The Freedman Archives: Part II

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

He Had High Hopes, He Had Pie in the Sky Hopes


Hey, buddy. What's up? I had a really rough holiday weekend. The weather, the World War II Memorial dedication, the miserable social isolation -- all brought me to the brink of despair.
You know my father was a decorated World War II veteran. (He was awarded The Good Conduct Medal.) The whole memorial thing brought back memories. My old man served in the South Pacific -- the geographic region, not the musical. My father saved us from the Japanese; and was discharged Private First Class. That's unlike Bob Strauss, who saved us from the Communists and later sold us to the Japanese.
Yes, my father was wounded in action. Not by enemy fire, though. A mosquito bit him, and he came down with malaria. That's right. Bob Dole has nothing on my old man in terms of patriotic sacrifice. In any event, my father finally got the recognition he deserved in marble and bronze.
I spent the weekend thinking about the past. Particularly my years down here in Washington. I've now spent almost 21 years down here. How the memories flood back!
In the summer of 1983, at the age of 29, I moved to Washington, DC and entered the Master of Laws Program at American University Law School. This wasn't exactly the culmination of a lifelong dream. I'd come to Washington to become managing partner of a major law firm, and, in fact, I'd been signed two years earlier as a law clerk by Sagot & Jennings, one of the more reputable law firms in Philadelphia. I thought the line from law clerk to managing partner would be straight and short. But other than occasional rejection letters, I wasn't making much progress, and I was beginning to wonder why I'd ever left Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia's not hard to find on the map. That's where I'd been born and raised, and my family -- what's left of it, still calls it home.
I missed them - my family, I mean. And I missed big-city life. I barely knew a soul in Washington, which at that time, back in the early 80's, was just a sleepy Southern town. Actually, I didn't know anybody. I was renting a one-room apartment in Cleveland Park. The previous tenant had been the Spanish Embassy. I could still smell the Arroz con Pollo when I first rented the place.
Washington is very tough on lonely people. When my classes ended at American University, I'd walk the 20 or so blocks from Scott Circle to my apartment in Cleveland Park, and see all these happy couples on the street, arm in arm or hand in hand, smiling and cooing at each other, and I wondered when it was going to be my turn. I wanted to be happy too.
At night, I'd look at all the lit-up windows in the surrounding high-rises--millions of them (or do I exaggerate?)--and I'd imagine all the happy people sitting down to dinner, watching a romantic movie on TV, then crawling into bed to make love for hours on end. When you're lonely, you tend to think you're the last lonely person in the world. You can't even imagine that there are other people out there--single people, couples, even married people--who are just as lonely as you are.
But they're out there, of course. They're everywhere. Some of them even stayed at 3801, where I lived. There were women who would slip me their phone numbers, asking me to please call, they were available. And there were lonely men, too. I remember one tenant in particular, a man in his late forties - we'll call him Stanley S.: he always buzzed the front desk just as I entered the building after classes and asked the clerk to please send me up with the afternoon papers. This was in the days before Tim Norton manned the front desk. It became something of a running joke at my building: "It's Gary's boyfriend again, pining for him." I'd go upstairs, newspapers in hand, and he'd open the door in the buff and ask me to come in.
"I can't," I'd say. "I'm sorry."
"Oh please, Gary. Just for a minute or two. You're so handsome."
"No," I'd repeat. "I'm in training for the priesthood and I only do it with young boys." I lied of course. I wasn't in training for the priesthood and I didn't do anything with young boys.
And he'd look at me with those big puppy-dog eyes, like he was about to cry or something, and ask if I was sure. "I'll do anything, Gary. Anything at all, Just say the word. Tell me what you want. Spell it out."
To be honest, I felt kind of bad for the guy, I could relate to that kind of loneliness.
I was meeting people here and there, sure, but I couldn't afford to go out.
Anyway, that was twenty years ago. I'm still lonely, still on the brink of despair, running from dark place to dark place. You know the drill. Psychologically, I'm one of the walking wounded. That's why I always carry a pen in my right hand. I always carry a pen in my hand in case I come up with another idea for a letter to you, buddy. Some new, previously undisclosed, painful memory of which I need to unburden myself. Elizabeth always understood. She never said: "Hey, Freedman, why do you always walk around carrying a pen in your hand?" I'm not sure Tim Norton is as understanding as Elizabeth.
My life is just one miserable patch of painful experiences. It's so sad, so lonely. I guess I just never learned how to connect with people. I'm just one sorry, lonely, sod.
I went through a whole array of borderline states this weekend. The miserable loneliness. The feelings of worthlessness. The desire to strike out at someone. The desire for a sympathetic ear.
I reminded myself of Dr. Irvin Yalom's description of one of his borderline patients: "I'm nothing. Garbage. A creep. A cipher. I slink around on the refuse dumps of human camps. Christ, to die! To be dead! Squashed flat on the Safeway parking lot and then to be washed away by a fire hose. Nothing remaining. Nothing. Not even chalked words on the sidewalk saying, 'There was the blob that was once named Marge White.'""
But then I think about you, buddy, and all the good times we've shared and my spirits lift. Yes, I suppose that's what separates me from the garden-variety borderline patient. I remember the good times. I have a capacity for memory. And those good memories sustain me.
I was thinking about the six-month ban from the library. I think it's based on a false premise. Namely, the premise that I would somehow forget about you if I were separated from you for a period of time. It's as if you projected onto me the image of a teenage girl. A girl who's obsessed with her boyfriend. You know the kind of situation I'm talking about. Her parents disapprove. Sort of like a Romeo Montague (no relation to Chris Montague) and Juliet Capulet syndrome. The father says to the girl: "You're obsessed with Romeo. You need to let things cool off. Take a six-month break. See other people. Date other guys. Then in six months re-evaluate your feelings about Romeo." As William (Dacosta -- NOT William Shakespeare) said to me: "We think it's best if you took a break from the library. Take a six-month break."
Well, yes. That procedure makes sense in the case of the teenage girl. Teenage girls are fickle. Oftentimes with teenage girls a romantic flame that burns brightly flickers out when new interests appear on the scene.
Problem with me is I retain my feelings about people and experiences. If I was obsessed with you, buddy, in April, you can bet your gaudy guts I'll still be obsessed with you six months later. I retain my memories. Unlike the garden-variety borderline, I remember the good times--even if they existed only in my febrile imagination. Besides, what else do I have going for me?
It's not as if, once I was banned from the library a whole new social scene would open up for me, with a whole new range of people to see. I hang out with the same old buddies. (Yea. Right!) I don't go anywhere. I don't see anybody. If anything, my obsession will be stronger six months from now than it is today. Remember, in six months, I'll have a whole new set of letters behind me. A whole collection of "new memories" that I've created in my head. My relationship with you only grows and grows.
I remember my last phone conversation with Craig the Embalmer in July 1993. He said: "What have you been doing since the last time we got together?" (We had had lunch together in early February 1992). I said to Craig: "Nothing. I haven't been doing anything. I was waiting for the next time we would get together." Craig said: "That's what I was worried about."
I was struck by something I heard reported on the TV news concerning the dedication of the World War II Memorial. A reporter mentioned that there would be grief counselors on hand at the ceremonies. I thought: "How odd. Grief counselors. The war ended nearly 60 years ago. Anybody who lost anybody in the war lost that person 60 years ago." But sometimes you never forget. Sometimes the memories just flood back. I guess the moral is to stay away from cork-lined rooms, madeleines, and cups of tea. Barbara Gauntt can explain.
My whole psychology is a psychology of memory, loss, and an obsession with regaining what was lost. As Proust called his masterpiece: "In Search of Lost Time." (Mistranslated as "Remembrance of Things Past," a line from a Shakespeare sonnet). That was Proust's whole life. Recovering his memory of the past. It was his life's work. Believe me, buddy, I'm familiar with that line of work!
So how will things have changed for me when the ban is over? My obsessions and preoccupations will be the same. I'll still be writing letters to you. I'll still be complaining to my psychologist that I want to be your friend, but that you don't respond to my social overtures. Dr. Bash will still be encouraging me to ask you to go to lunch with me. Mind you, Brian -- You have a duty to be my friend, according to your own paradigm, which is, namely, "A person has a duty to do what he has no legal duty to do!" My social horizons will not have enlarged at all. I'll still be lonely and miserable. I still won't be taking my anti-psychotic medication. Just how will things have changed? And if things haven't changed -- and I can assure you they won't -- then how will I be any more suitable to be a patron at the Cleveland Park Library than I was the day I was banned? Think about it. If your rationale for banning me was valid and legitimate in April 2004, and those issues of concern continue to prevail six months hence, how will it be any more appropriate that I return to the library in October? Put another way, couldn't your reasons for banning me be used to justify a permanent ban? That's how ridiculous your ban is.
When somebody commits a crime, you send him to prison. The rationale is punishment and rehabilitation. It's hoped that the person will reflect on his past misdeeds and go and sin no more. That won't be happening in my case. When I return to Cleveland Park Library, I will be as penitent as Martha Stewart, who's convinced she did nothing wrong.
Be that as it may.
I haven't heard from Dr. Bash yet about my new therapist. You recall that I had my last session with Indira Gandhi last Monday, May 24, 2004. And Dr. Bash, The Mad Monk, is supposed to arrange a new therapist for me. I'm not holding my breath for anything meaningful there.
Now that -- that-- would be good for me. A positive thing. If I could develop a meaningful and satisfying relationship with a therapist. Somebody I liked. Somebody who was very bright and insightful. Somebody I really looked forward to talking to. Then, maybe then, I could put you behind me. But I'm pretty well assured in my mind that I won't be assigned to anyone worthwhile for me. I'm convinced the field of clinical psychology -- with few exceptions -- attracts losers.
I mean, just look at Debra Kosch, one of the leaders of the group therapy I was in. She majored in international relations in college. Then -- and only then -- she goes into psychology. Obviously, she couldn't get a decent job as a White House reporter like David "eyebrow plucker" Gregory (B.A., International Studies, American University), so she decides one day: "I think I'll be a psychologist!"
Indira Gandhi was intelligent, reflective and thoughtful. But she just didn't do it for me. We talked about my dissatisfaction with her. She just didn't integrate things, synthesize things. Every week it was like a clean slate. She didn't apply what she had learned about me from previous sessions. She couldn't see the forest for the trees. It's as if she just saw the trees, for her a forest was simply a collection of trees -- not a specific eco-system. She couldn't process the idea that in psychology, the whole of the personality is greater than the sum of its parts. A forest is more than a collection of thousands of individual trees. It's an ecosystem, with its own biological dynamics.
I can just imagine Indira Gandhi as a criminalist at a crime scene investigation. She sees blood splatter. "Oh, there's some blood on the wall." Then she sees a bloody knife. "Oh, it's a bloody knife." She sees that the door lock was tampered with, "Oh, it looks like the front door lock is broken." Then she sees a body lying dead on the kitchen floor. You proceed to ask her what she thinks. She doesn't process the details as evidence of a cohesive transaction, a crime, but rather as a collection of discrete facts: "Well, my conclusion is that this is a house with blood splatter on a wall, a broken lock on the front door, a bloody knife, and a dead body on the kitchen floor." But what does it all mean, Ms. Gandhi. "Well, it says to me there's blood splatter, a broken lock, a bloody knife, . . . " And that's Indira Gandhi, the criminalist.
Week after week with her, I had a feeling of lack of synthesis. Nothing was getting processed at any deeper level of meaning than discrete surface facts. As I told her again and again: "There's an overwhelming feeling of meaninglessness about this relationship." I would have to say that my 15 months with Indira Gandhi were the most meaningless, absolutely meaningless, I've ever spent in therapy. I didn't even get angry with her. She was a total nonentity to me.
And God help me if I complained to Dr. Cooper, my psychiatrist. The response I always got was: "Ms. Tembe is a very good therapist." Like I had no right to an opinion! Listen, Dr. Cooper, I've been doing therapy for 27 years. I'm a professional patient. I'm not an amateur. I know my therapists. I have a right to an opinion. My opinion is that The Prime Minister just didn't do it for me.
And you know what? All this makes me long for you all the more, buddy. My imaginary relationship with you is so overwhelmingly satisfying. You're all I have. You're all I want. You're everything to me. That ain't gonna change. I'm counting down the days till we're together again, Brian. You're my best buddy.
Check you out later, Brian.
P.S. I won't be writing to you tomorrow. I have an appointment with my psychiatrist. I'll talk to you on Thursday. Maybe you, me, and Earl could get together for Earl's birthday. It's the big five seven for Mr. S.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home