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.