Killing My Mother
The first time I slapped my mother, I gasped and recoiled from the violence and impropriety of the act. But as I went through all of her transgressions, anger flared in me, burning hotter and hotter until it was a bonfire. Not only did she try to kill herself when I was ten, but she asked me — a ten-year-old child — for permission beforehand. She tried to offload the responsibility on me so she wouldn’t have to feel guilty about killing herself and leaving her child who already didn’t have a father. Then when I was all fucked up as a teenager, she never even bothered to understand or connect the obvious dots that it was she who fucked me up. Instead, she blamed me for acting out. She acted as if I was the crazy one. But it was she — she fucked me up and blamed me for it.
I punch her — three times with my right fist and twice with my left — jab, jab, jab . . . jab jab. Then I choke her, pressing my thumbs into her windpipe. I throw her to the ground before she loses consciousness and stomp kick her in the hip, then the thigh. Again and again, I punch her, slap her, choke her, and kick her. There are bruises on her face. Her lip is cut, and there’s blood on the corner of her mouth.
Anger subsides then flares up again. My anger comes in waves and so do my punches. I punch her in the breast, in the kidneys. I slap her across the face. I squeeze my eyes shut and clench my teeth, “fuck you, fuck you, how could you?!” I scream. I choke her and throw her to the ground again.
I tried to let her live. I did. I wanted her to live, wanted to reconcile, but she was so annoying that I just . . . couldn’t.
“How does she look now?” A voice asked.
“What color are her eyes?”
“Brown. How do you know she’s dead?”
“Because she’s just staring. A dead stare.”
“What are you going to do with her body?”
“How are you going to burn it?”
“I don’t know.”
I thought about something I had read a few days ago about two hitchhikers who were killed by some guy. The killer had burned their bodies in a bonfire. But a bonfire was so crass.
“Can I do anything I want with it?” I asked.
“I’m going to put her on a boat and set the boat on fire. Like the Vikings did.”
So I placed my mother’s body in a small wooden boat and covered her up to her chest with kindling. Then I set the boat adrift on the water and lit it on fire.
“What do you say to her as you let the boat go?” The voice asked.
“I love you . . . mom.” I wanted to cry but couldn’t find the tears. I watched the boat burn. The kindling on her body had caught on fire. Fire consumed the lower half of her body, then her chest, until only her shoulder and head remained visible. In a flash, the entire boat went up in flames, and she was gone. I watched the floating, crackling flames drift into the sunset. Still I could not cry.
Lance explained to me that it was rage, not just anger, that I harbored towards my mother. “Anger wants to be understood, but rage just wants it to end,” he said.
I nodded. Anger could have let her live; rage had to destroy her.
I was sad. Sad for all the years that could not be re-lived. Sad for the past that could not be re-written. Sad for myself and for my mother and for the relationship that went so horribly wrong. Everything was so sad, but it was a distant kind of sadness. A sadness I could not viscerally connect to. Perhaps the sadness was too big, too scary so I resisted by dissociating from it.
I wanted to cry though, wanted to tap into the sadness and release it. Wanted to feel human by crying after having killed my mother. But it was not happening.
That was my first therapy session with Lance, and I had killed my mother. It was incredible. I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my soul, replaced by a sense of calm.
This type of therapy is called intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy (ISTDP). Here’s an interesting excerpt on its history.
A good therapist
For a long time I have wondered what it would feel like to have a really good therapist. Now I know. Lance could read me like an open book. Nothing escaped his notice — body language, micro expressions, eye movement, everything. And he did not let me get away with things. He called me out on my unwillingness to commit, which manifested itself in my frequent use of phrases such as “I don’t know” and “I guess so.”
He made explicit agreements with me — for us to be completely honest with each other, for example. Honesty may seem like a given in therapy, but it’s always nice to expressly agree to it. Plus, Irv Yalom always made agreements with his patients, and he’s one of the greatest therapists ever.
Unlike my psychoanalyst, Lance did not ask me to explain the circumstances surrounding my mother’s suicide attempt in excruciating detail. But there was no point during our three-hour session when I did not sense his empathy. He did not try to be a neutral observer or a blank screen. He had opinions, strong ones. He did not let me get away with things, but it was clear that he was on my side.
Now, in my memory, the session burns with intensity. Such intensity. Such an experience.
When we worked on my feelings towards my father, Lance asked me how I wanted to punish him. I said I didn’t know.
“It’ll come to you in the form of an image.”
One or two seconds after he said that, an image of my father sitting in an empty white room flashed through my mind. The moment after that Lance said, “oh, you’ve already seen it.”
“How did you know?!” I exclaimed.
“I saw your eyes move.”
That’s how perceptive he is. It’s crazy. I wonder what it’s like to be that perceptive. I wonder if it’s annoying in everyday life and whether he can turn it off.
A note about transference
I wonder if transference — if it is to occur — occurs right away. Based on my limited experience, that seems to be the case. I know it happened during my first session with Steven, and it happened again during my first session with Lance. My feelings for Lance aren’t nearly as out of control as they were for Steven, but, with Steven, the dysfunction likely contributed to the intense feelings.
Things feel much healthier with Lance. And I’m optimistic.