These past weeks in the Sandbox, the sun setting earlier each day, Eileen more present than ever with me, it’s as if I’ve crawled back into bed beneath the covers and been given permission to write up a storm with her beside me. She is checking our shared document once and sometimes even twice a day.
I can’t help but feel like this is a feast at an all-you-can-eat dependency buffet.
And finally, after starving for so long, I am getting my fill.
Eileen and Blanket dialogue, and he asks her to explain herself around Notice.
Why does she ask for a divorce last May?
She commits, says it could take many weeks, but that she’ll try to come up with an explanation. She wants, badly, to patch things up with Blanket, and he invites her onto his park bench for hot chocolate.
Blanket, are you still angry with E?
Not as much.
Is it because you and E are drinking hot chocolate together?
I think so.
I know so.
E, up, up, up onto my park bench. Come sit beside me.
Grin, purr. Together.
You look lovely in your red shoes, E. Much like a Christmas elf.
Please, have another cup of hot chocolate.
The E-doll tells us she is only allowed to drink tea back home in her therapy den.
But in Park Bench Park I drink hot chocolate — as much as I want.
Whipped cream for you, E?
Don’t mind if I do.
It is Christmas Eve day, one of our favorites here in Park Bench Park, where we enjoy watching the twinkling lights of Sandbox City below. We are cozy together, the dull light, the cold air, the sun rising slowly over our former city.
I’ve written a Christmas poem for E.
Up, up, up, Monkey. Let us listen!
You hold our hand
Through Parts and through pages
You remain with us
Through rants and rages
You have a good heart
Your endurance is grand
You are the best therapist
In all the land.
Clap, clap, clap!
Bravo, Monkey. You are our Sandbox poet, the best and most clever.
In all the land?
Indeed, Monkey. In all the land.
B, can we take a drive down in our station wagon to Sandbox City? Tour the old office and check out the stuffy store?
Of course. We will all go together. There’s room for everyone.
It is Christmas day and although I don’t celebrate, it’s hard for the holiday to not register from year to year, for thoughts and comparisons of years past to be made.
I think of Eileen, away, on vacation again this year. Of her opening up my Sandbox in the morning, of her reading Monkey’s poem.
And I wonder what she is doing, if I matter, if I stay with her in her heart. Or if I am read quickly then put away and forgotten.
I remember last year, the cocoon I felt wrapped around us both, when she said she would be reading me on her Christmas vacation and how new and special each moment was.
The drill is the same this Christmas, the writing, the reading. But the feelings aren’t.Where the palette in my heart last year was deep and warm and red, I feel, this year, something else begin to take hold. I wish for things to be as they were.
But things are shifting inside without choice.
I surprised Pete for Christmas and will be taking him to Barcelona in March: first class, every leg of the way. I gave him this gift in the form of a note plus a 2015 calendar filled with photos of Gaudi’s architecture.
But instead of feeling hope and anticipation for the future, excitement for this trip, the calendar feels more like a dare than an invitation.
In the beginning of E’s vacation there was warmth and cheer and playfulness. But two hundred pages later, Christmas now over, the weather this morning inside me seems to demand change.
There is something about the time between Christmas and New Year’s, something stale, depressing, even ominous. This in-between time, these stepping stones into the new year, call out to me. And when I begin to listen, of all things, I feel the anger I tried so hard to leave behind after Thanksgiving finding me.
I lie in bed this morning remembering my therapy with Eileen a decade ago.
I recall a session when she was not wearing her wedding rings, and I asked with worry if she was getting a divorce. She did not answer but instead asked me if I felt responsible for her marriage dissolving. Eventually at the end of that session she told me the rings were only being cleaned. But she never explained why she would be playing such a game, by asking me this, or what the purpose was. To this day I still do not know what she meant. And the pain of the mystery still haunts me.
Then there was the story I found written about her online by an ex-boyfriend describing sexual escapades in detail. I contacted her immediately, and her response was to suggest twice weekly therapy sessions instead of just once; clearly, she said, I needed more of her. I never exactly healed from what I learned about her, never explored it, never understood why it all felt so painful to know such personal things about her – things I shouldn’t have known.
I remember, too, when I had gone to see her initially for the first time — a few sessions only. A couple years later I decided to see her again. And when we spoke on the phone, she didn’t remember me but rather my diagnosis, “You’re the one with PTSD.”
At the time I didn’t know the term –– I didn’t even think I had a diagnosis. And I definitely didn’t register how rude and insensitive this was to do.
As I find these memories and force myself to look at them, I grow furious for this mishandling of me, this casual, odd, even at times mean-spirited, treatment. It is like someone carelessly throwing matches inside an office they’ve doused in gasoline.
By the time I get up and out of bed, I find myself no longer filled with any of the holiday cheer or playfulness that marked the beginning of Eileen’s vacation.
This morning I am burning up in flames, and I cannot seem to put myself out.
Good morning, everyone.
Just checking in. I am here, I am here, I am here.
Hugs to Time. Can I come up, up, up onto you, for you are shaped like a large and comfortable chair?
Of course, Monkey. How is everyone?
We are doing better than when you were babysitting us during Eileen’s summer vacation.
Aren’t you going to ask about me?
Ah, you have an E-in-the-type I see.
Yeah. It’s our E-doll. Lately she’s been playing with B a lot.
Is she like the real E?
Real E says she is very eerily like her. Those exact words … “eerily like her.”
She’s helpful, I think.
What do you think of her, B?
Well, we’ve had some lovely chats. She wears her red sneakers when she comes to visit. I like seeing her on more equal footing, on my park bench versus in her chair.
She has caused you much pain inside, so it would make sense that it is easiest to see her on your terms, on your bench.
Do you feel you understand better why she sliced us? Why she did what she did when she gave Notice to you in May?
Our recent hot chocolate chats have been pleasant, but I’ve not really heard from the real E about it.
How do you feel?
I’ve run so many laps I think I am just plain worn out trying to find truth. Maybe the transference juice is fading with the dawning of the new year.
What does it feel like to have the transference juice fade?
We have stabs now, little flicks of light in the darkness that say to us that we mean little to the real E. That we are paid attention to for the money only. We can feel that we are working hard inside to move toward —
To move toward —
You move toward Toward?
Yes. A place of which I’m not certain. But I think we work hard inside to move toward our truth. Inside our Sandbox E means the world to us, and we mean the world back to her. But we work toward a day when we can face the truth, about her and about everything she is and is not.
I am here, I am here, I am here.
No you’re not.
Whom do I represent?
I think you represent someone I love who hurts me back in response to my love. But I can’t tell. There is too much confusion standing in the way of any real clarity.
For someone neglected so deeply and chronically from long ago, it’s not hard to dose them with transference juice and watch them reel aimlessly for years. It sounds like you’re tired of reeling.
I’ve been through it, and like I’ve told you, I’m still in therapy. Still unhealed. And don’t forget what I said after the Flood –– that I am very very fucked up.
You were mean to us Thanksgiving eve. Do you admit to this?
I don’t quite remember, actually. I was probably a lot of things — mean, nice, matter-of-fact. I’m what they call emotionally labile. Anyway, if I came across as mean or uncaring, I’m sorry. But I’m not really sorry. I’m just really good at saying I’m sorry.
Who are you, really, E?
Well … as mentioned, I do have labile emotions, which accounts for how I handle myself in our sessions and my lack of consistency in general. I struggle with depression. I’m lazy and not well organized. And as told after the Flood, I love erotica, and my boundaries suck.
Although on the outside I appear deflecting and selfless, I’m actually a huge narcissist, and my importance to you in this Sandbox supplies me with the goods I need — the fuel I crave.
I have no real plan for your treatment, no sense of diagnosis. I rely on Dr. D to give me tips and advice since I lack any real depth of experience in working with dissociative disorders. I ask for a raise to make myself feel like I have control — an important role to play — but the truth is, I’m lost at sea.
The overlay here on top of it all is that I’m defensive. I make you uncomfortable and scared to say how you really feel about me and your therapy and all the pain it has caused. This in turns stands in the way of the deep healing that you came to me for to begin with.
What about Notice?
S thinks Notice is some great mystery, but she’s got it all wrong. I was pissed that she called out my depression the week prior, and I decided to take a stab back at her. Despite S bringing me an incredibly sweet card and a little book about birds, I was intent on telling her, in so many words, that she can fuck off. And that I’ve better things to do with my life, like go on vacation in July.
Notice is never thought out. It’s done on a whim. My whim. I lash out carelessly and without thought or sensitivity around where you are in your therapy, how important I am to you in the Sandbox process you create to hold your trauma, how deeply regressed, fragile, vulnerable and dependent you've become. I’ve not one clue.
To make matters worse, I keep my petty non-reasons for Notice a mystery — I make you flail and guess for months, and I pretend like I am going to spend weeks thinking deeply about something complicated. But truth be told, my Notice has not a damn thing to do with much of anything.
Wow. I thought you were more empathetic, E.
Empathy? Please. I emptied out the barrel of my empathy gun long ago if I ever even had one. As your beloved Time will tell you, it’s 2015. Wake the hell up already.
Open your fucking eyes.
Last night was our first session after Eileen’s return from vacation and our first session of the new year.
We begin fighting almost immediately.
She says I am looking for reasons to be angry with her — anything I can find — and insists that I do not like that she’s finally now happy with the new payment plan.
The arguing feels familiar, and I register that the best times we seem to have are when we are apart: her vacation in July when Monkey pens her his secret letter, her lung-cation in September where Monkey serenades her, and this past Christmas, time together drinking make-believe hot chocolate.
As we argue, I look down at a small piece of paper I’d brought in, a reminder to ask the question that Blanket brought up and that she said she would think about.
Back in May, I say to Eileen, you said you were leaving. You gave Notice.
But you never told me why.
She thinks for a moment and then says that she was tired of the work — sick of it, in fact. And that she felt she had fulfilled her obligation.
Nothing, she adds, labile about it.
I register that she does not like me calling her labile in the transcripts. I breathe deeply. And I allow myself to face this reaction, to see her truth. Which includes calling me, just like she did in May, an obligation.
I allow this word, this cold, one-sided agreement I was never made aware of, this obligation that I am, to serve as a crow bar, a tool to open up further this chasm growing between us.
And rather than shrink in shame like I’ve done in the past, I sit up and respond that she does not appear to be tired anymore, that she seems to have quite a bit of energy now for the Sandbox.
Yes, she says. That’s true.
It is a new year, and I face that calendar, face its empty pages. Pages, I conclude, I will fill differently than last year. And I ask if this renewed energy for my Sandbox is related to being paid more.
Yes. She agrees. It’s the money that makes the difference.
I swallow. Hard. Then ask out loud if this then makes her a coin-operated therapist.
She bristles. Her face turns bright red.
Too angry to speak, she says nothing.
I allow myself to face a difficult truth: that Eileen’s office, a place long, long ago where I felt held, has turned into a boxing ring before my very eyes.
Yesterday I was driving to ceramics class. About a block from the studio, I was struck by a pitch-perfect emotional flashback.
This flashback was surrounding a period of months last summer where I sat in front of my laptop waiting for Eileen. Hours and what felt like days spent hoping for her to do anything, if even to just hit the space bar and save our shared file. Something, anything, to give me a sign she’d at least been in the document.
As I sat in the car remembering, so ashamed of the dependency that I was unable to shake, I started speaking out loud to myself, “It’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay.” Over and over until I was able to calm myself down and get to class.
Right before I went inside I felt as if I could have released a river of tears, but instead I just never let them begin. I braced and removed myself from this state of mind I was in, from this memory and from this shame, because I had a place to be, a place I enjoy, a life to live, a conversation to begin about glazing.
But when I got back home, I let Pete know about the flashback.
And as I began to talk to him, to hear the words come out, I was able to grasp a decision forming inside of me: that this therapy dynamic must end.
But just as this begins to happen, another side of me begins to roar in protest.
I cannot, could never imagine — letting go.
I cannot imagine leaving this person — my person — ever.
How just the hint of her in my heart ignites my days. How I’ve snuggled her in a bed made of words, now over three thousand pages long. She has been a promise to me, a whisper, a painful, beautiful echo.
How I want more than life itself to be hers. For she is, to me, life itself.
How desperately I’ve wanted to be special to her, and for a brief moment … our first Christmas together, I believe, truly, I was.
We are hers. We are hers. We are hers.
Our pages, our volume, our ten thousand novels that we write … we are hers.
I see that this past year or so I regressed deeply. I grabbed the hand of a therapist, and she grabbed mine back. I question now if she ever should have done this.
The reviews inside me are mixed.
I had put together many reference documents around the Sandbox, ordered periods of time into volumes, and shelved them in a shared place. There is the spreadsheet tracking these volumes and the percent shared with Eileen over the course of days and months. Also a guide with descriptions of terms like Flood and Notice and Park Bench Park. And a document listing my Parts and their exact dates of emergence.
I even find a two-page document on a word game I made up for E and me long ago. So long ago it begins to feel more like weather than memory.
I feel so intensely lost. Yet deep down, clear and committed. I feel both.
And with the same living room breath that Linger took so long ago, I rip myself evenly in two and do something that goes against every cell in my body, everything I’ve ever wanted and so deeply needed in my life: I begin to pull down all the shared documents between Eileen and me.
Afterward I send a note to let her know that our Sandbox relationship is, finally, terminated.
Even though I remove things from our shared space, I can’t stick to it. I terminate the Sandbox relationship with Eileen … but I don’t. The break is not clean. I’m unable to stop uploading. Every week payment has to be calculated differently, depending on what I’ve shared.
The other day Eileen remarks that she must be careful to be aware of “who is in the room” when she speaks. I grow fearful that I am losing my mind, that I have DID. I reel before bedtime and wake in a panic about diagnosis. I grow fearful, questioning my own mind and stability.
I email Eileen. Tell her I’m scared.
She emails me back, tells me that Dr. D. would be quick to diagnose me with DID, but she is less inclined. She does add, however, that it can take a long time to come up with the proper diagnosis, which scares me even more.
She points me to an article called Shrinking the Tsunami, but as I read it, I grow angry because it is an article written in a language I do not understand, for therapists and not for patients. I become enraged at Eileen for considering me a colleague, for intellectualizing everything, for not understanding my pain and fear and perhaps not being in touch with her own emotions either.
Oh, how she has no idea in this world how hard this is.
Also now another new, odd thing: I have begun to notice that when I go swimming, a sadness so thick comes over me that I can barely walk from parking lot to pool. I force myself to put laps between me and this heavy heart. After I seem to get a little relief, but it doesn’t last very long.
Last night in therapy I rear up against Eileen’s assertion that I might have DID, that Dr. D would quickly conclude this as truth.
I begin to feel that I can choose, and I see that there is a fork in the road up ahead. One path goes toward illness — endless, pointless, painful sessions with Eileen, which, in my mind, morphs into a hospital ward where I never am able to get out of my pajamas.
But there is another path leading toward health, fresh air, a climb up ahead but one well worth it.
I choose, I tell Eileen out loud. And I am choosing health.
I am climbing, I tell Eileen, Mt. Integration.
I ask that she stop viewing me in Parts, that I am everyone, that I am the creator of the Sandbox — everything and everyone in it … me.
All 3,322 pages of it … me.
Eileen looks as if she is about to cry. And I ask why. She says she feels like she needs to say goodbye to everyone in the Sandbox.
I want badly for this to be a happy moment, a point where I turn myself around, pick myself up by the boot straps. I want this to be my moment, a critical turning point where I choose clarity and strength. But Eileen is sad, and I feel pulled back into a vortex filled with grief, the same feeling that accompanies me from parking lot to pool.
Oh, how this hurts. And how the person I want to help me up this mountain is grasping at my backpack and pulling me down.
I woke yesterday morning barely able to get out of bed.
I found myself weeping buckets and gallons and oceans. I am alone in my quest to climb this mountain I have set out for myself.
I feel that I am in a state of perplexing desire — wanting to break away from my dependency and dynamic and pain with Eileen but wanting her to help me with it.
I want her to help wean me … of her.
I am able to drive to the gym to work out, but after, in the parking lot, again, the tears won’t stop, and I realize that I should be getting better from therapy, that these crying sessions in the gym parking lot, the walks to the pool, these mornings where I’m unable to get out of bed, that these are bad signs.
And for the first time ever, after I arrive home from the gym, instead of emailing, I pick up the phone and call Eileen.
I confess to her that I have grown worse, cannot stop crying.
I can hear her on the other end of the phone -- she is walking, exercising, something else happening, and while I have to some degree her time and her voice, I do not have her heart. She doesn’t understand, doesn’t embrace, doesn’t reach. She suggests only that I consider putting the genie back in the bottle — that I stop my process, put a lid on things, and move on. I tell her the genie is long out and that I must find the truth in all this: my Sandbox, my Parts, my process, my sadness.
I cannot walk away from all that’s been erupting. Walking away, I tell her, would be turning my back on everything that this meditation is about, everything I have set out to do.
As I speak and feel my way through the call, I swim up for air, and an important truth surfaces: To heal I need support — yeses and pats and huge doses of validation along the way.
To heal, I finally see, I need empathy.
And I’m not getting it.
Instead I am getting misfires, near silences, suggestions to walk away from understanding everything that I am.
Oh, A — it hurts so much. When does it stop hurting?
It will, S. I promise. The terms we negotiate at the beginning of this meditation include a heart the size of not one moon, but two. This means we cannot turn away from the hard work in front of us.
I called Eileen to tell her that I am so sad. I have felt lousy in therapy for so long, and am I not supposed to feel better?
She says, yes, but sometimes not.
I ache with disappointment — that she could accept for me that this road leads to a place of unending, unresolved grief — that this pain inside is the reward for all the work.
What I need is empathy and hope to boost me up. I need someone to say it’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be hard, but it’s going to get better.
I wanted Eileen to say, let’s do this climb toward understanding and happiness together. But when I arrive at the trailhead to Mt. Integration, there is not one word of encouragement, not one word of yah, know, I’ve been here, too and I promise it’s worth the climb.
I am deeply disappointing to you. I lack empathy and positivity, and you, S, can feel this. You fear my inability to empathize is harmful to you at this incredibly delicate and difficult stage of your therapy.
I have so much pain inside — around so many things — I do not know what to focus on. I just know that my relationship with my therapist has to be right. I am done enacting painful things; I want to understand where it all comes from.
You fear that I am only useful for triggering painful things. That I am not proving to be the person who can help you journey toward Toward. You fear that my lack of mental and emotional health inhibits you from finding yours.
Tell me, E-doll, are you the one to help me with this next stage?
I don’t know.
Eileen says on the phone that I can put the genie back into the bottle, stuff what I am feeling, or that I can try and understand and bear what I need to. And I think there is no other way out but through. That the genie needs to be set free.
I never imagined my journey in pages and in life would take such enormously painful twists and turns. I never thought I would find what I did.
So we move toward Toward, which is through the pain.
I will try. You need to give the person you went through all of this with the opportunity, S. Send this transcript to real E. Let her be with you. Give her the chance. Let her in. Let her know exactly how you feel.
Okay. But under one condition: that I be heard as a whole — that although this transcript is written to some degree in Parts, that I am behind every single one of them.
I need to adjust. I have gotten used to you in Parts.
Yes … it is not an easy exercise. But I am all of them. Even you, E-doll. A smart sensitive writer transcribes this Sandbox, and that person is … me.
Good morning, Shard. I wanted to ask how you are doing. How is the climb up Mt. Integration for you?
I want to run. I don’t want to climb.
Do you have any questions for E?
If you’ve been in therapy your entire adult life, like you told us, and still a very fucked up person, like you told us after the Flood, how are you equipped to guide us in our climb?
Did I ever say I was?
Does that mean you don’t want to? That you give up?
ThereThere, E. Are you depressed? Can I offer you a crayon?
We have the turquoise crayon right here, reserved for you. And I will share any other color, too. These were a gift that the Real E gave to us one night — or rather to me, Shard, to coax me to come out and talk.
Thanks. I’ll take it. And another crayon, too. And if you have anything else you would like to give me, I do love your thoughtful gifts. By the way, Shard, I’m very fond of you.
Fond of me? Shard?
Well, yeah. But now I’m supposed to say I’m fond of S. S is trying to figure out this whole thing. She vacillates. Whatever. I’d like a sky blue crayon, and if you don’t mind, navy blue, too.
I think S should have her cake and eat it too –– get credit for all her Parts, this astounding process, and her own whole self, too, who dreamed it all up. I mean, DUH.
This feels hard to do. I’m not sure of the way.
If we had a decent E, she would give us strength and positivity and show us the right path, to succeed in our climb.
Aw, E. Here’s another crayon — how about aquamarine?
Thanks. Can we talk about Nietzsche, Proust, feminism and Shrinking the Tsunami? Also, do you happen to have a Salvador Dali coloring book?
Mind in the driver’s seat. Heart in the passenger seat.
B? Can I come color up, up, up on your bench?
I’m not so sure, E. We must go to the eye doctor daily to try and see you for who you really are.
Do you love me?
I cannot tell anymore. You encourage us to drink gallons of your transference juice, which creates massive confusion and dependency for over a year, until eventually, about three weeks ago, S pukes it up all over the place, leaving us in a place of painful reconsideration.
I make one eeny weeny insensitive comment about how much I like my raise and what an obligation you are to me —
And up, up, up the transference juice comes.
Do we need someone less fucked up than E to help us move toward Toward?
I hope not. I’m dead broke, and I could really use the money because my boundaries suck — er — I mean, I really enjoy our work together, and I am so so fond of you — of S — of all of you — whatever — you know what I mean.
E, you are clearly a mess. The question is: Are you our mess or not?
I uploaded Shard’s transcript and went to therapy.
I talk to Eileen about the walks to the pool, where I feel the deep pain of therapy hitting me in my gut — the misfires, the enormous rage, dependency and sadness that seem to grab hold and attach to my therapeutic relationship without resolution. I describe my fear deep down that without the right handling, I will not be pulled up and out.
I let her know how I so badly need empathy, and she repeats back flatly the word “empathy.”
She is cold and remote, mocking my request by giving me the exact opposite of the warmth I am begging for.
She asks what I want, and I say I want to get better.
She says she has no promises, that maybe discovery is all I get.
I beg for positivity, but E says she can’t be a cheerleader for something she does not believe in — that maybe I won’t feel better — that this entire painful exercise might be just that and that only — painful.
And then from out of nowhere, she blurts that she’s not depressed like my transcript the other day said she is. Nor, she tells me, is she broke like the transcript said.
I see that this is turning into another evening that I will remember with deep sadness, proof that things are going off the rails.
Why, I beg, and ask, of her, is she doing this to me?
She responds, again, dead pan, “Doing what?”
I say like right now, like what you’re doing right now — how you’re not reaching for me — not understanding how hard it is and has been.
I need badly for someone to empathize with me at least for these ninety minutes, and she feels so cold, so rejecting, as if she is applying extra effort to make sure I feel no support.
I begin to cry, and she softens, confessing finally that she is angry about how the E-doll is being portrayed in the Sandbox. And I feel terrible. I have hurt her with my words, and I apologize.
She feels better for having admitted why she was angry with me, and the session seems to take a better turn.
But as we begin to wrap up, Eileen reminds me that I need to calculate her payment; it keeps changing based upon whether or not I have uploaded. I promise that I will get everything squared away and add emphatically that never in my life would I take advantage of her. She says that she, in turn, would not take advantage of me. I say I’m not worried, that she doesn’t have it in her to take advantage.
I stand up and walk toward the door, and just as I am about to leave, she stops me, looks up and says, “I do, you know.”
“Do what?” I ask.
“Have it in me — to take advantage of you.”
I email her when I get home to confirm I heard this correctly, and she says, yes, that she does believe she is capable of taking advantage of me and that she wanted me to know this.
I wake in the middle of the night and toss and turn.
I have this vision … it is one of horse and rider. This horse is strong and powerful, but I am uncertain, unable to make out the rider.
You, S, are forced now to be both rider and horse.
My Not Gods, A, I am scared that this woman is unwell and has lost control, if she ever had it.
Control. She’s losing it. You’re gaining it.
I want to feel okay about her. That she’s the one. I don’t want to leave.
S, how she behaves last night. You must consider leaving.
So confused, A. I’m not even sure I believe you.
It is fine to believe nothing. For everything now is in question.