Authors: Anne Roiphe
Tags: #novel, #upper west side, #manhattan, #new york, #psychoanalyst, #psychology, #fiction, #literary
ballad of the black
and blue mind
Copyright Â© 2015 by Anne Roiphe
A Seven Stories Press First Edition
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Roiphe, Anne Richardson, 1935-
Ballad of the black and blue mind : a novel / Anne Roiphe. -- A Seven Stories Press First Edition.
pages ; cm
ISBN 978-1-60980-608-8 (hardback)
1. Women psychiatrists--Fiction. 2. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States
9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
ballad of the black
and blue mind
SEVEN STORIES PRESS
Dr. H. and Dr. Z. were leaving a meeting of the psychoanalytic journal held at a colleague's house. They each had emptied a few glasses of a good Cabernet Sauvignon, and Dr. Z. had devoured the Saint Andr
cheese, leaving only the yellow rind on the plate and a few broken crackers behind. Because they were cautious men and more aware of the consequences of even the most casual conversation than others who had not made their particular professional choices, they spoke to each other in low voices about Dr. B.
I don't think she recognized me, said Dr. H.
Her comments were strange, said Dr. Z.
She's still the editor-in-chief, said Dr. H.
It's a farce, these meetings, said Dr. Z.
You want to tell her to step down? asked Dr. H.
She would never, said Dr. Z.
She was my supervisor, said Dr. H.
How was she? asked Dr. Z.
A good enough mother to my psychoanalytic self, said Dr. H.
Just that, said Dr. Z.
Just that, said Dr. H.
Can you talk to her? asked Dr. Z.
I can't, said Dr. H.
Years ago I thought about sending my daughter to her, said Dr. Z.
Yes, said Dr. H.
Ronit wasn't interested, said Dr. Z.
Your daughter is an oncologist, isn't she? said Dr. H.
Yes, said Dr. Z.
Dr. Estelle Berman had a new patient. She was the daughter of a colleague, Dr. Herbert Gordon. He was a follower of a branch of psychoanalysis that had challenged some of the older Freudian concepts and gained a considerable following. Dr. Berman had congratulated him on the paper he had given at a conference in Madrid the summer before and as a result he had sent her his daughter, a movie star: a real movie star. When she opened the door Dr. Berman saw with an excited beat of her heart the beauty that had walked past her and taken the patient's seat politely, like a good child. The movie star, two movies, one a critical and financial disaster, was wearing blue jeans with high leather boots and a shirt that showed all that it could and still remain on the body.
The movie star said, Shrinks' kids, we're all crazy, right?
Dr. Berman always found that sentiment irritating. She heard the hostility in the remark: if you're so smart how come your kids are just like everyone else's. As if immunity from life should have been accorded the children of psychoanalysts.
The remark stung. It stung because it was true, there was no good defense, even the best of physicians could not protect their own children from the predators of body and mind that lay outside their homes or dwelled inside their homes. It was true, shrinks' kids went down the drain, just as often as the rest but their parents had begun an inquiry, one still at a primitive stage, but a start, a brilliant start, to our understanding of ourselves, our envies, our lusts, our rage, our love, our tenderness, our small sparks of happiness, our ways of hurting ourselves and others. Is an orthopedist's child not allowed to limp? She did not say this to the girl in her office.
From a certain perspective, Dr. Berman's perspective, no one was normal. Nothing was normal. The human brain vibrated like the universe itself with too many parts to be classified in categories of normal or not. Afflictions were everywhere and so was the glory of the thing, the bravery of loving or hating or wishing or failing. There was a lot of normal failing, that Dr. Berman did admit.
Justine, Betty on her birth certificate, took a pack of Marlboros out of her bag. She was not afraid of death, she announced. Dr. Berman hated the smell of burning tobacco and despised the spill of ashes over her carpet but she knew some patients needed it if they were to talk to her and so she said nothing. Betty, a.k.a. Justine, had the white blonde hair of a Swedish child and the black eyes of a Dostoevsky heroine and those eyes blinked at Dr. Berman nervously. I don't do drugs, she said as if in answer to an accusation. I'll bet, thought Dr. Berman. At least, the patient said, not so much as I used to. Are you making a movie in New York? asked Dr. Berman. She preferred a little small talk to a confrontation on drugs one minute into the first meeting.
No, said Justine. I'm here because my boyfriend is making a movie here. Dr. Berman was clearly supposed to know who the boyfriend was and what movie he was making but she didn't. She was silent. Was being so beautiful a burden? wondered Dr. Berman. Perhaps Justine didn't think she was lovely. Most likely only her face was lovely and her mind ugly as a nest of poisonous ants.
Justine told her story all the while crossing and uncrossing her long legs, smoothing her hair and then tangling it in the next gesture. The tale was about the boyfriend who had left her for a stripper, or almost a stripper, but didn't want the papers to hear of it until the movie he was working on was released and so had forced her to lie to her publicist and everyone which had made her want to steal something which would get her in trouble again. Dr. Berman had missed the news about her arrest in LA over just a small misunderstanding, something she would have fixed if the police weren't after her because they hated her. Rehab was out of the question. Justine would never go into rehab.
Altogether Justine was like a cat in a tree, hissing and showing its claws because it was stuck, up so high and with no way to get down.
Dr. Berman was not afraid of Justine. By the time the forty-five minutes were up, Dr. Berman didn't even think Justine such a great beauty. She saw the tired drawn lines on her face and she saw the nails chewed to the tips, painted with blue glitter and all. She saw the girl's eye makeup run down her cheeks when she admitted to an abortion this boyfriend had demanded. Dr. Berman saw a girl who probably hadn't changed her underwear in days. Her neck wasn't clean either.
Don't steal anything before our next appointment, said Dr. Berman as she stood up, letting Justine know her time was up. Justine smiled and said she would try not to.
She had her fingers crossed.
Stardom, had that become the American dream? Was it the riches or the adulation that followed that made the star an object of worship and envy? Stardom eluded people who were quite able to be themselves, their usual selves. It was not the expectation of those who could feel alive without others' eyes on their private parts. It was for fragile, hungry types, who were looking for themselves in the applause of an audience and that applause always died down.
What was it Justine said she had stolen? It was a fox fur coat because she really didn't approve of buying one, which would support the killing of innocent animals.
Dr. Berman had a bad headache.
, what a nasty word, with its professional ring and its cutting finality. It was the obvious word to describe Justine. But what exactly did that mean? Was Justine trapped inside a dank prison of self, a beautiful body, Dr. Berman acknowledged, even if worn at the edges? Was Justine to be envied or pitied? And if the thousands of screaming fans who had almost mobbed her when she went to a nightclub with her boyfriend who was not her boyfriend but was just acting like her boyfriend, knew how deeply Justine wanted someone to keep her in one piece, save her from punishments of her own devising, would they still scream in joy when she traipsed past them on her five-inch heels, steadying herself on the arm of the boyfriend who wished she were someone else?
A girl like this might come from an orphanage, from a series of foster homes in which neglect was not so benign. But this one came from an analyst's home, she had gone to the Lab school in Chicago and had play dates with children whose parents wrote for
The New York Review of Books
. There was something southern in her accent, a Kentucky mountain echo, which she must have learned from music videos since her father had arrived here in his teens from Liverpool and her mother was a violinist from Haifa.
So Justine was a construct made of cameras and the Cloud. Could Dr. Berman turn her into a real girl? Were psychoanalysts, like Geppetto, set up for betrayal by bad little puppets? Why was Justine not real? Justine herself had no interest in the why. It was her father's question and she didn't like it and had no intention of seeking an answer. What she w
anted from Dr. Berman was asylum: a safe room where she could hide. Dr. Berman was willing to offer that too. But she also wanted to know why.
On Central Park West, children were stepping off the yellow school buses that rode like migrating elephants down the avenue in the fading light of day. Taxis raced on both sides of the street, passengers coming and going, from their analytic appointments perhaps. Dogs and dog walkers roamed on the other side of the stone fence, along the paths' lines of gray cement benches stretched beneath winter trees, reminders of a wilderness long banished and not mourned. Nearby a playground waited, empty, with swings on rusty chains and a sandbox with an abandoned coffee container on its rim.
Six stories above Dr. Estelle Berman watched as her last patient balanced her coat and bag on one arm and vanished out the door. She sat in the deep leather chair while her shadow lay across the Persian rug she had purchased years ago when she had been a young analyst still in training, attending classes at night, in analysis herself with one of the major figures in her institute, a man who had not expressed openly his admiration for her, his young analysand, but who had, she was quite sure, deep and essential feelings of attraction and longing for her, feelings of course he could not act on, and would not act on, because of the ethics of the profession, because of his esteemed position in the analytic community.
Her apartment had four bedrooms and a maid's room. It had a kitchen with windows that overlooked the yards of the brownstones on the street behind. In the spring the voices of children playing rose to the sixth floor and the rhododendron and pachysandra bushes bloomed.
A long dining room with an oak table that sat twelve.
A living room: wide enough for three couches, two armchairs, two inlaid coffee tables from India, a cabinet of fine Spode, and two rugs from China with dragon tails marking the corners.
Windows looking out over the park.
When it snowed the gentle ridges of earth were marked in dark stripes as the tracks of sleds and skis crisscrossed the white expanse outside the window. In the evening the lamplights glowed and downtown the windows of tall buildings, banks and hotels, offices and stores, illuminated the night sky through which patrolling helicopters on terrorist alert rode uptown to the George Washington Bridge and back over the Statue of Liberty on their nightly route. Higher in the sky, across the park, the white and blue lights of incoming and outgoing planes, fireflies of the industrial world, flickered against the rising moon.
Dr. Berman's office: off the front hallâa large desk with lion paw feet.
The desk: covered with journals and papers and notes and a phone that was never answered during sessions.
On the left a high blue and white Mandarin porcelain vase filled with fresh cut gladiolas or lilies, or in season, branches of lilacs or forsythia.
A couch on one side of the wall with an afghan blanket folded at its foot.
A beige upholstered patient chair with blue pillow.
A floor-to-ceiling bookcase stood against the wall behind the couch. It held the many volumes of
The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child
, books no one needed anymore since the articles were all online. A press of a finger and each could be recalled from the dark recesses of cyberspace where it waited for attention, hibernating through long nights of neglect.
And on the next shelf, the volumes of Freud,
Civilization and Its Discontents
Moses and Monotheism
Psychopathology of Everyday Life
The Interpretation of Dreams
Totem and Taboo
, all in faded blue covers, the twenty-three-volume Strachey edition, the three-volume Jones biography, dust on the rims, books that stood guard over her patients, like stars in the sky, looking down on soldiers waiting in trenches, waiting for dawn to rise when they would rush with terrible fear toward the enemy. Dr. Berman was not a tall woman, just a bit over five feet, and to reach the books on the upper shelves she had to call the super who would stand on a chair and bring down the volume she wanted.
A piece of stone pottery engraved with a reproduction of a raven-headed god from the Israeli museum shop, purchased the year the international meetings were in Tel Aviv. (Afterwards she and Howard along with a small group from her institute went on to Cairo and down the Nile.) And in the far corner a biography of Joan Crawford and one of Gloria Swanson.
This was an apartment that spoke of the last century, grander times, when the great buildings along Central Park West were rising one after another filled with New York's newest money, its most recent arrivals, its most fortunate merchants and their families.
It was a rent-controlled apartment.
Who would not be envious of such an apartment, an apartment with four bedrooms and a maid's room. There was also a house in Southampton with a swimming pool and a tennis court. There Dr. Berman spent August, often welcoming psychoanalysts from other continents who were familiar to one another from papers given at international meetings and published in journals of note.
Dr. Berman closed her eyes. She needed to nap, like a cat, like her cat Lily.
Could she sleep now? Was it time? Should she leave her office or should she stay? Did she have another appointment? Where was her book, the black leather book with the days and the hours marked, with the telephone numbers of patients, with a red ribbon to move forward day after day as if one might wrap time like a present, like the gold watch she received for her sixtieth birthday from Howard, her husband, her second husband, the first one is not worth mentioning. Gone, both husbands. Wrong word: dead that second husband, ashes rising in an updraft as seagulls gathered on the dunes at their beach house where every summer, even when his heart was failing, even when his face was drained of color, he had arranged clambakes and picnics for her colleagues and friends. She could almost feel his hand on her shoulder, his big hand. The dancing, he was a good dancer, had stopped. She had felt safe when he was in the room. The bulk of him, the too much weight in the belly, the kindness of him kept her calm: unless it didn't. Four or was it five times she had threatened to divorce him. He was faithful. She less so. She traveled without him. He traveled only with her. She was the voice in the whirlwind and he was the willow that bent in the storm. She was admired by a host of students and patients and often invited to introduce brilliant and original minds at annual lectures at the Academy of Medicine. He ordered the car that would pick them up after the theater. He arranged for the plumber to fix the leak in the pipes. He was her consort and she was his queen. She liked diamonds and he liked to buy them for her, which he could because he was president of a company that supplied paper products to doctors' offices, including gowns that opened to the front or the back.