented as a young boy. On the avenue was the Lakeland movie house, a run down and seedy theater we all called the “Dumps.” Often I was sent to the movies here, admission a mere 18 cents. When I recollect the pictures I saw on the screen (really conscious dreams, if you think about it), I wonder why my mother so often sent me to the movies. It was safe back then for a young boy to go to the movies alone. She didn’t have to work. I wonder today what she did with all her time. Was she having an affair? That is a loaded supposition, is it not? That thought comes before the resentment of this moment: she could have spent more time with me.

I recall seeing Citizen Kane and The Search, both films dealing with mothers, essentially. In Citizen Kane the mother sells the son, in The Search a GI helps a waif try to find his mother after the war has separated them. Of special note is a scene involving a park and swings. The camera comes behind the boy when he finally sees his mother, but the swings, moved by the wind, befuddle him, he can’t get to her. The swings move laterally as the boy moves longitudinally, struggling to get at the mother who is awaiting him after all these weeks and months. A caring mother seeking her son, a despairing mother abandoning him for money: I had neither. In one a mother is invested in her child, and in the other the mother sees her son as an investment for  twisted capitalistic needs, unconsciously on her part. Perhaps the son’s middle name, Foster, was more than apt.

My wound is one of indifference – watch the cattle cars shuttle by with keening Jewish women — a failure of my mother to mirror back my very existence. We all need to be mirrored, a horror of a kind, quite chilling after all these decades. I was shut down so early, and I still feel it all now.

Mothers. It is here within the uterine, incorporative recesses of the maternal “hold” that the child is formed. Blame, anger, rage, resentment, surliness and incendiary feelings at 75 come nowhere near to what I feel. Allow me a reversal to get at what I am dimly feeling but wish to see so vividly in the light with blinds pulled up. I lost a daughter to suicide at age 34. Doubtless, what she felt from me was an absence of caring, and she would have been correct. I didn’t have the wherewithal to give it, or to understand what she needed at the time. I know that. And so she experienced loss as I experience her loss today, for a suicide really kills at least two. No, I don’t blame my mother for that! I am responsible for my own grave limitations, so I am beyond giving blame. And I am not in the psychobabble game of coming to terms, reconciliation or redemption. What I need I cannot even say, but I feel it. I struggle with that inexact feeling each and every day, whether tomorrow sees the blinds never pulled up or not. I go to my demise troubled, hurting and beyond sadness. That is enough for one life. I find a measure of solace in Epicurus’s stoic epitaph: “I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

It is SHAME, I feel.

In a Rorschach test I took in my forties, an interpretation of an inkblot I associated to involved my attempt to free myself of the “claw” or “crablike” image of my mother. My mother did not castrate me but her control over me was immense. If she had not died early on, I probably would have had a hell of a time separating out from her which I never did as an adolescent. Her death freed me to go on albeit as a child, but alone nevertheless.



I often wonder how the very next essay will form or coalesce in mind, how I will stumble-slosh through the reeds into the marsh and maybe end up on a slippery embankment not even imagined before entering the bog. In a few minutes I will go to the local community gym to meet with a physical fitness trainer which is my attempt at remaining mortal for the time left to me. With walking an hour a day and incorporating strength training perhaps my cardiovascular disease will ease, but that is a self-taught aspiration which has no basis in fact. What will be, will be. The doctor did tell me I was at risk. I have been at risk, philosophically, since I bumped and slid from out my mother’s vagina, the neonate’s chute. Harold Bloom has opined wisely that we all are “near-death experiences.” I think the idea here is to be in the best physical shape one can be in when the Grim Reaper strikes. After all, I don’t want his dull blade to strike flint but the side-thickened wizened slab that I have become.

A few moments ago I looked up an old classmate from 1958(!) on Facebook and found her and her hubby with grandchildren in a Florida town. I did this for a welter of reasons, not to be shared, but redolent of poignancy and adolescent suffering still with me. What age has done to that remarkable beautiful face she had in the spring of 1958. Growing old and aging sadly creases us into leathery cocoons, but I am sure that the young woman I knew then has something of the fire within, although I had admired her only from afar.  In fantasy I want to rescue that maiden from all the years, slap her heart-shaped tush onto the back of my snorting black steed bedecked in medieval armor and garb, and spur away like Scott’s Lochinvar:

O, young Lochinvar is come out of the west,

Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;

And, save his good broadsword, he weapon had none,

He rode all unarmed, and he rode all alone.

So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,

There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.

If she were to gaze upon my now-baggy face, if she tried, she might see the young man who asked her – in fear, in fright, under pressure – out to the prom, which she refused. This kind of rejection is never forgotten, just filed under miscellany. Computers ping one another. Humans pang one another. All of this is amusing or poignant for me, like the dusk on a pastoral summer’s day which ends and is forever gone. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may….”

The remembrances of things past are oftentimes piercing arrows to the heart. Oh, Christendom flee my mind! Too many icons come to mind from Western Civilization. Christ figures with torture scars, impalements, brows with thorns seeping blood. The morbidity of it all makes me move on. Jews say “To Life” when they toast; Christians are into raising Lazarus.

To look back to my senior year in 1958 speaks more of poignancy, shyness, male ineptitude, adolescence, the abysmal lack of social skills, the inhibitions and the fears of intimacy, of touch, of sweet opportunities missed because of the failed internal assessment of who I was and what I could do or be. Freud somewhere wrote that nothing is forgotten, and that is a telling observation. We often lie to ourselves in such ways to deny that maxim. On some levels we choose not to recall. We camouflage ourselves like the hunter in the blind. “Blind” is so apt.

As I look back, as I think of 1958, I am a child in a young man’s body.  Retrospectively I cringe at who I was; retrospectively I have compassion for who he was. If I had him in treatment as the therapist I became, I would have helped him visit who he was, to mature, to enter the world. I also have learned that if I were not who I was, I would not have had the compassion I hopefully evinced as a therapist. Much should be said about a healthy dose of adversity in each of our lives. The cliche is not a cliché. As we come closer to our end the beginnings of our life loom large, become sharper and sharper, each living crystal so very telling, like Kane’s snow globe.

I enter the mood, I feel the anguish and I resolve to come out of it, for life would be onerous if we spent our days repairing old brickwork. I associate to a story about Winston Churchill who suffered periodically throughout his life from depression, what he called his “black dog.” What he did was to, using a trough filled with mortar, construct brick walls. Metaphorically this anecdote is imbued with all kinds of Freudian hypotheses, but it worked for him. A strong measure of fantasy comes to mind, the what ifs, in which I construct little scenarios: if I had married this one or that one; if I had at least dated this one or that, I might have grown up sooner if I had been in a relationship of any kind. But it was not to be. Those years are beyond indelible. The sexual, emotional and psychological frustration cannot be expressed by words, although I can feel them even now, a substrate in my being. We must admit as writers that words cannot say it all.The best we can ask for is an approximation of the felt truth. Krishnamurti said it best, “The word is not the thing itself.”

As I reconnoiter the undiscovered territory I lived in, who I am has changed so much that distortion is the rule and illusion the axiom. I had a friend all through high school and into college, and then we just drifted away from one another as often happens. His life was fairly regular if not routine; he may or may not be dead. However, I fantasize that he lived the bell curve and probably is retired someplace, perhaps in Florida. In my imagination I don’t think he has cheated on his wife as I have done; nor has he expressed much discontent in his life. I don’t think he has questioned authority profoundly in his life; I think he has been contented with being an elementary school teacher, perhaps going on to be an administrator (whoopee!). I hear the envy in these words. All this is an unfair put down of him. For I have led a life of disarray and discontentment. No need to compare. I just feel I have had the more arduous task and I have paid the highest costs in terms of relationships and deaths of loved ones, too soon in their lives, and in my own. And I have made a significant contribution to my own misfortunes. I feel shame rather than guilt at my character flaws, Japanese shame. I rarely let myself off the hook.

If the prisoner flees his cell, the cell is always with him. [The Jewish people still remember their slavery at Passover after 56 centuries.]My days of yore are always with me. I can only say that I have grown comfortable with my cell and I would not exchange it for anyone else’s. That’s a happy closing which doesn’t make me too happy, but there it is.



The thing about Marlene was that she was a fantasy personified. Yes, I loved her, I had tumultuous sex with her, I floated in the perfume she favored (White Shoulders), I reveled in how pretty she was. She was the proverbially cute-as-a-button shiksa. She did not walk, she strode: at once feminine and athletic, thin, maybe too thin. When I first saw her in the school hallway she had weight on her. Clearly she made a choice and lost weight. I would later discover how determined and strong-willed she could be. Her breasts were diminutive, which reminds me of Charles Chaplin’s comment of his then mistress, Louise Brooks, the great actress of Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, who had breasts the shape of “pears.” It was not her body parts which first attracted me. It was her face, which was lean, with redolent lips. What I did not sense then was the way she bore herself, the old word being her “carriage.” She had a determined bearing, not a hauteur, but a defensive posture that seemed to say “I will not be denied, make way as I egress!” At the time I thought that attractive; now I see it as misspent energy and uptightness, the posture of a repressive personality.

Marlene had a Catholic father and a Protestant mother, and I think of Thomas Mann’s novella Tonio Kroger (even his name reveals the division) whose protagonist expresses both the Nordic north and the radiant exuberance of southern Europe in a conflicted self. Mann had a German father and a Brazilian mother. I mention this because Marlene seemed to have inherited a stronger dose of the Nordic. In terms of our relationship she evinced more of this steely persona than of Tuscany, let us say. When we came to part I could not access her, and I was taken aback, given the intensity of our recent relationship. A connection was closed and shut down forever. In fact it was like a lightning bolt: crack! The relationship was over, the riven oak the only remaining evidence. She was too hurt to reconcile.

Our love affair was propelled by my own needs: to get away from a dreadful experience with Adrienne, to explode. I felt as if I hadn’t lived, and I hadn’t. I went into an early marriage for all the wrong reasons, trying to escape my terrifying aloneness, for I had not spent years working on myself, taking care of myself, finding out who I was. I did not know how to ask the right questions of myself, for I was outer-directed. I could not distinguish between being lonely and being alone. I did not stand in love, I fell in love. There’s an immense difference. I thought, I didn’t think, marriage would save me from myself, give me a matrix. I much later came to understand that the affair with Marlene served as an escape from what was unfulfilled in me. I was feeling stifled, tethered to a marital ball and chain, self-drafted into a mistake of first marriage to Adrienne, who was intemperate, homely and immature. So, classically, the affair served the purpose of getting me out of a suffocating experience. And I experienced all the sexually learning pleasures I could with Marlene.

When partaking of Marlene’s body and its infinite and subtle pleasures it was as if I gorged at a buffet, devouring sweetmeats at will. Consequently, unknown to me at the time, I reified the affair, gave the abstraction a concrete base, so that for a while I came to miss the affair more than Marlene, for years after we had broken up, to my dismay.

I could never be sure what Marlene wanted from this affair except, perhaps, to get away from her husband Charles. She was 24 and he was 38. She may have entered into an early marriage that she wanted out from. Yet, why? I suppose she felt the same way as I did. We were mutually attracted to one another and an affair itself is attractive: the craving for the next assignation, the hair-curling necessity of fooling spouses and coming up with excuses, the bravado of acting out. We served each other’s purposes. What makes this fantasy even more curious is that we made a bubble of pleasure without intent or direction, lacking real examination of our motives. It was the Sixties and Marlene’s favorite album at the time was Simon and Gar’s Bridge over Troubled Water. How apt.

We never talked about things of real importance. We were incapable of doing so, two repressives. I was particularly laminated by a life’s worth of inhibitions. Marlene never told me in so many words that she cared deeply for me or that she loved me, nor did I express such feelings to her. We were on a lark. In some way her presence powerfully saturated mine, so that I needed and wanted her, and desired to be far away in a more peaceful place and clime to live out our lives as one. I never could ask her the right questions because, as you have observed, my awakening of intelligence had not occurred. I reveled in the shared fantasy. If obtuseness could describe me then, I would be a monumental orifice.

When I was away from her during the summers of 1968 and 1969 I was depressed because I had no idea that I had a self or that I could work on having an inner direction. Marlene did not help me to grow, that was not her task, but that was due to her self-limitations. As I look back, hopefully fairly, I don’t believe she had much of an inner life as well. My friend Hal once said that he felt that Marlene was not very bright, which I resented at the time, but there may be some merit to that. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. In a strange Gene Autry serial of the Thirties the people living above ground were called the “surface people.” I associate this to Marlene because I feel, after all these years, not that she was insubstantial but that she was lacking in depth. At moments I kept to myself needs that she never responded to. However, I was so inhibited that I was fearful to express the unheard scream. I thought I’d chase her away if I expressed such a want, and that would not do, given all the psychological and emotional investment I put into her. It was not a healthy investment which powers a healthy relationship. On some levels I could not admit to myself that she was lacking. Marlene lacking? No way!

Somehow our relationship cooled, its ardor spent. I found her drawing away. She did share with a mutual friend that she was having difficulties with me, but she never said anything directly to me, nor did I express what I was feeling about her distance. In my own therapy with an incompetent therapist who was also seeing Marlene as a client at the same time (a real breach of professionalism) and was thus privy of both our minds and behaviors, began to suggest to me (the Grand Poohbah) that I should consider breaking up with her. I cannot recall how it all came about but since I was feeling that Marlene was no longer responsive to me, I ended the relationship one night. The very next day at school she dealt with me as if I had never penetrated her (metaphorically, maybe I had not).

It took me a while to realize that the decision to break up with her was not solely mine and reflected a third party’s assessment of the situation. I had a therapist who was telling me what to do, who was advocating and in so doing compounded the mess. I rued and regretted the decision as soon as I did it because it really wasn’t mine, for it lacked conviction. However, I was dimly cognizant of a peevish “joy” in that: I got to her first. I rejected her, and she did not get to me first. I must say that the therapist was right. I don’t think our relationship would have endured, as I look back now. And how do I know that? Rochelle taught me the ways of loving, and it would have not been imaginable, even if I broke up with her, not to have her willing to hear me out or to express her regret. She would contemplate reconciliation. Rochelle exuded concern and care, while Marlene, once rejected, turned to Nordic ice queen.

Within two or three months Marlene had found another man and, within a few months, married him, which left me dumbfounded. I could not grasp the rapid turnaround, the capacity or determination to transfer new feelings to a new person. Even a good roast taken out of the oven needs to “rest.” On the other hand, my leaving her may have triggered all kinds of feelings I could not ever have access to.

For several years I could not expunge her from my mind, she was such a haunting memory of loss. Tennyson’s “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is a weak comfort to my heart. Marlene sparked something in me, for she was the first true love of my life, and I totally committed myself to her. Did I get over her? Ever? The solace I found with Rochelle, the depth of her loving finally made me see Marlene as a special moment in my life. In certain ways Marlene helped me grow, but the sad part of it was that her help was indirect and unintended. Rochelle taught me deliberately and concretely how to go about loving.

On Facebook there is a picture of Marlene and her two daughters. She’s pretty as ever, but she’s now an old painting in the darkening corridors of my life’s museum. This way to the reminiscence, sir.

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