Structured Intervention / “fluency strategy”: Miss Havisham Effect (Complicated Grief)
“A point is a particular moment in which an event tightens, from which it must in some ways be replayed, as if it returned under a displaced, modified, form, obliging you to “redeclare”…It is necessary to say again, ‘I accept this chance, I desire it, I take it on’.” (Alain Badiou, Eloge de l’amour)
Follow a candle through halls no sunlight ever reaches, to be abandoned there (the flame sways as she turns away, your scornful guide, the little glow moves off and the girl is backlit, a thin line of fire traced around her golden hair and fresh skin, so the hand she holds up to guard the light seems to be itself the source of the light as she leaves you) and, turning back to the shut door, knock.
It’s a laugh or was once. You, you, you, protagonist, your name a caught seed in the teeth, cut word, abrupt, you advance along lines others plot for you and you you mistake for good luck.
The intention is to present reality “in a receivable way.” They drag her spitting and shrieking into daylight and she passes out, falling down in the dust at the edge of the road. “It’s okay,” the counselor says, with a smile that oozes understanding, as they strap her onto the gurney, “nobody wants to get better, not at first.”
The principal is waiting near the edge of the overgrown garden, by the rusted gate.
Moving on means getting back to the work of getting married or trying to get married, yes? Boy? Dating and falling in love blah blah blah. Oh, there’s some lip service to the idea that I can be happy and fulfilled “all by myself” but in fact you expect to see me fall in love again soon: to regain my place in the system (valuable because valued). You will be concerned if I remain single, as if you knew (though you never even hint at this), that if I remain on my own, discarded, I’ll discover I’m worthless as a crumpled wrapper in the gutter only differing from that garbage in the fact that I barely… exist.
“My father’s family name being…” I sit quietly beside you, as the script instructs, in a location in which we will not be disturbed. We read together, aloud, and when you feel that you can go on without me you tap the back of my hand, like this.
“What do I touch?”
Enter through a side door, the main way chained shut, always too late. Cold weight of steel across the great door, where hope came in (but it was false) and went out.
And I? And I in the language I have for this, given to me, the appropriate language, steps “on the journey” and so forth, the steps toward health away from you from pain from you I won’t I won’t ever… Take do you take. In my mind abruptly broken off chords of the wedding march: a tune that won’t stop starting to stop again on a jangled note abruptly crashing into dissonance. And I hear or imagine I hear the pitying, shocked, excited gasps. How many of those guests (loudly expressing shock and pity) secretly congratulated themselves on being there for—what could make a better story?—the marriage that never came off…
“I hope you have someone to keep you warm,” he said, or was it “to warm you”?
Open-ended, non-judgmental questions or statements of feeling are best: “Hello___________, I want you to know how sorry I am for your loss. How are you doing?”
Barred gate, you get there through numbers, numbness—you get me? Lies or at least silence. Out on the marshes or meshes you met…—forget that part. Sometimes you just have to hold onto whatever it is you’ve got, or had once. Production halts.
Well. “You”: what is that? “We were only trying to help”?
The lack of color in the room, the yellowing blankness of so much of what you first see when you enter, makes a sort of vague, pale mist. The figure posed before the glass would not even seem feminine were it not for the long grey hair and fancy dress. Turning at your entrance she seems to break a few slivery lines of web in order to greet you, as if she was being woven into her reflection, spun slowly into the cocoon of her own regard. Doesn’t the glance always come back?
“’Your heart.’” My heart…
The first meeting goes well enough: objectives are clear and the emotional investment of the participants in the outcome is apparent.
“I don’t wish to make a display of my feelings, but…”
I hear the timid knock again on the door of the one who came gently to break the news and again the click of the latch as I shut the door, turning the key. I cross the room and I am not crying: I don’t cry. I pick up the clock, this is the first thing I do, and I throw it on the floor. He knew, I’ll insist later, how I take care of myself.
The noun is Jilt, the form of the verb is “to jilt.” Conjugate, conjugal? Not. The diagnosis is “Complicated Grief,” “previously known as chronic, pathological or traumatic grief.”
It’s almost instantaneous, the understanding that there is nothing beyond this moment and that everything needs to stop. The rest is preparation for stasis, worship of the foreclosed event.
The ragged dust-blackened foot of her stocking slides up to reveal one filthy scaling heel. The fragile fabric of the dress has cracked, bits of brittle lace sift down like snowflakes or dandruff as she shifts in the hard fold-out chair, picking at the frayed edges of her grayish satin underskirt, looking at the floor or the wall or…anywhere but at us.
Frustrated but firm, keyed up, your expressions, self-righteous and excited: you are enjoying your power, perhaps? The power of the editor? To intervene, to revise or restructure take under pencil came forgive: like that? To change the syntax? Only, of course, your work as a doctor is in the service of sense—and mine is not (as far as you can see). You see what you are doing as getting the story “back on track”: correcting an aberration, resetting a dislocation, revising a bizarre mistake. But you are always free (you have made this clear enough!) to not even bother to read the versions I present.
“Dear Jilted but Hopeful, picture me leaping up and down, spinning like a top and screaming like a banshee as I say this: NO, HE ISN’T COMING BACK! Guys who are really into you are perfectly capable of showing up at their own weddings and actually participating! Words of one syllable (like ‘I do’?!) are not exactly beyond us. If he’s not too brain dead to dial a phone—and why would you be ‘in love’ with that?—and he hasn’t even called, then it’s just…”
The “permanent” reduced to a certain tightness or inflexibility, uneasy traces of denied life.
Our voices are joined as my finger moves across and down the page: “When you say you love me, I know what you mean, as a form of words…” And then the pressure on my hand, and, “Boot nuh-thing mohr,” sounded out.
“I want the white picket fence,” he said—I knew that let me out.
Talking about it, sitting in groups. Weekly meetings of professional or upper middle-class women who each stood up to speak their name and to confess, “My name is ___________ and I’m…single…unmarried…a spinster, “ or (the stronger ones), “a jilt.”
Letter by letter a text tugged from an orifice dry as the paper itself; read by the guttering end of a greasy light.
“But she was a MESS, I mean, her life was a total mess, and she was laying all this really heavy shit on me, like I’d have to go out and ‘break hearts’ (that was her phrase) FOR her or something. Hurt other people. And I was getting all twisted up inside ‘cause it seemed like I couldn’t take the risk of loving anyone, ‘cause love was…only a game, but…too dangerous…”
And so it stops, and starts again in order to stop, just…here. (What do I touch?)
So, uhm, reframing “I will never get married” turns it into “I want to get married”? Tell us, the therapist urges. Inevitable coffee (“bitter as my…”) and stale doughnuts: the wad of used tissues seeming, stacked beside her chair, like part of her dress.
No one is to mention time to me: I have nothing to do with the days of the weak. At night I pace the length of the spider-charged table set with the rotting feast or I make up strange dances, moaning to myself, or I waltz, murmuring reassuring or flirtatious nothings, until I collapse. Sometimes I smear my face with clay or cream and, wearing nothing but that heavy blank mask, totter nude across the long table assuming suggestive poses above each setting. Or I might move from chair to chair, talking and laughing in imitation of each imagined guest. I am the whole audience, each strained smile and stammered set of congratulations; I pause at each place long enough to lift a glass to myself, to us… Some nights the toasts are explicit to the point of pornography, some nights they are so tender and heartfelt I can barely whisper these speeches I believe I might have heard on that day (if you hadn’t left…) and…and I try (too late) to weep.
When you halt over or badly mispronounce a word I join my voice to yours, and we go on together until I feel the gentle pressure of your hand on this glove of loose, yellowing flesh.
But if I slept with him, he said, he might want to be with me instead of her. Where sleep with means fuck.
I have identified that s/he is feeling very ashamed about what happened, and feels very isolated and alone.
Way back where it started, in the blank before the book, you supplied a file for someone else’s chain—before you forged your own—you brought a picnic to someone making a break for it. In fear of your life. The phonemes catch, break up, you sound out who you are, what it is you can say of it, to be inserted as subject in this unfinished sentence. Well it’s this longing to grasp what we think is the source of our joy that we share, isn’t it? To make the eternal from a chance? “Boy?” I speak (“’Boy’”) from some distance.
The coffee is lousy because that is the cliché and because the cliché is the necessary dose of reality, or “realism,” meaning we ground ourselves in the real by way of these touchstones we know to be false. Lukewarm brew in its Styrofoam container: inky and sour as my own thoughts.
Then silence, and after a moment we go on again together, “…you touch nothing there.”
It’s a candle in a long dark corridor, this image of my grief that is my remembered grief. Little glow sucked after, entreating, the vanished gust.
Each time you come in it’s another woman, speaking these lines, reading from the letter he left her with (a tissue of clichés meant mostly to shore up his feeling of self-importance): various ages, races, and nationalities, these women, enraged, disgusted, or laughing: they model a number of reactions to his decision to leave her (please, “to jilt”!), alike only in their willingness to pause there, to spend time in this space of sorrow and shame they are transforming as they, as you’d say, “obsess.” Get a life!
“You know…, sometimes when people have experienced a sudden lose (sic) and feel as you do, they think about suicide. Is this something you have thought about?”
Some nights I stay up for hours, cruising an on-line dating service, discarding “matches,” improving my profile, enticing admiration I disdain or discard: proving I can still break hearts.
And you are “armed” (such is the verb choice) with “factual, non-judgmental data.”
The funky room where they meet is always somewhere a little askew, and ugly, Not the church but the basement of the church, you know (“Where does a masochist live? / In a basement”), the light too bright or dim, the air scented by unwashed bodies, heavy pastries, coffee boiled too long, and undisturbed dust, as if to insist that the lives to which we must return, when we “get better,” our illusions stripped away, are “completely devoid of charm,” wearily bleached by bad choices and neglect.
“I couldn’t really connect with anyone, you know? Like, if I even thought about it I could feel her there again, the slither of gems on my neck, her eager laugh and hungry look: ‘Never let a man get in the way of your career’—never let never let never let… Her breathless gasp of a laugh: ‘Break their hearts!’”
Whenever appropriate or feasible, participants were encouraged to choose condom-related goals.
“What do you mean, ‘I’ll show them’?”
“When she first came in I meant to save her from misery like mine.” “Take the pencil and write under my name, ‘I forgive her’!” “When first…I meant to save…from misery like...” “Take…” “When she…to...” “Take…my…!” “What I meant to from misery…!” “…I…to…write under my name…”
“I hope you have someone to warm you,” he said, by way of goodbye (his wife was in the bathroom), meaning…
Like, what? Reading He’s Just Not That Into You, in a women’s book club? Dying my hair? Dieting? Taking a Pilates class? Signing up at an on-line dating site? Taking up a hobby where I can meet other singles? Making a list of what I want in a man? In a society? What do I want?
I pictured him as if in a drawing done by a child, you know: a stick figure holding the hand of another stick figure, the smaller stick figures off to the side, the sun a scrawl of yellow, the tree a scribble of green, the house a simple box. All of this behind the regular, vertical lines of white that alert us to the presence of the suburban border. Property rights.
“Vanity of sorrow…”
Production halts, you move past the stilled signs, your password a hated name. Get to it. The rusted gate, the windows blocked up or barred, the walls of “dismal” brick, empty barrels that once held…a long gone product: a sparkling brew, golden as urine or late sunlight, that once quenched both the harsh word and the sweet, flowed down gone throats once as if to seek the source of an echoing laugh.
“’What do I touch?’ / You’re hurt.
A story emerges where the story we were supposed to hear halts: from a narrative interrupted another narrative appears, apparently without development, or the development is cyclic, oblique.
Admitted to a house one of whose names means Enough.
Our voices sliding across the text, phoneme by phoneme, joined and distinct, this constant experience of difference and shared focus, and then the moments in which you continue alone, and my silent sounding out of the space you cross without…
This client-centered counseling intervention had the following aims: increase participants’
perception of personal risk, support participant initiated changes, and focus on small,
achievable steps toward reducing personal risks.
“Okay,…I understand. You see no hope. But I do. You need to come with me right now” (my voice is compassionate, but firm).
What do I touch?