It’s been more than a year in semi-lockdown, and I have to push myself to leave the hole I’ve been working and sleeping out of—the hole that is my bedroom, a kind of symbol of my libido, somehow both empty and bottomless. I know there is sun outside; I know it to be lovely, just as I know the woodcocks and catbirds are chirping; and if I close my eyes and open the windows, I can almost pretend I’m on a deck by the ocean, still alone.
The sun becomes a blinding reality once I bring myself to leave this apartment where I’ve cooked, comforted my children, and at another time, danced drunk with the lights off. Nine years and 1,025 square feet can hold a lifetime. It’s not exactly what dreams are made of, walking out of my apartment. I’m bombarded with the vibrancy of a Brooklyn day in May. Wiping sweat from my upper lip, I look around to see if I’ll wear my mask.
I can smell a weeping cherry tree and charred hamburgers as I shuffle past the neighborhood playground. I can’t shake the thought that my white baby gasped his first breath a couple of hours before George Floyd’s last was stamped out of him. There’s a brown toddler giggling and rushing toward a bench, his arms reaching up for his mama. I’m reminded of something I heard during a session that morning: “I want a baby so I can raise a Black girl who loves herself.”
Up ahead there is a white mother. She is with her two children, one about kindergarten age who is running ahead, hiding behind a tree waiting to be found. Her older brother is slouching in a wheelchair, head tilted to one side, leaning toward his mother. It’s an uneventful moment in their family, an ordinary Thursday afternoon, but this instant encapsulates the enormity of a potential future for me. I plow ahead, tears welling in my eyes, and cannot help but turn around to look at the boy again, only this time I see his arm reach down to spin the wheel. I realize he can push himself. How can the slightest movement hold an entire universe?
I cannot remember how many appointments I have brought my son to this past year. It’s a blur of neurology, ophthalmology, radiology, audiology, genetics, and more. Somehow I thought the doctors would be the ones to offer steadiness, but I have quickly discovered that I have to be the one to reassure them of who my son is. I hear myself saying the same things on repeat. “He smiles when the mood strikes him.” “These masks don’t help, do they?” “Did you see how he just reached for me? Maybe you missed it.”
Some patients are wondering if their old lives will return after the collective trauma of the pandemic. One refers to it as “lost time,” and I’m not sure if she is referring to missed opportunities or an eerie feeling that the entire year has evaporated. Or that she has had to press pause, and so time doesn’t even register. This is silly, I know, and I remind myself that it’s nearly impossible to notice how the tides change when you are submerged underwater.
Of course the doctors’ visits take their toll on me. I can’t deny the blinding reality that my son has been developing differently. His sister is starting to catch on too. I had to turn away the other day when she asked, “Mama, when will my brother become a real boy who walks and talks?” She had been reading the story of Pinocchio, which, I only then noticed, carries the message that a boy becomes real when he walks and talks. I have some unlearning to do.
I trudge along as my mind wanders to a song about a boy who goes on a date “clutching pictures of past lovers at his side.” I ask myself what I have been clutching all this time. Is it some static notion of normalcy that, in a vacuum, seems comfortable but is actually quite detrimental to anyone who falls outside that narrow definition? Yes, I think. And then I wonder about the
field—psychoanalysis—and am reminded of a colleague wanting to interpret from a “perfectly neutral place.” That sounds nice, I think, but then I wonder what kind of image many in the field might be clutching and how easy it is to miss something new while clinging to the old.
I turn the corner and there are my husband, daughter, and son. My baby boy is strapped into his stroller, in a similar posture as the boy in his wheelchair, head tilted to the side, his gaze locked on something I’m not sure I can see or know. His name bubbles out of my throat. An entire lifetime is crammed into that moment. Will we know each other? How will we show our love? I remind myself that we already do and, just as I allow the space for something new, he turns to me with a bright face, raising his arms to me, as if to wave, and I realize it was good for me to leave the hole.
Susanna Stephens, PhD, is a candidate in IPTAR’s adult program in psychoanalysis and a clinical psychologist in private practice. She received her PhD in clinical psychology from the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies at Adelphi University and is currently a Rita Frankiel Memorial Fellow of the Melanie Klein Trust.
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