Aug 2, 2015

Maria

I'm on my way to Milan for my first solo Euro trip.  At least the first part solo.  I don't have many expectations. All I know is that this is new. I'm not sure what it will be like. Maybe I'll hate traveling alone?
I left my laptop at home - this is the longest I've ever gone without it. In fact, this may be the longest that I've given myself to not think about work. Or side projects. Of accomplishing, but only in thought.
Well, that's not entirely true. I brought a stack of books and magazines a foot high. Reading material accounts for roughly half my luggage.  The plan is to finish them off (2 novels written by a programmer turned writer*, 1 nonfiction book about Orientalism**, a travel guide for Croatia [part 2 of Eurotrip], a few ripped out chapters of an Italian guide book, and the 2 most recent issues of the New Yorker). I'm honestly not terribly excited about any of them - each has an ulterior motive behind it.  The scheming for a better self: it acknowledges no bounds.
The two novels are by Ellen Ullman. (Source of recommendation: I believe it was a previous copy of the New Yorker, in a review for her novel The Bug). I started the other one I bought on a whim (recommended by Amazon) called By Blood. It's a novel about a man who becomes a willing interlocutor on a woman's sessions with her analyst.
The style reminds me of a distant echo of Clarice Lispector. It's not quite as myopic and slow paced as Clarice, but the singular focus on the narrator's psychic experience of living through this other woman's story harkens to a similar self-analytic style. It lacks the extensive grave and 3rd voice that seems to haunt Lispector's stories, but the detailed, minutiad dissection of motives echoes similarly.
This is a book about relationships, particularly the relationship of a patient to their therapist and thru their conversation, a proxy to every other relationship in the patients' (and by virtue of perspective, also the narrator's) life. Via the narrator, we hear another woman's analytic proceedings, annotated with the narrator's own experiences with analysis: his frustration and familiarity with the tics and tactics that comprise an analyst's toolbox.
All this to get to say: I want to tell you about one of my analysts. I want to tell you about Maria.
Maria was my analyst for a few short months. I saw her for a part of the time that I lived in Houston in 2011. Her office was a short drive from the Houston headquarters of the consulting firm I worked for. Most days I showed up to work at client's offices not headquarters, but it was nice to have our offices and Maria in the same neighborhood. There was something comfortable about the proximity of two painful yet familiar things. I never felt at home in either place, but they were places I could be, nonetheless; similar in the familiarity of otherness.
Maria was a short woman with dark hair. She was pretty, in her early to mid-thirties. Her last name suggested Latina roots, but her office decor and features were Asian in character. She would keep notes as I talked on a large yellow notepad and ask probing questions. Watching the pace of her hand as it scribbled across the paper didn't do much to calm the unease that I, invariably, felt while sitting on her sofa.
I don't know how I found her. I don't remember how I paid for her either - if she was a medical expense or something I coughed up the cash for on my own. I do remember feeling guilty about spending money on it.
I don't remember when I would go to see her - if it was something that I took off early for or left in the middle of the day. One day when I went it was raining. Another was hot and sunny. Yet another time I think I showed up on the wrong day; I'm not sure she was there.  Or maybe she was and we missed each other.
I do remember taking a certain relish in the way my work heels would click across the asphalt on my way from the car to the door. The feigned sense of professionalism of being able to smooth out my long navy pencil skirts as I sat down on her upholstered sofa. And the feeling of revelation, of self definition by contrast, when I'd wear flip flops and shorts to a session on the weekend, knowing that my eye makeup was smudged and my face was puffy.
I never parked close to the building - the lot was small. I parked 3/4 of the way across the lot, on the second row away from Westheimer. There were never any more than five cars in the whole space.
As it was the walk was short. It could have been shorter.
There was a buzzer box that I rang to be let in. Once I think I buzzed another office because she didn't answer right away. That buzzer was the source of much anxiety. I never knew who would answer. What if I was turned away?
I never told Maria about my fears about her buzzer box. I'm not really sure what we talked about. I remember silence. And crying. And feeling embarrassed about the pile of tissues. The embarrassment of wasting her time with sobs. It never occurred to me that it was my time, only hers.
Paradoxically, I don't think that I ever really forgave her for making me pay her to watch me sob. Nothing seemed to change. Eventually, she started suggesting that I come more frequently than twice a week. I didn't want my life to be one long, endless session of sobbing. I began to resent the suggestion that I needed more time to get to whatever 'it' was. I felt I was wasting her time. One of our last times we spent together was a long discussion about what made therapy, with its awkward pauses and probing questions, useful.
Outside of tears and questions about why, I'm not sure what I talked about. I just know that none of it felt very real or concrete.
I ended it when she asked me to talk about us.
* Research for the future
** A bit of a dry read, but an incisive and provocative critique of American cultural anthropology
*** I learned one thing from my time with Maria. I forget it often. In fact it is more common that it is forgotten than remembered.
I learned that within myself there exists a beautiful, golden child. When she plays, life is never boring.

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