Patient: “I’d like to be someone else, really, anyone else. I’d like to slip out of my skin and be free to become something I can’t even imagine. As it is, this skin has a stranglehold on me. I’ll die in it like a prisoner in his cell. It’s really quite simple: I want to be free and I want my freedom to have genuine meaning. I want to go somewhere that is not on my map.”

Doctor: “Isn’t this why people take up acting, or become writers, or playwrights or even painters or sculptors or musicians? But perhaps actors go at it most directly?”

Patient: “But actors bend the knee to reality. What they do is pretend and often wildly off the mark. When you think about it, acting is pretty shabby, quite without real convictions or daring. Seeming to take risks while not really risking anything is like eating your cake and having it, too. I acted in high school and in college and was told I was quite good at it, good enough even to warrant trying to make a career out of it. But as an actor I disgusted myself.”

Doctor: “Why was that?”

Patient: “I was a confidence man trying to play a trick that had little if any meaning. I suppose that now I act some in everyday life and certainly when I’m trying a case.
I don’t know how I ended up going to law school. It was a whim, that was then unbelievably boring and then turned into a test of how much unpleasantness I could tolerate, an ordeal that challenged me, so that I stuck it out against my better judgment. My better judgment, if I have any, never had less influence over me than when I was in law school. I was paralyzed as if with curare.”

Doctor: “But you did well in law school?”

Patient: “If you mean that I made law review and was offered ridiculous jobs by absurd firms, then I suppose I did do well. But it was a sick form of doing well. I met my wife in law school. She fascinated me. I didn’t understand the first thing about romance or marriage. I wanted to be her. I couldn’t have put this into words at the time but what I called love was the desire to exchange myself for her and so to exit the terrible trap of myself. I wasn’t convinced that it would necessarily be better to be her, but it would be different and, so, preferable on the grounds of variety. I think I experience it as an affront that I can’t be everyone and everything.”

Doctor: ”How is your marriage?”

Patient: “It’s as good as might be expected. Nora knows that there is something seriously wrong with me, but she doesn’t push at it. If she had been given the box that Pandora was given, she would not have opened it. I think it’s possible that it was her intuition that something was terribly wrong with me that drew her to me.
I was different. That was, in itself, a kind of freedom for her. I’m grateful to her for her discretion. It takes some special personal resources not to ask questions, not to worry at the sore spot, not to ask for more. She loves me and she loves the children. At this point her love for me may be reflected love for the children. “

Doctor: (Raises eyebrows. Says nothing. Waits a few beats.)

Patient: “You’re looking at me that way. I know what you want to know, ‘Do I love my children.’ Yes, of course I do, but I love them the way that I love. I want to be them. I want to slip out of my own skin into another skin. This has advantages because it makes me very attentive. I’m tuned into stray sensual details that other parents might not notice and, honestly, perhaps it would be better not to notice. But my children trust me, sometimes more than they trust their mother. I’m often able to put things right when Nora has trouble. Maybe this is more true with Shira
than it is with Ben.

Doctor: “Sounds pretty good…”

Patient: “That sounds like a question…”

Doctor: “Not really. It does sound pretty good.”

Patient: “But there is a big problem. Since my way of loving is to want to be them,
there is massive disappointment as it becomes clearer and clearer that that’s impossible, even against nature. So that it’s fundamentally perverted. Shira is twelve and Ben is ten, so each day they become more themselves and I’m left in the dust. It’s not their fault at all. I recognize that and I wouldn’t want to impose the pain of it on either one of them or on Nora for that matter. I had hoped it would be different, even though I should have known better. I think I wanted kids in order to be them, another selfish escape from myself. “

Doctor: “So you’re in a lot of pain these days?”

Patient: “I think so. Isn’t that how most people come to be sitting in this chair?”

Doctor: “That’s true.”

Patient: “But I say ‘I think so’ because I never know for sure what I feel. I live at some remove from this sort of thing. I have an enormous capacity for doing things that other people think are very unpleasant, not that I like them, but I do them and without much fuss. I think it’s because I keep a certain distance from myself. It’s peculiar. Much as I wish I could get away from myself, find asylum as someone else,
I also can’t get very near to myself. It’s too bothersome, too chaotic, too unreliable.”

Doctor: “So ‘self’ is a problem in a variety of ways?”

Patient: “I was seven when it first occurred to me that I wanted to be anyone but myself. I found my skin imprisoning. There was a physical sensation that went with this idea. Of course, I didn’t tell anyone. Certainly not my parents. Maybe
this was a choice on my part or maybe I just didn’t have the words for it. I haven’t told anyone. I haven’t told my wife or my sisters or my friends from college. Actually, you are the first person that I’ve ever told about this. “

Doctor: “That shows a lot of trust in me.”

Patient: “Maybe. Maybe it does. I don’t mean to imply that it doesn’t. That would be insulting. I don’t want to reject that out of hand.”

Doctor: “But there is more to it than that?”

Patient: “Yes. Maybe. I mean yes. For sure there is. I’m not sure that I know how to put it into words. I have a lot of trouble putting anything about myself into words.”

Doctor: “Maybe it’s worth a try?”

Patient: “This isn’t exactly about myself. No, that’s the wrong way to put it. It isn’t only about myself…”

Doctor: “And…”

Patient: “I hate it. I sound like a goddamn lawyer, which is what I seem to be.”

Doctor: “Go ahead.”

Patient: “Well, it’s not only about me. I think it might be about you, too. I know what you do. You sit and listen to people all day long, just like you are sitting here and listening to me. You do this all day long every day or at least every working day. You do it year after year. You do it a whole lifetime. You sit by this river and listen to it”

Doctor: “Something like that…”

Patient: “And what you hear…

Doctor: “That’s true. However long you have listened there are still surprises…

Patient: “And the details, the depth to which you get to know people. Maybe sometimes you get to know them better than they know themselves. In your mind you run simulations of each one, but such rich simulations. Really it’s a fabulous undertaking, but I asked myself, ‘Why would anyone undertake this fabulous journey? Why would anyone submerge himself so deeply in anyone else?’”
Doctor: “That’s a good question. Why would anyone?”

Patient: “I know the conventional responses about seeking to heal, about altruism and so forth. But there has to be more. In fact, I believe there is much more. Why take on and in so much about someone else? Why acquire that much data, seek
that level of intimacy? Why, except that there must be a tipping point, one where you have taken so much in and on that you are near becoming the other person. My guess is that you are in quest of that tipping point.”

Doctor: “So you came here in search of a kindred soul. If I want to become you and you want to become me, then we have grounds for mutual understanding. You believe I must want to be someone else and you want to be me. The ideal outcome would be for me to leave this office as you and you to leave this office as me, all traces of you expunged.”

Patient: “Exactly.”

Doctor: “There is a lot to think about.”

Patient: “No, no, no, this is not about thinking at all. Thinking is what the timid do.
I hoped I wouldn’t have to tell you this, but I’ve been considering killing myself. I would do it without any hesitation if I knew that reincarnation actually happened. I wouldn’t care if I didn’t come back as a Maharajah but only a dung beetle. At least, I would not be me.

Doctor: “What about your children?”

Patient: “They’ll be better off without me, just as I will.”

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