Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A whispered scream from the Great Beyond

Listening to: My next-to-last-draft of my mixmania! disk

My eyes are burning. Tonight's group drained me, shook every last particle of energy out of my cells and slammed me to the mat. Whatever goes down here is me clawing my way towards meaning without anything but momentum to carry me to some dumb conclusion.

Sometimes things happen in a therapy group that remind me of how chaotically close we spin towards one another and how, sometimes, we crash - violently. How the fabric that binds us is ripped while we cruise along our individual trajectories, how the shards of glass, sprayed like buckshot from the collision, reflect our grimaces staring in morbid fascination at the carnage.

The group I ran tonight is a crew I picked up from a counselor who could not, for whatever reason, handle his responsibility. He was a good counselor (despite his faults) and his clients had become attached to him, a situation that added to my apprehension. Had he been proudly puissant or pedantic, I might have walked in with my White Knight gear on and been a savior but his clients appreciated his loose and empathic style and I knew that, no matter how chummy I tried to be, I'd be the invading force; no use in attempting to stage tearing down his statue.

Knowing my situation, I kept my strategy simple and somewhat mercenary: be low key, up front regarding my trepidations, and let everyone go early. We'd just get to know one another and given everyone's story (and level of motivation), I could proceed with what was organic, appropriate. Figuring that playing the "good guy" during my intoduction to the group (letting court-ordered clients go an hour early is always a big hit), I could endear myself, somewhat, to the group and pave my way for the following week.

The plan I had tonight was vague enough to not make long-time group members feel a tectonic shift, specific enough to bring newer group members on board with my agenda. Clever fuck that I am, I knew my plan would pan out and our little corner of the universe would be tidy and safe. As I checked my clients in for group, there was no other truth other than the one I had written down for the night's itinerary.

In the midst of writing down names and taking payments, John* showed up. I didn't have his file and he admitted that he hadn't been to group for the past month. Given that information, I told him that he'd probably been discharged and suggested that he contact the office manager in order to get re-enrolled so that his probation officer could be notified that he was back in compliance with the terms of the court. As a courtesy, I asked him why he'd been out of group for so long, why he hadn't called to let us know why he couldn't come in. Frankly, I was expecting generic replies or excuses.. One gets easilly jaded in my field.

"Yeah," he answered, matter of fact, "My daughter was murdered a couple weeks ago"

Oh man, I said, said as I looked at the desk top and fiddled with a pen, looked across the room, looked for anywhere I could focus other than into his eyes, that's harsh, I, uh, let me call over to the office manager, let me shed my skin and pretend I'm not nearly as reptilian as I appear to be.

"Yeah, we discharged him weeks ago," the voice on the other end of the phone said, "He needs to come down here and get re-enrolled."

I cupped the phone, told him what I'd been told. John looked at me, long and desperate, "I just need to be here."

Some clients "need" to be in group because they've fucked around too long and their time is up, probation has lost patience and jail is the the next step. It happens all the time. Strangely enough, despite being court-ordered, some "need" to be there because they need to dump, to talk it out amongst their peers.

I uncupped the phone, "Re-enroll him, his daughter was murdered." The so-called "great counselor" had failed to pass that little tid-bit along but this little bit of information shifted everything.

"Oh. Yeah. Let him in group."

Group started as it should have, clients doing their "check in" (reporting on their week), what we did, what we felt, and hey, it's your turn. After everyone's turn, we got back to John and what happened. The brutal honesty, the horror, the stuff that made everyone in the room squirm in their seat and choke back their tears.

John sat directly in front of me. As he unfolded his story, his anguish, his rage, it took every bit of my strength to maintain my lock on his face.

Look into the eyes of a man whose daughter was raped, tortured, and murdered, see those doubts, that guilt of not being there to save her, hear his voice crack at the equivocation of executing, by his own hand, the son of a bitch who did that to his little girl, listen to his pain and anger and grief and then tell me you understand. Tell me you understand so I can call you a liar. I sat in that room with him for almost two hours and despite my training and experience (the loss of my own son), his sense of loss is completely unfathomable to me. The depths of that grief is incomprehensible.

Other clients tried to apply their own grief to his situation (no one had dealt with murder), hoping to help him, to at least alleviate some of his pain. I knew nothing mattered, resounded, resonated. In my experience, of my own past grief, I had been oblivious to any words offered in comfort. I knew he appreciated our efforts but I also knew that, to him, our words were hollow.

The only client who seemed to reach him was a Marine who had served in Iraq and watched a childhood friend get his chest blown away (for lack of body armour, thank you Dubya for those tax cuts!). The Marine latched onto the theme that he felt he was supposed to protect his buddy, that it was his fault, that he was supposed to have been there to keep his friend from harm but he couldn't. He also said that he still had not gotten over the sense that he had failed his friend.

"John, you couldn't have been with her to protect her," the Marine said, "Accept it. I had to do the same thing. I had to accept that I couldn't be there to save my friend."

"Your anger and grief is like a big bubble and one of these days, you'll poke it and it will pop. And then it will come back and you'll poke it again and it will pop again, and you'll see that it got smaller - but no easier to pop. The bubbles arise out of nowhere, when you least expect them, and they get smaller as time goes along. They become smaller bubbles but the thing is, they don't get easier to pop. No matter how small they are, when you poke them, it hurts just as much as the biggest bubble."

John suddenly realized what the Marine was saying. And although he hadn't popped any bubbles yet, it was evident that his grief wouldn't get any better, just easier to handle.

John wept throughout the group, expressing anger, rage, hurt, apologizing for his pain, his tears, his domination of the group's time, his weakness. Group members said, "let it out, cry, grieve, be real," almost all of them construction workers, tough guys, guys I guarantee you wouldn't want to fuck with, many of them wiping their own tears away.

They knew that John's grief was beyond them but their own grief for him - and anger and frustration and confusion at his tragedy - was valid in that moment. I'd hate to have Hannity or Limbaugh or O'Reilly comment on that scene because they would have dragged it into derision and made fun of it - so-called "Red State" men going to pieces over a brother grieving his murdered daughter. Ann Coulter would have had a field day questioning those guy's masculinity.

To John's credit, he doesn't want to see his daughter's murderer executed. Oh, he'd kill him with his own hands but he can't see the state doing it for him. "I hope he sees my daughter's face every minute he's in prison, for the rest of his life," John said, "An injection would be too easy for him. And I can't see how the government taking his life will make up for him taking my daughter. I just can't see that."

The Marine backed John up, wondered how his government could kill with indifference and to no discernable positive outcome. He saw his friends die and wonders what was accomplished because, as he said, it had nothing to do with 9/11. He doesn't see that anything we've done over there has made a difference. "They're going to vote in a consitution where women can't vote? Women can't divorce an abusive husband? I didn't fucking fight for that."

Both John and the Marine said Bush can't look Cindy Sheehan in the eye and say he understands her pain. I can only go from what they said. I spent just two hours in the room but I can say given that, as their therapist, I could never comprehend their pain - or their humanity. As I said at the start of this essay, I'm clawing my way towards meaning.

So is John, so is the Marine, so are most of us.

Please, Mr. Bush, give us, them, John and the Marine, some meaning. Quit lying to us. I have not only have clients struggling to understand what the fuck this country stands for but friends and children and family, and you have left all of us wanting. Yeah, some of the folks I advocate for are in therapy for a DUI but then - hey, Mr. President - you had a couple of DUI's yourself! So quit the pretense and come clean.

Or remain a coward. As I tell my clients, it's your choice.
*Name changed to keep his anonymity.


Easy said...

That was an amazing post. It made my eyes water as well. Thank you for sharing this.

landismom said...

That was a great fucking post.

Anonymous said...

the most thought-provoking and moving post i've read in a long time. you are to be commended for processing something that far-reaching so very, very well. i'll come back to read this again.

Anonymous said...


I couldn't do your job. I certainly couldn't write about it with such delicacy and care.

Great post. Made me tear up.


Anonymous said...

"One ought only to write when one leaves a piece of one's own flesh in the inkpot, each time one dips one's pen." ~Leo Tolstoy

Blood, sweat and tears....

Passionate, raw and intense. I have come to expect no less.

Mamacita (The REAL one) said...

How fortunate he was to find YOU.

Kathy said...

Wow. I like the image of bubbles. It's very true. It never goes away, it just doesn't hurt so often.
My mom is a therapist and sometimes it's so hard for her to leave her day behind. I give you a lot of credit.
Do you think we can get all the troops home to help out here? I know George really wants to help us Americans....

trusty getto said...

Thanks for sharing that, Jim. It's quite amazing and moving.

Though I was being glib in my email to you yesterday, I do believe you really *are* truly brilliant.

Anonymous said...

The intense merging of themes is compelling. The way the three of you touch each other's pain and in turn provide support and the possibility of healing is powerful and hopeful.

Babette said...

It takes courage and grace to face the hurts, troubles, and wounds of the family of man.

Your eulogy for Noble contains a healing balm, Jim, and I wish more could hear and read it.

Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful post. Thanks for writing that, Jim.

kenju said...

I could never do your job. It sounds as if you do it very well, and you cerainly write it well. Michele and Trusty Ghetto sent me.