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Authors: Laura Z. Hobson

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BOOK: Consenting Adult
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“You have been very helpful, Mrs. Lynn,” he said unexpectedly.

“I didn’t know what this visit would be for. I hope I have been.”

“I won’t be seeing you again for the present. It is better for the patient not to feel that he is being ‘reported on’ to any outsider, even his parents. You do understand that?”

“I think so. Yes, I do understand. But try to help him, Dr. Dudley, will you, please?”

“I’ll try.”

The drive back to New York was an automatic procedure for her, as if it were done by some force other than herself. Her brain seemed to have stopped functioning; she seemed to have no thoughts, no emotions, no faculty for making a judgment of the hour she had spent with James Dudley. She sat numb behind the wheel, piloting the car through the thin city-bound traffic, hardly aware of where she was.

There were so many things she should have asked him, things she had meant to ask him, and had not got to. Is it a disease? Is it abnormality? Is it a psychic disturbance, like schizophrenia? She did not think in terms of “sin” or “evil,” and it would not have occurred to her that any physician would, but already she knew that there were sharp and divergent differences of opinion about the age-old phenomenon of the homosexual in a world predominantly heterosexual.

She thought suddenly, I could stand it if it weren’t sex, if it had nothing to do with sex, if the idea of “sexual aberration” didn’t even enter into it. If it were any other abnormality or neurosis, I could say, Oh well, and try my best to help Jeff without this inner horror. I’m so afraid for him, so afraid he will suffer terrible things because of something he didn’t arrange or seek out. He can’t help it, he didn’t choose it; if he had, would he be writing this strangled letter for help?

Would Ken see that? If it were about anything besides sex, there would be no doubt. At his office, he had been patience and loyalty itself to Fred Dirkeley and his incessant drunkenness, and Fred had not been a member of his family, only of his firm. Ken had been the bulwark between Fred and the rest of the company, had stood by him through all his periods of drying out, slipping again, of being hospitalized once more, had withstood all the pressures within the firm to get shut of Fred Dirkeley. “It’s a disease,” Ken had said repeatedly, “sometimes a fatal disease, but don’t let us be the ones who kill him off.”

Until Fred Dirkeley’s death Ken had remained unchanged in his attitude. Surely he would be equally steady if one of their three children had been involved.

Yes, but this was not alcohol. She herself had just wished with all her heart that this crisis had nothing to do with sex—how much more strongly would Ken feel that? That was another reason for all these delays about telling him. That morning she had said she would be home too late for dinner, but she had ascribed that to “going up to see an analyst Mark Waldo recommended.” She had made it sound offhand, almost casual. It was an a priori judgment about Ken that she was suddenly appalled by, a sort of superiority she was assuming.

On impulse she stopped at the next highway gasoline station and called home. “I’ll be later than I thought, Ken,” she said. “I thought I’d better let you know.”

“Where are you calling from?”

“Near Norwalk. That analyst is in New Haven, didn’t I say that?”

“I suppose you did.” His tone changed. “I’ve been wondering, why this much of a rush. I hadn’t thought you’d be going up all this fast”

“It seemed better to get things in motion.”

“There must be some sort of crisis I don’t know about,” he said slowly. “It’s been building up in my mind that there must be.”

“I’ll explain it all when I get home, every bit of it. But if you get hungry before I get there, there’s cold roast beef from last night”

She drove the rest of the way in an emotional stupor, unable to devise an opening that might make it easier for him. There could be no putting it off now and there was relief in being committed, but she could not put two sentences together in her attempted rehearsal. Perhaps it was best this way; there was something false in prepared statements within a family. She drove the car harder. Decision itself was a relief.

“Well, what’s this all about?” Ken greeted her when she at last got in. “Here, you’ll want a drink after all that driving. What’ll it be?”

“A light one, vermouth, I think. Thanks.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Not really, thanks.”

He waited until she had had two or three sips of her drink. She looked tired, in that special way she had of looking tired when fatigue was laced with depression. “Come on, Tessa, let’s have it. I knew the other night that something was up, I think I did anyway, when you were so intent about ‘not verbalizing.’ I suppose I was willing enough to let it slip by, but now, with your rushing about lining up an analyst, why, I realize it must be something pretty serious.”

“It is, Ken. But it’s something that might be changed around, so don’t be too unhappy about it.”

“Too unhappy about what?”

“Jeff told me, he wrote me that he—he’s terribly disturbed about it himself, but Mark Waldo thinks, and this new analyst, Dr. James Dudley, seems to agree that if it’s still in the earliest stages, the formative stages, it can be cured.”

“Tessa, what are you getting at?” He was standing still, looking down at her. The color in his face had mounted. “You really are making a mystery of whatever it is. What happened? What did Jeff write you?”

“Two days ago I got a letter from him.”

“What did it say?”

She swallowed audibly, trying to rid her throat of the knotting constriction there. If only she could say it matter-of-factly, if only she could stay easy and controlled as she said it. She shook her head as if in negation, opened her purse, drew out the letter and held it folded for a minute. “Darling, try not to feel hopeless about this. It seems there is a large chance—he’s so young, so pliable still—” Her tone shifted in intensity. “In fact, Dr. Dudley said that about twenty-five percent of the time, there s a complete cure.”

He reached for the letter and took it from her still-tight fingers. She could not watch him as he began to read it, as if she would spy upon him in his first moments. He said nothing as he read. Long after he must have finished it, he said nothing. She still did not look up. He did not return the two pages to her. He did not crumple them. He did not put them down. He simply remained standing there in silence.

At last she raised her eyes. She had never seen his face this way, a yellowish white, like wax and iron fused, the muscles standing out as if wiring his jawbones. Not even at the worst of his stroke had he looked so ill, so done for. Her heart went out to him but she could not speak. This was the first moment of his knowing, this his first step into this new pain. He needed time; give him the room he needs. This was
dividing line, separating all of what life was before he knew from all of what life would be from now on.

He said, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God, if it’s true.”

“It may be true. It may change.”

“If it’s true now, it will stay true.”

“We can’t know. He’s never
anything. You know Jeff never lies.”

“I know he doesn’t.” He put the letter down, quite gently, put it into her lap as if it were a bouquet of flowers he was presenting her. Then, slowly, he left the room. She stared at the white pages. From down the hall she could hear him softly close the door to his room. Then there was a new sound, convulsive, drawn-out, and she knew he was crying.

It was the next day that she canceled a luncheon engagement and went to the public library on Fifth Avenue. She had to learn whatever there was for a layman to learn about homosexuality, learn it fast, learn it for Ken’s sake, her own sake, perhaps for Jeff’s.

Freud, Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis—she could make a start, go through a cram course for a few weeks to give herself some foundation, and then she could narrow down to more modern texts—were there any? She, an editor, did not know. Ten or twelve years ago, of course, there had been the Kinsey report on male sexuality, with its phenomenal success and immediate respect; she had leafed through it, but it had been too technical for her to read carefully. From reviews and discussions she knew that Kinsey’s work showed that homosexuality was no infrequent phenomenon, far from it, but that was about the sum of it. How little one did know about it, how vague and cloudy the whole subject was, even for people who held themselves generally well informed.

At the card catalogue, she riffled through the
but the memory of Kinsey’s pages of scientific charts and data came at her with an unexpected oppressiveness, and she went instead to the drawer where Sigmund Freud was listed. She found that he had written
Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality
back in 1905, but the card indicated that the essays dealt with homosexuality, and she made out a slip for the volume, and another for his famous
Outline of Psychoanalysis.

An agitation began to weave through her as she waited for the books to arrive from the stacks. She opened the essays first, and agitation mounted. She began to read but it was as if her eyes could not see accurately; the words stared up at her from the page, little black letters, spaced off in groups, meaning nothing, sentences rippling, gently tossing up and down, like brooks. She persisted, turning pages, seeking, catching an occasional familiarity, oedipal, libido, fixation, castration-anxiety, hypothesis that it is innate … or acquired, pregenital objects. But soon she shut her eyes and leaned back against the solid wood of the chair she sat in.

She could not go on. It was too soon; she should have known it. This frantic scrabbling for knowledge, this obsessive need to discover, to make herself an expert—there was something ignoble in it, rising not from the love of knowing but from some desperation spawned by fear and shame.

She shoved back harshly from the table and left.


he flung open the door. He squeezed her shoulder in his new form of greeting but he did not look directly at her. “Is Dad home?”

“He had a late meeting.” She reached up, and he stooped to the gesture, again squeezing her shoulder as she kissed him. “We might go out for dinner, if he’s kept too late.”

“That would be great.” He never carried a suitcase for these once-a-month weekends, truncated during the football season in the fall and the baseball season in the spring to a mere Saturday night and Sunday, only an old B.O.A.C. airplane bag he had salvaged from one of their trips to England. This he called “my Boack,” clearly preferring its worn fabric to the handsome tweed and leather carry-all they had given him for his sixteenth birthday. He tossed it down now on a chair in the small entrance hall and made his way to the living room ahead of her, taking over the largest chair.

He looked well, enough of his summer tan lingering to make his gray eyes brilliant, and his light hair was still sun-streaked as it was when he had left on Labor Day for early football practice. He had grown, she was sure of it, but it always displeased him to have her say, “You’re taller,” so she made no mention of it. Long ago when he was still small enough to be stood up against the kitchen door at birthdays, to have his height recorded, in a different-colored crayon from the ones that had ticked off Don’s and Margie’s progress upward, he had begun to fidget and finally to protest that he didn’t want to be “measured like how many hands high is a horse,” and it had become a family anecdote. But when he was ten, he had got hold of a can of enamel, when a neighbor’s apartment was being redecorated, and had painted out the whole series of marks, his brother’s and sister’s along with his own. She had been immoderately angry at him then, but he had never been measured since.

Now she thought, He’ll be six-two or six-three before he’s through, a smugness of pride touching her, but with it a nip of the old anger at his vandalism in painting out three childhoods from that kitchen door. He would never understand that anger, not until he had children of his own.

Children of his own. There she went again, up to her old trick of imagining the future. It would have to be the future she wanted, the future she needed; it could not be some other future that she could not bear. In her mind she apologized for her folly, apologized to whom, she did not know, for what, she did not say. It was an amorphous wrongness, that was all she could call it, a weaving softness of desire, instead of reality. Jeff had had four sessions with Dr. Dudley, and here she was envisioning him as a father of his own children. She made an impatient sound and was glad he made no response to it. He was leafing through a magazine, examining it with diligence, as if his entire attention were focused and active. It was hard for him to discuss Dr. Dudley with her; he had not mentioned Dudley the one time she called him at school, guardedly saying she “had decided to talk it all out with Dad.” He had said, “Well, okay,” but asked no questions, offered no comment. She hadn’t pressed him.

“Hungry?” she asked now.

“Yeah, some.”

“Shall I fix you a sandwich? Dad could be held up quite a while.”

“I’ll get a Coke.”

He went to the kitchen, uncapped a bottle, and took it with him to the telephone. “I said I’d call Pete,” he said, dialing.

“Didn’t he come down?”

“Sure, but I’m supposed to check in with him.”

“But you just left him” would have been the odious thing known as “parent stuff.” Ordinarily she took this without a tremor; the other two had had their own sets of regulations for parents, and she was long accustomed to the strictures, some quite elaborate, others pointless. But now with Jeff home for the first time since the letter that had changed everything?

At the phone Jeff was already laughing in delight, his words unintelligible amid his chortles and guffaws. From the receiver she could hear Pete’s voice, foaming with laughter also, carefree, as unaware of passing time as Jeff. A spear of anger pierced her.

“I don’t know,” Jeff said. “My mother said something about going out for dinner.” He turned to face her. “Pete wants me to go to this movie with him, Olivier in
The Entertainer—
we’re crazy to see it, and he can’t go anytime except tonight.”

BOOK: Consenting Adult
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