Tuesday, April 2, 2013

In and Out of the Closet

“I’ve been thinking about my mother,” Marnie says.

That’s certainly not unusual for this fifty-two years old woman whose mother committed suicide when she was ten, but today her manner is more open, less guarded.

“There’s been so much in the news lately because of the two cases before the Supreme Court, the ones about gay and lesbian rights,” she continues. “It’s made me sad. They keep talking about this ‘sea change’ in attitude about homosexuality, about how many people now support same-sexed marriage when it was unthinkable just a few years ago. I keep wondering if it was different back then whether it would have made a difference for my mother. I didn’t really get it then, but she was so unhappy. I always thought it was me, that it was my fault. And then when she left me that suicide note I just got more confused. She said that she loved me and that she’d always love me, but that she just wasn’t made for this world, that she couldn’t stay with my Dad and me as a family. I know we’ve talked about this many times …”

“That’s fine, Marnie, we can talk about it and talk about it as many times as you need. Besides, this time you seem a bit different, sadder, less angry.”

“I feel really sad for my Mom. It’s like she missed out. If she could have been born later, maybe none of this would have happened and I wouldn’t have been left living in that house with the ghost we never talked about.”

“Sounds like you’re saying that you wish your Dad could have been different too,” I say.

“Definitely. It took me a while to realize that my Mom was a lesbian, but when I did, my Dad told me never to say that work in front of him again and absolutely never, ever to tell anybody. I felt such great shame, and I wasn’t even sure why.”

Feeling sad along with Marnie, memories drift through my mind: A very good friend who died suddenly in a car accident, her partner unable to share her pain at work; A patient who remained in the closet until he died when I discovered that his family had known for years; Another patient who cut her arms in an attempt to banish “bad sexual thoughts” from her mind. It’s mostly changed now, but the effects still remain. 

“I still think she could have done something different, that she didn’t have to kill herself! Other gay people didn’t kill themselves!”

“I understand that you’re still angry, Marnie. Regardless of her reason, she left a vulnerable, longing child behind. It must feel that she didn’t love you enough.”

“She didn’t! And it’s made it so much harder for me to love,” Marnie says lowering her gaze.

“That’s a very good insight, Marnie,” I say, flashing on several children I know whose mothers died when then were around Marnie’s age. They share Marnie’s difficulty, a protective shield that radiates a warning – “Don’t get too close!” It’s as though the pain of that separation was so wrenching that it could not be born and a barrier against closeness was erected.      

“I know I love my children. I mean really love them. But with anyone else it’s harder, even with my husband. I know what I should feel, what I want to feel, but that piece is just missing. Even with you. I tell you everything but, I don’t know, I guess I can still feel myself holding back, although I couldn’t say exactly what I’m holding back. Do you think we’ll ever solve this?”

“I can’t say for sure, but I would say that two important things happened today. First you were able to feel sad for your Mom, which may help us on the road to your feeling the sadness you felt as a little girl when she died. And second you just said, ‘Do you think WE’LL ever solve this?’” I think that’s a big step for you, Marnie. You’re saying that you’re willing to consider me an ally, perhaps even someone you can depend on to be here for you and help you.”

“I don’t know, I think it was kind of just like a figure of speech.”

“Perhaps,” I say, not wanting to challenge Marnie’s need to pull back. There will be other sessions, more time.

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