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Authors: Laura Z. Hobson

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BOOK: Consenting Adult
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“What’s this I hear about the research girls on
Time
magazine, or maybe
Newsweek,”
Ken asked. “Aren’t they about to strike for the right to be editors, not just researchers, and for equal pay as well?”

“They’re still at the organizing stage,” Sue said. “Women on all magazines are too, and newspapers and in TV,
everywhere.”

“Certainly in publishing,” Ken said, smiling at Tessa. “My wife’s just been pushed up the ladder another rung at Q. and P., and one day she might wind up as its president, or commander-in-chief of all the armed forces, or something.”

“Then maybe we’d get out of Vietnam,” Sue retorted.

Everybody laughed, and the talk branched off to the war and politics. It was not until after dinner, over coffee in the living room, that Tessa and Sue could talk to each other. It was no accident; Sue arranged it, bringing Tessa coffee, saying, “May I?” as she motioned to the seat next to her.

“I’d love it. We haven’t had a minute.” She wondered if she might volunteer news of Jeff’s job, but Sue decided that for her.

What’s the latest about Jeff?” she began. “Is he still driving that cab?”

“As of this morning, no more cab.” She told Sue about Jeff’s call, her own pleasure reborn in the telling. A new quality appeared in Sue’s manner, an almost imperceptible toning down, a quieting. Suddenly Tessa thought, She is hiding something, maybe I have unwittingly shifted her mood the way she unwittingly shifted mine. Do they still see each other every once in a while?

“Jeff’s so bright,” Sue said. “He won’t be an orderly long. He’ll end up doing something a million miles removed from orderlies and cab drivers both, is my guess.”

“Mine too.” She felt the effort at lightness in Sue’s words and wished she could think of another subject. Whatever she said would hold risk. Under Sue’s composure, it seemed to her now, lay a fine melancholy, touching and unexpected. Never had she, Tessa, even considered that Jeff might have hurt Sue, never had she given any thought to what some other woman might endure one day because of Jeff, might already have endured.

“He is bright,” she finally said, a soberness sounding. “But, Sue, he also is troubled and he can be difficult”

“Can’t we all?”

“I guess we can.”

“Somebody told me he’s out of analysis,” Sue added. “Oh yes, I know who it was. Jo-Anne Tomson—her brother, Deck Tomson, ran into Jeff at Pete Hill’s wedding reception,”

“He had been in it a long time.”

“My father told me once that if anybody had something chronic like diabetes, he’d stay in a doctor’s care a long time—” She broke off, flushing a little. “Listen to me defending Jeff.”

“It’s nice of you. People don’t understand always about things like analysis.”

“Nor about lots of other things.”

They sat in silence then, the two together, sipping their coffee, neither one willing to break the small contact between them. In repose, Sue again looked young and vulnerable, and Tessa thought She is in love with him, maybe she has been in love with him for a long time. If she knows about him, she knows already how impossible that love is, and if she still does not know, then she feels only what it is to love someone who does not love you. Maybe she thinks it is another girl he loves instead. A protective instinct arose in her, to assuage Sue’s hurt, but an even deeper instinct arose with it, primitive and hot, to protect her own young. She said nothing.

Sue was looking fixedly at the carpet, searching its intricate pattern for some clue about how to go on. Just then her mother came over, and she sprang up to yield her seat, moving off and out of the room. “Now, Tessa,” Mrs. Wister began, “what rung did Ken mean? You never did blow your own horn, but don’t bury yourself behind a bushel. Oh dear, that’s too many metaphors.”

Tessa laughed. She liked Marcia Wister and told her, simply and without an assumed modesty, of the pleasing fact that she had just been selected at Quales and Park as the editor of her first non-fiction author, a major writer by anybody’s standard, winner of the Pulitzer prize for biography, author of some fourteen previous books, and thus a great departure from the young and not yet established writers with whom she usually worked.

“Is it a secret, who it is?” Marcia Wister asked.

“Heavens, no, it’s been announced in all the book columns. It’s Scott Prentice, who wrote—”

“Scott—a man’s name, isn’t it? Like Scott Fitzgerald.”

“He’s a man,” Tessa said, amused.

“I didn’t think—” She hesitated, confusion sounding.

“That men would work with women editors,” Tessa finished for her. “Men like Scott Prentice would. It’s less a matter of gender these days, don’t you think? Ask your daughter Sue.” That sounded like a rebuke but she would make it worse if she tried again.

“Of course, it’s different in publishing. It must be a thrill for you, though, being editor for anybody as famous as Scott Prentice.”

“I am thrilled,” she said matter-of-factly. “What counts is
how
we work together when we get down to actual editing. We’ve only just met.”

Other people joined them and the talk shifted and swung for the remainder of the evening. It was an early evening and when they reached home it was Ken who glanced at his watch and said, “In one hour Jeff appears on the world scene as an orderly in a great hospital. I don’t know why that tickles me, but it does.”

They talked of Jeff’s job, of Margie’s plans to get a job herself when Lynnie was six and the baby three, and over them both there was a comradely ease that had for so long been achievable only by an effort which in itself destroyed ease. Toward intimacy neither made a move; by now it was tacitly understood that that once vital beat of life was quiet, if not at a final end, then certainly for an unstated intermission. At times Tessa was acutely aware of this cessation, wondering whether another woman might perhaps be now seeking an outside affair, discreet, uncomplex, never any risk to Ken’s ego. But tonight as she undressed for bed she thought instead of Sue, and that fleeting melancholy she had seen. It was so easy to forget how the young suffer.

The old guilt thundered down upon her. She had thought she was through with it forever, but change the circumstances by one small thing, like tonight’s talk with Sue, and here it was again. The accuser again. Sue’s pain, Jeff’s—it all lay there with her, the basic guilt, the causation.

No matter how often she was given a reprieve by something she read, it never remained in force for long. The next expert she came upon would rescind the reprieve and doom her once again.

Since Nate had talked of going to the Academy of Medicine, she had abandoned public libraries in her quest and had begun to go to the Academy library herself. Now there was a rapid proliferation of new articles and books on homosexuality, and each time she came across another rejection of mother-fixation as too simplistic, she would again feel that blessed exoneration, a gift, a benison.

But never did this freedom from blame become a fixed star in her emotional cosmos. On dark nights that star would no longer be in the heavens to guide her. If she asked herself why it should matter so much, this exoneration, she would think, I do not know why it matters so much but it matters. I could not bear it if it was I who did this to him. And then she would grow ashamed, that she should be so avid to establish her own “innocence.”

She felt the slow rise of shame now and thought, If s nobody’s guilt, it’s nobody’s innocence, it happened, it is life. And for the first time she was thinking not only of Jeff but also of Sue.

CHAPTER TWELVE

O
N THE WAY UPTOWN
from the office, Tessa gazed out at the sunny streets, already baking in summer heat although it was still June, but she saw only vaguely the stream of traffic and heard only vaguely the usually insistent clash and roar of the midafternoon traffic. Since Mark Waldo’s puzzling invitation that morning, she had tried to guess what could have made him do so unlikely a thing as to telephone her and ask that she visit him at three, at the end of his office hours, before he went off on his hospital rounds. In twenty-five years he had never done that, calling to suggest a call on him.

“It’s not about anybody’s health,” he had said. “Not yours and not Ken’s, but I think it will interest you the way it did me and maybe you’ll like it in the same way too.”

“You know how to arouse my curiosity. Three sharp.”

It must be something about Jeff, she had decided at once. Except for his twenty-third birthday in April, they had scarcely talked to him or heard from him since he had begun his new work, and even Margie and Nate had had little to report, except that he was still on the midnight shift, that he dropped by for a meal once in a while and talked about life in hospitals from “a worm’s-eye view” and that he gave no sign of being bored with his job or regretting the freer schedule of his cab driving. He looked well, Margie said, he was thinner, he had apparently found a couple of new friends. One always did in new jobs.

And now Mark Waldo had asked her to his office. An anomaly, the doctor calling the patient. He didn’t practice at St. Luke’s but he must know doctors who did. Still, if it were simply some praise for Jeff’s work, he would have told her on the phone or written one of his two-line notes.

He had sounded urgent, as well as rather worked up, pleasantly so. High, Tessa thought as the taxi came to a stop at his office. That’s what it was: he sounded high.

She had to wait. As usual, even at the end of his office hours there were people ahead of her, only two this time, but there they sat, rivals for his attention, already winners as far as seeing him first She settled back in her chair, ignoring the year-old magazines on the elongated chest that served as a table, telling herself that she must remember to bring with her an armload of recent ones the next time she had an appointment. The Mark Waldos of medicine were too concerned with people and their illnesses to worry about waiting-room niceties. During her annual examination each July, during all the routines of cardiogram and chest X rays and the rest, she always read again the framed medical diplomas on the walls of his examining room and office, certificates or citations from this hospital or that about his superior performance or rating, some going back to the young Mark Waldo as intern or resident, others spaced out during the years, denoting some special honor or award. She actually liked to reread them; her own regard for Mark made each of them a surrogate for her own opinion.

Now she thought, Whatever it is, it’s so kind of him to work it in, probably the first minute he could. It must be something that happened yesterday, last night, maybe this morning, and here he is, despite the mad hours he keeps, fitting me in right away. Like every other physician, he left a colleague on call during three weekends out of four, and resisted house calls, but if you were really ill, not merely down with a cold or hypochondria but actually sick, there he was at your bedside, summoned by his wife or nurse or service in the shortest possible time. Like that night of Ken’s stroke—

The door to Mark’s office opened, discharging one patient and admitting another. Now there was only one other person in the waiting room with her, and she leaned back, consciously trying to empty her mind and wait in readiness for whatever was to come. Perhaps he had sounded pleased by choice, a disguise in his tone so as not to alarm her for the hours she had to wait. No, not Mark There were no disguises when you dealt with him, no false cheer. What he said was what there was to say, never any less. He never edits, she thought now; that’s not his job but mine.

It was after four when her turn came, and as she seated herself across the desk from him, he wasted little time on preliminaries.

“Listen to this, Tessa,” he said, and the note she had dubbed high again sounded in his tone. “Last night I was in consultation with a neurosurgeon and an analyst named Halston Richards. This was on a case that concerns surgery on a girl who is my patient and also Richards’, because she goes to Vassar and Richards practices in Poughkeepsie. It took us two minutes to discover we had been premeds together thirty years ago, and after the consultation, I took him home with me for some food and we talked the thing all through again. Then we went off on our work in general.”

He looked at her expectantly, as if she should already be aware of the importance of what he was leading up to, and she nodded in a silent prodding.

“Richards may be called a maverick by some analysts,” he went on, “but he clearly has the professional standing that can’t be attacked by a word like ‘maverick.’ “

“In what way, ‘maverick’?”

“He believes that psychiatry needs to revise the whole approach to the homosexual. He as good as calls standard treatment harmful to many patients, even inhumane.”

“How? Why?”

“Also he says a growing number of psychiatrists and analysts now have the same conviction, or are coming around to it. He named half a dozen for me, Dr. Judd Marmor in California, for instance, one of the leaders, and several more in New York, in Chicago, in London, in Zurich.”

“Harmful in what way, Mark? Revise in what way?”

“Richards has come to the conclusion, this whole group have, that there’s been a kind of fixation in the general approach, what he called ‘the establishment approach.’ For one thing, the assumption that therapy is a
must
in each case. For another, that the one great goal for the patient is to, quote, achieve heterosexuality, close quote.” He glanced at her and went on more slowly. “He would say, I gather, that even good men like Dudley and Isaacs have this fixation—I’m putting it into lay terms, but that’s the way he put it to me.”

He saw the leap of her attention, saw her lean toward him as she said, “Go on, tell.”

“According to Richards and these others, there is a potential damage to the patient s whole psyche, or a possible damage, implicit in such an attitude on the part of the therapist The implication is, If you are not sick, not ill, not diseased, not degenerate —and Sigmund Freud said you are not—then you are certainly something undesirable, unworthy, and we will use every conceivable means to change you around. The one desideratum is being a heterosexual, like me.”

BOOK: Consenting Adult
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