It began as a dinner with new Italian friends and turned into a wormhole to my past coupled with a new way of saying hello to myself.
We had met only once before at a restaurant where a group had gathered to listen to a mutual friend’s band. By chance, the four of us sat together and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. We made noise about getting together in the future, but they were soon leaving for an extended trip to Sri Lanka and India so the future would be a long way off.
But they did call, invite, and we went. The conversation over the delicious dinner was fast and furious. At one point they lapsed into Italian–perhaps to make certain they both understood what was being said, or because they didn’t want us to understand. Didn’t matter. It was lovely to listen to the music of the language.
For some reason their lapse into lyrical Italian still danced in my head the next day. The harder I tried to understand why, the fuzzier it became. It was only that night, not really thinking about anything in particular, that a childhood memory flooded my mind. Family scenes where parents or older relatives would, in a hairpin turn, speak Yiddish. In those moments, there was no confusion. They simply didn’t want me to know what they were saying. But those hairpin turns, natural on their part, always drew a silent gut wrench without my ever knowing why.
I doubt I would have given those few short Italian sentences any thought at all without my hour a day, four days a week, eight year stint with Dr. J that began about twenty-five years ago. A particular crisis drove me to the Boston Psychoanalytical Institute to become a test analysand, but the day to day work soon embraced multiple dimensions. Anyone who has done a psychoanalysis knows that once you jump down that rabbit hole….
Of course we spent a significant time on what had been an explosive childhood that had me living with other people.
Spent serious time on my first marriage, which had reduced itself to a protracted custody battle.
Spent time on being a single parent half the week for years.
Spent time working through issues that existed between me and my current domestic partner.
The list is legion. I had more than enough issues, and that much time on your back makes it so. But when the eight years were over, I had become significantly lighter emotionally through the discoveries gleaned by talking every day to someone who listened, supported, and was truly smart.
I also left believing the couch had cracked the door to my creative imagination. Two fantasies I’d harbored since forever were writing and making music. I walked out of Dr. J’s for the last time confident about constructing a brand new writing life.
Along with these accomplishments, I also left the couch hauling a suspicion that I’d never really learned an important lesson analysis was supposed to “teach.” I simply hadn’t found a method of diving into my subconscious. I did think about what I thought or felt, though it was through an active process, driven by overt consideration or focused reflection. Similar to having someone confront or ask pointed questions. However, this nag was left behind as I powered up my “creative imagination” to build my Matt Jacob writing career. Still, I’ve always been jealous of people–Sasha Cohen, Jon Stewart and, of course, Robin Williams–who are seemingly able to dip into their down below at will.
But that night, lying in bed, relaxed and open to possibilities, age, experience, and a lack of defensiveness delivered the association between the Italian talk and Yiddish memories. Long ago that gut wrench had been the only part of the iceberg that registered. The difficulties of my childhood, the exclusion, the difference between myself and my family, the alienation within my own home, and the ugly bitter batterings finally rose from beneath the surface. Half a century later I understand what that Yiddish represented.
Ahh, the subconscious. I guess I get what it takes to let the game come to you. Not active pursuit, but a headspace that’s vulnerable enough to let it happen.
So, thank you, Alesandro and Camilla, for a great dinner. And a special thanks to Dr. J. Sometimes it takes a really, really long time for understanding to sink into an old dog’s head. Even when the information is already there.