Alison’s been shot

The Universe begins with roundness; so say the myths. The great circle, the cosmic egg, the bubble, the spiral, the moon, the zero, the wheel of time, the infinite womb: such are the symbols that try to express a human sense of the wholeness of things. Everything and everywhere are circular in most pictographic or alphabetic systems. Birth is roundness: the pregnant belly, the full breast. Death brings life full circle: back to the beginning again. Vessels are round. The house is round, containing all stages of life. The temple is round, making wholeness visible. The sacred dance is circular.—Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects

At ten o’clock on February 17, a sunny Saturday morning, 32-year-old Alison is giving me a full body massage in my home. Her fingers are strong, sure. I remember Dolores Kreiger’s nursing research on therapeutic massage and wonder if the hemoglobin in my red cells has increased as a result of Alison’s massage. I drift off into an altered state of consciousness, visualizing my full red blood cells.

At 7:45 that evening, while sipping a cup of chamomile tea during a break from my writing, I receive a call from Alison’s husband, Harry.

“Judith, Alison asked me to call you…Alison’s been shot.”

I almost go on with the conversation, expecting that we will start talking about the weather, or the beautiful viol de gamba bows that Harry makes. Then my brain registers the words. I ask Harry to please repeat what he has just said to me.

“Alison’s been shot. She’s on her way to the operating room. She was shot at work today. She wanted you to know."

“How is she? How serious is it?”

“I don’t know yet. She’s in the operating room now.”

“I can get some information. I’ll call you right back,” I tell him.

I am already dialing the operating room before I even know what I will say. I have access to the operating room because I know many of the nurses and physicians there. My Nurseself takes over.

“This is Judith Koplewitz. I am a friend of Alison’s. What is her status? How is she? How life-threatening is it? I have the family’s permission to ask.”

The nurse answers, “Just a minute. Her surgeon is right here scrubbing.” My message gets repeated to the surgeon as I listen. Then the nurse comes back on. “Well, she’s okay neurologically, but she has some fragments in her brain. She must be surgically explored and the fragments removed.”

I call Harry back. He has Alison’s parents, who live in Connecticut, on another phone line. They are driving up and are greatly relieved to hear that she is okay neurologically.

I am able to get a few more facts from Harry. After giving me a massage in the morning, Alison had gone to her office later in the day to give her close friend and former dance teacher, Nancy, a massage—an overdue Christmas present. A man had gained entry to the outer office and, after taking some money from both women, ordered them to lie on the floor face down and then shot them at close range.

I am somewhat relieved by the information I received from the operating room, but I am still in a state of shock. I decide not to go to the hospital that evening, knowing that Alison will first go to the Intensive Care Unit and will probably be sleeping. I spend most of the night pacing the floors and finding excuses to go up and down the stairs of my home. I sit at my computer and use my fingertips to weep. The organization of sentences, the concrete structure of the words on the screen offer a kind of ordered, visual sanity in a now chaotic world.


By the next morning, the news has reached the entire community through our daily newspaper. My eldest daughter calls me to say she knows both women. I learn that the other woman, Nancy, is well known in the community for her talented work as a dancer, teacher, and choreographer at the dance studio she founded some years before.

Still full of anxiety and disbelief, my daughter and I drive to the hospital. The area outside the Intensive Care Unit is filled with worried and tearful faces. People are standing, squatting, sitting, and holding each other, greeting each other with loving hugs. As I scan the group, and as people introduce themselves, I notice that many of the women and men there are artists and healers in our small community. As my daughter speaks with people, I realize that many of them are also her peers and friends.

“In the arts, to compose is to create—to make something which, for each particular artist, has not been in existence before. Artists who attain the highest peaks of perfection in composition; dance—the choreographer, music—the composer, art—the painter or sculptor, drama—the dramatist or playwright, literature—the poet or novelist are inspired people of imagination and vision. The few who reach these heights of artistry are those with outstanding gifts and skills, and who, through many years of diligent and perceptive study, have mastered their craft so completely that they have no need to analyze the ‘rules’ when they become inspired to create ‘something’ which, in its finished form, is unique.” —Dance Composition,
Jacqueline M. Smith-Autard
In the hushed atmosphere of the Intensive Care Unit, I am able to see and speak with Alison. Her head and right hand are bandaged, intravenous fluids flowing, and monitors going. We speak mostly through touch, and after some whispered private conversation, I pin a clear quartz pendant on her hospital gown and leave her to rest.

A few days later I receive a phone call from Nancy, whom I do not know. She feels she needs to talk with someone, and Alison has suggested me. Nancy wants me to visit her in the hospital, and I agree to this until I later remember that although as a licensed professional nurse, I can certainly visit her professionally in her hospital bed, hospital privileges for psychologists have not been established yet and I cannot legally consult with her in that role, according to current hospital rules. I speak with her surgeon, who has already put in a formal request that I see Nancy. After speaking on the phone, her physician and I agree that, given the circumstances, perhaps someone from the “in house” psychiatric department should see Nancy.

I give Nancy a call and explain the problem.

“Well, I asked for you, and that’s what I want. Why should I see someone I don’t want and don’t know?” she says assertively.

“Well, that depends on whether you are feeling in crisis. If you are, then perhaps you should speak with someone at the hospital.”

Hospital rules
This woman who has just been shot in the head and chest—who has no clear idea yet of her own progress—says to me, “Well, I’m not in that much of a crisis!”

“Okay then, this is how I see it. There’s nothing that can stop two intelligent women from talking with each other on the phone. I can speak with you on the phone and support you in this way until you are out of the hospital. Then, as soon as you are discharged, you can set up an appointment with me at my office, or I can visit you at your home if that’s what you need.”

“That’s settled! Good. There are no house rules when I’m out of here!”

“Will you be able to call me? I’m not clear yet on the extent of your injuries.”

“Neither am I, but don’t worry, I’ll get there.”

I’m not in that much of a crisis!
This conversation is a perfect example of women pushing the rules, working around the rules, or being smarter than the rules. It is both unique and commonplace, a classic example of how two women can work around existing institutional rules that may work against us. This activity happens so often and we are so skilled at it that we often do not identify how frequently and eloquently we do this. We just expect that our everyday world must be redone to get our own needs met.

Working around the rules

Redoing the everyday world
During one of our subsequent phone conversations, I learn that only five months earlier Nancy’s husband, Ed, died unexpectedly, and that she is the mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old son.

The Power of Friendship

It is almost spring, a few weeks after the shooting. The two women have asked to work with me together. There will be no time today for me to comfortably sit and hear a woman’s life history unfold. Today, I am meeting with two women who have been badly wounded and are still in crisis.

I now have an additional level of understanding about the danger Alison and Nancy were in that cold and sunny day last month. In preparation for our meeting, I read the copious and meticulous notes of the Emergency Room staff. My eyes jump across the clinical pages, scanning the report the way a musician looks over a new piece of music. Can I play this piece the first time around? Is it reasonably manageable the second time round? I scan a third time. I think it’s playable. Okay. Start playing.

From Nancy’s records I get a sense of the urgency in the Emergency Room that day:

“Acutely agitated female says she can’t breathe...occipital entry and exit wounds discovered...moderate bleeding ...markedly decreased breath sounds in left chest...gun shot entry eighth rib...intravenous started...left internal jugular line placed...left side chest tube inserted...urinary catheter placed...chest x-ray...skull x-rays show metallic debris in the posterior aspect of the skull...large bony fragments were driven into the left transverse sinus...another bullet fragment lacerated her...Fracture of the left occipital bone...”


In the surgeon’s notes, I read,

“Placed on operating table...head shaved, two defects in the scalp noted...entrance and exit wounds found...horseshoe incision made with a scalpel...incision made to the bone...flap retracted with fish hooks...defect size of a quarter where the bone was pressed in...clot and necrotic tissue and some brain herniation ...fragments were removed...bleeding...gelfoam used...small sutures to repair...some leaking through the sinus...bandaged.”

Alison’s report is remarkably similar to her friend’s, but the bullet entered her head in a different location, and she has no chest wound.

Hemostat, chest tube, indwelling urinary catheter, skin sutures, needle holder, fish hook scalp retractor

Of no use to me today is the monochromatic palette of the baroque watercolor wash of Astra’s map, in which subsequent markings, tones, and values, and subtle nuances were added over the faint first watercolor wash. Nancy’s and Alison’s maps sitting side by side are graphic, anatomical maps of two women’s heads and torsos splattered with blood, bones, and bullets.

My contour drawing of two women’s bodies now rises from the impasto surface. It is a collage of red blood cells and white bone fragments, fractured ribs and exploded metallic bullets; scalpels, sutures, and antiseptic scrubs; surgical fishhooks and razors. Chaotic, intrusive, violent. My normally steady and sure nurse-cartographer’s hand is shaking with rage and grief. I sit reeling from my reactions to the close-up lens of violence.

Setting up a central venous catheter

I place Nancy and Alison’s map over the bloody maps of other women’s bodies. Just two years earlier at the University of Montreal, seventy-five miles away from us, fourteen women engineering students were shot and killed in a massacre. The killer, a twenty-five year old male who later shot himself, left a letter in which he blamed some prominent feminists for his problems. In his letter he listed fifteen well-known feminists, none of whom were among the women killed. It is with this collective map of violence that I start my labor with these two women.

I have many questions in my head today, somewhat sequenced and ordered. They will be answered if they meet both women’s needs, not mine, and in the time and tempo that contributes to their healing.

As a therapist, I need to get into the scene of that afternoon as they saw it, heard it, felt it in their bodies. There is no textbook separation here between what is body and what is mind. There is no Cartesian controversy or theorizing here, no split between what part of this woman belongs to surgeon and what part of her belongs to therapist. I must find my way to where the bone and spiritual fractures meet in a woman’s body. I need to know what has happened to these women. How will they deal with the experience of another human being intentionally harming them? What pain is visiting them today? Has either woman experienced any other forms of violence before this shooting? If so, what thoughts or memories does this event trigger—did I just say trigger? I can’t believe it—and I want to know what have been the consequences of the shooting in terms of their friendship. Then, too, who is their support system, and how is it working? My notebook is ready.

In Montreal, 14 women engineering students are shot and killed in a massacre. In our community, a 30-year-old woman is beaten, raped, and strangled by a neighbor. Another woman, age 23, and her boyfriend are killed when he drives their car into a tree.
A 34-year-old music teacher is beaten and stabbed in her home by a prison escapee. A 93-year-old woman is beaten and strangled in her own home by a 22-year-old male stranger. A 16-year-old student is killed at her boyfriend’s apartment in a drug-related shooting. A 21-year-old mother is abducted by her estranged husband, who fatally shoots her, then himself.
Although the two women have talked on the phone since their hospitalization, this is the first time they have been able to review together the whole scene of the crime in sequence, to hear in detail what the other experienced.

A mutual friend drives them to my office. Alison is tiny, small-boned, birdlike, with brown hair and eyes. She wears something that looks like a dark green and purple gauze hat draped over the left, shaved side of her head. (It is surgical tubing, she later tells me, that a friend dyed in different colors for her.) It is to protect the hole in her cranium left by the bullet entry. She is dressed in a loose cotton blouse and ankle-length skirt, both black and dark purple, and wears dangling silver-and-amethyst earrings. She appears so fragile that a breeze would make her bend like a young, slender bamboo reed, but that appearance belies her considerable strength.

Nancy, age 41, commands attention as the competent businesswoman she is—most recently, since the closing of her dance studio a few years ago, in the real estate business. Despite her injuries, she maintains the erect posture of a dancer. Her blue eyes are large and deep-set, framed by long black lashes; her short brown hair is coifed, and it is not apparent that she, too, has a bullet hole in her skull. Nancy is a few inches taller than Alison. She is dressed impeccably in a light brown woolen suit with matching shoes and gold earrings.

In the outer room, I see that Nancy has asked Alison to help her fill out a form that I have given each of them. I make my first side note: What is Nancy unable to do? Not able to write? Not able to understand?

When the women head down the narrow hallway to my Inner Room, Nancy walks tentatively, holding both arms out and using the walls to guide her movement. Alison walks closely behind, watching her friend.

What is Nancy able to do?
I have set three chairs in a circle. I have already asked their permission to record the session, knowing that I will probably want to listen to it later. I have prepared the space to be as soothing as possible. The lights are dimmed, the blinds are drawn. The outer and inner doors to the office are locked. A candle softly flickers and adds a slight scent of balsam to the air. The office humidifier adds a warm mist.

Alison takes the lead voice and gets to work immediately. She begins with her intuition, her sense that something was wrong that day in her office at the Massage Center.

Turning to Nancy at her right, she says, “It began for me while I was still working on you, because I heard somebody out in the stairwell. I knew the door was locked, and I heard the stairs creaking, and it was so weird, because there was something about the way the stair creaked that I got really scared. But I’d just seen this suspense movie called The House of Games the night before, and…” She leaves her unfinished thought suspended on the creaky stairs. “I was aware that somebody was out there for about fifteen minutes, waiting, and I was just saying to myself, ‘Alison, don’t worry.’”

“Alison, I’m trying to get the scene as clearly as I can from you. Were you massaging Nancy?”

“Yes, and I was aware of not wanting to worry her,” she answers, turning again to Nancy. “I was probably really done with the massage at about ten after the hour, but I kept working for another five minutes, hoping that this person would go away.” Her voice is softer now. “I went into the closet to look out. There is a little window there, and I peeked out of the curtain. I looked at him, and he looked, you know, well, harmless enough. I said that to myself. Then I went back out, and as I was opening the door to go out into the lobby, I remember I took this deep breath and said to myself, ’Alison, be brave.’”

Trying to get the mood of the scene, I ask, “So, again, you sensed a potential problem?”

“Yes. I don’t remember in all the years doing massage ever being afraid to go out, even when we have had weird people out there sometimes. It’s like there was something that made me really afraid to go out there.”

“You had an intuition of danger?” I ask again. “ A precognition?”

“Yes, and that’s one of the questions for myself: Why didn’t I listen to that? Part of me wanted to come back and say, ’Nancy, there’s somebody out there, do you mind? He’s making me scared. Do you mind just waiting for half an hour and maybe he will go away?’ But I didn’t want to get you scared.” Her eyes dart left and right, up and down as if she is watching the scene she is in on a large movie screen in front of her.

“You wanted to protect your friend and client?”

An intuition of danger
“Yes, I guess that’s right. I never intended to open the door, you know. I just went out there and yelled through the window, We’re closed. Come back next week.’ I don’t remember the conversation that went on, something like, I don’t have a phone, I’m just visiting.’ He just wouldn’t go away. I don’t know if he asked for a business card, or if he said, Can I at least give you my name?’ or what, but I opened the door to give him a card, and then he said—he said he wanted to have an appointment.” Alison looks frightened, wide-eyed. “Then I looked down to pick up the pad of paper on the table and then I looked at him again and I saw the gun. I never saw him actually pull the gun out. It was just—there it was! Suddenly it was there. And that instant was the only time I felt afraid. I just got this really big adrenaline rush.”

Trying to see the scene clearly and knowing that Nancy is trying to recreate the scene as well, I ask, “Where was the gun exactly?”

“It was at his waist level pointed at me, and I just got hot. My whole body went hot and numb, and then I immediately went into a dream reality. I didn’t connect that it was a gun, either. It looked really small. I thought, That can’t be a gun. He waved me back with the gun and said,
Get back!’ and I said, No, you get out of here!’ I was screaming at him.” Then again turning to Nancy, she adds, “I’m surprised you didn’t hear more because I was really yelling at him. He was still on the other side of the doorway, but the door was behind him. I pushed my whole body into him trying to get him out so I could shut the door again.”

I never intended to open the door.

The terror of those moments unfolds like frames in an old black-and-white film, at times put on pause, freezing certain images, then going forward in slow motion, the altered state of consciousness so common to women who have experienced violence. As Alison names and re-experiences the violent moments, her autonomic nervous system instantly responds. She is both in this moment, in my office now, and in that Saturday afternoon scene in February. And as on that Saturday afternoon, her body responds again. In one swift moment, her words have recreated the scene we now share with her. Her body is again primed for the danger that is occurring.

Altered states of consciousness
At this moment I draw upon scientific research and knowledge about the physiology of stress and trauma. I know that the adrenal glands, acting with the sympathetic nervous system, take over. Adrenaline and noradrenaline ready her body for fight or flight. Her heart rate increases, and energy-producing sugar is released by the liver. Her blood moves from the outlying vessels and organs to the muscles and the brain. Her blood clots more readily. Her white blood cells increase, preparing her body for any emergency repairs that might be required.

What I am actually able to observe is that her pupils have dilated, her breathing is shallow and rapid. And from my experience as a nurse on a psychiatric ward, I can smell and see her fear. It sits in the air now as a cold, damp wind sweeps across her body.

At the same time that I enter the scene with them, I stay outside the scene sufficiently so that I am able to monitor both women carefully. Alison looks frightened and pale, and she is shivering.

“Are you cold?” I ask quietly.


“You are also breathing rapidly. Try to take a few deep breaths.” She does this, and I tell her, “Guess what? I just happen to have a heating pad handy.” I plug in the heating pad and place it on Alison’s lap.

We are able to laugh briefly and break the relived terror.

Physiology of trauma
“I’m okay now.” Alison is driven to proceed with her story. “At that point he said, I just got out of prison, and I’m not afraid to use this. You give me your money.’ And I said, We don’t keep money here.’ She turns to Nancy. “And all this time I’m trying to figure out how can I not go into the room where you are. And he said, Where is your purse?’ and then I realized I had to go into your room. I felt like the look on my face was like, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what else to do.’”

I just got out of prison
Nancy joins us in the scene now and validates her friend’s experience. “Yes, I remember that part. That’s what I remember.”

“This next part seems to be the part that you don’t remember, because I went straight for the closet door, and he said, No!’ I think because I had been antagonistic to him, he made me lie right down immediately. He said, You lie down on the floor with your hands behind your head.’ Meanwhile, you were, like, looking at him and saying, What do you need? What can I do for you? Shall I empty my purse out on the floor?’ You were, like, being good,’ Nancy, because I was not being cooperative at all. I thought, ‘Oh, she’s got the right idea.’ Actually, I watched you empty your purse out on the floor,” Alison explains, “so I guess I wasn’t on the floor yet. I said to him, Well, mine is in the closet,’ and he told me to get down on the floor. He said to you, You get her purse!’ So you handed me my wallet, and I took out seventy dollars and laid it on the floor, and I think he picked it up. Then he told you to lie down next to me, and you moved around to my right side and lay down between me and the massage table.”

“Can you describe his voice? High-pitched? Low?” I am trying to hear the scene.


“He was shaky more than anything. He had a shaky voice, and he was shaking the whole time. When I opened the door, he was shaking.”

“Did you sense he was scared?” I ask.


“What I’m trying to do is have you get in touch with as many of your senses as you can about the experience. Try to give me as much sensory information as you can remember.”

Alison continues, “This next sentence is probably the only one where I really remember his voice. He said,
Now, I have to figure out how to get out of this town,’ and he sounded really scared. He asked about the cars. I told him where my car was, and I guess he must have walked over to the window. That must have been when he asked about the tape and stuff, which in retrospect I figure maybe he thought he would just tie us up and steal my car and go, but since we didn’t have any tape—I remember just like a long pause and then the gunshot. He probably figured the only way he would get out of town was to shoot us.”

He was shaking the whole time
The tempo of Alison’s narrative picks up. “At first I thought he was just shooting blanks off to scare us. . . the first noise I didn’t even compute as a gunshot. It sounded like he had hit a ruler against a piece of wood. Then it sounded like a really loud cap gun. And then after the first shot, you screamed, and I opened my eyes and I saw you arch your back, and my sense is that he was standing behind us and had shot you in the back the first time. Then he shot again, and it probably wasn’t until the third bullet that I realized that he was shooting us. I only remember hearing four bullets, but if you were hit three times and I was hit twice, that’s five bullets. And then I just became aware all of a sudden, somehow, that he was gone. There was just a deadening feeling in my head. It wasn’t until I felt my hand get really hot that I looked at it, and it was covered with blood. In my head I thought to myself, ‘Well, I’m still thinking, so I’m not dead. I can still see. Ican still move my legs.’ Once I realized I wasn’t dead or paralyzed, I knew I could get up and go for help.”

The first noise I didn’t compute as a gunshot

Once I realized I wasn’t dead
Locked into the horror of the scene, my own pulse speeds up, and my breathing becomes shallow. “He intended to kill you!”

“Yes, and here we are!” says Nancy, jubilant, defiant. “Here we are.” This is the beginning of understanding this woman’s powerful stream of life energy.

Alison must continue. “That’s when I sat up, and I saw a hole through your back and I thought, ‘Oh, God’, because it looked like it could have gone right through the spinal cord, through the heart. I was screaming at you, Nancy, can you hear me? Nancy, are you alive?’ I remember being kind of aware that I was sitting up, I was bleeding from my head. I could pass out at any minute, and that’s when I just got up and ran downstairs to the café. Ginger was at the counter, and I said, We just got shot, call the police!’ Ginger said, Oh, my God, who?’ and I said, Me and my client.’ I just turned right around and went back upstairs, and then right behind me the bartender came running. He came in, and I said, Call my husband,’ and I gave him my phone number. It felt like while he was on the phone to Harry about eighteen policemen, ambulance people—they were there, like, in thirty seconds.”

Alison—I saw a hole through your body
My own mind is suddenly flooded by memories of a car accident outside Zurich some years ago. My husband and I were at the end of a vacation. We had been driving a small European car on a superhighway during a tremendous rainstorm and decided to pull off the road. Suddenly, another car traveling about eighty or ninety miles an hour, we later learned, ran into the rear of ours. At the next moment, my husband was bleeding and unconscious on the floor of the car. His driver’s seat was smashed and twisted totally out of shape. I felt blood on my back, but my Nurseself took over, and I reached down to take his pulse. Thank God, I thought, he’s still alive. In what seemed like a second, police, ambulance, everyone was there to help. Later I realized they could not have been there that quickly, and that I must have lost consciousness for some period of time.

I bring myself quickly back to the current scene. “Well, you don’t know if that’s so. Obviously, it had to be more than thirty seconds. I’ve been in a—um—not a shooting accident, but an automobile accident, and I’ve worked with other women who have been involved in a trauma, and these time sequences are very confusing.”

“Yeah, it was amazing. When the ambulance and rescue people came up, the police were asking me questions the whole time, and I was just watching you, Nancy,” Alison says, turning to her friend.

Nancy looks for more information to fill in her own time gaps. “They started asking you questions right away?”

“Immediately, which was good, because I think I was able to give them the description which went right out over the radio, and I think if he hadn’t been in the taxi and heard the description of himself, he wouldn’t have turned himself in. The one question I have for myself is, and I don’t feel guilty or down on myself for it, but why didn’t I listen to that gut feeling? That’s something that hopefully over time I’ll come to terms with.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

That gut feeling
“Well, I felt like, maybe my approach with him was wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have cooperated with him at all. Maybe if the two of us had rushed him...”

Nancy in her wisdom attempts to soothe her friend. “Yes. You know what’s interesting, though, and I think you need to know this: Whenever I play it over in my mind with a different scenario, it always ends up being worse than what actually happened. One of the things that I personally don’t want to do is suddenly become a fearful person. I want to still maintain a trusting attitude toward life.”

I add, “And yet you must find some place for this violent experience within the context of your world view. The way you previously thought about your place in the world. Is that it?”

“Right,” she nods.

“Do you have anything you want to add to what Alison has been saying?”

Maybe my approach was wrong
“Yes, I wanted to ask Alison how often you—I call it run the tape.’ How often does it happen for you? How often do you go over it?”

“Pretty much every time I close my eyes and nap. It’s a little less intense now than it was, but whenever I am quietly by myself and close my eyes is when it starts.”

“Nancy, why did you ask Alison that question?”

“I don’t know. To compare, I think. I feel like I run it all the time, and it doesn’t seem to be just when I close my eyes.”

Nancy relates some of the situations in which she has become frightened. “I find that I am reacting to scuffling noises and sounds outside a closed door, which is what I think I heard before he entered the room. I can’t handle having a bathroom door shut, or pushing open a door and meeting some resistance.” (Months later I learn that there is more to this bathroom door story for Nancy.) “I feel that these negative images have been imposed on me, and in the context of my life it all feels very foreign.”

Alison turns to her friend again. “Sometimes, like today, I just woke up blah, I just didn’t feel particularly interested in anything. Or some days I wake up, and I feel sad. I know I have a good reason to, but I haven’t done any thinking about it.”

How often do you run the tape?
Nancy tries to help her friend with new information. “My surgeon talked about that a lot. What happens with most head injuries is that one of the first feelings people have is a sort of disinterest. He said that some people describe it as my get-up-and-go got up and went.’ They say, ‘What happened to my drive, or this or that interest?’ I feel extremely dissociated, like, ‘I’m here and the world is there.’

“Look, it is my belief that the right knowledge empowers us as women,” I interject. “I want to give you both a context within which you can consider the wide range of symptoms you’re both experiencing and also some idea about what you may experience in the near future. Some therapists think it’s best not to tell people in advance of their symptoms, but I am the kind of person who likes as much information as I can get when I need it. I find I do better with more, not less, information. So that’s the place I am coming from. What do you both think about this?”

I’m here and the world is here
Nancy says, “I think that’s what we both need: solid information.”

Alison nods.

We need solid information
“Well, one of the most common symptoms after a major trauma such as you have both been through is the re-experiencing of the traumatic event. This can happen during the day, or while you’re sleeping or dreaming. You might also find it difficult to sleep, or you might be startled out of your sleep. You can also have a kind of psychic numbing, an emotional anesthesia, or just the opposite, an increased arousal or sensitivity to anything remotely connected with or resembling the shooting, a hyper-vigilance, like checking on things in your immediate environment, being jumpy or being startled easily. And many women report having trouble concentrating.”

Nancy jumps in. “Well, it’s clear we already have many of the symptoms.”

Post trauma
The metallic buzzer goes off, startling the three of us. “Before we stop, do either of you need to say anything else to each other?”

Alison, in a faltering voice, says, “One question that I have for Nancy, and I think I might have asked you this in the hospital once, too, but I just need to make sure you are not mad at me. You know, for opening the door, or anything…. It stays with me all the time. This thought that I didn’t protect you.”

“Oh, God, no.” Nancy reaches a hand out to her friend. “It’s the last thing I would ever think about! If anything, I feel like you saved my life. What you did, the fact that you were able to go downstairs and everything. I have total trust and faith in everything that you did, and never, never would get angry with you.”

Alison is now in tears. “Basically, I guess I know that, but every now and then I need to hear it again.”

The buzzer of ordinary time, chronos, startles us
Spontaneously, the two women stand and embrace each other for a long while. After a few moments, I join them. A peaceful silence settles over the room.

This embrace of friendship is a symbol of our healing process together, of women’s capacity to support each other with love during difficult times. The deep friendship, trust, and caring among us is a critical component in this process. I say “our healing process” because I respond as a woman as well as a guide, and the moral pain is always there.

I am reminded of Janice Raymond’s work (1986) on the power of female friendship. Women have been friends for millennia, she notes, and yet this tradition, like many aspects of women’s lives, has often been distorted, dismantled, and underestimated—or, to use Mary Daly’s term, “dismembered.”

The friendship I am seeing between Nancy and Alison is far from dismembered; it is compassionate and important to them both, and undeniably overrides the customary female conditioning to exist primarily for men. Janice Raymond has written that male biographers have been surprised at the intensity of friendship between, for example, Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, or Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan.

Nancy and Alison will go through their healing as individuals, of course, but they will also, clearly, heal together.

Write Janice Raymond
In view of Alison’s new relationship with me as a client, I have the primary responsibility to consider how we will relate to each other now both personally and geographically, outside our work in my office. I must think through each of the overlapping relationships that so often occur in a small community such as ours and come to some kind of mutual resolution that will serve Alison’s interests. Speaking on the telephone, we do some problem solving and come to an agreement to stop our old relationship, in which I was her massage client, for the time being. The point here is to be clear to Alison that it is her needs that will be met during this new relationship, not mine. It will be a long time before I enjoy another massage from Alison.

Transcending Violence

As their therapy continues in the months ahead, I have placed some side notes in my notebook. First, Alison didn’t expect this man to use the gun he displayed. Why not? Second, Alison didn’t trust her own intuition that they were in danger because she had watched a suspense movie the night before. How did watching this film stop her from trusting herself when she felt some danger on the stairs? Did this film condition her in some way? Did it override her wisdom? I am left with many more questions.

Overlapping relationships
What do I do with my own anguish and my silent weeping for Nancy and Alison? I choose again the direction of more data and knowledge. I find myself visiting the local gun shops for whatever I might learn there. I see where guns are sold locally, stores I have never before noticed on the street and in the phone book. One of these stores is at a service station less than a mile from my office. I hear and observe how knowledgeable about and comfortable with guns the owners are, as if weapons were a natural extension of their bodies. These men are totally confident that they could use the guns if it became necessary. The men, both the storekeepers and the customers, both old and young, are eager to tell me which guns they own, and how many. The guns the dealer shows me are kept in locked storage rooms and safes. He shows me pistols, revolvers, and semi-automatics, as well as hunting rifles.

I discover that if I want to learn to shoot properly, there are men who will teach me. The teachers recommended to me happen to be guards in the local correctional facility. I am told about a gun club and practice range a few miles away where I can go and practice. I learn about different kinds and sizes of bullets, and which ones explode more and do the most harm. I learn about gun holsters you can hide on your person and magnetic ones you can hide above a door for quick use in your home. I am given pamphlets that state that an increasing number of women own small firearms.

If I name my activities counter transference, it stays private, personal, my reaction to a public event. If I call it rage and acknowledge the overwhelming official statistics regarding violence done to women, I have a right to stay angry. I have a right to label it this on my own personal map.

In addition to my rage and my gun shop visits, I start to research and keep a record of the news reports of violence in other women’s lives. In our community, a month after the shooting, a 30-year-old woman is beaten, raped, and strangled by a neighbor in a vacant apartment next door to hers in a building complex. In a different part of the state, another woman, age 23, and her boyfriend are killed when he drives their car into a tree. This same man had previously raped her and made her play Russian roulette with a loaded 22-caliber revolver.

In the spring, when many of us are thinking about new growth and life, seeds and small plants, a 34-year-old music teacher is beaten and stabbed in her home by a prison escapee. Later in the year in a nearby community, a 93-year-old woman is beaten and strangled in her own home by a 22-year-old male stranger. At or around the same time, a 16-year-old female high school student is killed at a boyfriend’s apartment in a drug-related shooting. The following autumn, a 21-year-old mother with a 7-year-old child is abducted from her workplace by her estranged husband, who fatally shoots her and then himself. The reality of my own record keeping of community violence brings me considerable pain. It would be less painful, perhaps, to tuck this data away mentally, or place it in a separate file outside my therapy notes. It would be more “clinical” to fold away and separate my “community notes,” what has happened outside of therapy, from what has happened inside of therapy. To maintain my own sanity, I decide to have the community experience sit side by side with the personal experience of violence. Together they create the true picture. In this way I am able to bring together an ethics of justice and caring into my professional folder.

Women are not safe anywhere, not in our own homes or our rented apartments, not when we are at work, not on our streets, not in our cars, not as we hike or bike across our beautiful natural landscape.

Architect Leslie Kanes Weisman addresses questions of space and boundaries in her book Discrimination by Design: A Feminist Critique of the Man-Made Environment. In her analysis of the spatial dimensions of gender, race, and class, she writes about the social processes and power struggles involved in building and controlling space. She notes that there are double standards with regard to what constitutes public or private space. In public, women must constantly contend with invasive male behaviors such as whistling, clucking, sexual assessments or propositions, and obscene gestures, and must be on guard against more dangerous threats. “Women, thus unable to regulate their interactions with male strangers in public places, are robbed of an important privilege of urban life: their anonymity,” writes Weisman. “Women learn to be constantly on the alert, both consciously and unconsciously, in order to protect vulnerable boundaries from male trespasses.”

Our environment is an active shaper of life events and space, and, like language, it is socially constructed. Relations among human beings are often shaped by the assumptions about built space and its use. Why did this stranger from elsewhere get off a bus and single out Alison’s particular place of business? Are there spatial dimensions to this crime? There are other stores on the small street where Alison earned her living. Did her assailant mistake Alison’s holistic workplace called The Massage Center for a massage “parlor,” a place where a man can obtain sexual services from women? Do our physical surroundings and the naming of things reflect and create our reality? Were Alison and Nancy almost killed only because they were women? Like the women in the Montreal massacre? I think so.

Space socially constructed
As time goes on, both women have many questions. “Am I coherent? Am I making sense? Am I acting normal?’” I assure them that they are both thinking rationally, that the concerns they have make sense to me and are not uncommon. I remind them that they are quite sane but living in an insane world. I have concerns about Nancy’s visual problems. I wish that this diagnostic testing had been done in the hospital before her discharge, but I must deal with what is, where we are at the moment.


Am I acting normal?
It is months later now. Both women have decided this will be our last joint session. Nancy and Alison continue to work through their physical symptoms, following up with their medical appointments and going about their individual healing. Throughout this period they also have to deal with the judicial system: meeting with their attorney, talking with a victims’ rights advocate; and talking several times with a private detective. This last joint session focuses on an important upcoming event. The two women have many friends and supporters in the arts and holistic health communities, and some of them have planned a celebration at a local theater to raise money for the women’s medical expenses. Touched by this outpouring of love, Nancy and Alison are nevertheless anxious about appearing before so many people in such a context and anticipate that it will be a highly charged evening.

Community response
They will be in a large space over which they will not have any control. I anticipate that they will surely experience the intrusive thoughts and feelings of the shooting event, as the theater is adjacent to the building where the crime took place. My role today is to anticipate what might come up for them and to help them decide how to deal with it. It will be noisy. The theater is large. Can they handle the noise and commotion? Will the human noise interfere with their ability to “hear” danger in the crowd? How can they get away from the crowd if it is too frightening for them, too much to handle? How can they watch for danger coming from the outside? There will be an outpouring of much love and attention. Will it be too much for them emotionally? Can they handle it?

They decide to sit together, support each other, and let each other know what’s happening for one another. Still, they are anxious. The everyday world that was previously taken for granted, so comfortable and sure, so safe and sane, so full of loving people, now feels overwhelming to both of them.

Analyzing space
Nancy considers whether to take her son, Alex, to the event. She weighs the pros and cons of bringing her young child. Will it be too much for him? Can she explain it to him? What if she brings him and he doesn’t understand? She decides against it. Side note: Follow up on Alexander.

Alison says, “I am not sure that I can handle going into the lobby at intermission—so many people, so many questions.”

Nancy says, “You know, I was thinking—most women who have survived a crime don’t have this kind of community outpouring, this financial help. I wonder what they do.” Then Nancy turns to Alison. “I want to ask you a few things. How is your hand?”

The woman whose livelihood has so much to do with healing through human touch and discerning another person’s energy fields answers, “My hand feels like gauze. I can’t really feel everything when I touch people. The numbness blocks the feel of the energy.”

“Are you still having nightmares?” Nancy asks.

Meet Alexander?
“Yes. Last night I dreamed a man came with a baseball bat and bashed my head in and finished the job. I’m dead. Then I thought, It’s just like when it happened.’ Then I thought, Well, I didn’t die. It wasn’t so bad. I survived!’”

“Well, my nightmares have just started,” reports Nancy. “I’m really slow coming around to this emotionally. I think I was so concerned about my physical problems, I couldn’t even let myself feel any emotions.”

I add my voice. “I understand what you are saying about your healing process, but your mind-body was in survival mode.”

“Actually, I appreciate the nightmares. I think they are part of the healing, even though they are very frightening.”

Our caring community of people often lump the two women together in the same conversation. They are asked not only about themselves but about the other in the other’s absence. They both report that they have to work very hard now at keeping their lives separate.

“I’m very impressed at how you have both gone about your healing, collectively and individually. I have a concern, however, that you may measure your own healing through the other person’s progress.”

“Yes. I think we both feel this pressure now,” says Nancy.

Alison is feeling this more because her injuries are less extensive than Nancy’s. She still feels the responsibility because the shooting occurred in her working space. She feels the guilt of a person who has been a witness to another person’s suffering and feels a severe “burden of conscience,” as Judith Herman, a psychiatrist, has written in her book Trauma and Recovery.

Alison has been pursuing some holistic healing methods and talks about her sessions with a woman who also does channeling. Alison believes she has received helpful knowledge from this healing work and has given a recording of one of her sessions to Nancy, her “non-believing” friend, as Nancy refers to herself. During a channeling session, Alison has heard the voice of Nancy’s husband Ed’s spirit.

But Alison has some questions of her own, and we shift away from Ed. “Where are you physically now?” Alison asks Nancy.

“Long after the danger is past, traumatized people relive the event as though it were continually recurring in the present. They cannot resume the normal course of their live, for the trauma repeatedly interrupts. It is as if time stops at the moment of trauma. The traumatic moment becomes encoded in an abnormal form of memory, which breaks spontaneously into consciousness, both as flashbacks during waking states and as traumatic nightmares during sleep.”
Trauma and Recovery,
Judith Lewis Herman
“I get these electrical shocks now, and then immediately I have a change in my vision, my right eye. It feels like it’s opening up and I’m viewing things through a cobweb. I see your whole face but I’m missing the chair and part of the wall. Like there’s a hand in front of my eye.”

“I’d like to know what is your internal imagery about what is actually going on in your body in terms of your healing,” I ask Nancy.

“I’m not a doctor, but—”

“Excuse me for interrupting. The reason I ask is because there is a difference between the images and metaphors that come out of a medical diagnosis and those that come out of your personal experience of the shooting.”

Nancy helps me. “Well, my intuition is that my nerve endings are waking up. That these nerve endings are connected with my vision. I don’t know if it will ever clear up completely. It feels just like electricity. And my arms, if I lower my chin to my chest, I can create a buzz inside my arm, and it swirls around in my palm and my fingers get prickly. And my spinal cord. I get this crack, crack, crack, right here. With everything I experience, I say, Good, come on, let it happen.’ It’s positive. But there are some creepy things that happen to me. I was in the sun yesterday for four or five hours, and I got very sick. My head was throbbing. I thought, You dummy. You have no bone there; you have fried your brain!” The feisty dancer-businesswoman uses humor to think her way through her open wound.

My nerve endings are waking up
It’s Alison’s turn. “Oh, I want to tell you both about when I went for crystal healing. It is incredible what happened! I had rushes of energy throughout my body. Things were realigning all over the place. This woman worked with me for an hour and a half. Where the skull was missing, I suddenly heard this big electrical noise like lightning. I felt energy currents all through my body, as if I were realigning myself. It was very positive. What was most intense was the sound. It was very lovely. Suddenly, I had this clarity.”

Crystal healing
“Well, I went to a chiropractor,” adds Nancy. “I felt that my neck was holding energy from the bullets. My instinct is that I really need to have you work on me now, Alison. I feel the need to come full circle.”

“Yes, I feel now I am ready to do some work on you,” Alison tells her.

Nancy’s voice softens. “I know that you are the person I want to heal me.”

“Great!” the massage therapist answers, her guilt soothed.

As Nancy continues to try to search for meaning in the shooting, she explains, “One of my friends thinks that this incident was a means of selection. The reason we were chosen was because we are open to another form of cosmology. We are going to be passing this information on by teaching about this experience to others.”

I find it momentarily difficult to let Nancy’s statement stand. I have an immediate reaction to the phrase “means of selection.” I have a flashback of myself as a pre-teen watching newsreels, seeing piles of naked corpses of Jewish children and adults—the result of another “means of selection.” I let go of this intrusive image, knowing that it is mine and not Nancy’s, and bring myself back to the moment.

“Before we stop today, it helps me to get feedback from the women I work with about what has helped them. What has this time together provided for you both?”

Alison starts reflectively. “For me, it’s been a place to talk more deeply, beyond checking in with each other on the phone. Here we go beyond conversation. And there is time and space to feel and to process.”

“It was a place for me to tell Alison that she saved my life. I also got new information, things I didn’t remember,” Nancy says.

Turning to Alison, I tease, “Do you get that now? Has your guilt been somewhat assuaged?”

“I think so,” says Alison, more sure than in our first session a few months earlier.

At this point, both women agree that they have accomplished what it was they wanted to do together. They have reached a place of some reprieve, a nurturing space for the spirit. Both women have already made remarkable progress since the shooting. Although many challenges remain for both of them, they are working on their healing and have considerable support from families and friends.

The regulation of intimacy, the vacillation between self-isolation and anxious connections with people, the recurrent fragmented dreams and nightmares, the intermittent fatigue, and the scanning of and hypersensitivity to everything in their environment continue for months and on into years.

Nancy Alone

Nancy decides now to continue in individual therapy with me. The initial series lasts for a year and overlaps some of her work with Alison. At this point in her life story, I know Nancy only in the context of the emergency situation and her sessions with Alison. Today’s session will be quite different from our first meeting. My red metallic collage map of her trauma is clearly etched in my head with many markers already in place. I will find out where the urgency is for her today and what she needs to do for herself in this session.

In Looking On: Images of Femininity in the Visual Arts and Media, Rosemary Betterton notes:

“Femininity, as defined in western culture, is bound up very closely with the way in which the female body is perceived and represented.”

How do I “see” this wonderful woman sitting before me? How shall I further describe her to you? Will I describe skin surface? Body contour? Clothes draped and fitted? The bullet holes and suture threads, invisible, but known to us? In this layering of a woman’s story, where shall I place her body and what shall I describe of it? What does it mean to look at a woman from a feminist point of view? How do I not carry, not be a vector for practices that might work against our own visceral freedom?

How do I write her story without what Sidonie Smith has called “the prescriptive history of female essentialism” but rather with her own experientially based history? How do I avoid, again from Smith, “the sanctities of the official narratives”?

In writing about autobiography Smith reminds us in Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body that we all carry a history of the body. She asks us to consider whether the body is

“…a source of subversive practice, a potentially emancipatory vehicle for the autobiographical practice, or a source of repression and suppressed narrative.”

Thinking our way through this is like going through a minefield of mindsets that can make each of us into a non-person, in a no-space except for official space. As in my early train ride headed south, mentioned in Astra’s story, bodies moving through time and space learn things, construct meaning. Nancy’s body moving through time and space informs us. Our bodies are not simple abstractions of our current theories but are embedded in the immediacy of everyday lived experience.

Sidonie Smith

Bodies moving through time and space learn things, construct meaning

Women’s lives are always more complex than what appears in standard psychology textbooks or women’s magazines, or typical case conferences. Nancy’s life story is confounded by the fact that the shooting was a second major trauma in a short period of time. Five months earlier she had discovered the body of her husband, Ed, in the bathroom of their home, and some troubling questions remain because of his history of drug use. She comes to my office still suffering from and perplexed by this earlier loss, as well as by her more recent crisis.

How does this woman transcend her experience of violence, put some reasonable order to it? Will she be able to make room for the violence, reconstruct a life story that has meaning to her?

Ed’s death
From the moment of the shooting, the private and esthetic space of Alison’s office became the public place of crime. Police and ambulance medics took over. The short trip to the medical center moved Nancy’s injured body from the private domain to the public domain of medicine and surgery. Gone with it were her autonomy and freedom of movement of the previous hour. Her body was placed in the hands of science—touched, examined, probed, and x-rayed. The private space within, bounded by her skin—gone. The handwritten medical-legal record was translated onto a computerized system. The rules and practices of the medical and legal social institutions were put in place. She no longer has a private self. She is no longer her Self, as she knew herself to be.

Moving bodies
I often keep “toys” sitting on the Divination Table, or in this case, on the small glass garden table to the left of Nancy. These are objects I have carefully chosen, objects that may stimulate, calm, or soothe a woman. Today Nancy picks up the two shiny Chinese balls, each about the size of a small plum. Each ball has a soft chime within it, so that when they are rotated, they make a gentle harmonizing sound. Nancy rolls them around in the palm of her cupped hands as we are talking. They provide a soothing background to our work together. Pong, pong.

Sound and kinetic energy
Nancy starts with a weary sigh. “I have good days and bad days, depending on my energy level and my moods. Some days I feel so apathetic and fatigued even after just an hour or two of work. I’m having trouble sleeping. I get dizzy pretty often, and I have this sort of metallic feeling in my head. I feel nauseated often, and I feel weak a lot of the time. You know, I never used to worry about my health—it was taken for granted—and now I worry all the time. I am really worried about the future.” And then she falters. “And this is hard to say... but I can’t understand some written words, and sometimes I don’t understand some spoken words.”

Through every difficult emotion, she sits erect, spine straight, eye to eye with me. Mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, and rouge all blend subtly and frame her large blue eyes. I remember now that the dancer knows how to do make-up, and how to hold her body.

Good days and bad days

She has survived the shooting, but nothing is the same. Her picture has been on the front page of the local newspapers. Her life is no longer private. Even her home “feels like” it is no longer hers. Her parents have moved in with her and are caring for her son. She is not able to return to work. She is not able to drive.

Remarkably, she decides as early as this first session together to try not to focus on her losses. “My inner sense tells me that it is going to raise my level of anxiety and emphasize my limitations if I focus too much on these things,” she tells me. I understand this as her attempt to maintain a homeostasis, a balance, as she works her way through the losses she is experiencing. She has a way of knowing, not yet known to me and not yet named by her, that this particular strategy works best for her in maintaining her bodymind balance.

Parents move in


A major theme running through the entire time of Nancy’s work with me is her concern for her young child, Alexander. How can she be a good mother to him, be available to him, while she is beset with multiple physical problems? At the moment a mother is compelled to lie face down on the floor and is shot, her child is also wounded.

As a mother, Nancy feels unprepared to deal with a 2–year-old in crisis. Now she attends to her own needs by attending to her child’s needs. We begin by splicing the threads of Nancy’s life with that of her son, thus helping to preserve a child’s life and nurturing his growth with his mother’s healing. Mothering, like any human practice, requires special abilities and particular ways of thinking and acting.

At different times our process reflects a mix of emotion, reflection, and judgment. Sarah Ruddick calls this triad “maternal thinking.” Like all modes of human thinking, it has its own logic and interests—in this case, the preservation and growth of one’s child.

How do I as Nancy’s therapist support the virtues of motherhood, such as honesty, justice, wisdom, faith, and courage, and at the same time not perpetuate the myths we have been taught that it is a woman’s “natural” place to care for and nurture another? Knowing at the same time it is a response we all have. How do I do this and at the same time not repress the maternal in each of us?

I engage now in what many mothers have done over and over through time. I draw from my own deep well of experience as a mother, as well as my studies and work as a pediatric nurse and psychologist. I cannot, would not, search only for the treatises of traditional ethics based on the thinking and experience of certain men.

Maternal thinking
The wounded mother suffers. “I have these major problems with my son. Within a span of six months, he has lived in three different houses, experienced the death of his father and the partial loss of his mother. His grandparents have moved in, and the discipline is very different. My parents allow him to do everything. And then I, too, want to give him everything he wants. The kid is screaming for discipline, and I can’t get out of bed to enforce what I think he needs. It’s so frustrating to me,” she cries.

The wounded mother suffers
“When I first got home from the hospital, I allowed my parents to handle everything with Alex. Now, my gut tells me this is not acceptable. But if I assert myself and then can’t follow through physically, it will make things worse. Alex has been sleeping poorly and crying frequently since his father’s death.”

She sits back in her chair looking dejected, alone, and tired. Because of her perceptual and conceptual difficulties, Nancy must take in all new information aurally, and she cannot at this time make use of our extensive women’s studies library, particularly, our books on child development. I will listen for what her child’s strengths and resources are, and for what types of help he might need. My mini-course in child development starts.

“Let me try to give you some basic understanding here. A child’s personality is not just a network of predetermined genetic codes, but an outcome of dealing with the challenges and opportunities that his short life has to offer. Alexander’s success in handling this difficult period will depend upon how he has dealt with previous obstacles in his life, his resiliency, his gifts, his ability to cope with newness and stress,” I tell her.

“From what you have told me about him, your son seems to be blessed in this regard. I am of the philosophy that he needs the freedom and flexibility to find his own novel solutions within the context of your loving family and this loving community. I am in favor of giving him a wide range of options, especially during these times of unusual stress.

“As a young child, Alex has a limited ability to understand people’s comings and goings—who is doing what, where, and why. He will need your help with this. Keep him informed about your comings and goings.

“The tempo of your son’s routine has been disturbed, his unique mother-son rhythm is absent. He will have difficulty conceptualizing linear time. It is a confusing period for him, and the fear of further loss is ever present. Alexander has an advantage in that he has been with grandparents he knows, but he lacks the ability to be
time wise.’

“He does not yet have the language to express what he is feeling. You need to intuit his feelings and find the words to express what he is unable to. In doing this, you will be adding to his vocabulary—with which he will then be better able to express himself. In addition there must be a congruency between what he feels you are feeling and what he sees you doing. Alexander will get cues from you, his mother, that it’s okay to have and to express directly his feelings of sadness and confusion. What do you think about what I’ve said?”

Thoughtful silence, then Nancy picks up the thread. “I am feeling so guilty that I still am unable to pick up my son or read to him. I’m physically ill and scared.” Her body seems to disappear into the chair. “What does it all mean? I feel guilty, too, that my parents have moved in to help me, and they’ve just recently retired. They are now thrust into the unexpected, stressful job of caring for me and my son.”

“Look, as a mother myself of adult children and thinking about my own life experiences I’m sure that your parents are grateful that you are alive, and I’m sure that they feel a need to help you. It’s a specific action they can take as they deal with their own anxieties about your health.

Words and feelings
“It depends on how you see the responsibilities of motherhood. I see motherhood as a collective social responsibility, not only a personal one. If you think of motherhood as a collective responsibility, you won’t feel so guilty. We all need to help each other with the raising of our children.”

Motherhood: personal or collective
Nancy reflects, “You know, I feel I gave up all my personal power since the shooting. My mother is taking care of my son. My job is being taken over by others. My financial planner has power of attorney to pay my bills. My realm of responsibility is gone! Now, they all say they want to give it up, give it back to me, make it my responsibility, but they don’t really want to.”

“A secure sense of connection with caring people is the foundation of personality development. When this connection is shattered, the traumatized person loses her basic sense of self.

“What is your definition of personal power?” I ask Nancy.

“To have a feeling of competence—of feeling creative, of being able to express myself. Since the shooting, I have a lot of self-doubt.”

“Yes, I understand, but don’t forget—it wasn’t just this massive trauma. You aren’t only dealing with the physical injuries; there was also an emotional regression. You experienced an automatic biological response to a threat or catastrophe. Before the shooting, you felt that you were an adult human being, safe, with freedom and choices. At the moment of the shooting, you felt like a frightened child or animal who wants to retreat. The shooting has brought up the archaic fears we all have as children.”

Word: personal power

Developmental conflicts of childhood and adolescence, long since resolved, are suddenly reopened. Trauma forces the survivor to relive all her earlier struggles over autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.”
Trauma and Recovery,
Judith Lewis Herman

“I remember now that I tried to lower my eyes and not make contact with his. I had a fear of provoking him.”

“Exactly. What about work? What can you handle and not handle?”

“I’m looking for my strengths, and other people are trying to protect me. Here I am doubting if I can function, and other people won’t even let me try. The other night when I was alone in my bedroom, I started screaming.
What did I do to deserve this? Who is this man who fucked up my life? What right did he have to impose this life on me?’”

“Good. Finally, I hear your anger! I was wondering where you had hidden it!”

Nancy continues, “I want to say to people, I need you to trust me, but tell me if I’m screwing up. Don’t try to proofread me all the time.’” Her face is a study of both rage and despair.

“I understand. The shooting has set off a lot of other people’s fears. They don’t know what to do with that. You will have to let them know what you are experiencing and what you want and need.”

Survival skill
The woman who has used her well-disciplined mind-body to explore the beauty of bodies moving in space and time, the woman who in the past has brought to the community a space where male and female students learn how to move and dance together for pure pleasure and for the expression of their art, now finds herself in a war zone. The images and the blank spaces necessary for creative thinking must struggle and compete with the recurrences of terrifying and violent images, which, at times, also run through the body tissues of both mother and child.


Today on my lake walk, through my Nancy lens I see on the shoreline one huge ashen gray tree uprooted from the earth and toppled over at an oblique angle to the water. I see what looks like a woman’s leg jaggedly torn from the hip joint. Its oversized foot is half submerged in the water. These lakeside artifacts are all I can summon up in my consciousness today.

Several months after the shooting Nancy decided to return to her real estate work part time. Today she comes in feeling depressed and discouraged. “I resent and am frightened about my loss of personal power. At home and at work, people are constantly doing things for me.” As a self-described “doer” and “caregiver,” she finds this dependency on others unacceptable.

“I feel like a fat old lady burdened with a toddler,” Nancy says. “And I have been on a feeding frenzy. And on Father’s Day, I really missed Ed.”

The cultural devaluation of women as mothers, ageism, and the negative views toward an imperfect, injured, and wounded female body all meet today in this session and are a heavy burden to her soul-work.

Her loneliness, her lack of intimacy, the prolonged burden of the trauma itself, and her unresolved grieving for the loss of her husband leave her extremely discouraged, fatigued, and vulnerable.

War zone
Nancy continues to have troubling symptoms of numbing and tingling from her shoulder joints to the inside of her arms, with prickly feelings in her fingers, recurrent bouts of nausea and vertigo, severe headaches and visual difficulties.

Troubling symptoms
Despite these symptoms, throughout this immensely stressful and trying period, her most consistent strategy is to say to herself, “It will be okay. It will go away.”


As Nancy and I get to know each other better, it becomes clear to me that she has a considerable number of layered, complex life experiences to draw from. I learn how much she trusts her intuition, or inner vision, as a way of informing herself—much more than she herself has realized. She often refers to her gut feelings and makes decisions based on her “body sensations,” as she calls them.

In a personal-growth workshop she took before the shooting, Nancy’s Dancerself responded to her instructor’s statement, “Trust the dance.” Neither of us is fully aware yet how much her way of being in the world is born from her trust in the dance.

Survival skill

Survival skill
The injured woman sitting before me has allowed me to understand that the dance will be a major metaphor in working with her. I go into the outer room and take off the wall one of my favorite possessions: a small, white poster done in a white cotton fabric with a black line drawing of several people dancing, holding onto each other’s shoulders. The caption reads, “If you stumble, make it part of the dance.” This poster, which I give her, becomes symbolic of a bonding and understanding between us.

She sighs deeply. “I have always doubted my intellectual abilities. I always felt there was very little I knew. What’s going on in my brain right now makes that even more real. You see, I completed a four-year dance program in two and a half years on a scholarship. I feel that I lack a well-rounded liberal arts education, even though I went to a well-known liberal arts school.”

“What do you feel that you lack the most?” I ask the woman dancer who has used her body in time and space as an instrument of knowledge.

If you stumble
“About knowing, I guess. What is knowing and how do I know if I know something? That’s the best way that I can explain it.”

“Well, I believe that you have all the answers already, your own inner wisdom. You just have to ask the right questions. Well, let me modify that. You have to ask the right questions of the right person.” I smile.

“That’s it. I wouldn’t know where to begin and what would be a right question, or a good question.”

“Let’s put this on hold for a little while, but I think my associate, Betty, can help you with this dilemma. She’s the philosopher-in-residence here, and her Big Maps are much larger than any psychology maps. She can help you understand more about traditional categories of knowing if you want.”

What is knowing?
“I’d really like to do that, but can I handle it?” Nancy asks me.

“I think so.” I challenge her, “Let’s be brave and try. I understand your dilemma since I had a similar yet different problem in my doctoral studies. I had not been required to take any graduate courses in philosophy. Therefore, somewhere along the way, I felt I lacked a solid grounding in the general field of philosophy, which embraces basic themes and questions about reality, truth, and value. I realized that these themes and questions were at the heart of my work with women. For that reason, I asked Betty if she would join my doctoral committee.”

“A number of my friends have taken courses with her, but I don’t know her personally.”

A few weeks later, Nancy decides to take the challenge to work with Betty.

Ways of Knowing

Can I handle it?
Today my own body especially speaks to me. I struggle with some residual post-operative pain from a sudden ligament tear in my right knee. It is difficult to keep my right leg in a fixed position. The usual propping I do with my spiral notebook doesn’t work. I think how much more problematic this would be if I were a dancer instead of a therapist. The pain is not unbearable, and I note that I do not feel too distracted. Yet it is good that the major responsibility for the session today belongs to Nancy and Betty.

The outer room now takes on the mood of a loving classroom. The large easel pad is ready. The lights are somewhat dimmed. We sit in a Circle of Knowing Women.

Therapist’s body

Betty begins. “Judith has gone over your work here thus far. The initial shooting, your hospitalization, your struggles to be a good mother to your son, your dealing with your visual and perceptual changes, and the physiological changes you have had to deal with since that day. And all of this occurring a short time after the death of your husband. I want to tell you how much I respect your courage. Judith tells me she has learned so much from you about the meaning of courage.

”So at the same time that you are struggling with a trauma to your body, your spirit is also housed there in every cell and every space between the cells. I understand that Judith has been working with you to give voice to your experience, and in so doing, then how do you create or structure some meaning for yourself? How do you keep your human spirit alive and well? And what kind of relevant knowledge or information do you need to help you? Do you agree with that short summarization?”

“Yes. That’s just about it, but I’m not sure about the courage part,” Nancy answers.

“Well, I am,” I interject.

“Nancy, can you tell me what are you hoping for or expecting from me today?” Betty asks.

Nancy returns to the theme that troubles her. “Well, I don’t know what knowing is. I rushed through this liberal arts college on a dance scholarship in two and a half years. The problem is that I mostly danced my way through! If I’m honest with myself and with you, I feel really stupid. And I have a question … if I can frame it. How do I get to know what I know? And I’m not even sure what I am really asking for here.”

“I understand—you framed the question very well. Many women come here with these kinds of questions. That’s where my work comes in. Let me draw something for you on the easel. You don’t have to copy these because I have made out these cards for you to take home.”

“I don’t think I could take notes right now anyhow,” Nancy reminds Betty.

“I understand.” Betty makes a large pie-shaped diagram and labels the three sections. “There are three basic ways of knowing, at least as far as we know—rationalism, empiricism, and metaphorism. Each of these represents a legitimate approach to reality. And there are different criteria for evaluating each approach.”

I danced my way through college
Nancy looks troubled. “I don’t know what you mean when you say a legitimate approach to reality,’ and I’m not sure what you mean by criteria’ here. I don’t know these words. They mean nothing to me. I’ve never heard them. That’s what I mean, and I get very anxious about this. I immediately feel stupid and scared.” Nancy’s body almost seems to withdraw from our space. “And I am having trouble since the shooting understanding words I used to know. Did Judith tell you about this?”

The seasoned teacher who has worked with more than one anxious student in her classes stays with Nancy. ”That’s okay. I understand. These are still new words for you, and the ideas or concepts behind the words may also be new to you. Just stay with me for now. Try to stay open to these new learnings. If you are having a problem with forgetting or not comprehending some of the words you used to know before the shooting, we can find this out together and help you. I want to introduce you to some ‘Big Maps’ as Judith calls them. And don’t forget we can meet for extra sessions on this.

Words and meaning
“When we think about how we get knowledge, or how we come to know anything about the self, nature, society, or the cosmos, there are three major ways, as I have said, in which we might acquire knowledge. First, there is rationalism or thinking. This approach claims that we will accept something as true if it is logically consistent. We will reject something as false if it is illogical.

“Second, there is empiricism or sense knowledge. Empirical knowledge refers to knowledge founded on experience, observation, facts, sensations, that is, concrete situations and real events.

“Third, there is metaphorism, which claims that knowledge is dependent upon the degree to which symbolic or intuitive cognitions can lead us to universal truths. The cognitive processes involved in metaphorism imply a more imaginative- creative mode of knowing than is implied by rationalism and empiricism. Greater overtones of emotion and deeper levels of consciousness are also implied.”

The woman who felt scared and stupid minutes ago now engages in a relaxed three-way exploration with us. She is silent for a few minutes and then says, “Judith, do you think my experiences with dancing fit the second category? I see now that even though I danced my way through college, I was still learning to be more aware of myself and the world around me in these different ways of knowing.”

“Yes, I think you are right on. You have also already made many rational decisions concerning the course of your healing and trying to integrate the experience into your ongoing life.”

“No easy task,” adds Betty. “You are a dancer, and the senses played an important part—the visual, auditory, and other senses—as you created your choreography. Regarding the third way of knowing—the intuitive, metaphorical, and symbolic—as an artist, creating new choreographic forms, you certainly must have tapped into your vast resources of intuitive and symbolic knowing.

“Besides your personal use of the modes of knowing, when you were in college, you were exposed to the various academic disciplines. The sciences, the arts, and the humanities in which different modes of knowing were favored. For example, if we want to know about nature, we can deduce that there is order and pattern from our sensory awareness of the natural phenomena around us. We can also create symbols for nature and the natural processes, such as nature as a great machine, or nature as a living organism.

How do we come to know anything?
“We can see these symbols made by the human mind evident in different views about mind-body phenomena. Some physiologists, psychologists, and doctors, for example, think of the mind-body as a machine. They tinker’ with the parts in their treatment of the mind-body. However, if we adopt a holistic view and consider the mind-body as a living organism, our theories and practices are quite different.”

Betty continues, “Each of us, as human beings, utilizes these processes of knowing. Furthermore, none of these ways of knowing operate independently of the others. We do not think independently of sensory input and symbolic and intuitive processes, nor do we use our senses independently of intuition and clear reasoning. As women, we are often led to believe that a certain way of knowing is more valued in society; for example, our sciences are valued more than our art or poetry. Each woman, however, is capable of being a giant beacon herself, expressing her understanding in many ways, as you do with Judith here in therapy.”

“I need to think about this. There is an awful lot to think about.”

I’m starting to worry, are we overloading her?

Then Nancy turns to me, the other mother in the room, and says, “I was thinking about being a mother. I think maybe I draw from all of these areas.”

“You are right on, and probably some of the ways that we mothers have not named yet and have not valued yet.”

I look at my watch. “I hate to say this but our time is up.”

Betty takes out some brightly colored, laminated index cards that she has prepared for Nancy. “Why don’t you keep these? We can follow through on these again if you want to.”

Mind-body phenomena
The outer room, which is a comfortable 12 feet by 14 feet, with our mindstretch and Betty’s maps, feels Universal. Nancy sits reflectively. I pray it has not been too overwhelming for her.


Over time, I learn that before her husband’s death, before her move to a new home after his death, and before the shooting, Nancy had been harassed by a phone caller who left sexually explicit messages on her answering machine. Because of this, she decided to get an unlisted number and even new license plates.

Close to the time of her 42nd birthday, I receive an urgent phone call from her. She has had another threatening call. This time a male voice said, “You won’t be alive by 42.” With this call, she feels twice victimized, twice terrorized, twice frightened and unsafe. She calls Chuck, a close friend of many years, to stay with her that night.

You won’t be alive by 42
As for so many women before her, for Nancy, freedom of movement collides with safety. We spend at least half of the session today talking about what she can do to help herself feel more safe. We visually walk through each room in her house, discussing how to make each room more secure. Lock on the basement door? Windows closed and locked before leaving the house? Battery-operated devices that will send off a loud alarm if a window is touched or opened? Setting her telephone so she can speed-dial the police? As women in a free society, we are both in a rage that we feel so unfree. We rage about the unfairness of it.

Freedom of movement and safety
Nancy has notified the police about the threatening phone caller, and she is relieved that he doesn’t call again. Though no further threat to her external security is apparent, her internal security is quite another matter. But, again, words collide with each other. Our language does us a disservice in separating inner and outer space. Where does the inner woman end and the outer woman begin? Where in a woman’s body is a secure and safe haven for her good mind? Her soul work? What are the safe spatial dimensions of a woman’s life? Where is a compass that can guide us on such a perilous journey? What maps and markers can we place for other women on similar paths?


Nancy comes in today dispirited because a date she was to have had with a man was canceled. “I feel like a ‘third wheel’ now.”

“What script did it set off in you that makes you feel so down about the date being canceled?” I ask her.

Which compass shall we use?
“The date represented to me that there’s hope, that I’m still attractive and desirable. Sometimes I take a personal inventory. The recurring theme returns. I’m this 42-year-old fat woman who’s just damaged goods, who’s just been shot, and maybe people can’t take that, either, you know.”

“People? —or men?” I challenge her. “I am not trying to invalidate what you said, and I understand that your thoughts and feelings here are common to a major trauma, but I want to appeal to your basic intelligence and to expand your thinking.

Personal inventory
“Some days I think there are thought-forms that stay in the chair you are sitting in. So many wonderful, bright, intelligent women before you have sat there and have had this same fantasy about that first date and its importance, and in doing so, given up their personal power. I think it’s his loss, not yours.”

“Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it!”

“Well, it’s the only way to look at, and it’s also true!” I tell her. “I know that this is a time in which you’ve had a loss of faith about the world and your place in it. Hang in there.”


Thought forms

“Establishing a safe environment requires not only the mobilization of caring people but also the development of a plan for future protection. In the aftermath of the trauma, the survivor must assess the degree of continued threat and decide what sort of precautions are necessary. She must also decide what actions she wishes to take against her attacker.”
Trauma and Recovery,
Judith Lewis Herman

Today, I have a gift for Nancy, a small canister of mace like the one I usually take on my lake walk meditations. We discuss the pros and cons of carrying mace as recounted by other women with whom I’ve worked. We talk about where to keep it, how to use it, and the importance of storing it safely away from her son.

Nancy is scheduled for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) because of some pain in her upper neck. An MRI takes pictures of the body in transverse and longitudinal sections. I am concerned about the confinement and claustrophobic feelings she may have when enclosed in the large, tube-like machine, but I remember only later about the very loud sound the MRI machine makes at regular intervals—which can sound like a loud gunshot, especially if you have recently been shot! More hospital rules to contend with. A friend accompanies Nancy to the hospital but is not allowed to remain in the room with her because of a recent change in hospital policy. However, Nancy is able to handle the procedure with considerable ease. I am not sure what my own reaction would have been in a similar situation.

The wounded woman who has had an assault on her body’s integrity and whose sense of control, connection, and meaning has been shattered, tells me, “I am now walking every day for an hour and a half, and I started water-aerobics class. I asked for an all-female class.”

“What’s this about for you? I’m curious.”

The wounded woman
“I didn’t want to deal with the male energy in that scene. I’ve always been uncomfortable about my body in a bathing suit, and I didn’t want to deal with it.”

“I’m surprised about this. What about showing your body when you were dancing? How is this different?”

“I guess I was so skilled, and there are always ways you can dress to make your body look longer. In dance you are holding your body in. I grew up in a studio, so I am comfortable in that enclosed environment,” she responds.

I remember something that Adrienne Rich has written, and I go to one of the bookshelves in the outer room and take out Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976). I read to Nancy,

“I know no woman—virgin, mother, lesbian, married, celibate—whether she earns her keep as a housewife a cocktail waitress, or a scanner of brain waves—for whom her body is not a fundamental problem: its clouded meaning, its fertility, its desire, its so-called frigidity, its bloody speech, its silences, its changes and mutilations, its rapes and ripenings. There is for the first time today a possibility of converting our physicality into both knowledge and power.”

“Wow. That speaks to me.”

We sit in a profound and knowing silence.

Laying a Life to Rest

At our next session, Nancy tells me the following vignette:

“I feel really good about this. I had packed up all of Ed’s things into one box after he died. I didn’t want to create a shrine to him, so I was selective about what I kept. You know, things I thought were representative of him and for Alex to have someday. Well, with Alex, I took the box from the basement and took out each thing and put it into a special Victorian trunk that I have always liked. Alex asked me a lot of questions about when is Daddy coming back and things like that, so we had a chance to talk about things. Now I feel there is a special place in my house for Ed’s things.”

“You know, it has always been women’s way to take everyday life events and make them sacred, to ritualize the sacredness of life and death as well. It feels to me that this is what you were doing. You set aside time with your son to remember his father. To make a sad event sacred and special.”

I had been reading The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects the night before, and I share a passage with Nancy. In it, Barbara Walker writes,

“No object or symbol is sacred in or of itself, as an inherent quality. Sacredness comes only from the attitude of people toward the object. A thing becomes holy because of the way people handle it or talk about it, teaching themselves, each other, and their children to feel proper awe in its presence.”

Adrienne Rich
Nancy says, “You know, it’s funny—one of the things I’ve noticed in working with you is we’ll talk about something and you might make a suggestion, sort of like thinking out loud. Then, though I don’t do things because I think I should, I’ll catch myself doing something and realize it’s something we’ve talked about. In the past, I would do what the therapist told me because I thought of it as a ‘should.’ It seems like you teach concepts and leave me free to decide how to apply them.”

“I appreciate your thoughts, because this is how I know whether my therapeutic interventions are useful.”

Nancy continues, “I want to share with you what’s been going on in the past few weeks. I’m feeling really good today, but it seemed to start on my birthday—this downhill slide, this dissatisfaction with myself. There was a period of time when I was totally exhausted. I had this depression, and my self-esteem was zero. I feel that I went through all this stuff and I really... and then I woke up and said,
Why did I survive? Why am I here?’”

“What was your mood? Can you describe it?”

“I was sarcastic, quick with people, bitchy. I was bottom-line unhappy with myself, my life, and everyone around me. That stayed with me until yesterday, when I was at a family reunion of about forty-five people, and I was inundated with admiration for my courage. There were lots of tears and love, and at the end of the day, I had no choice!”

“You had to feel better despite yourself.” We both laugh.

“Yes,” Nancy agrees, using her body as a compass. “I have this edge of impatience. I feel like I’ve gone from this fetal position to a toddler in a playpen with my vertigo, then walking, and now I feel like I can’t run fast enough.”

“Even if the shooting hadn’t occurred, you might be feeling this way because of Ed. I believe you are still grieving his death. I remember seeing a performance of mime artist Marcel Marceau in which he went from a fetal position to crawling, running, standing straight, then curling back up again into the fetal position of old age and death. Do you know it?”

She is familiar with the piece. “Yes, I feel just like that, and at the same time I feel that I am running in place and not getting anywhere. I really need a break from the kinesthetic and visual environment I’m in.”

“A kind of blankness and silence in which to further breathe and heal?”

“Yes. That’s it, I guess.”

I notice now the irregular movements of the muscles just below Nancy’s ribs. And with this observation, I suddenly have a flashback. I am at a dance recital in New York City. I am reading the program notes. Something about primal movements and all movements starting from the center – movement being located in the solar plexus. The muscle controls the breath and moves both by expanding and contracting, with whatever emotions are being expressed and.... My dance memory stops, and I come back into the room. I do not know at this moment if Nancy’s syncopated chest wall movements were there all along, or if my flashback changed my perception.


A therapist’s perception is not neutral. Perception can be affected by thoughts, images, or feelings from life past, present, and future. Certain memories from my past are evoked by my work with a particular woman, and those memories, in turn, will inform and affect what I see in that woman as we continue to work together.


The next week, Nancy is feeling even less good about herself.

“What’s it all about? I wake up thinking, Why did I bother to survive?’ I’m bored, dispirited. What am I supposed to do with this time? I want my life to be more than taking care of others, my business partners, my son. I’m angry with myself that even after what’s happened, I still don’t know what to do with my life,” she tells me.

Her struggle for meaning and purpose continues. I say. “The questions you are putting out are not that simple. They are complex, philosophical questions about the meaning of life. Be patient. You need time.” Nancy is challenged by her brush with death.

Why did I bother to survive?
“It scares me. What if this is what life is all about, brushing my teeth, dressing my son? I think I live for challenge, and in an odd way, the shooting was just another challenge. I like challenge, stimulation, change.” But she has not lost her ability to laugh at herself and examine herself. She theorizes, “Maybe it’s post-performance blues! First there was the performance of Ed’s death, then the public funeral, then another, as it were, public performance [referring to the shooting] on the heels of all that. And now this fairly normal time.”

Survival skill: laughing
“Earlier you said you were bored. Boring doesn’t sound like the right word to me. Is it more about being scared?” I ask her. There is a long silence in the room. I place an asterisk in my side notes to mark this unanswered question. Maybe my question is limiting.

“Well, I’ve been thinking about this. I’m very audience-motivated, and I’m not being viewed now. In looking over my life as a dancer—from three on—I never spent time in the studio alone. I would create on the spot in rehearsal. I can’t think of a time in my life when I’ve been alone to think, process, or create. My best thinking is happening here in this office. When I’m alone, it would be the last thing I would do, to sit and think. I’m more apt to do the laundry.”

Though Nancy is saying something important here about her thinking process, I decide to mark this as another side note and leave it for now.

“About your body, I want you to know that I experience you as having a strong physical presence—the presence of a singer or dancer, a performer who uses her body. I get a sense of people’s energy as we work. You project an unusual amount of energy.”

Word: boring
It is often the case that it is only at the end of a day or the end of a week that the significance of a particular session impacts on me. I later realize that Nancy has taken another step in bringing the knowledge of the dance and her experience as a choreographer into her healing process. She is using the dance as an integration of some sort and the beginning of her own unique healing.


Her extensive knowledge as a choreographer and dancer—spatial distance, spatial relationships, transference of weight, jumps, turns, body parts, paths and floor plan—all present within her brain, await the opportunity for re-expression in her now fragmented bones of skull and rib cage. I await their return and use again.

“After our last session,” I begin, ”I remembered something I had read the night before. Let me read it to you. It is a Buddhist quote of Toni Packer’s:

‘Let me respectfully remind you: Life and death are of extreme importance. Do not squander your lives.’

“Is this something like you were feeling?” I suggest.

“Yes. I often find myself thinking what is my life all about? Is this all there is? Then there are other times when I just withdraw. No thoughts are there, and I don’t know exactly where I am.”

“If it’s okay with you, I’d like to shift and talk about Ed now. I really know very little about your life with Ed, and, until I do, I may not be able to help you in this area, to understand some of the structures on which you have constructed your life story.”

Toni Packer
Nancy nods a yes. ”Well, he was always there for you, present to you, for you to feel more independent. His rock gave you the freedom to move,” she begins.

“Would you say things in the first person, please?” I remind her.

“Okay. When I think about Ed, what I miss most is his presence, his solid body. He looked grounded, very handsome. When we traveled, I felt safe, secure. He made me look better. He was such a good man, solid. Sometimes I question whether I was in love with him. I was marrying him from my head and not, perhaps, my heart. But I felt really, really sad. I could never touch his body. He didn’t like to kiss. I always felt sad about that. I decided that it was my problem, I wasn’t good enough, attractive enough. I wanted an intimate relationship, but that didn’t happen. His idea of sex was like taking heroin—to get high and to get relief. I had this fantasy that at some time it would all come together if I waited long enough.”

He made me look better
It is a very delicate and complex task for a woman to convey the multilayered experience of time, place, and feelings. At the same time, in the lived moments of this therapy hour, I must attune to the nuances of her emotional experience through the tone and tempo of her voice and the messages in her body movements. As I stay with the moment-to-moment unfolding, I am always making decisions about when and how to broaden the geography of her experience with new words and concepts. All of this takes place in the spaces and silences between our words and breath—the place of the human spirit. In these spaces new meanings and images are quietly germinating.

“You felt the responsibility for the relationship working? This is an important women’s issue here, that if you waited long enough and did the right things, everything would change. You were always imagining his potential. Is that right?”

“Yes. It was so confusing. During my pregnancy, he was the ideal partner. He would rub my back, things like that. Then I went into labor, and it was so bizarre. He went into denial that I was giving birth. He was not available during the labor, and the moment Alexander was born, Ed left. I had to practically beg him to come and pick me up from the hospital. He dropped me off at the house and left.

He was an ideal partner
“Ed was unavailable to me as a partner and a parent for the first six months of Alexander’s life. He drastically changed his appearance, got into old clothes, grew a beard, spent money we didn’t have, and stayed out late or all night. One night I asked him where he’d been, and he said, You’re not my goddamned mother!’ I was in a state of shock. I was trying to take care of Alex, go back to work, learning to be a mother.” She sits weeping.

“It seems to me that because of your inexperience, you had not considered that Ed was probably already using drugs around the time of Alexander’s birth, if not earlier. The drastic change in his appearance, his verbal abuse, and other oppressive behaviors would indicate this. Drug use would also explain his many disappearances and lack of availability and his eventual unplanned death,” I explain to Nancy.

Alexander’s birth
“When Alex was six months old, I sat Ed down and said, I don’t think we want the same lifestyle.’ I asked for a divorce. The next day he was like Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. He shaved his beard, got out of his old clothes, and started taking responsibility with Alexander.”

“What did you feel while you were talking just now—what emotion?”

“Anger! I never told him how angry I was. It was so hard. Not just adjusting to being a mother.” Nancy’s voice slows and softens, and she begins to cry again.

“So your feeling of being abandoned, and your loss, started long before he died.”

She sobs uncontrollably, and I hold her.

Mournful silence settles over the room.

“I’ve thought about this over and over. Maybe if I hadn’t set those strict rules before I was married about no drugs and alcohol, it would never have happened, though it seemed like a wise idea at the time.”

“Look, it’s important to understand that it seems that Ed couldn’t make a commitment to you. He still had to deal with the problems and monsters in his own life. I don’t think that what you requested of him had anything to do with his leaving this earth. It’s a lot more complex than that. You are giving yourself too much credit for having that much power over another individual’s entire lifetime of experiences. You carry much too much guilt around this, I think.”

Alex—six months old
“You know, I just made a quick correlation between Ed and the guy who shot us. Ed made it clear to me that he was very good at being a con man, and I remember thinking, He would never do that to me.’ When this guy said he had just escaped from prison and I saw the gun, I remember thinking, He is not going to shoot me.’ I don’t know where I get these grandiose ideas.”

“But it’s not grandiose,” I postulate. “We have to live in the world as if when we do good, we will get good back. But then we have this dilemma. Where do we make room for an experience like the shooting? Or Ed’s behavior toward you? And what is the alternative to putting out our goodness and caring for the world? What other choices do we have?” I continue, “As a white, middle-class, heterosexual woman, it is difficult to conceive of a world in which anyone would want to hurt you. Many women of color are far less likely to be so naïve and trusting in a country in which racism is so prevalent. The same is true for women who must live in high-violence neighborhoods.

“What in your personal history or belief system would allow you to believe that a man who has a gun does not intend to hurt you, that a man who says he is a con artist will not con you?

“The particular reaction you and Alison both had, that you thought you wouldn’t be hurt, was a great challenge for me—to stay with you, where you both were in your own process about trusting him, despite the fact that this man was pointing a gun at you. And, from where I sit, working with so many women, I’m thinking, God, look at the data! The evidence is overwhelming that these crimes are done by men. Yet at the same time, I understand your terrible dilemma. How do we get back our faith that the world is okay, a safe place for us?”

I look at the clock and add, “Before we stop, I’d like to know what particularly stands out in your mind about today’s work.” I leave the room for a moment to let the next woman know we are running a little late.

We have covered a wide range of subjects and feelings in this session. Often I do not know what a woman carries away from the session that is particularly useful, what new concepts may have come up. In addition, I must constantly monitor the effects of my interventions on the therapeutic process. When I return to the room, Nancy has an answer.

“The idea of abandonment. That’s a new idea for me.” She reflects on this for a moment.

“This has been a particularly emotional session. What do you need from me around this idea of abandonment?”

Con man
“I guess I need validation that what I’m feeling is part of some syndrome related to the shooting.” Her eyebrows are wrinkled, and she looks full of questions.

“It is, of course, symptomatic and typical of your posttraumatic stress disorder. You have been lonely and scared, and you have worked very hard to stay focused on your healing and caring -for Alexander. I think also you feel isolated. You have already indicated that you have been a very public person before this isolation. I don’t really know what you have experienced after Ed’s death before the shooting. We have only begun to talk about unresolved issues with Ed,” I tell her.

“He didn’t come to me about what was going on in his life, and I feel responsible, given his addiction and my total ignorance of alcohol and drug addictions. Looking back on it now, I realize that there was a pattern. Every year, for example, he had elective surgery, and he would then get prescription drugs. He said himself he was a real con artist. But I didn’t believe it.”

“What did you get out of your relationship with him?”

“You got a lot of support from him. No matter what, he was there for you. He would stop or cancel an appointment for you so you could spill your guts out,” she explains.

“Would you say
I’ instead of you’?” I ask Nancy again.

“When I was getting massage work once, I was asked to define independence. My
I need validation
sense of independence is to be tied to a rock, and if I know that rock is there, I can go anywhere I want with a total, absolute sense of freedom. This home base, I didn’t think I could supply it for myself. It had to come from a person who was incredibly grounded.”

“Who was your first rock?”

“Probably my mother.”

Word: rock=independence
I make another side note. Mother: First rock. I understand now that Nancy is more vulnerable because she has already felt disempowered and at times disconnected from her Self. We search for the history, Her Story, out of which these struggles have been built.


Today, at my request, Nancy brings in photos of Ed. She has been thinking intensely about him, their marriage, her low self-esteem, and Ed’s criticisms of her. She is feeling both guilty and sad. I see photos of earlier happy times, full of the ideals of romantic love and expectations.

In New Mexico, Native American fertility shrines are called Mother Rocks and they are incised with vulva symbols, seeds, rain symbols.

“I think I’m feeling guilty about the fact that I’m relieved that he is dead. Not for him, but for my life. Sometimes after work, I’d think about going home. I’d walk in on eggshells. I didn’t know what his mood would be. I had such a yearning to hug him, tell him I loved him, but it didn’t work. Then I got rejected so many times, I just stopped trying. I feel guilty that I’m glad it’s over.” We share a sad silence.

She puts down the photos in her lap. “I was feeling this low self-esteem and a bad body image and feeling really nervous, thinking about the first time that I go out with someone else, you know, on a date. I’ve been thinking about Ed a lot. He was constantly talking about my weight. I always thought it was me. Sexually, I started not taking care of me, my body. Instead, I was always taking care of him.”

“So, you thought you were the problem, and you thought you had to solve the problem.”

“Yes, and I don’t want to repeat that with the next person. I want to love my body however it is. I need to be able to initiate it first, and I need to be comfortable in a receiving place. It was always for Ed, not for my own needs.”

“Your need for intimacy and touch versus sex for its own sake or for his sake. You must have been pretty lonely.”

“I didn’t name that. There was room for me to express intimate things, but he did not like to hug or kiss. He did not like to be comforted physically—no back rubs, no hand holding.

“I was a classic enabler, I think.”

“Stop right there. That implies again that you were the problem!”

I’d walk on eggshells
The session timer buzzer goes off.


Again, the buzzer startles us
In our next session Nancy begins, “You know, I went to the local hormone clinic for a few years because I wanted to have a child. Even though Ed, my physician, and the therapist who Ed and I were seeing said I was crazy. Then I decided to stop the hormone therapy. You see, I had a clear vision of my womb being ready to receive a child. Guess what? I became pregnant two months later.”

“That’s amazing!”

“I have been feeling really sad about Ed. I feel he participated in life, but he didn’t live life. He was a character in a script in a movie. I was the right actress for the role. He was concerned about how things appeared. There was no core self to him. He learned what to do by watching the scenes of life.”

“But now you understand that the struggle was that you wanted more, to live more fully, to be more deeply engaged in life,” I reflect.

I had a clear vision
“Look, I think it’s important to name some things here. You were a psychologically battered woman. Why wouldn’t you want it to be over? I would worry more if you didn’t feel that you wanted it to be over. I’m not saying that he did these things intentionally to hurt you. He didn’t have it to give to you. He couldn’t give you something he didn’t have or didn’t know he was supposed to give. You were a verbally battered woman. He was abusive, and it was intermittent. That’s the strongest kind of reinforcer there is. You got a little of the good stuff and then all the negative stuff, and it was ongoing. You were not hit physically, but you were wounded in many other ways. What happened is that you were getting used to it, that is, not expecting more for yourself.

“You were objectified in that relationship, treated as an object. You didn’t feel entitled to anything more or better, and that’s what we have to examine. This is an important women’s issue here. We need to examine where you learned these things, that this kind of behavior is acceptable, starting with your family and then examining the culture at large.”

“Well, I think that most of my intimate relationships with men have been based on me putting up with things because I believed I didn’t deserve better,” Nancy speculates.

“Did this happen with your intimate relationships with women?”

“No, just the opposite.”

“How do you explain this?”

“I almost always felt more knowledgeable with the women. The women were less experienced in life than I was. They were mostly my students. When I was 30, I went out with a man for four years. I was always asking him why he went out with me. He was so much brighter, I thought. I think that’s why he left. He got sick of hearing me! I don’t blame him.” She’s able to laugh at herself now.

“Or maybe he left because he realized how bright and gifted you really were—even if you didn’t!”

“That’s a scenario I never thought about.”

“Start thinking about it if you’re coming for therapy here!” I tease.

“I have had a number of other adult relationships, but I still do not have a sense of what would be an equal, intimate relationship between a male and a female.”

“Not an easy task. There’s so much working against this.”

“I wonder what would have happened if Ed hadn’t died?” She leaves her own question unanswered.

That’s a scenario I never thought about
Nancy goes on investigating her own story. “I convinced myself that I had a lot of friends to get my needs met and a lot of cuddling with Alex, and I could masturbate, so I said to myself, ‘Stop bitching. You’ve got a good man here.’”

“You know, Nancy, we mourn not only what we had and lost, but what we didn’t have in the first place.”

“The last time I saw Ed, at the wake in the casket, his sister was hugging him and touching him over and over. I thought how he would have hated that, being touched. I went to him and kissed him and told him I forgave him. And at that very moment, I had this fleeting but greater understanding that he did the best he could, and I forgave him for his weakness and for the fact that he wasn’t what I needed. But I still get so angry.”

“Maybe the struggle here is more about forgiving yourself.”

Stop bitching
Crying softly, Nancy answers, “I feel like I let him down and that I couldn’t solve the problem, and I’m usually so good at that. All my life people have come to me with their problems, and I’ve helped them, but I couldn’t help Ed. If I could just let go of this guilt. Often, I think maybe I could have helped him.”

“How can you help someone who doesn’t ask for help? And when you helped him in the way he wanted it, it meant giving up your own life. Is it fair to trade off one life for another? It’s omnipotent of you to think that you could do all this for Ed.”

Maybe I couldn’t help him
“Maybe I can rethink this a little. Maybe the six years we had were the best years of his life,” she pauses. “Now that I think about it, I have another memory. I forgot about this. We had a list we had made early in our marriage. We had only recently looked over the list, and we checked off everything on it. Maybe when his list was over, he was done. Maybe he had done all he could do...maybe he couldn’t do any more....

“I used to feel, if he could just let go.... But if he let go, there was nothing there. No script. He felt absent, empty, a nothingness.

We had a list
“The only way he knew how, I guess, was to let go. Now I realize that. His total letting go was to do drugs. It was like his doing drugs was his way of passion. You know, lose your body in the process. The drugs were like a magic healing for him. It’s like in dancing the way you totally lose your body. That’s what he did with drugs.”

“Look. This is your journey now. This is about your healing.” I point to the poster on my wall that reads, “Love is what we’re here for.”

I say. “I will support you here. Your mother gave birth to you, but this is about your own rebirthing.”

Dancing and drugs
In the safety and quiet of the Inner Room, we begin to lay Ed’s life to rest, and bring back Nancy’s life.


Laying Ed to rest
Nancy is also doing energy work with a local practitioner and experiences some powerful visions, but she says she has not yet discovered what they mean. During one session, she has a vision about going to Sedona, Arizona, a well-known healing center whose therapeutic properties are often attributed to its unique geographical location. In addition to her vision, a number of events occur almost simultaneously during this same period of time: a co-worker gives her a book about Sedona; a co-worker of her friend Chuck tells him about a trip he has just taken to Sedona; and Chuck himself wins a round-trip plane ticket to Phoenix. And, oddly, Sedona is also a place that she and Ed had gone to several years before. The cluster of these events has a special meaning for her and seals her decision to visit this place again.

“Are you aware that the impressive number of events that have occurred simultaneously regarding your decision to visit Sedona is referred to as synchronicity? Recently, I was reading a book called The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and the Self.” I read to Nancy from Jean Shinoda Bolen’s work:

“Synchronicity is a descriptive term for the link between two events that are connected through their meaning, a link that cannot be explained by cause and effect…. An actual event coincides with a thought, vision, dream or premonition.”

Bolen goes on to explain the important differences that exist between synchronicity and causality:

“Causality has to do with objective knowledge. Observation and reasoning are used to explain how one event arises directly out of another…. In contrast, synchronicity has to do with subjective experience…. The timing is significant to the person, for whom the inner psychological premonitory feeling was in some unknown way linked to an outer event, which then followed.”

Based on a conscious choice to face danger and to work and live through it, and her trust that these synchronous events have some as yet unexplained meaning, in August, Nancy and Chuck decide to travel to Sedona.

Of Vortexes and Butterflies

Upon her return from Sedona, Nancy cannot wait to share her story. Her trip has resulted in one of the most memorable healing stories I’ve ever heard. The experience is so powerful for her that she feels sure she is meant to share it with a community of people. She has written a journal about this trip despite her difficulty reading, writing, and understanding many words and their meanings since the shooting. Later she gives me a copy of the journal, but first she tells me the whole story.

“We arrived in Sedona, and I had exactly the same experience as in my vision. We were driving down the road, approaching Sedona, and there was a clearing. It opened up, and you saw these magnificent red rocks jutting out of the earth. I got out of the car and just sobbed. Something about this vision moved me like nothing else I have ever seen, including the Grand Canyon. This place spoke to me.

“We checked into this rather drab little motel room, and I didn’t know what to do. I thought,
My God, I have to start this thing tomorrow, the first day of the new moon.’ I said to Chuck, What are we going to do?’ We went to the Chamber of Commerce and I picked up this flyer that described the New Age Center. We both looked at it and said, Let’s go.’

“It was five o’clock, and they were just completing this New Age fair. All these huge tables were covered with crystals. People looking like old hippies were all over the place. I said,
I don’t belong here, this isn’t my kind of scene.’ So we just sort of stood there for a minute, then, out of this back room, I swear to God, this woman walked into the room, looked at me, and came directly toward me. She was wearing a full-length white caftan, had silver hair and piercing blue eyes, and was wearing a huge cross around her neck. She walked up to me and said, I can help you,’ and I immediately burst into tears. I said, I don’t know what I’m doing here, I have come clear across the country. I had a vision of Sedona, but I don’t know where to start.’ She said, Come with me.’

“We went outside and sat down, and she held my hands. She said,
The reason you are here is because you need to do some healing.’ I started crying again, and she asked me what hurt. My husband died in September, and I got shot in February,’ I told her. And she said, You have come to the right place. This is what you need to do. You need to be here for four days.’ I said, Oh, my God, we had made plans to be here for four days.’ She said, There are four vortexes in Sedona; they are the four places of magnetic energy.’ She went to get a map, came back and showed me which direction to go. It was the reverse order of how the map shows tourists to do it.”

The vortexes Nancy refers to are known sites of highly charged electromagnetic energy, which many consider to be characteristic of mystical or sacred spaces.

Nancy continues, “The woman told me,
The first thing you are going to do is to go to Oakley Canyon. You need to bathe in the water. It has incredible healing powers. It will help you for the rest of the trip.’ I felt tingly all over. I looked at Chuck, my pragmatic IBMer. I said, What do you think?’ He said, I think she knows what she is talking about.’

“The woman told me Chuck would be my guide. I always thought I would find these spots. I didn’t know that Chuck would.”

“But you had already picked him as your guide from the other vision, right?” I clarify.

“Yes,” Nancy tells me.

Sedona healing
“We left the first day with backpacks, water bottles, and sunglasses. While we were bathing in the river, we noticed a magnificent yellow butterfly perched on the rock where I was bathing. I looked at this butterfly and remember thinking, It’s Ed, and he is coming with us.’ We walked for a good two hours but nothing felt right.”

“You were following the map?” I ask her.

“Yes, we were just walking down the river bed. Chuck said we had to cross the river. We crossed the river, got to the other side, and Chuck told me we were going up a steep incline. We started climbing, and he kept saying,
Go slow, just pace yourself, one step at a time.’

“We reached a small ledge, which was in total shade. Chuck said,
This is where we need to be.’ I disagreed, and just at that point, the yellow butterfly dived at my head. Chuck asked me to look up, and about thirty feet above us, the rocks went straight up and created a V. At the point of the V was high noon. The sun was moving in. We were soon bathed in sunlight.

Yellow butterfly
“It was amazing,” says Nancy. “The climb was intense, my whole body just started shaking. My hands and the rock were ice cold, but after about half an hour, my hands were burning hot. Chuck took one of my crystals and placed it on his forehead and burst into tears.

“On the second day, we climbed the second vortex. When we started out, it didn’t feel good. We could hear power drills. We always had the experience that we were in the wrong place. We walked two hours in extreme heat. I saw this precipice, and I said,
I think we have to go up there.’ Chuck answered, I don’t think so,’ and I said, Yes, this feels right.’ We walked up a steep incline, got to a ledge and looked down. There was the yellow butterfly.

“As we were walking, Chuck said,
We are going to go to the top of that mountain.’ I said, No way, let’s keep going. I think it’s up further.’ The butterfly went back to where Chuck had wanted us to go. We stayed up there for a little while, then both of us agreed that it was the wrong place. We climbed down, and followed the butterfly back. We walked through a prickly thicket to reach the base of a five- or six-hundred-foot peak. I was petrified. It was totally vertical, and he kept pushing me. At one point, I stood there crying, saying, I can’t do this. It’s too hard.’ But Chuck told me I could, and we reached the top.

“It was a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree, panoramic view. I took a piece of stone from each vortex, which I still have. I looked out over one place, and there was this rock that came out, and I saw in my mind an Indian standing up there in original clothing and everything, just looking out.

“Chuck started reading from a book about this place. I did my crystals. At one point I said, You have to stop reading,’ and I lay down on the rock. All of my skin was burning from the heat of the rock. With my eyes closed, I had these four visions, one right after the other.

“In my first vision, I saw myself as a young Indian woman, running through the forest. A young male was running with me. We were laughing and playing in the forest, and I put my hand on this tree and swung around and he came face to face with me. He placed his hand on my heart, and I placed my hand on his heart, and we just stayed that way for a moment.

“In my second image, I saw Alexander, my son, as a young man of around 28, as a warrior in modern dress. He was a warrior for humanity. He was doing something that helps humankind in some way.”

“How did you know he was a warrior?” I ask her.

Altered states and body heat
“I don’t know. I just had a sort of total knowing. And then, in the third, a very large black and white striped snake pushed its way out of the back of my head,” she continues. “It had been curled up inside my head right here, where the shooting was, and it came out of my head, went down my neck, my shoulder, my arm. The snake went underneath my heels and off the rock and away, and I knew in my mind that the snake represented all of the evil in my head, and it was leaving me.”

Nancy is anxious to continue her story. “My last vision was of a silver-haired man with big blue eyes. Chuck said,
Nancy, it’s high noon,’ and the vision suddenly stopped. In this entire experience, my mind felt like I was on drugs or something. It was intense, full of color, and vivid visions.

“On the third day, we encountered our third vortex. We went to Bell Tower, a tourist spot. We climbed a steep rock, ending on a ledge with a sheer cliff on one side. Chuck said, We have to go on,’ and I responded, I’m not going. It’s too dangerous.’ He wanted to proceed, so I told him I would wait for him. The yellow butterfly appeared and circled my head. I said to myself, I’m in the right place and I’m supposed to be alone.’”

“Was it a real butterfly or a vision of a butterfly?” I ask.

She reiterates, “They were all real butterflies. We never saw any others except at the vortexes.”

At this third vortex, Nancy had another vivid experience.

Serpentine energy
“An eight-inch lizard, a real lizard, appeared in front of me. It scurried out and stopped, two feet in front of me. I don’t like snakes, lizards, and bugs, but I looked at it, and said, Ed?’ and it cocked its head and I started talking to it. I told him all the things I had never been able to tell him. In my mind, I believed that the spirit of Ed in the butterfly needed to change into a lizard so that it could stay put, so I could talk to it. This lasted for probably fifteen or twenty minutes. I just emptied out.

“When Chuck returned, the lizard left. I told Chuck that Ed had been with me. Chuck played psychotherapist. He was wonderful. He has known me for a long, long time. He told me some really hard things, he didn’t pull any punches. He was just great. We both cried, and, as we stood up to leave, the butterfly came back. We left, so that was the Heart part of the journey.

“On the fourth day, we reached the fourth vortex, which I knew was going to be Spiritual. Chuck discovered a crevice in the rocks with a lone pine tree leaning out.
We need to go up into that,’ he told me. The spot was like a cave. I put my crystals out and also a small container of ashes that someone had given me when I was in the hospital. They were the ashes of a yogi teacher.

“We sat there for a long time,” she continues her story. “Wait, I have to back track. Before we got to the cave, we went to this one place and I said,
I think this is the spot,’ and Chuck said, No it’s not,’ and he said, Let me go over here and see if I can find it in this direction.’

“I was standing there, and all of a sudden my legs started shaking, and the wind started blowing real hard, and I heard a voice. I thought it was Chuck, but I looked around and it wasn’t. It was a woman’s voice. When Chuck reappeared, I started speaking what the voice was saying to me.

“I was Mother Earth and I was talking about the pain and incredible violence in my birth, the volcanic eruptions, the earthquakes and the earth’s splitting and these things jetting out, the oceans and glaciers and all this stuff. How I have spent my life adorning myself, I have been putting on make-up, and make-up is man’s landscape placed on me, changing my natural beauty into his concept, which is make- up. And that my jewelry, which is my factories and my cities and all those things, is getting very heavy, weighing me down, and my make-up is clogging my pores and not allowing my natural skin to breathe. I was getting tired, and I kept saying over and over Pay attention, I’m dying.’ Then the voice stopped, and Chuck was standing there with his mouth open. I said, I don’t know what that was about, but it was amazing.’

“We continued to another crevice. After Chuck read for a while, I told him,
You have to stop reading and be quiet.’ I took out the ashes and held them for a long time, then lifted up Chuck’s shirt, put the ashes on his heart, and on mine, then on my mouth.

A sudden gust of wind scattered the rest of the ashes everywhere. I gathered up my crystals, selected the stone to bring back from the fourth vortex. Then I felt my journey was complete.

Ed and lizards
“The descent was very steep, and I was scared. I put my hand where Chuck told me to, and immediately recoiled because I had put my hand on a crystal. Out in the middle of the desert, on the top of the mountain. I said, Oh, my God, there is acrystal here. What do I do?’ Chuck said, Well, maybe it was waiting for you. Take it.’ So I took the crystal and came down.”

But she hasn’t finished telling me of her spiritual voyage. “We continued to the Grand Canyon, where we spent time sitting on the rim of the canyon, talking about the meaning of life and time. We were also understanding that when we came back home, we would need to resume our lives even though we felt sort of purposeless in some way, you know, making money, buying groceries…

“All these things felt kind of silly, but we also recognized that people need to do them, to fill our life with things that feel important, because if we didn’t, we’d probably go crazy with our insignificance, in the global vastness of everything. Not only landscape vastness, but spiritual vastness and planes of existence, and all those things. Also recognizing that even though we are here for just a short time, it’s not about just us being here. It’s about what we pass on, and how that gets channeled into millions of different factions.”

The Sedona trip has changed Nancy’s life in a fundamental way.

“I feel very grounded, very energized, very healed and whole. I always listened to stories like this with a grain of salt, and I still do, even though I experienced it. My logical brain still says,
Well, somebody must have been hiking up there and the crystal fell out of their pocket, and there are probably hundreds of these butterflies, and it just happened. But we did see the butterfly as we left the crevice,” she reflects. “I looked down, and the butterfly was circling around. I said good-bye to it, and it flew off. I don’t want to live there, but I feel that Sedona is a place I will need to go to, maybe every five years, and take Alex.”

“A pilgrimage?” I asked. “I was trying to remember if that was the word you had used, when you said it wasn’t a trip, it was a…”

“I was also fascinated with the ability of quartz crystals as transducers of energy. One day, I picked up a crystal and began to tone into it. I found, much to my surprise, that specific harmonics were resonated and enforced by that crystal. I picked up another crystal and heard different harmonies being resonated and enforced.”
Healing Sounds,
Jonathan Goldman
“It was a mission!” she insists. “The place was crawling with New Age artists and psychics. I just felt that is not what I was there for. It wasn’t through people that I experienced this. It was through being in these vortexes, the energy there.”

She drifts off into another state of consciousness. “I think of the desert as infinity. I can do anything there. It made me feel bigger than life.” Long pause.

“You know, the desert has always been associated with finding or having a vision,” I suggest. “I believe that what you are describing is a transformative experience. With transformative experiences, there is a qualitative shift in one’s state of consciousness. The world is never experienced in quite the same way again.”

Word: a mission
“Yes,” Nancy agrees. “A while after Ed died, I had a dream in which he said everything would be okay, that he was okay now. The very next morning was when I saw a rainbow, which was very unusual. I felt it was a sign and that the dream was a dream of resolution for both Ed and me.”

Rainbow—a sign
“The dream and the image of a rainbow the next morning were synchronous events; they held profound meaning for you. Remember your work with Betty? We talked about three ways of knowing, through reason, through our senses, and through metaphorical knowing. Through synchronous events, we often gain knowledge of an intuitive or metaphoric knowing.”


In our next session, Nancy sits forward, upright in her seat, her body reaching out to me. “Did you understand last time the power of my Sedona experience?”

“Yes. Let me tell you a story about my Hysterectomy Tree. There is an old pear tree on the north side of my house. The pear tree has a large presence outside of my Glass Room. Seasonally, I watch the pear tree going through its cycles of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Often, at night, I go out on the deck and watch the placement of the moon in the sky in relation to this tree. This pear tree bloomed every spring, but the year that I had my hysterectomy the pear tree just didn’t bloom! Now, I know, and you may know too, that horticulturally speaking, there are some years pear trees don’t bloom, but that was not the case with this pear tree. This pear tree didn’t bloom the year I had my hysterectomy. That particular summer the natural world and I were in tune with each other, in a sort of simpatico understanding.”

Teaching story: synchronicity
Nancy reaches over and touches my knee. “I guess you do understand. That’s an amazing story.” Her eyes widen, and she says, “Getting back to synchronous events, before going to Sedona, I knew that if I went to Arizona, I would get my vision back. Maybe not the small v’ but the big V’—my third-eye Vision. It felt to me like a mission, not a journey.”

“What is the difference between the two words for you?” I question.

“A journey is chosen. With a mission, I don’t have any choice. There is a clear purpose to a mission. I am compelled to do it.”

Third-eye vision
“I believe that your vision came to you because you needed it. I remember something I read once, Go to the mountain and cry for a vision.’”

She responds, “It’s funny, I have never been a seeker of self-knowledge. I mean, I never examined certain planes of being. I’ve never been interested in holistic medicine, energy, and other ways of healing the way that Alison studies these things.”

I encourage her. “Different knowledge can be gained from different states of consciousness—what you call
planes of being.’ Whatever your approach has been, you have given a lot of energy and talent to this community as a teacher and healer in the performing arts. A number of women with whom I have worked over the past few years told me about how you arranged work-study scholarships for them so that they could study dance with you.”

“I think my way is intuitive,” Betty’s student responds.

“Yes, I think it is one of your ways. You had the core, the transcendent experience itself,” I explain. “You weren’t looking for someone to tell you something. The only way you could have those visions was through yourself, through your own exchange of energy with the environment.

“I was struck by what you said about we are just little specks in the vastness of Mother Earth. I know what you mean. If you examine the human capacity to have the experiences you had, there is some reason to know that we’re but specks, yet to transcend that state. I feel so enriched by the gift you brought to yourself and to me today.”

I have a strong desire to read her something by Barbara Walker that I read a short time ago:

Psyche was the Greek word for both
soul’ and butterfly,’ dating from the belief that human souls became butterflies while searching for a new reincarnation. The mythical romance of the maiden Psyche, beloved by the god Eros, was an allegory of the soul’s union with the body and of their subsequent separation.

But I do not read it to her because for Nancy her mission to Sedona feels whole and complete. This story belongs to Nancy, not to me.

Before she leaves, Nancy reaches out for my hands. She places a clear, quartz crystal in my palm.

“Here, this is for you. I bring you the energy of Sedona.”

The crystal sits on the Divination Table.

Staying Alive

Go to the mountain
The consequences of the shooting continue to present problems for Nancy. It has been two months since she started driving, five months after the shooting.

She begins her narrative, “A couple of things have happened that have sort of shaken me up, and I want to talk about them. I came home from Sedona with what I call my
Sedona high,’ but two things happened. I was in a car with a friend and had a near accident. I did not see some cars parked to the right of me and almost hit them. Cars are not usually parked in that place, so I didn’t expect them to be there. My friend screamed at me, and then I saw them and the accident was averted. The cars fell right in the path of the blind spot on my right side.

“Then, the second one was late one night when I was leaving Alison’s house. As you know, there are many dirt roads down where she lives. It’s really rural and isolated. Well, there was a T in the road and then a sharp curve to the right.” Nancy’s whole body is animated as she uses her arms to show me as graphically and spatially as possible what happened. “Well, I didn’t see the curve, went straight ahead and almost ended up in a ditch with an oncoming car approaching me. I was able to get the car in reverse and get out of the ditch before the car approached me. It was awful.

Five months since the shooting
“Both these things happened in the same week. I realize now that I am not scanning enough, and I’m not recognizing that I am not seeing. I’m not accepting the loss. I’m pretending that it’s not there. I’m getting too used to my faulty perception. You know, that this is how the world looks.”

“So you’re getting used to the blind spots now. I think you couldn’t really deal with the immensity of all of this a few months ago because you had so many other losses to deal with. I have been concerned about your vision and was somewhat surprised that the ophthalmologist let you drive. I thought you and I felt you needed more time for both your tissue healing and your psychological healing, as if we could really separate the two.”

“Well, he has never been open to expecting my vision to be any better. He thought I would be legally blind, but I surprised him.”

Nancy heaves a long sigh. She continues to amaze me with her resolve and her problem-solving skills.


I’m pretending
“I’m not giving up. Since this happened, I’ve made some changes. Number one, if there is someone else in the car, I will let that person drive. Two, if I’m alone with Alex, I am now moving him behind me because if I have an accident, it will certainly be on the right side of the car. Number three, I have slowed down, and I am consciously scanning and moving my head back and forth more frequently. Four, I won’t drive anymore at dusk or in the dark, and certainly I’ll stay off of country roads.”

“Let’s back up a minute. How did you react to what I said about your vision and driving? Were you angry?”

“I don’t know if I’m annoyed or angry. I guess I got defensive and just blocked what you said. I don’t want to get into any accident, and I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone.” She pauses. “If I get too cocky, it takes me down a peg or two. I need to be more conscious and more aware.

“I feel now that in accepting my disability, it doesn’t mean that I’m not a whole person. It means I’ll just have to take more action around it.” She pauses again. “The old family tape is I’m too
cocky,’ but I just need to not be so selfish when I drive.”

I’m not giving up
Side note: Cocky—old family tape.

“I’m asking you on behalf of yourself as well,” I explain.

“I know, but you see, I have such a strong sense of being protected. It’s like at the first vortex in Sedona. There was a scorpion there, and I said to myself nothing will ever happen to me.”


Our work is particularly uplifting for both of us today. Nancy is elated.

“Guess what? You won’t believe this. I can now read much better. But some words still don’t make sense to me. It’s like I have never seen them before, but I’m feeling much less limited by it, more challenged by it.”

Word: cocky
“Well, I thin Needing clarification, I ask, “What do you mean by ‘challenged’?”

k originally, because it was so frustrating, I would give up. I was saying to myself,
This is too hard, this is something I am going to have to live with the rest of my life…’ And now I’m saying, This is just another challenge, Nancy. You can overcome it.’ I need to read more and more, every day. That’s how I’m going to overcome it. That’s what I think.”


It is a hot day in August. My voice leads. “After you left last week, the woman who was scheduled immediately after you said to me,
I would like to have that woman’s positive energy. I really picked up her energy as she came out, and it felt very spiritual.’”

“Did she notice me because of how I dressed or how I looked?”

“No, she said it was an unusual energy field. This woman herself lives in a spiritual community. She is a Sister of Mercy, and she picked something up in you. Since she is legally blind, she did not experience you by seeing you. I decided it would be okay with you to tell her you were one of the two women who was shot and had recently been on your own spiritual journey, because you and Alison already gave me permission to do this.”

“Of course it was okay, and that really interests me because I want to tell you something that happened. Last night, one of my friends said,
You look so beautiful.’ I said, I feel beautiful.’ Now, even saying those words feels different. If I had said that a number of years ago, I would have said it was too boastful, too egotistical, but when I said it last night, I knew it had nothing to do at all with how
Word: challenged
I see myself in the mirror. It was about how I felt inside.”

I am excited for her, but I do not interrupt the flow of her narrative. It is as if she knows the other {mumble} of 201

“I am really thinking about this sort of new concept, that is, that we can create our own lives. In fact, taken to the extreme, I could say that I created the shooting, but I don’t believe that at all now. But I do recognize the change in me, given my traditional Christian background about sin and punishment. Now I really find it hard to believe that stuff. I realize I can create what I want now. I don’t want to sit here and sound omnipotent, but I feel we are more in control and can support our lives more than I ever thought we could.”

“Omnipotent? To feel creative and in charge of your life is omnipotent?” I ask her. “I want to add something here. It was the child who felt these things, but now you are an adult woman re-examining this.” Always looking to enlarge her map, I add, “Do you have a sense of when this qualitative shift occurred?”

“I became conscious of the change since the Sedona trip, but I think I have been in some kind of transition since I started thinking about the idea of
trust the dance.’ When I took that personal-growth workshop, I asked this person, why didn’t I have a child? This was before Alexander. I was told that I didn’t believe that I deserved it.”

“So not being able to conceive was a punishment of some kind?”

“Absolutely, at least that’s what I thought.”

“You really believed then that some higher authority was punishing you in some way?”

Word: omnipotent
“Yes. I don’t remember if I told you this. It was something my mother said to me. I was about 5 or 6. She accused me of being self-centered, and that struck me so deeply. It was as if my mother had said, ‘I think you are a murderer.’ I carried that with me all my life, that people would perceive me as self-centered or selfish. And then seeing my mother’s martyrdom, of putting herself last, taking care of everyone else first—all that stuff. I just went with it, but now I am trying to pay attention a little more to this.

“I see now from our last few sessions that I never valued myself or acknowledged my own success. I thought that my dancing and teaching skills were just gifts from someone else. I managed to ignore or discredit the many hours of hard work that I put into my dancing from about age 3 onward. I thought that it was a natural ability and that it didn’t count.”

Remembering my own childhood as a musician, I have some questions. “What was your mother’s reaction to your dancing?”

“Well, she was highly critical and rarely satisfied. She was also very encouraging. I got support, but I didn’t get applause from her or from my father. As I grew older and switched from commercial to more experimental dance, they didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t support it.”

“How did you know that your mother loved you unconditionally outside of dance? That’s not easy for a child to separate out: loving you, but not your performance.”

“Well, she was always there. She was consistent. She was not consistent in her positive support, though, and I felt that my father didn’t love me for a long time. I didn’t understand until I was about 35, when he had his own life trauma and needed support, and he started opening up and letting go of the macho stuff.”

“So you equate your mother’s love with performing well. The seeming contradictions of both encouragement and criticism from your mother must have been difficult. You equated mother love with performing well?” I repeat.

“I guess I did.”

“And you were always trying to please, not uncommon in creative and gifted child performers. These children also have standards of their own regarding perfection.”

“Yes. I loved performing.”

We discover Nancy’s experience as a child dancer gave her strength, but it was simultaneously a means of being pleasing to others. She reflects often on this. “Dancing and performing was my whole life. I loved every minute of it. There was no inner self—except for the pleasure of dancing.”

As Nancy talks about her Child Dancer Self, I am reminded of my experience as a child performer, although her situation was different from mine in many respects. I flash back to my 8-year-old cellist - self, practicing, practicing, practicing. Lessons, music theory, and string ensemble rehearsals. After school, music activities every day but Friday. More practicing at home. From an early age, I knew only this schedule, but it was a life not shared by the other children in my family or neighborhood. I often felt a split between my music life and my neighborhood life. Sometimes this felt like a wonderful privilege and a joy, at other times, a lonely separation from my classmates at school.

I loved performing

The pleasure of dancing
What I gained was a special way of knowing and openness, a mental and spiritual synchrony with my instrument, the experience of attunement in every cell of my body. What I lost—and what I think Nancy missed, too—was the spontaneous playing and socializing of most children. I don’t know if my tendency to be a private person resulted from this experience of my childhood or from an innate, temperamental mood, or from my particular family circumstances. I suspect it is a blend of the three.

What I do know is that Nancy and I share the love and experiences of the young performing child who has lived that altered state of consciousness given to us by music and dance. I know exactly what she means when she says to me, “I had no inner self except for the pleasure of dancing.” She had in those moments transcended self.


As the tissue healing continues, Nancy is able to engage more fully in the world of ideas. In turn, the ideas contribute further to her ongoing healing.

“I’m really excited about your book and I’m curious to know why and how it has taken shape. I like that you asked me to collaborate. It feels to me that it could be another part of my healing. You know, to let other women know how I’m healing. I want to say that it really happened to me, and what happened.”

“Exactly! Our collaboration is the core to the book. As I see it we are bound together. I cannot tell your story without telling my story, and I cannot tell my story without telling your story.

“Typically I could tell your story at a professional conference, or I could write a professional article. Your therapy experience would be shaped to fit the definitions and examples of pathology so common to psychological theories. Your words and mine would be usurped by the profession.”

“What do you mean by ‘the profession’? Aren’t you part of the profession?”

“Yes, but I feel that the way language is often used by a profession can be a form of oppression. The medical model, which is basically a scientific model, promotes a philosophy that may also silence both me and you. It silences our stories. At the usual case study conference we might hear just a few quotes from a woman’s therapy session. These words are used to prove one or another of whatever Great Theories are in vogue about a woman’s development, or her supposed
pathologies.’ Her own words are blotted out, lost, by the technocratic language of the profession. Too often a woman’s life can be examined in demeaning ways.

“As I see it, you and I are also bound together and made invisible by a professional code of ethics regarding the confidentiality of our work here. Of course, each woman is entitled to and expects confidentiality here, but what if you and I decide to tell our stories together? Imagine the impact of this! It usurps the whole concept that there is an authority out there who knows us better than we know ourselves.”

“And it brings together the therapist and the woman in a new way,” she adds knowingly.

“Exactly. The shape that our stories take will reflect our actual dialogues, not only a psychological explanation of what you say. As I see it, the process of our dialogue is the healing itself. Also, your stories and my stories are selected stories.”

Gifted children
“You know from your own work here, you don’t bring your whole life into therapy. You bring stories about your life. Then these are strung together to make a life story. However, in the telling of these stories to me, you are influenced by what I might particularly pay attention to. In addition, I may pose some questions to you, for clarification or for additional amplification. In other words, some of your stories I attend to more than others. In what directions do my interventions take your story?”

“It felt like you were going in my direction.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear that because I tried to stay with what your own goals were. I have also observed that my own repertoire of stories changes as I work with each woman. Your stories have an impact on me. And there is another aspect to this. You will know about events in my own life that are relevant to your own therapy. Another woman may know different aspects of my life because of what her story evokes in me. I think that as we examine our stories together we both create enlarged and richer stories for our own lives and for each other.”

Therapy stories
She is very curious now and starts her own line of questioning. “I never thought of this, but I guess you have to know how to spot a good story while we are working, one that will bring out or reveal something about me or my life. How does a therapist spot a good story?”

“That’s an important question. Well, I have been mapping this process over the years. First, I have to examine my own life experiences. These are packages of emotions, cognitions, behaviors, values, and feelings all tied together. Then I must ask myself some questions. What did I learn from my own packages? How did I or others in my life contribute to the story? How does a particular story from my own life match what might be of value to you? Also, I must be clear about the various maps with which I am examining my stories. How do I classify them or categorize them?”

“So your work is not neutral,” Nancy realizes.

“No therapy is. All therapy comes from a philosophical position. It is my opinion that a therapist is either part of the problem or part of the solution for women.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, a therapist either supports the status quo, about how women are supposed be according to the Old Rules, or a therapist supports change, that is, what we might possibly become.”

“Through what lens—or did you say maps?—do you examine a woman’s stories, or my stories? I’m curious.”

“There are two parts to that question, I believe. First, I go from your own goals outward. Where have you been and where do you want to go? Secondly, what situations are limiting your movement forward, toward your own goals? This is what Paulo Freire, the great Brazilian philosopher, calls
limit situations.’ Then, I must think about what knowledge or experience you need from me that will move you in the direction you want to go. Our limit situations are embedded in a cultural and historical field that must also be taken into account.

Spotting a good story
“Getting back to the official language of therapy. I recently discovered a tape recording of Toni Morrison giving her acceptance speech when she received the Nobel Prize Literature. Her words really speak to me. She said that ‘language is a living thing and that it is an act with consequences.’”

“I like the way you share your knowledge. I could have easily been shaken now with those complex words and images, and as I worked with you and Betty.”

“What do you mean?”

Toni Morrison

“I could have felt intimidated. Instead, I felt empowered. It could have been a humiliation, instead it was a joy. I can see how knowledge in therapy could be used as power over a woman.

“I’m beginning to understand what you mean. I was thinking about your book at home. I really like the concept a lot. How it’s a woman’s journey and you are there for her. One of the things I really like about working with you is that I am doing my own therapy. You don’t say, ‘It sounds to me like this and this.’ I come to my own conclusions, with your help. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what it’s all about. I love it.” The darkened, sad face of the earlier days is gone now. She encourages me further.

“Well, at first I thought I could just sit down and start writing, but instead I spent the past two years studying and thinking. One of my immediate problems in writing was with what voice will I express myself? The same problem that almost every woman I work with brings in here. The problem of voice.”

“That’s very interesting. I thought you had it made!”

“Not exactly. I’m just older than you, but wisdom requires further work!”


Power over—write Jean Baker Miller
It is October now. Maple tree seeds are spinning like kites in midair and fall upright on the brown and still warm autumn ground. The oak trees release their young acorns. The lake water is colder, and the air is less humid.

Almost eight months after the shooting, Nancy “tests” herself by driving in her car past the Massage Center, site of the shooting. Then, as do many other women who have experienced a major trauma, she continues to challenge herself by taking a plane trip with her son and having a field day, as she puts it, in New York City.

Nancy also resumes working full time, but she is beginning to make time for other activities in her life, as well. She is introspective about her present career. “I don’t want to be selling real estate the rest of my life. I don’t want to be doing sales.” She notices she no longer feels like she has to take care of everyone else. She lets people solve their own problems.


A month later, Nancy and I spend some time talking about additional surgery that she needs, a cranioplasty, in which an acrylic plate will be constructed over the hole in her skull.

“I’m not nervous about the procedure,” she tells me. “I expect it to go well.”

Mother and child travel
I pull out an anatomy book, and we go over exactly where her surgery will be done. She notes that the part of her brain affected by the shooting has to do with vision, hearing, memory, and coordination. Although she seems well prepared for the surgery, I ask her if there is any help she needs from me.

“Well, the two things that have come up for me around going back in the hospital are, one, that I have gotten in touch with my anger over the shooting. I am so pissed, so angry that I have to go back into the hospital and deal with this again. In the grand scheme of things, I understand it is just one step backward, but I am annoyed with standing still this way. Last time, I had no choice in the matter. This time my life is moving along. My son is doing very well. The thought of having to be dependent again has infuriated me. My parents are moving inagain. I know I can do it, and it will be a short period of time, but I don’t want to do it. You know, waking up in the morning, and my mother asking me how I am before I am even conscious!” She laughs.

Alex doing well

“Well, it may be too late to change your plans, but you didn’t have to ask your parents this time. You could have tried other people.”

“I thought about that a lot. The point of view I took was that it was best for Alex. A new person would be more disruptive. My parents know my house. It just seemed easier.”

“So, you’ve actually gone through a process of thinking this whole thing through.”

“I guess I have. I’ve done a lot of preparation with Alex. I started to talk with him about my surgery just a week ago, and this week he has experienced a lot of clingy-ness, coming close to me, patting my head, and getting into bed with me. So I just talk him through it. What do you think?” asks the Younger Mother of the Older Mother.

“Well, I think you know your son better than I do. The problem is that a child his age doesn’t have a good sense of time. Hecannot project that there will be a
time’ when you will be back again. Add to this the loss of his father.”

We continue to problem solve together about reinforcing Alex’s sense of continuity over time.

“Why don’t I use a big calendar on which I can mark off what’s happening each day?” Nancy asks. “That will reinforce things for him.”

“Well, try it. He will not necessarily get a better grasp of time, but your voice and reassurance about the future, when you’ll be home, etc., will be grounding.”

“And I’ll use soft animals and read to him. I do that anyway.”

“Good. Then he can hold the animals and remember your voice, and it will link you across time.”

“I wrote some cards before I went to Sedona, and I think it helped him when I was gone. I’ll do that, too. I’m worried. He’s still pulling and twisting his hair at night. I don’t know if this is a nervous habit and what I should do about it. Should it be redirected, such as giving him a doll with long hair?” We end up deciding that he may need to soothe himself in this way, by experiencing the feel of his own hair.

Helping Alex
Nancy continues, “I am still trying to get him toilet trained. At age 3, he gets upset if he has an accident, and I try to assure him that it’s no big deal, while applauding him when he goes in the toilet.”

“Well, his ability to retain his stool is a source of power for him at a time when he feels he isn’t controlling much else. I don’t think that just before your surgery is a time to worry about this, or to make any additional changes in his life.”

Toilet training
Nancy continues, “I am really more concerned about my father’s habit of telling Alex, Big boys don’t do that’ whenever he cries or cuddles.”

“Why don’t you tell your father that your therapist says that’s not a good idea?” We both laugh.

“I think that maybe you can help me cope with my parents being around again. It’s such a setback.”

Big boys don’t do that
I question her labeling of her experience. “I think that ‘setback’ is not a helpful term, although I understand your rage and your frustrations. The issue is more about you and your relationship with your parents than it is about your son, but you and your parents are not in the same place as before. Is there a more useful term than ‘setback’ so you don’t feel so powerless about it?”

There is a pause while Nancy reflects on this, but I continue despite my question, as therapists are apt to do.

Word: setback
“It’s about what all this means to you, to be temporarily dependent. What about thinking about the term ‘interdependent’? If we think only using the terms ‘dependent’ or ‘independent,’ we have no middle range, just two polarities. These two polarities don’t help to explain adult needs for helping and cooperating with each other. If you think about it, this is the time in your parents’ life when they have the opportunity to give to you. They won’t be able to later on as they get older. Intergenerationally, this is their time; later it will be your time.

Word: interdependent
“Speaking of motherhood. Did you know that the early written language of the Chinese consisted of drawings called pictograms? They were used to express concrete ideas, like sun and moon, or man and woman. However, emotional and intellectual ideas could not be expressed at all in this way. So through the combinations of images called ideograms they could express much, much more. I think this is really beautiful. The Chinese character for good’ is formed by combining the pictograms for woman’ and child.’ The essence of goodness is epitomized by a mother’s caring for and nurturing her child,” I tell Nancy.

“How do you know all of this?”

“It’s important to my work with women, and I love to read! I was reading one of my favorite books last night. Barbara Walker’s Encyclopedia of Women’s Myths and Secrets. In it she notes that Pliny—you know, the Roman historian—recorded that studying the heavens in order to foretell events such as eclipses was traditionally the business of women. Mathesis, which literally meant ‘mother wisdom’—the word ma means ‘mother’ in ancient and modern languages—meant divination by the stars. So it is pretty clear that the first astronomers and mathematicians, which literally means ‘learned mothers,’ were women.”

“I guess that goes along with Betty’s chart, doesn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, how there are many ways we can try to understand and find meaning in the words. From what you just said, women back there were already working at all three levels.” She looks triumphant, now owning her own good mind.

“Yes, that’s it. Great how you have integrated all that. How does this feel to you?”

Word: mathesis
“Powerful. Powerful.”

“Before I forget, I want to know what denial is going on around your vision. I just caught myself wanting to give you something to read, forgetting that is still a problem. You do such a good job of covering it up!”

“I am forcing myself to read. I usually use my finger, and I still hate it. The other day I had to fill out a form at the hospital, and I had to read this word several times. It was like a foreign word. The word was
started.’ I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t recognize it!”

“Well, what do you want to do about this? I think after your surgery we need to look into this further.”

“Under the surface, I beat myself up again and again. I get so angry with myself,” Nancy admits.

“It must be totally frustrating for you. At this point, I feel you may be conning everyone, but mostly yourself.”

“I’m such an independent little brat.”

“Brat? You have done very well with your own healing, taken charge of it, but this is an area you can’t do alone anymore. You need help. With your permission, I’m going to do a little research into your perceptual problems. We’ll put it on hold for now.”

She agrees, and I am relieved.

In early November, she goes into the hospital for her surgery. Blessedly, all goes well.


It takes courage for a woman who has been harmed by another human being to continue to move toward other human beings rather than to isolate herself. In the months following her second surgery, Nancy has started dating again, but she has encountered some problems.

“I’m so angry. Someone asked me out who was dating a friend of mine. I called her and told her what he was doing. I wouldn’t go out with him. You know, this is a small community, and I have respect for my sisters out there! To make a long story short, my friend confronted him, and he ended up apologizing to both of us, and she sent me a thank-you note. How’s that?” she asks, feeling empowered.

“What a difference it would make if we all were there for each other! Loving ourselves and each other first,” I reflect.

In February the first anniversary of the shooting passes without incident. Nancy and Alison mark the occasion by reflecting on the event and on the progress of their lives since then.

By the end of the month, Nancy asks for a short reading list. She has begun to think of herself as “differently abled.” She is ready to know more about the extent of her brain damage, ready to take another step to gain the information she needs. However, when her ophthalmologist tells her there is no change in her vision, Nancy decides as usual to trust her own healing and not focus unduly on the report.

First anniversary
There are days when we go to wherever it is the human spirit goes for repair, a place where we can exchange the particles and waves we need for healing. A bitter cold winter of snow, sleet and hail dropping from the sky has passed. On my lakeside meditation today, the gray limbs of my earlier perceptions have given way, and I see the orange-pink blossoms of the sugar maples and the lime green of the young willows coloring the countryside.

Nancy agrees to go ahead now with a neuropsychological evaluation. The report arrives at my office before we meet again. It reads, in part:

“At this point the patient…continues to be aware of visual impairment. On direct gaze she is most aware of her lower left quadrant defect…. Her experience of this is of pieces missing from a puzzle in the lower left field. In other situations she is also aware of right visual field loss. She needs to consciously increase scanning movements while driving. She reports significant difficulty with reading, some of which is related to her primary visual disturbance. She has a hard time following a line of words because as she reads from left to right she is continually falling into blind spots…. Her reading difficulties are so significant and frustrating that for a long time she had other people read letters to her, or only read what she absolutely had to, in order to function at work.”

The report continues,

“She has a newfound belief in herself, is feeling like she can handle anything, and self-esteem is good. She reports that she has resolved her grief over her husband’s death as well as her feelings about the shooting. She reports occasional but not frequent depression. She reports having had visions during [massage] work as well as channeling experiences, and would perhaps describe herself as following New Age thinking, but there is no evidence that would constitute a delusion or hallucination. Thought process is intact….”

The psychologist who did the evaluation meets with us in my office. She recommends that Nancy be referred to a speech/language pathologist, but Nancy chooses not to do this.

Exploring Old Relationships

Nancy is reaching today beyond her recent traumatic events and is exploring some of her childhood messages. She returns to an earlier theme.

Neuropsychological evaluation
“I remember my mother always told me I was selfish, greedy, and self-centered. Most of my life I have tried to prove her wrong. Someone told me that Marilyn Monroe had a recurring dream about giving birth to a deformed and maimed child, and that this was a projection of her own self-image deep inside. I was Nancy, a Barbie Doll, plastic, smiling, predictable. My most terrible fear is that I am a plastic doll without feelings. I thought I smashed the doll years ago,” she sighs plaintively. “When I performed as a child, my mother criticized me a lot.”

I ask Nancy why she thought her mother did this, and she answers, “My mother had her own losses and disappointments. She probably didn’t want that to happen to me. My mother never finished nursing school. She gave everything to my father and her children.

“She lashed out at me, I think, because I was the oldest and the only girl. I think she thought I could take it emotionally, that I was strong. My brothers didn’t have the emotional strength or temperament that I did. They were taken care of and protected. They were the ones who would get their college education. There was no plan for me. I got my education on a scholarship.”

“I understand.” I then change course. “Tell me about your vision. What are you seeing today?”

“Well, my vision hasn’t changed. About one quarter of my left eye in the center is blank. I only miss it if I move my head. When it’s still, I don’t notice it. I have less vertigo, and I’ve become aware of what brings it on, moving my head too much or leaning my head back. The doctor thinks it’s my cerebellum, that the message to my brain gets scrambled. Balance doesn’t have only to do with the inner ear, you know, but is maintained with input from the environment. So my brain needs time to adjust. He said it won’t change the damage, but I’ll adjust to it eventually. I still get headaches in the evening.” Her voice softens.

The buzzer goes off.


During this first period of her therapy, Nancy and I have worked on some major themes. She has dealt with the loss of her husband, traumatic physical changes, and her loss of autonomy. She has had to accept the help of her parents and has tried to reclaim her personal power at home and at work. In dealing with the recent events of her life, she also begins tounderstand that the representation of herself is just that, a representation.

She complains about the fixed smile she presents to the world. Is there nothing else to be? Is there no other way? This is the beginning of questioning the tacit assumptions of our culture.

Striking images run throughout our work together. The smiling plastic Barbie doll, the pirouetting child dancer, the female child who must care for the valued male siblings…the adult woman looking good for others, doing and performing for others, seeing her body through her husband’s eyes, and attending to men. Despite their obsolescence now, these images keep her fragmented, like the metal bullets that also fragmented her life.

There is This Nancy sitting before me and the Other Nancy. The one that is here now and the one that has fallen into the darkness but still shouts for space in the dialogue. Images are colliding, pushing, and struggling for expression. Scenes expand and contract, smells and sounds are emitted. The Barbie doll and the child performer sit waiting for space and voice.

The buzzer again startles us
The bloody, red, metallic collage map of two wounded friends gives way slowly and imperceptibly to another map. My new map has the beginning features of a time picture, a kinetographic map or script of the flow and movement of a woman’s body in space with the development and variation of motifs. The new images give the old map a living space, a free movement in space. It expands and stretches beyond the other. It has breadth, height, depth, and width not evident in the previous constricted one borne of violence. I watch and record the motifs and guide their progress, the organizing devices that expand our work outward. Asin the ancient circle dances, we improvise with the spontaneous and sometimes transient movement of the body in thought. Like two choreographers, we are both creating a design in time.

Also like choreographers and dancers, we observe and identify the nature of movement and its everyday communication between us. Nancy’s therapeutic movement through time has not proceeded in a linear fashion. She shifts back and forth between the content of her livedexperiences, the meanings she makes of these, the feelings her stories evoke, and thepassions that energize her into action.


Therapy and choreography:

“The motif is used as a structural basis for the composition. There will nearly always be more than one motif, and different outcomes from each motif must somehow merge into the whole mass with clarity and significance. The motifs themselves create time pictures by the movement which lasts an amount of time, has changing intensities and accents, pauses and stops.”
Dance Composition, Jacqueline M. Smith-Autard
It is almost two years after the shooting, and Nancy initiates a second series of sessions with me. It is a cold winter again, mild after sub-zero days. The snow plows have heaped two feet of snow in mounds sothat I cannot get to my winter shoreline. I will need my snowshoes for that. Three mallardducks swim together. The lake close to the shore has started to freeze and a frozen wave afew feet from the shore follows the contour of the autumn shoreline of my memory. A fewflakes are coming down.

At home, for the first time since the shooting, she opens the box of clippings and stories she has collected since that time. “I have been overwhelmed and not ready to see them before now,” she tells me. “One photo taken soon after the shooting really surprised me. How much the photo did not look like the person I knew myself to be. The person in the photograph is fragile and withdrawn, wounded looking. I am beginning to recognize a strength in myself now that I had not seen prior to the event.”

Significantly, Nancy courageously attempts to read more and more, which makes more information accessible to her. The post-traumatic existential questions tumble out again. “Do I deserve to be happy? Do I deserve to have anice life? What am I entitled to? Two men have proposed marriage to me, and I am so confused about this.”

Do I deserve to be happy?
She leans forward and stretches out her arms, using the space in front of her as a dancer would. “It’s like a big book,” she explains. “This book represents all of the things I have wanted in life, but there are two sides to it.” She stretches out both arms with greater easeof movement than in those bleak days of winter two years earlier. Her arms now appear to be rooted in a living body. Her breathing is deep and regular. She uses her left and right arms to show the two sides of the book.

“There is a split on the page. On the one side there is potential, challenge, promise, and struggle. On the other, lack of trust, lack of security. Why am I drawn to these split situations?”

She continues, “You know, I’ve been thinking about my family. My mother was my father’s servant. Her needs were met last. There was always money for my father’s needs. He came first. I never believed that my father loved me. With men, I am constantly seeking approval. I can give unconditional love, but I don’t ever get it back. I have been really scared to go for this package. Why am I in such torment regarding trust?”

“What is your definition of the word trust?”

“One person telling me the truth, being monogamous. He would always be there for me, putting my needs into his life. There’s Bob. I can’t trust Bob. I feel insecure with him. He has such inappropriate behaviors, and he’s manipulative. Then there is Richard. His wife recently died of cancer. He is bright, spiritual, honest, and caring, with two teenage children. He has a positive attitude. It feels wonderful to be with him. He wants to go for it, and I am petrified. I feel somehow that I must not surrender to peace and happiness and serenity. Maybe the question is, can I trust my judgment with a man?”

I am stunned that there is even a question here in Nancy’s mind about which man she would be happy with. Onedirection feels so self-destructive, yet she considers it a possibility. It is one thing toknow and another to act. Trust is not an easy thing to come by, especially after a major traumatic event.


Word: trust
After a major trauma, a woman’s sense of safety and basic trust is affected. Experiencing isolation, a woman will often withdraw from both old and new relationships. Research has clearly shown that if a woman can create some meaning of the traumatic event, she will be in a better position to transcend the violence.

In our next session it is apparent that Nancy has thought about what we talked about last time. She is re-examining herself and her relationships in light of her new understanding.

“You helped me understand my own true feelings, as opposed to the false, Barbie-Doll self I presented,” she says. “I’ve made a major change in my thinking, from the mentality of the cheerleader, the martyr, the one who serves others. It’s so new for me, so scary. It’s raw. I feel very naked with my feelings.

“In the past, happiness equaled boredom; inner peace or tranquility equaled death. I feelvery sad that it took forty-three years to get to this place. I needed always to create struggle and pain. I still feel a sense of panic. I’ve lived a roller-coaster life, you know, all peaks and valleys, taking things to the edge. It’s startling to me to imagine that I do deserve to be happy, that I need to listen to my own needs rather than to others’.”

Slowly, her sense of personal control, which had been usurped by others, is restored, and her sense of personal isolation and helplessness lessens. Her ability to make wise decisions and choices strengthens her resolve to heal.

In this period, Nancy finds herself trying to come to terms with issues of boundaries and openness. “Why am I so easily influenced by what other people tell me to do with my life?”she wonders. “I have lots of guilt and self-doubt. I don’t want people to be upset with me. I feel I have a lot of friends who try to parent me, tell me what to do, how to run my life. I want to say,
I’m 43, thanks for your input. If I blow it, I blow it.’”

She continues to have more recollections from her childhood. She now remembers being beaten by her father when she talked back to him. Seeking more input about her father’s personality, she speaks withher mother and learns that her father had been abused as a child. The woman who remembers now is not the same woman she was that violent winter two years ago.

Nancy is now more able to draw from the well of her lived experiences, memories that flow into the stream of her emerging life story. She “remembers” and draws two incidents with herfather into her current state of consciousness. And from the second memory, another body memory flows out.

“When I was 7 or 8 years old and got sassy about doing the dishes, my father hit me so hard across the face that it left his hand imprint on my cheek.”

And then a tributary story: “One day I announced in a fit of anger that I wanted to leave home. My father took me out to the woodshed, pinned me down on the floor, face down, and beat me hard with a cribbage board. I felt helpless and violated. My God, my God, it was the same position I was made to stay in when I was shot by that damn man!”

We are both stunned by this overlay of the violence of a young child’s father and the male intruder at the Massage Center.


It is spring in Vermont. Everything is spilling over—streams, ponds, lakes—onto roads. The catkins hang on my white birch tree. The lilac bushes have small green leaves unfurling.

Nancy decides to go on a trip with Richard. Immediately after getting off the plane, barely into their vacation, they leave the rental car open while taking pictures ofthe beautiful landscape. All their luggage is stolen.

“I’m still not getting it,” says Nancy, “that people will hurt me, lie to me, that some people can’t be trusted. I don’t want to mistrust people. I love my openness. I don’t want to shut down, but I let people undermine me a great deal. I have no secrets.”

Now that Nancy has decided to risk a new, trusting relationship with Richard, she no longer sees Bob and has decided to go in the direction of a more ‘tranquil’ life. She finds that some friends who knew Richard and his late wife as a couple are excluding them. “When I feel I deserve something, I feel it’s at someone’s expense. Richard and I are both feeling so punished for our happiness.”

“It has been my experience that many people are frightened about observing any kind of change in someone else’s life because it challenges them to have to think about the possibility of change in their own lives,” I suggest.

“I need to think about that.”

Overlay of violence
She continues reflectively, “One of the biggest changes in my life since the shooting is the whole concept of choice, that I have a choice about events in my life, that things don’t just happen.”

Collective Empowerment

The concept of choice
I believe in the idea of collective empowerment. We are greater than our individual selves. Pat, who is also in therapy with me, enters Nancy’s story now.

Pat is a professional nurse. During the day she works in a large correctional facility, and many nights she can be found doing volunteer work for the Battered Women’s Shelter. During the days, she watches men masturbating and clutching their crotches, has to work with pornographic pictures pinned up on cell walls, must listen to sexually explicit jokes shared by prisoners and male guards, is called “bitch” and “cunt” as she makes medication rounds. She often has fears about her personal safety.

What is it like for a woman working in a mostly male correctional facility? How does an intelligent and sensitive professional nurse in a small, ruralcommunity juggle these positions, working with both the victims and the survivors of crime and their perpetrators?

A few weeks into our work together, in describing some of her experiences with the inmates, Pat tells me that she is working with the man who shot Nancy and Alison. In the course of her therapy, she says that she has always wanted to meet the two women he shot.

Having already received permission from Nancy and Alison to discuss my work with them publicly, I am able to tell Pat that I have worked with both women. Later, I speak with Nancy and Alison by phone, and a meeting with all three women is agreed upon. I write to all three in further preparation for the meeting.

“Dear Nancy and Alison,

“Here are some thoughts in preparation for our meeting. Pat will spend some time telling you about herself’ and why she came to therapy. It feels as though things have come full circle here. You were both shot by this man. Pat then works with him. Now we all meet together, all healing together. What would you like to know from Pat, or about Pat, or about thefacility where your assailant is? What can we learn from each other? I look forward to seeing you both.”

I also send a letter with some questions to Pat before our meeting.

Dear Nancy and Alison
“Dear Pat,

Here are some notes in preparation for our meeting. Please be prepared to explain why you thought you’d like to meet Nancy and Alison. What do you think they might like to know about your job? Be prepared to let them know why you came for therapy. Why would it help them to know about your work with their assailant? How might this meeting be of help to all of us? It feels to me that with this meeting things have come full circle, the women who were injured, woman healer within the institution, and the advocate/therapist, all learning from each other. What does this say about how women heal? I look forward to seeing you soon.”

The four of us meet in my office, and we cannot wait to start. Often, when I bring women together in therapy to meet each other and to share their experiences and knowledge, their voices sometimes seem to run parallel to each other, and there is not a clear sequence of responses. At the beginning the women may be focused on putting their stories out to each other rather than necessarily responding in a sequential way to what the other has said. The women are listening at many different levels, even though it may not sound that way. This is evident in some of the following dialogue.

Dear Pat
Pat’s voice leads. “Maybe you’d like to know about me. I’ve worked for mothers’ and children’s rights. I have been interested in women’s issues and advocacy work. I helped to organize the first Take Back the Night march in the town where I live. I worked with the man who shot you both in the correctional facility here in town. I can remember the day I saw him. How was it for you both? Did you go to the trial?” The three women get right into working with each other.

“To hold traumatic reality in consciousness requires a social context that affirms and protects the victim and that joins the victim and witness in a common alliance.
Nancy jumps in, “There was no trial, just a hearing. We had no eye-to-eye contact with him. I wanted that, but we had to sit behind him. It was not a good physical setup. We had to sit in the gallery, but I really wanted to look him in the eyes.”

Pat turns to Nancy. “It’s funny. I was never really afraid of him. I always thought there was something basically wrong with him. He was kept at all times in Block D, isolated. The guards were very concerned about keeping him away from women. They took his threats seriously. He was always accompanied by at least two guards. He always wanted to make verbal contact about something, anything. He was always very focused on himself, his own needs.”

I’m concerned about Nancy and Alison, for we are back into the traumatic event again. “How are you both feeling right now as we are talking?”

Both women have an immediate tissue memory of the shooting. “I still get shaky,” Nancy tells me.


For the individual victim, this social context is created by relationships with friends, lovers, and family. For the larger society, the social context is created by political movements that give voice to the disempowered.”
Trauma and Recovery,
Judith Lewis Herman

Alison adds, “I’m vibrating.”

Pat ponders, “I keep wondering what is it like to be that close to death.”

Nancy moves on with her search for some meaning. “Did you get any history on him? What can you tell us about him?”

“No. There wasn’t a good history on him. There were two federal institutions involved, because he had also threatened the president’s life. He was sent to Missouri. I’m pretty sure that’s where he is.”

Nancy and Alison cry out in unison, “He was? They were supposed to inform us! We asked for that specifically from the police.”

“You didn’t know that he left? Yes. It was in June. We can check on that or you both can check on that yourselves.”

“Pat, before we go further, I think it’s important to tell why you came in for therapy. Please tell Nancy and Alison your own story,” I ask the nurse.

“In April, my mother was very sick. I had just come back from California. And I made a medication error. I discovered it immediately. I made arrangements for the patient to be sent to the medical center, where he was given Ipecac. The patient is fine, but I had never made a medication error before, and it made all the newspapers…. All the inmates knew about it, all two hundred and fifty of them. I was suspended for a week. I was cleared and then came back to work. But the inmates were saying things like, ‘Don’t stop there. You’ll get the wrong medication.’ Then I made a second error, and I was very frightened. What was happening? I was not sleeping. I lost weight. I had trouble swallowing. I was anxious and agitated all the time. So then I came to see Judith. She felt I had professional burnout and maybe it was difficult for me to work both sides of things, you know to work with these men and then after work, working with the women they had raped or harmed. I decided to take some medication for a while, and Judith suggested that I request a transfer to a different correctional facility. I did that. You know, my life has really changed now.”

Nancy cautions Pat, “I’m sorry. You are going too fast. I am having trouble processing what you are saying.”

“Okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were having trouble, and I speak too fast anyhow. I had to deal with all of their abusive language. &lquo;Cunt. You fucking bitch.’ I guess I don’t have a very thick skin.”

“There’s nothing wrong with your skin. It’s your feminist consciousness that’s your problem and your strength! You’re fighting back!” I tell Pat. “It matters what you name your experiences. Or maybe I should say ”

“And you know, some of theofficers collude with the inmates,” continues Pat.

“Can you tell Nancy and Alison what we have been theorizing about your situation?” I ask her.

“It’s because I am an assertive woman, and I have been doing advocacy work with women, and these are the perpetrators, and I am conflicted about working with these men who have abused or killed these women.”

My voice enters, “And I believe that Pat is being abused by these men in the system, both by some inmates and by some guards, the way they have already abused women on the outside. I am interested in how many other women staff have experienced similar abuse, and I question, what is our obligation about this?”

Pat continues, “I went to a trial of one of the women. She was raped and strangled by this man. Her children were taken away from her because her brother, who was living there was molesting them. Her father, who was sitting in the courtroom the whole time, had molested her as a child. She couldn’t protect herself or her own children. It was because of her killing that we started Take Back the Night. This is our third year; I realized when we read the names of the women killed that I had worked with three out of four of the men who had committed the crimes.”

Nancy makes a profound observation: “Alison and I have been theorizing that since we were not raped, our own sexual behavior was not an issue. Since there was a clear-cut shooting, without rape, the public, and especially the men, could deal with the facts more easily.”

“No sexual overtones or innuendoes,” I add.

“One man I work with murdered two women. Some of the murderers I see several times a day,” Pat tells us.

This leads to a discussion about the difference between poor women and middle- class women in terms of the support they get after a crime.

I look at all three women and ask, “What else do you want to ask each other?”

Alison pushes on, “I want to know more about this guy that shot us. Judith said that he spoke with you, that he made contact with you. I want to know exactly where he is now.”

Nancy adds, “We have never really talked to him. I have fantasies about talking with him and finding out about his life. What led him to shoot us? And how his hands shook.”

“When he shot us, his whole body was vibrating. We saw him in the courthouse the day he was sentenced, and he was shaking again. It was hard for me to see that again,” says Alison, “the memory of it all.”

Nancy continues to do what she has done many times before. She makes something good out of something bad. “I learned that he was an excellent marksman. His shaking is why we aren’t dead. I’m sure he aimed at my head, and he freaked out and hit me in the back instead. All the other four shots he got us with landed in our heads. He didn’t get us great, but good enough!” Her bravery gets us laughing.

Pat wants to know, “How did he do it?”

Nancy explains, “He got us execution style. Face down on the floor.”

“I remember now. It was Pat telling me in her therapy about his shaking hands that reminded me that you two had reported the same thing,“ I add.

At this point, Alison seems to be going into an altered state.

“I confronted him. I shouted at him…I tried to push him out…I was screaming at him…We were talking through the picture window. He persisted, so I turned around to give him a business card. I picked up a notebook for his name. It was then that I saw the gun…. I tried to push him. He was like a brick wall…”

Pat brings her back, “You know, he shaved his head in prison. I thought he looked like Mr. Clean.” We all collapse with laughter. “He’s very strong and big and very solid.”

Alison goes back into the scene again. “Because I was shouting at him so much, he got me on the floor right away and he showed the gun and said, ‘I’m not afraid to use it.’”

Nancy breaks in. “I don’t think all of his stories are true, about shooting prostitutes. We tried to get him out of the office. I think we gave him too much information that day, and he just couldn’t process it all.”

Pat tells the women her impressions “He seemed to me like a very simple person. I think he made up all of those stories. For example, he wasn’t in Vietnam, and he didn’t have a wife.”

“I think he really needs to be more important than he is—like his threat to kill the president. I think he was injured in boot camp and got a medical card for the VA hospitals; he used them the way most of us use motels, signing in and out of them!” says Nancy.

Pat contributes more. “Anywhere he went while I was there, he had Secret Service men around him.”

Alison asks, “Is he still in Missouri?”

“I think so.”

“How can we find out?” asks Alison.

Pat suggests, “I’m going to a Women and Justice meeting tomorrow, and maybe I can find out.”

Nancy speaks again. “We were both told we would be notified about when he went and where, and we weren’t told. We thought he was still in the same correctional facility.”

Nancy is troubled. “I think it’s appalling that we don’t know. Suppose we were both thinking ofleaving the area and he was incarcerated where we moved? I’d be very upset. I’m not afraid, but I would want the option to not live where he was. Definitely.” We all nod in agreement with her wisdom.

Alison says, “Yes. I’d definitely like to have my own psychic boundaries.”

Nancy asks, “Why do you think he sought you out, Pat?”

“I didn’t speak with him very much because the officers thought he was dangerous,” answers Pat. “Maybe I am naturally nicer to people who appear so helpless, so handicapped, or retarded, or emotionally limited. That’s how he seemed to me. He talked about his health problems, his bowels, his urine. He started calling me Annie. You know, the sadistic nurse from a Stephen King novel. Then he stopped.”

Nancy, still trying to understand this man, asks, “He didn’t have any consistent health problems?” The choreographer-dancer focuses on his body. “Sometimes your body tells about you. During one of the hearings, he had on a bandage because he put his fist through a glass.”

Pat nods. “Yes. That’s one of the favorite things the inmates do, punching the walls, or punching anything.”

I say to Alison and Nancy, “I am developing a position that these women, like Pat, nurses and staff who are working in these institutions, are abused by the men and the system.”

“You see,” Pat adds, “part of my job is giving out medication and being in charge of sick call. At other times, I have to do medical assessments, which includes checking their genitals.”

Nancy pushes on, “Did he ever talk about other women. Did he have any mail or any visitors?”

Pat reflects, “I think he has a mother and brother in California.”

Now Nancy is angry. “There is no liaison between criminal and victim. Once the person is incarcerated, there is no contact, but there is a curiosity that continues. I believe the information we share is empowering. Maybe, Pat, it is something you could create. Maybe you could seek out people. It might be valuable to others, and it could make your job more to do with advocacy. I think you should think about that. Maybe you can change the situation for yourself by helping the women more. Like us.”

Violence, friendship, and fear sit in the same place now.

I break in. “I’m the timekeeper here, and our time is almost up for now.” In my usual need for feedback, I ask, “Did this help?”

Alison answers, “Oh, yeah. I had this fantasy to sit and speak with him. This is the next best thing. We are pretty shut off from speaking with him.”

Pat responds, “I have to tell you that basically, there are some things I shouldn’t have…” Then falteringly, “If anybody found out about this meeting, that would be all it would take to get rid of me, even though it wouldn’t harm anyone.”

I can’t contain myself. “Did you say not harm anyone? What about the harm and pain to all of you, all of us, who do not have a place to do this talking and healing? Which is the greater crime here? Telling your story or not telling it?”

The room is silent as we all reflect on the immensity of this question.

I start again. “I’m curious. Why do you think this case in particular got so much attention? There was such a public outrage about this case compared with some others.“

Pat answers reflectively, “Maybe the guns. The macho guns. Your typical hit man. They all have guns—the prisoners, the guards, this guy.”

Alison theorizes, “Maybe the fact that there was no rape. With rape they may question a woman’s credibility and motives, but here there was nothing to question. It was clear-cut. He shot us and took $70.”

“And almost killed you both,” I add.

Which is the greater crime?
Nancy thinks through this idea further. “I hear that he was very verbal in prison. I understand he liked to be big man in the cell block. He threatened to kill someone or himself. He threatened the life of the attorney and the parole officer. He said he would do it again—try to assassinate the president. He said in court, ‘When I get in the presence of women, I get tingling in my palms; then I go into the desert and shoot.’”

Pat adds, “The shooting probably made him a bigger man than in his whole life. It seemed to me here was a scared little boy. I agree that when he shot you both he was probably overloaded with information and didn’t know what to do first.”

She continues, “You know, there is a ranking in prison. The child molesters are on the bottom. Called the snatchers, they are considered the lowest of the low by inmates.”

I add, “I read in the newspaper last week that my old piano tuner was recently tried as a child molester. When my children were little, we would leave the house open for him so he could get in and tune the piano. We were just lucky. It could have been us. It’s all so random and violent.”

Nancy says, “I have a sense that if a history was done on him, he was verbally abused by his mother and his father was physically abusive. I’ll bet he was a man who was empowered by violence. That’s what I think.”

Pat agrees, “Yes. I think he was very disturbed, and he was sort of hopeless.”

“Pat, a lot of the emotional impact is just hitting me now…a delayed reaction. It takes two years to get on with your life. It feels good,” reflects Nancy.

Alison starts to do a rerun on the early part of her story. “I never dreamed that day that he would shoot the gun. He was surprised and confused, I think.”

“Pat, both Alison and I have had daydreams when we were both healing about changing the actions we had used that day…trying another scene, and another scene, but each scene we tried was worse than what actually happened!”

“Well, with what I have seen and what I know, it’s a miracle you survived, and I’m so glad to have met you and talked with you. And I’m so glad to be in therapy because I’m learning so much about myself,” Pat responds.

“How did you all meet in the first place?” she asks.

Alison answers, “Judith offered to help, and the help was immediate, and we decided to do it.”

“From my point of view, they needed to go over the traumatic event together. They needed a place to start their healing process, and they needed a Wisewoman as a guide!” I smile.

We all laugh.

In the presence of women
Alison adds a supplement to her ongoing story. “For me, I didn’t stay with Judith. A lot of my healing was done working with psychics. And doing channeling. I make changes through my body, releasing the experience through my body. In April, I went alone to Bermuda. Some of that was very difficult. I write a lot on these trips, and I am writing a lot now. In the writing of it, I will have to do some re-experiencing of it and some grieving, too, around my recent separation from my husband. The key issues that are coming up for me are around not trusting my intuition that day. My whole body felt danger. I knew there was danger before I opened that door. I picked up on that danger and didn’t act on it. I feel I am being called to listen to that inner voice again. When I opened the door, I acted against my own voice. Am I going to listen to my inner voice this time? I want to get rid of this piece.”

Pat says to Alison, “You sound like you are really in tune with your body. What is this channeling about?”

Alison becomes a teacher now. “It gives me a larger soul perspective, to get out of my day-to-day self. It helps me to see through situations when I am in pain.”

“You know,” says Pat, “I too feel if I hadn’t made these errors, things wouldn’t be better. I’m talking with women a lot more now. It’s going to be better for me, too. How I empathize with you both—calling yourselves survivors, and thank God you are living. You are probably stronger than you ever knew you could be.”

Pat asks Nancy, “Can you do everything? That would be difficult for me.”

I acted against my own inner voice
“I’m grateful that it happened,” Nancy reflects. “It changed my life dramatically. I never valued my life, cherished things like I do today. It gave me a gift. When you look death in the eye, you appreciate life. I think I’m smarter now than I used to be. I suffered some brain damage, but I’ve decided that some of my brain cells are damaged, but I am not ‘brain damaged.’ I do everything now one hundred ten percent better in my thinking. Because I have had to work so hard mentally. I’m actually quicker now. I’m more global in my thinking. I’m even studying Spanish! I’m so afraid of being seen as disabled, so I am working three times harder. I always thought that I wasn’t very bright. Now there’s this learning spurt from working with Judith and Betty, what the environment offers the brain, and the importance of keeping our minds active like our bodies. I had to get better. I think I did my emotional healing early on with Judith. My healing was in two areas: pragmatic with Judith and Betty, and spiritual with the Sedona trip and the channeling information. I don’t seek out my visions, but I take them seriously. I trust the dance.”

“There’s a receptivity for it. You are open to this experience or new knowledge, and you value the outcome,” I add.

Pat says to the two friends, “That you see this crime as positive is really wonderful. I’ve been a doubting person. Things are coming full circle. It’s so strange. That I worked with him and that I would come to Judith and that she worked with both of you. There’s a message here, a pattern.”

Looking death in the eye
I agree. “Yes, another synchronous event! We have all come full circle. The power of a woman’s circle of friends. I’ll bet that Pat is going to look at alternative healing now!” Once again, we laugh together.

I continue, “Pat, you have had the challenge of a double trauma in the same year—two medication errors.”

But Pat is more concerned about the men she has worked with. “There’s one man at the top of my list. He raped three women. I know he’ll never, ever be rehabilitated.”

“Pat, I believe that you and I share the same kind of rage because of the nature of our work, working so often with the effects of male violence against women.”

Nancy breaks in, “I think that getting information is really the key. Hope, a woman advocate, came to the house and told us our rights. There was so much we didn’t know.”

Pat asks, “Didn’t you right away speak with a victims’ advocate person?”

Nancy answers, “No, not at first. We got ‘just the facts, ma’am.’ Like Dragnet!” We laugh. “But this advocate was a survivor herself. She was coming from that place. We need a takeover by people who know what it’s like. We shouldn’t have bureaucrats telling us what to do.”

Pat adds, “I remember someone saying about this same advocate, ‘Is she still on that kick about doing her own healing?’ People don’t understand how long the healing takes.”

“It’s part of all of our own history now, and we heal in a community of women,” I tell the women.

Nancy goes on, “I have some issues with the social service people. I helped to put a newsletter together for teenagers who were survivors of rape and their mothers. I felt the kids were pressured into keeping the anger toward their rapists going rather than telling them to get on with their lives. It was keeping them victims. I don’t think it was helping them, keeping them in the quagmire.”

I ask, “How do you feel about the judicial system?”

Alison responds, “I saw how it is geared to the criminal. It was so obvious that he was guilty. I think they protected him too much.”

Nancy adds, “I feel angry that the criminal has information about the victims. He could read our statements, but we couldn’t see his, and the physical setup in the courtroom is terrible. He was in front with the lawyer, and we were in the audience. I wanted him to have to sit there and look at us. The only thing he had to look at was the judge.”

Pat broadens the dialogue, “But if a woman is raped, this would have been frightening for her.”

Alison adds, “He had the right to sit in the back for a deposition. That would have made us very nervous if that had happened. The detectives and police were very helpful.”

Nancy says, “Pat, I’d like to encourage you to take care of yourself.”

“It helped me very much to see how well you both are. It gives me so much hope,” Pat answers her.

Getting information is the key
Nancy adds, “If you hear anything else, please let us know. This is so good. It’s like another layer of healing for me.”

We all hug in a Circle of Friendship and Shared Knowledge.

Just Living

The summer lake is wild today. I share its wildness.Smash, calm, smash, calm, smash, smash, smash. Smash is white, green is calm. Blades of tall green grass in the water are quivering but upright.

Taking notes in therapy is somewhat like painting outdoors. Nothing holds still. As Nancy’s scribe, I have the same challenge as the Impressionist painters. Everything is in movement,in a constant state of flux. Light changes. The women gesture and move. Moods must be noted rapidly. The color, pattern, shape, and texture of words must be chronicled. I have to capture the light that is there. And as in art, the key is to know when to stop.

A number of months have passed since our session with Pat. During those months, Nancy decided to wind down her therapy and “just live,” as she put it. We continue to keep in touch, however, because of our mutual interest in getting her story told. I have asked her to meet me in my office on this summer day to collaborate with me in the completion of her story.

“I want to find out what has happened to you since our last work together. Are there situations that still frighten you?”

“Yes. For example, after leaving the theater with a friend the other night about 11:30 p.m., a disheveled homeless person, without warning, approached me and stopped me, asking for money. And I was paralyzed with fear. I absolutely froze. My instant thought was, ‘Oh my God,the guy is going to shoot me!’ My friend interceded and moved me away from the scene.

“Also, when I’m alone in the house, I still must leave the bathroom door open, and I’m petrified to look behind the shower curtain. I can freeze and become immobile. The other night I had a dream that someone shot me at my office. On the same night, my son had a dream that he was shot at! Also, if there is a scuffle, or voices or noises behind a closed door, I get terrified.”

“You and Alison being shot together, and surviving, and then doing your therapy together is a little unusual,” I tell Nancy. “Do you have any thoughts about this?”

“I think we had to do our therapy together. At the beginning, we didn’t have a choice. It was a crisis. We also had some issues we had to resolve around our friendship.”

“I have a few other questions. Have you changed anything about your physical safety?”

Nancy responds, “Yes. I still carry the pepper spray you gave me. I lock my car door if I am driving somewhere alone. When I am at my office alone, I lock the door. I’m much more conscious of my environment. I see more, observe more. It’s a kind of scanning that I do now. Even in a restaurant, I like my back against the wall, facing outward. When my fears come up, if I can, I try to go back and redo it. Face it. Recreate it, for example, like parking near where the shooting was, having a massage, parking the car alone. I do all of these things to overcome my fear. Guess what? I recently choreographed a musical just to see if I could still do it.”

“Wonderful! Wonderful! What have been your residual physical problems?” I ask.

“My vision is probably still the same, but my experience of my vision has changed. I’m picking up the information where I can’t see and processing it now at a faster rate, so that I don’t notice it as a loss. At the beginning, there was a remarkable

Trauma and recovery
gap. If I’m overtired, I get headaches, and I have what they call ‘word search.’ I screw up everything, get words in the wrong place, get scattered.

"word search"
“But guess what? I recently read my first entire novel since the shooting. It took eight months. I am not ready to do it again for a while!” She laughs.

“How do you now experience the plastic plate in your head?”

“It feels like two lobes and like a figure eight, the size of two peaches next to each other. Another physical problem is, I have pain in the epigastrium in the bending position, or coughing or sneezing. It feels like my diaphragm gets caught on my lung, but it’s the scar tissue on my lung that gets caught.”

“Can we back up? How were you able to do the choreography?” I wonder aloud.

“It took me four months to get through the reading of the script. These are the difficulties and frustrations. For example, I can’t just flip through bills or skim magazine articles. I have to study a page really hard to find something I am looking for, but I will force myself to read out loud at a sales meeting or with Richard just to overcome this.

“Another thing I want to say about my healing, I had to take care of myself. I had no nurturing person to go home to, as Alison did. I was a mother, a widow, I had a son to take care of who had recently lost his father.

“During our therapy, the neuropsychological testing was very important to me, but I wasn’t ready for it at the beginning. I thought it would do me in. Then we did the work with Betty. It validated what you were already telling me about my own intellect.

Betty told me that people approach problems and tasks in different ways, and that people have different learning styles. Then she said that I wasn’t stupid because I approached new information more globally, more intuitively, more as a dancer–choreographer might. I had a valid brain power of my own. That was very powerful for me. Later, in our second series together, I came to the realization that I deserved to be happy, to have someone who loved me, someone who accepted me as an equal.”

Choreography and Healing

I read my first novel
In a follow-up meeting in the fall, Nancy and I further explore the idea that she “choreographed” her own healing process. I have prepared two maps or diagrams, which I call femographs, one for each series of work we have done together. Nancy recognizes them immediately as being true to her experience, with the suggestion that we add her new engagement to Richard, as well as a diagram of her “creative process.” She realizes how her own creative way of thinking and imaging has helped her negotiate through and beyond the traumas she has experienced. This realization has altered how she views herself, how she narrates her experience, and, consequently, how her autobiography unfolds.

“As I think about the process of healing, I think that the way you are writing your book in collaboration with the women with whom you work, and the way you generally do therapy, and the way I healed myself is similar to what I saw going on with Ed at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, the idea of people sharing their life stories with each other and examining the process they went through with others who have been there.”

“I am interested in how the metaphor and experience of being a choreographer contributed to your healing,” I tell her.

The choreographer
“I know exactly what I did. In the hospital, as soon as I gained consciousness, I immediately took a physical inventory of myself. Everything was moving, so I wasn’t paralyzed. I knew I was thinking, so my brain was okay. This was even before I knew where I had been shot, or exactly what had happened to me.

“The first thing I did was, I actually saw myself, in my mind, get my body up and go to the bathroom. I saw my healing just the way I see everything when I choreograph. I see all of the scene at once, the stage, the movements of the dancers, the lights, the costumes, and the set designs. When I choreographed “The Cocktail Party” several years ago, I even experienced the smell and taste in advance of doing it. The way I visualize it is that the big puzzle is done. Now I have to take the pieces out and place them back into the big picture again.”

Nancy continues her remarkable healing story. “In the hospital, I saw myself as one hundred percent whole. I never saw myself not making it. I always saw myself moving through life. I think I went to a place I could trust—my choreography—and I used it to heal. I would say to myself, ‘This is what you have. Make the most of it.’ I kept saying over and over again, ‘Trust the dance, trust yourself and your own process.’

“Like the art poster you gave me during one of our early sessions, I knew I had to make the stumble part of the dance. The shooting was a stumble,” Nancy explains.

Vision and Imagery
“In the process of human vision, a stimulus in the outside world is passed from the retina to the primary visual cortex and then to higher centers until an object or event is recognized. In mental imaging, a stimulus originates in higher centers and is passed down to the primary visual cortex, where it is recognized. These new finding are based on the idea that mental capacities like memory, perception, mental imagery, language and thought are rooted in complex underlying structures in the brain. Thus an image held in the minds eye has, in fact, a solid physical basis.”
Timeless Healing,
Herbert Benson

“Speaking of dancing and stumbling,” I say, “luckily for you, you have the option of dancing, even if you stumbled. Did you know that women were not admitted to the dance in the French Academy until 1681 when Catherine De Medici brought the ballet from Italy to France? Before that date, all of the female roles in the ballet were performed by boys dressed as women.

“According to edict, women were allowed to dance privately in their homes. When the dance was brought to the public arena, women were banned from dancing. Dance, it seems, had the same fate as public oratory. Middle-class women could speak privately to each other in their own homes and drawing rooms but were considered too dangerous to speak publicly or on the street corners.”

“That’s really amazing! No, I didn’t know this history. Another key thing in my healing was my tremendous responsibility to my son. It was an incredible motivator. I don’t know how it would have been if I were not a mother. Working with you, I felt validated over and overagain as a mother.”

I tell her about a message on my answering machine from my adult son. “Mom, I called so you wouldn’t worry. I am fine, but we just had an earthquake here. I am sure the phones will go out soon, and I may not be able to call you. I love you. I’ll call when I can.”

“It’s always there, isn’t it? The connection with them.”

My responsibility to my son
“Yes. Always. By the way, do you know about Mother’s Sunday?” I ask Nancy.

“I’m not sure.What do you mean?”

Word: Mother’s Sunday
“Well, in the mid-1600s there was a popular tradition in England. People honored their mothers on the fourth Sunday in Lent. The community of mothers was asked to bless their children. The visits were called ‘going a-mothering.’ Mothers were offered gifts of simmel-cakes from a special kind of fine flour.”

“I love that term ‘going a-mothering,’” Nancy sits wide-eyed and excited.

“So do I, and the act of asking for your mother’s blessings. I pray for my children all the time, but often I wonder if they know this or feel this. The old celebration seems simpler and more meaningful than our current Mother’s Day celebrations. It feels more to the heart of things, I think. There has been so much mother bashing in the pop psychology of our culture.

“Getting back to why I brought it up,” I continue, “I can just see Alex someday going a-mothering and asking for your mother blessings. He will be the young man of your Sedona vision. He is surely lucky to have you as his mother.”

The young mother accepts my Mother Love and Blessings to her.

“Working with you about Alex has evoked my own Motherstories,” I reflect. “I was thinking how much easier itwould have been for me if when my children needed a change in their feeding formula I had been taught the basic principles involved in adjusting the formulas to their needs. That knowledge would have saved me and thousands of mothers hundreds of phone calls and visits. Instead, every time a change was needed I would have to make an appointment with a pediatrician.”

“Maybe that’s why you work the way you do,” says the woman who, a short while ago, said she didn’t know what she knew.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Well, you like to give away what you know to me. Maybe being a mother has influenced how you work here. Think about that for your book!”

I shift my questions to her childhood. “How did you feel as a child dancer? You’ve told me about performing, feeling really great on stage, then coming off and there were your mother and teacher saying, ‘This is what you didn’t do right,’ and yet you said you just loved dancing.”

Nancy begins another healing soliloquy in which she explains her journey. “There are two different parts to the answer; one is on stage and one is in a class. The experiences were very different. On stage, everything I did felt effortless. I was on a cloud. I loved it. It didn’t matter if there were three people in the audience or three million. I remember when my eyes got bad, before contact lenses, and I couldn’t wear my glasses, that I was very frustrated performing, because I couldn’t see the expression on people’s faces.”

“How old were you when you had the eye difficulty?”

“I started wearing glasses when I was about 7, and I didn’t get contacts until I was about 16. So it was a long period of time.”

“You still look very directly at people.”

“I try to teach that, even with, you know, housewives or students taking dance classes. It’s a hard thing to teach. Of course, they have to look at themselve—in the mirror in the classroom. It’s very confrontational. I teach them to lower their chin and lift their eyes. That’s how you pull your audience in. Gosh, that’s a hard thing to teach people!”

“Especially women, because women have learned to lower their eyes. It’s kind of startling to remember that you used that early learning as a survival skill when your assailant was in the room with you. Women do not generally walk down the street and make direct eye contact with a male. Women who don’t know each other will often smile at each other, but women will seldom look unknown men in the eye, because it means something. We avoid, we glance away. So I can see how that would be very powerful for women, and confrontational, as you call it.”

The mirror
“My mother used to tell me, ‘When you’re walking down the street and you pass a man, never look at their eyes or their flies.’” We both laugh. “I want to talk about being in the class, because it’s so distinctly different. In the class, I no longer had an audience, so it was self-confrontational. I grew up looking at myself in walls of mirrors in huge empty rooms. I had very stern teachers. Being in class is just the opposite of performing. I feel heavy and big and awkward, and I can’t do anything right, and I’m sweating, but what kept me going was to prove, not to myself but to the teacher, that I could do it. The harder the teacher was on me, the more I loved it.”

“I think you said somewhere that there are two parts to dancing, the work and the emotions. As a child, you thought you just had the gift, and no one ever validated what hard work it was.”

“And as a child, I was willing to go through the work to the performance, because I loved performing so much. I felt very powerful, lighter, prettier. It was almost like I was not attached to the earth anymore,” Nancy explains.

“I understand. There are times when I am working with someone that I feel that way myself, times when I know we’ve gone ‘beyond’. It’s that kind of bliss you’re talking about. It’s a qualitative shift. I was trying to explain it to a psychiatrist friend of mine recently, and she teased me and said, ‘Oh, you mean you fuse with the patient and you’ve lost your boundaries,’ which is a real no-no in her field. But, you see, it’s not that at all. What I was trying to describe was that this experience elevates me. The same thing happens when I play in a trio or quartet. I just takeo ff with the music. We all go beyond ourselves.

“I sometimes visually experience something in my office where the room takes on a golden hue. Suddenly, there’s no separation between the woman sitting before me and the walls and windows behind her. Foreground and background disappear. It all begins with knowing your craft—for example, in your case dancing, and in mine therapy, and then being able to let go and go beyond where we are, something beyond both of us.

“I’d love to read you something from Notebooks of the Mind by Vera John-Steiner about choreography.”

“I’d love to hear what you have.”

I read Nancy several passages about the relationship between choreography and creativity:

“Our understanding of what choreographers communicate is based upon our own familiarity with our bodies, a source of knowledge that reaches back to infancy…a vehicle of remembered experience.”

“I became interested in this because I have observed that you have a tremendous ability to think logically, clearly, and to cross modalities, and yet, you have thought of yourself as being not very bright. This led me to want to read more about the process of choreography. I was reminded of you when I read John-Steiner’s line.

‘The communication of meaning through movement requires an ability to weave together physical, emotional, and intellectual aspects of one’s understanding.’”

Nancy adds to our inquiry process. “All of a sudden I was thinking of what I used to go through to create a dance, and then what I went through to create my life after I was shot, and they’re almost the same thing! Then you said something about how the choreographer uses all the different stuff, the visual three or four things which you listed.”

“Oh, the intellectual, the spiritual,” I clarify.

“Right. It’s my trip to Sedona. It’s like, wow, that’s what that was all about. I think that trip was somehow going back for some reason. I felt rooted, grounded, primitive. Something in that environment helped me to go to the roots of my spirituality, my intellect, my mind.”

Nancy continues excitedly. “There was something else going on during that whole time following the shooting which I think is really key. I was performing. I had an audience! I had people coming to visit in an unending stream. I had a community watching everything that took place. I was on stage. I had to get my shit together!” We laugh. “When people came into my room, I was sitting up, and I was performing! I’m sure that that was a very big part of my determination to pull it all back together again.”

Mother’s instructions
“You mean you knew how to work an audience.”

“Sure. I’d just lower my chin and look them in the eye.” We laugh again.

“But you also had a lot of fear around that, the performance at the theater, being on stage. Really, you were struggling with other things. Before I forget, I have some questions about whether I have any responsibility to you to help you to work through your fears about the bathroom door. Do you think that will go away in time?”

“I don’t know,” she responds. “It happened again last night. I was alone. Alex was upstairs, and the bathroom door was closed with the light on. Oh, and another thing happened: When I got home, my front door was open. I apparently had not shut it tightly. That was okay, I didn’t panic. But an hour later, I noticed the bathroom door shut and the light on, and I called to Alex and asked him to open the bathroom door. And he did. So, there are still problems…”

“Do you want to come back in and do something about that? Think about it.

“Also, in looking over my notes of our work together, I realize in the excitement of the other work we did, I never found out about your experiences in the sixties when you were a young adult. How did the sixties affect you?”

Working the audience
Nancy begins, “I graduated from high school in the mid-sixties. In the late sixties I married a farmer. It was a high school romance. I was a working housewife putting my husband through college. I worked both as a saleswoman and as a farmer’s wife. I was, you know, this adult being responsible and keeping the farmhouse. I was very conservative, not experimental. After my husband graduated from college, I tended the calves and cows, delivered calves, drove a tractor, washed the milking cans.

“Then I met a woman who was a real hippie radical. Through meeting her, I began to feel I needed to do something different with my life. I was not politically conscious before meeting her. Then in the early seventies, I got involved with a women’s theater group. The productions were all about women’s politics.

The sixties
“During the Vietnam War, we were worried that my husband would be drafted but he was deferred as a farmer. Later I got involved with communism and study groups in the seventies in New York City. I began dancing in an all-black dance company. Then I got very dissatisfied from meeting so many worldly people. In the late seventies after New York City, I opened up a dance studio here in town.

“I was a late bloomer, but when I did gain a consciousness, it was with a vengeance. I had a total involvement with radical theater. Then one day my husband and I were getting ready to pick up a child we were about to adopt, at the airport. In one hour I changed the total direction of my life. I canceled the child and the marriage.”

New Beginnings

Vietnam war
On New Year’s Eve, almost three years after the shooting, Nancy and Richard are married in a private family ceremony. I am invited to the reception after the wedding. It is a very special night for those of us connected with Nancy’s life. It is the celebration of the spirit and the will to live of an exceptional and talented woman.

Three years later
Alex is an extroverted child who sees himself as the official photographer of the event. He approaches people openly, speaks articulately, and gets us to smile and stand still as he records a happy event in his life.

Nancy and I hug with tears and joy, remembering the many hours we have spent together.

Norma’s Story

The idea of interviewing Nancy’s mother, Norma, in preparation for writing Nancy’s story came from thinking through some of Nancy’s memories and comments abouther mother and from Nancy’s efforts to understand her mother better. She gave me permission to talk with her mother. Nancy and Richard have decided to move to another part of the country.

I flip through my notes, remembering that Nancy questioned the role of memory in the telling of her life story. She once asked me, “What is memory? It feels so slippery now to me. I say it’s my memory or recollection about what happened, but I see that someone else might report it differently.”

“Memory is a reporting of original experience, as you experienced it. I agree with that. Who are you thinking of?” I respond.

“My mother, for example. I wonder if her memories would match some of mine that are important to me.”

“It makes a difference here whether a woman’s mother is living or not. You both have an opportunity now to compare your memories,” I tell her.

In The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative Psychoanalysis Feminism, Marianne Hirsch has written, “Feminism might begin by listening to the stories that mothers have to tell, and by creating spaces in which mothers might articulate those stories.” The therapist’s office is just such a space.

Norma: Nancy’s mother
I scan through my mental library of readings and consider which feminist framework might be most useful for the work I am doing with a particular woman. As I flip through my mother-daughter file, I can think of many authors—Sarah Ruddick, Kathryn Allen Rabuzzi, Nancy Chodorow, Jane Flack, Adrienne Rich, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, and Toni Cade Bambara—but I stop now at Kathie Carlson’s framework, in which she writes about the unhealed areas of a daughter’s search for an understanding of her mother, and her definition borrowed from Adrienne Rich,

“Matrophobia…is the daughter’s fear, not of motherhood, but of becoming her mother,” [or] “a fear of being ‘just like her.’”

Carlson writes,

“On one level, matrophobia is the fear of living out part of the mother’s personality or repeating some aspect of her life in one’s own.” “Thousands of daughters see their mothers as having taught a compromise and self-hatred they are struggling to win free of, the one through whom the restrictions and degradations of a female existence were perforce transmitted,”,

writes Adrienne Rich in Of Woman Born.

Interspersed in my card file, which has extended itself into several notebooks, are reflections, questions, notes, and memos of my own flashes of insight and wisdom. They are often jotted down on scraps of paper, which I later glue onto index cards. Audre Lorde once said something to the effect that we write to read the things we wish we had seen written for us.

In writing about women’s autobiography, Sidonie Smith cautions us that women autobiographers often silence the part of themselves that identifies as a daughter of their mother. They repress the maternal in themselves. They can perpetuate the political, social, and textual disempowerment of mothers and daughters. How do I not do this in my own therapeutic text?

This shared wisdom of the words and stories of other women’s lives and my own learnings and improvisations become the “open map” with which I welcome Norma into my office. Once again, I trust the way and wisdom of two women talking—especially two mothers.

I have an outline of what I am thinking about and hope to cover. I give Norma a broad context and the key questions that I’d like her to think about and answer, if she feels comfortable doing so.

I orient her about the book. I explain why I want to write it and where we are in the process. “I see this time as two mothers talking together because our voices are not written about much. Our stories are either not there or are often written by our daughters. Or if we are mentioned, we are often blamed for our children’s problems by so-called specialists in child rearing. I have two sets of questions for you; the first are general about yourself. We may not get to all of these, but it will give you a general idea of where I’m headed.

“What was the event of the shooting like for you? How did it change your life? What were you like as a child? What was it like for you to be a wife and mother? Tell me about your history and your aspirations. Tell me about your own spirituality, your religion.

“The second are some areas that I have worked on with Nancy. I am looking for your perspective as a mother. Was it difficult for Nancy to let you help her during your retirement? What is your impression of what Ed was like? Nancy saw you as her first strong anchor, when we were working on what independence is. What are your reactions or memories about Nancy as a child dancer? How did you feel about her father slapping her and the woodshed scene? And lastly, what is life like for you now?”

Her eyes well up with tears. The questions obviously touch her, but I do not further prompt her.

“Well, I was the oldest in a family of eight. I was expected to show the way. We had a strong Episcopal faith. We were expected to do everything right. A lot was expected of Nancy, too. We all felt she had something in her to do great things. She was disciplined more because she was the oldest.”

“And you had already learned that the oldest, as you were and as Nancy is, sets the way for the others,” I interject.

“Yes. Nancy was a dancer at age 3. At 9, she was already going to Boston to perform. We were very critical of her, both me and her teacher, probably too much so. I think I get that from my father. He was an inventor, but a machine fell on him, and he had a brain concussion and was on full disability, but he did everything with us at home. We had all kinds of children’s activities. He taught us these table games he invented. He had double vision for a while. He would get very high-strung from his accident. You know, he would type his inventions with one finger. He was very determined. He would tell people about his inventions, and then they would steal them. He invented an automatic garage door opener and a delayed light. He was naive, I think—he would tell people everything he was doing—and I think that I am, too. When the insurance company came and took the car away because we couldn’t pay for it, he just couldn’t understand any of it.”

Two mothers
“What do you mean ‘naive’?” I ask Norma.

“A lot of times I pour myself out to other people, and then when I think about it later, I realize they haven’t come forth with me. My father would sit and explain to us what initiative was. He taught us the games he invented. I didn’t like his discipline, though. We all got punished if one of us did anything wrong. We were spanked all in a row, and there was a lot of verbal abuse and shouting, and he asked why we did it wrong, whatever it was. He wanted us to understand what he was saying. I thought that was wrong.”

“Was this a part of his overall concussion problem?”

“I’m not sure. We’d have two or three months of a wonderful dad, and then he would go away again, and then he couldn’t explain his inventions. My mother always defended us. She was strong but weak to my father. He corrected her all the time. My mother was always doing something to show her love. She’d go to the store and share candy with us, dividing it up carefully and saying ‘I love you all,’ spreading her love around to us. She hardly had any money, but we always had birthday cakes. We shared everything.

“When the car was taken away, we all walked two miles every Sunday to our church,” continues Norma. “I still remember those walks. I was baptized and married in the same church.

“Nancy went to Girl Scout camp every summer when we went on family vacations. Because of this, she missed our family vacations. She now says she is sorry about this.

Word: naive
“Nancy excelled in school. If she didn’t, her father would get on her—especially with Nancy—and he disciplines a lot, you know. He was the oldest, and his father was hard on him. He drank, and he beat my husband. His mother was very loving, but she was not affectionate. After the war, when he had not seen her for five years, she said, ‘Let’s go in to eat.’ She didn’t kiss him or hug him. So that was his life.

Nancy excelled in school
“My husband, Jerry, has many war medals and two Purple Hearts. He was in many combat zones during the war. I wanted to become a nurse, but my oldest brother had a nervous breakdown. Then in nursing school, after I took care of a young girl who was mentally ill for many weeks, at the hospital, they thought I was having a nervous breakdown, and they sent me home for a while. I went back and worked again for a number of months, but I thought about my parents not having money, and then I decided to go home. My father felt it was my responsibility to go home and help out. I had no more money from the Nurse Corps, which I had before for school, so I didn’t go back.

“About the shooting. We got a phone call from the hospital that our daughter was shot. My husband said, ‘Our daughter is at work,’ and he hung up. I thought it was strange, and I called the hospital back, and it was our daughter. It’s funny, but through the whole thing I was very calm. I think that my faith got me through it.” She cries softly. “In the emergency room when I saw her on the stretcher, I said, ‘What is that blood in back of her head?’ The nurse said, ‘Oh my God, she’s been shot in the head.’ They didn’t know that. So they rushed her off to the operating room. I called our minister friend, and he came.

The fifties
“When she came out of the operating room, we felt we should go right in and have a prayer circle with her. It was so beautiful. She responded immediately to our prayers. She said, ‘Is that you, Mommy? Don’t worry. I’ll be okay.’ I kept saying, ‘Don’t worry; she’s going to make it.’ Jerry kept saying, ‘She isn’t going to make it.’ We all had a lot of support during that time. I didn’t miss visiting her at the hospital for one day. My priest from my hometown, where we used to live, a woman, came to visit us.

“I retired from the day care where I was director for ten years. We had sixty children. Then we moved so Jerry could work with Ed. Even with Ed’s death, I was calm. The minister came again to the house and spoke with Alex after Ed died.

“About Ed. I never felt I knew Ed. When he came to visit us during Easter and Christmas, he spent a lot of time in bed. The marriage was too quick, I thought, but I trusted Nancy’s judgment. He changed after she became pregnant. He could have been closer, but Nancy didn’t complain, so I didn’t interfere. He would fall asleep while she was in labor instead of helping. It was like something snapped.

“He went to the hospital, and when he was there with Nancy, he was all disorganized. Things were really changing. I stayed for a week after she delivered. He brought her to our house for the holidays, and then he would leave. Nancy thought, I think, that he was going to AA the whole time. Then one day she asked me how I would feel if she left Ed and went to live with some friends. It’s funny, Ed always wanted us near Nancy.”

I share with Norma my view that Ed was using drugs during that time and this would explain his unusual behavior.

“Richard came at the right time,” asserts Norma. “It’s just what she is ready for in her life. You know, recently they shared videos of his wife who died and his children when they were young. Nancy shared pictures of Alexander’s first birthday with Ed.

“About my husband. I have to admit he gets what he wants and needs. I always had to work. Now that he is retired, he doesn’t want to work. So I am working. If I had my own needs met, I am afraid we would have a problem. He always gets what he wants,” she cries. “I think I learned it from my mother. She was so good. I’m like that with Jerry. I’m too proud to say anything.”

I tell her that I understand her reluctance to talk with her husband since they have a long history, a whole lifetime together.

I decide to match her self-disclosure with one of my own wife stories. I tell her about my separation from my husband and how very painful it was for both of us. I tell her that I am stronger for it, but there are still things that come up for us. I tell her that my struggle was about the things I want to do with my life that are important to me, particularly my work with women.

Then, Norma continues to tell me of her life. “I teach Sunday school, and I’m on a lot of committees in my church.”

I add, “In the community I have heard that you have a reputation for reading beautifully in church. Do you know that?”

“I guess I express myself well in Bible reading—with expression.” Hesitatingly, she adds, “I feel I read well, but my vocabulary is limited. People say I relate more easily to highly educated people. They say, ‘You know, you give some smart advice,’ but I don’t feel intelligent.”

Something snapped
I ask her, “But what is intelligence? You and I know, as mothers, that having a college degree is not about having wisdom. Wisdom comes from living and examining your own life and then helping others through what you have learned. You have a lot of wisdom and common sense, and it is grounded in your faith in a good world.”

“That’s what a lot of people say about me, that I am able to help them.” She quietly reflects on this for a moment.

“In the little time since we met today, I appreciate how genuine and honest and open you have been,” I tell Norma.

What is intelligence?
“Well, people say to me, ‘How come you can get that person to talk’ or something. You know, I think I have a healing power.” She cries again. “I’ve helped people to be more positive in life.”

“I’m sorry if I sound like I’m rushing, but I am watching the time. How do you feel about Nancy’s move so far away?”

“I am going to miss Alexander a lot. We do so much together. Who is going to take care of him?” She ponders.

Finally, I refer to the woodshed incident and the slap across Nancy’s face.

“I remember it very well. I was furious with him when it happened. I said, ‘You don’t do that to a girl.’ He used a fanny whacker. He said, ‘It’s good for her. My father did it to me, beat me, slapped me in the face. My mother tried to defend me.’”

“Our time is almost over. It would help me to know what you personally got out of this time,” I say to Norma.

“I learned some things about Nancy with Ed and about her father. I learned things about myself and about how deeply Nancy feels about these memories with her father.” She cries. “I learned that I am an intelligent person and that I speak well and that I shouldn’t feel put down if I don’t understand some words. And the idea that I have wisdom. I want to thank you for all you have done for my daughter. I just can’t tell you how she would feel after she saw you. She comes to me now, and we talk more together.”

I ask her if there is anything she wants to know about me. She says, “Yes, how are things going with you and your husband now?”

“We are back together, and he is my friend, but we still have things that keep coming up to work on. He is ready to retire, and I’m at the height of my own creativity and professional work. He is a wonderful help with researching a particular book on his computer when I need it.”

We two mothers sit with tears in our eyes. After the hours and months I have been working on Nancy’s biography, only another mother could cause me to weep publicly.

“It is I who am grateful, that I could work and learn through your daughter and that I could help and be part of her healing.” I have one more question for the mother.

“How do you feel about some of the problems Nancy is left with, for example, her reading and writing?”

I have a healing power
“I don’t think about it. I pray for Nancy every day. I see the same child that I raised, and I love her. I don’t see the flaws,” responds Norma.

On the way out, we hug each other, and she says, “You know, I might get the nerve up to speak to Jerry, and then we might both be back in here!”

Later, I give Nancy a call and let her know that her mother’s interview went well and that we had a wonderful time. The same evening, I call Norma back with one or two questions.

She is the same child I raised
She wants to add to her own story. “I felt so wonderful today. I ended up going up the wrong street when I left your office. I bowled three fabulous games. I got a scratch ticket that a friend suggested and guess what, I won twenty-five dollars! It was quite a day. You know, sometimes I had the feeling of breaking down when I cried in your office, but it felt good. What you said about mothers. It’s good to bring the mother’s voice in. If I could only have conversations now with my mother. She was only 66 when she died of diabetes and a stroke. I was Nancy’s age. I never had a chance to say goodbye. I wish I could sit and hear her voice now, but we did have some fun times together before she died.”

“Sometimes our tears are about remembering or remembrance, not necessarily sadness,” I tell her.

“Yes. I said to my husband tonight, “Do you remember those things you did to Nancy?” He said, “I do, and I felt at the time that it was the right thing.” I asked him if he wanted to talk about some things in therapy with me. He said it wouldn’t do him any good but you sure helped Nancy.”

Postscript: A Reunion

Norma’s mother
Nancy and I have another reunion three years and one day after the shooting. We meet at the office so that I can ask her some additional questions, and at the same time, we go over a working draft of Her Story. It takes more than a few hours for me to read the materials to her. I have a gift for her. Itis a perfect circle on a piece of paper, a symbol described by Barbara Walker in The Women’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects (1988). Slowly, for she continues to struggle with some words, Nancy reads the description aloud:

Three years later
“The universe begins with roundness: so say the myths. The great circle, the cosmic egg, the bubble, the spiral, the moon, the zero, the wheel of time, the infinite womb: such are the symbols that try to express a human sense of the wholeness of things. Everything and everywhere are circular in most pictographic or alphabetic systems. Birth is roundness: the pregnant belly, the full breast. Death brings life full circle: back to the beginning again. Vessels are round. The house is round, containing all stages of life. The temple is round, making wholeness visible. The sacred dance is circular…. We need to restore the idea of the great round, before our linear, ‘power-over’ mindset destroys not only the concept of life all together, but even the fact of life altogether. We have not many places left from which tobegin. The ancient symbolism of roundness may be one of them.”

She is delighted with the gift. I ask how the anniversary of the shooting went for her, knowing that her husband, Richard, has been in the hospital for some minor surgery.

“It was really interesting. Richard and I talked a lot about it, that just coincidentally he was going to be operated on February 18. When we made the appointment, it didn’t dawn on us, which I thought was great then. By the sixteenth, I started to wonder how I really felt about being alone. Richard said he would cancel if I didn’t want him to go. I thought about it all night, and I decided it was exactly right that I was going to be alone last night. It was an opportunity.”

I tell her, “There is an I Ching symbol that means crisis as opportunity. That sounds like you!” We laugh together.

Crisis as opportunity
Nancy continues, “I wouldn’t have created it that way by myself, but it happened, and so that was the right thing. I woke up yesterday feeling really light, really happy. About eleven o’clock in the morning, Alison called me. She had taken the day off to do some meditation. She shared with me what has been coming up for her during this past year. We just talked and connected, told each other that we loved each other and all that. Then I had to go to my folks’ house because they’re in Florida, and I had to bring in the mail. Then I remember closing the door behind me and walking away from their home, and then everything, the beginning of it, just flashed right back. Waving to Alex and my mother at the door, getting into my car, yelling to them out the window, ‘I’ll see you in two hours,’ going off to get a massage, and instead, yesterday, I went off to give a lecture-demonstration at Alexander’s school. I haven’t done one of those in fifteen years.

“I had my music, and I’d worked on it that morning, and I was all excited and bounced ideas off Richard. You’d think I was doing a performance at Carnegie Hall, I was so into it. I had all the shoes lined up, tap shoes and ballet shoes, and all these different things. The kids lined up and sat on the floor, all of them looking up at me with these big eyes, and I started doing my thing, and of course, it just came back to me, like riding a bicycle. I split them into two groups, the Jets and the Sharks, like in West Side Story. They just loved it. It was forty-five minutes long, and I left there, got in the car, and I cried,” she says tearfully. “And I just kept crying, because I felt so grateful that not only could I do something for Alex today, but that I had the physical and emotional health to be able to do it. All of it. I was just overwhelmed. The sun was shining, and the snow was glistening, and I felt like life doesn’t get any better.

“I called my folks down in Florida, and I said, ‘I’m so happy, I’m so grateful. Thank you for all the care you took of me,’ and all this stuff. I was like this emotional fountain yesterday.

“Then we checked in with Richard last night at the hospital, and when I got home with Alex, he put on tights and toe shoes, and told me he wanted to take ballet classes every night from me. He just loved it! He was prancing around the living room, like I’m sure I did when I was five years old. And he went to sleep with his tights and his pointe shoes, which were my old pointe shoes, and he’s got this book with all these pictures of male ballet dancers, and he slept with the book. And, you know, I slept fine. It was just wonderful, a great day.”

“You probably did need that time, to just experience yourself. The things we take for granted about our health, every little movement. The thread running through all our work together was, ‘I’ve got to be there for Alexander.’”

“I have a tremendous belief in him. Probably every parent does. I don’t know. There’s just some kind of sense of who he is, and what he’s going to do with his life.”

“Remember? You already had that vision about him in Sedona. You saw him as a young man.”

“He’s so incredibly outgoing.”

“By the way, I’m curious: When was he toilet-trained?”

“Well, I have a great story for your repertoire. He was 3 and still in diapers. It was extremely significant, I remember. We went to Ecuador to visit my brother on New Year’s Eve, and we burned Alexander’s diapers in a ritual fire. And that’s when he got toilet-trained. He turned 3 in October, so…”

“I don’t quite get it yet. In Ecuador, what did the people throw in the fire?”

“They threw in…they made this huge dummy.”

“An effigy?”

“Right. The dummy is hollow, and you put into this dummy that which you want to leave behind. You’re leaving this behind and entering the New Year.”

“Are these thoughts you leave or objects?”

“Either. You can write something down on a piece of paper and put it in, or you can put an object in. Some people put in cigarettes.And then you burn the dummy.”

“That’s incredible,” I tell Nancy. “I have never seen any description of this way of toilet training in any child psychology books!

“So, you’re happy?” I ask her.

“I’m extremely happy. I think if there was one word that would capture the way I feel right now, the word would be acknowledged. I feel acknowledged in my life as a parent. Alex is really responding. I feel acknowledged because of what you are doing with this book; by Richard as a woman, a lover, all those things.
I feel incredibly acknowledged as a creative person because of this new work I’m doing as a visual designer at a local food company.”

Nancy describes how she is taking the company’s logo and “exploding” it into giant puzzle pieces to hang on one of the office’s large walls.

“You’ve used that image of the puzzle before. You would say about how you would choreograph, that you would get a sense of the whole picture, and then it’s just a matter of taking the pieces and putting them back in the picture.”

A great story: toilet training
“Yes, and it’s the same thing that you talked to me about, with recovering. You have a trauma, you could almost say that the trauma shatters your life into all kinds of fragments. If your life is a huge puzzle, and you start putting it back together again, and there’s a couple of missing pieces, it’s okay, because you’ve got such a big puzzle to work from. But if your life has not been a real big picture, when you put it back together, one missing piece is very important. That helped me to be so much more compassionate with people who I see really not being able to move forward from their trauma. It’s not unlike choreographing a piece. It’s a long process,” Nancy reflects.


Nancy has left our community now, the community where she experienced both violence and a creative life as a dancer and choreographer. A community where she modeled a philosophy of dance education that reached out to gifted women and men alike. We have lost her gifts because of violence and because of her commitment to a better life for herself and her child. As we have seen, the two are not unrelated.

A History of the Body

Sidonie Smith notes in Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body that each woman carries a history of the body with her as she negotiates a construction of meaning. In writing about autobiography, Smith says,

“Writing her experiential history of the body, the autobiographical subject engages in a process of critical self-consciousness through which she comes to an awareness of the relationship of her specific body to the cultural ‘body’ and to the body politic. That change in consciousness prompts cultural critique.”

The metaphors and images from dance and ballet have played a significant part in Nancy’s healing. I know this not only from our actual therapy work together and the feedback that she gave me, but from her explanation to me after her therapy was over about how she knows her healing took place. Now, as a result of recent research of feminist scholars, I decide to ask for a follow-up phone conference. We negotiate when to speak because of the significant difference in time zones between us. After a number of fax communications it happens.

What follows is an example of the rich veins of knowledge a woman keeps in the subterranean caverns of her mind waiting for a therapist with the right kind of knowledge or curiosity who can mine this rich resource. It is an example of the stories that come forward only when there is a well-prepared midwife in attendance.

“I am calling you because I have the additional readings I have done as a result of working on the writing of your story. In our follow-up work about your own healing you described to me so clearly and creatively how you understood your own healing to have taken place, that is, that it was grounded in your own work as a dancer and choreographer.

“I have been looking at the research of a number of feminist scholars, and I realized that there was another layer of richness that you could probably add to your own story. In other words, your personal experience of dance and choreography and your education are embedded in a communal history.”

“Whose work are you reading?”

“Christy Adair, Gabriele Klein, Anna Aalten, and Kathy Davis, to name a few. I did not know of their work when we were working together—some of it has just been published. Some of what Christy Adair’s work covers is the elitist, sexist, and racist tendencies in Western theatrical dance, and she analyzes ballet not only as an art form but as ethnic dance. She points out that ballet has had a close alliance with the ruling class ever since its appearance in the French court of Louis XIV and discussed the confining and hierarchical practices that were in dance. She shows that as an ethnic dance, ballet has reflected the period in which dance was performed and the way the male and female bodies are perceived and expected to ‘behave.’

“Gabriele Klein researched the history of dance in relation to the history of the body and made some connections between the larger society and the demands on and expectations for a ballet dancer. Those periods in which there was either a liberation of or restriction of the human body corresponded to what the female dancer could or couldn’t do with her body.”

“I remember you mentioned Louis XIV in our therapy.”

“Yes. I remember it too, but I didn’t know then what I know now.”

“Another wrote about how masculinity and femininity are acted out through dance. When the body is seen as an object, a thing that can be molded and shaped, it is actually made into a cultural form, and gender reality is created through a continuation of performances in which the body is stylized to fit existing gender norms. And also how men and women are represented in ballet: Women are passive, ethereal, and delicate; men are dynamic, active, and take up a lot of space.

“Now, having said this to you, what can you contribute from your own experience that would be of benefit to other women?”

The woman who once said she didn’t know anything cannot wait for me to stop talking. “Yes. One that is really important to me is the concept or metaphor of dancers eating space. This was a very poignant idea for me because during that period of time there was a lot of publicity about women who were with the New York City Ballet Company being bulimic and anorexic. What happens is that you can’t eat, so you literally eat space—that’s all there is. You put nothing in your body. But as a modern dancer, what I ended up doing—Eating space is hurtling your body in space. You are carving out the space, changing it with very large movements. I could eat the space of my studio from a gluttonous point of view, compared with the strictness of ballet techniques. As you’ve probably read, ballet is very confining and painful. Modern dance is total freedom. There are no rules of engagement, so to speak. In ballet, there are only rules. In fact, I had T-shirts made for the studio that said ‘Dancers Eat Space’!”

“Wonderful!” Long pause as I type.

“I can hear your computer keys clicking away.”

“Yes. I am not really a typist, and I am trying to get your words down as accurately as I can. Now, about your school. I remember hearing from other women that you gave lots of scholarships and that there were work-study programs. What else was there?“

Design in Time
“The choreographer seeking form for the dance creates a design in time. This could be called a time picture. Like any picture it is built up from parts. Once the overall meaning is apparent, the parts fit into a shape or form which supports them.” —Dance Composition, Jacqueline M. Smith-Autard
“Anything we could creatively dream up! There were times when I had no food money and no rent money. One day in particular, I remember I looked in the cupboard and found I had six shelves of corn relish, from a male student who had made all of it as a trade for classes!”

“Well. There are often times when I wish I could do this bartering in my own work, but we have an ethical code that rules this out. I haven’t found a good way around it, because I haven’t given it enough thought or analysis.”

“Knowing you, I am sure you will someday.” She laughs.

“What did you teach at Main Street Dance Theatre? What was your philosophy?”

Six shelves of corn relish
“I wanted to bring out the dancer in every person. This does not necessarily take the classic form. I wanted the movements to be enjoyed at each student’s own level of enjoyment—for them to feel good about their bodies and about moving in space. Ballet is too rigid, too rigorous for a 30-year-old adult. We did modern, jazz, and improvisation. We did full-body workouts with lots of stretching and toning. I would create exercises that would take a humorous look at the day’s events—punching out in space. There was a lot of stress release! And part of my philosophy was figuring out creative ways to give women and men access to dance.”

“Anna Aalten wrote that having the right proportions depends on fashion and taste. It often means having long legs, a slim body, and no hips. Curved breasts, hips, or buttocks are not considered well proportioned; grace and beauty are equated with excessive thinness. And that young female dancers are often preoccupied with weight loss, and the enforced thinness keeps the preadolescent dancers on a puberty holding pattern with a delayed onset of menstruation. What can you tell me about your own dance history in this regard?”

Bringing out the dancer
“I studied both tap and ballet. I have a special story to tell you regarding my body. At 12, I was being trained in strict ballet classes in Boston. Then I started developing breasts. You know, you can’t have breasts in ballet. My dance teacher told my mother that I should besent to a special summer camp where they would help me to lose my body fat. Luckily, I didn’t go to camp because we didn’t have the money. If I had gone, I am sure I would have struggled with anorexia. I rebelled about this—and started doing character dancing. In my head, that’s when I did the shift from ballet to modern. Then I went into jazz dance, and yeah, my body looked jazzy, sexy, inviting. It felt really good. I felt together.”

“You mean your body and your desire to dance?”

“Yes. I felt whole. “

“So you took a stand. It sounds like an act of resistance and rebellion. Was it?”

“I wouldn’t have had the words back then to call it that, but it sure felt a lot better—more powerful, I would say.”

The young female body

“Yes. To act in the world as I wanted to.”

“How did you get into the situation with Ed regarding your body, his demeaning your body, with your strong history as a professional woman and dancer?”

“Well, at first, Ed was my student. But then slowly he began to undermine my own foundation—in terms of my physical self-image. My experience up until then, with men, was very positive. I began to question my body. Was I getting old? What was happening to my body? Why couldn’t I turn this man on?”

“So you had success with other men, but you also had a foundation of your body not ever being just right, and needing to stay thin, youthful, and so on from your early training?”

“Yes on the first part. I hadn’t really thought about the second part.”

“I don’t think of your body as a dancer’s body—the shape. What did you feel about it? What did you have to do with your own body to make it work? Did you have diet problems?”

“I was never really satisfied with my body even when you could see my ribs! I always had weight problems. My whole life I got feedback about being overweight—my father, my teachers. It seems everyone.”

“Do many dancers become choreographers? What did you like about choreography? What got you into it?”

“There are two groups of dancers. Some dancers are instruments for the composer. A small percentage are choreographers. I loved teaching and performing, and I loved choreography. I liked the idea of seeing the big picture in my mind and then making it happen in terms of a finished work. And, don’t forget, I like challenges. It strengthens me.”

“How did you experience your body in different places—the dance studio, marriage, and when you were pregnant?”

“In the studio I was in charge, or maybe control would be a better word. I was the teacher. I never felt comfortable with my body doing anything other than dance. The studio was comfortable, safe. I was happier with my body when I was pregnant. I loved it. It was the coolest thing in the world. You are allowed to have big breasts and a big belly. You know, the contradiction between this body and the ballet body.

“I remember you telling me that you considered Main Street a failure. How can you now say that, based on everything you have told me?”

“Well, my dream was that the community would pick it up, and that didn’t happen.”

Seeing the big picture
“Does this mean that you were a failure? Or that the project was a failure? You could say that the community failed to have your vision. Right?”

“Well, I have come to terms with that now. I think I understand it.”


I make another follow-up phone call to Nancy. She brings me up to date on her life. “I can now read a novel in two months. I started playing tennis to improve my vision and to be able to practice scanning faster. My team won the state competition, and I am going to New Orleans for a meet. I find that I listen more now on the court to ‘see’ the ball. No one locks their doors here daytime or nighttime. Richard and I have started this rental business. I do all of the marketing and advertising. I am also writing an ongoing fiction column in a local newsletter. Alex snorkels, studies karate, and is learning a second language. When I get too tired, I have a problem with my reading and my driving. Otherwise, I’m okay.

The community failed
“And guess what? This will make your day. My father and mother read our story, and when they came to visit me, my father apologized for hitting me. He said he hadn’t realized how it affected me. My mother told me she loved her story within my story. It was a wonderful day for me.

“Get my story told,” she says. “Maybe it can help other women.”

The following week I receive a card in the mail from Nancy. It reads,

My father apologized
Never give up on anybody. Miracles happen every day. I send you energy.

Love, Nancy




Please forgive this terribly long delay in getting back to you. I think that the book is very valuable and moving. From reading the material you sent earlier I think I have one main thought: You do many things that are not traditional in therapy. I think it would be very important to have your thoughts on how you think this actually makes a difference, i.e. can you spell out more explicitly why , for example, taking walks is better than always sitting in the office, why telling the person about your own life is valuable, why is it important to bring your daughter into the relationship. etc. If you can demonstrate that doing these things really helped, it would be very important. Also, do you have any cautions about doing these things? Would there be dangers if an inexperienced therapist tried to emulate you? What things should she think about before doing so?

I think it is very important to liberate therapy from its patriarchal constrictions and “power-over” traditions. So I think it would be even more powerful if you explained further the reasons for working the way you do and what your experience has demonstrated.

The fact is, I, myself, come from a very traditional training and I also have seen some therapists get into great trouble by trying t be “good friends” with women. So more explanation about your experience would be very valuable.

Best wishes in your work,
Jean Baker Miller

Never give up on anybody

Nancy’s Bibliography

(Manuscript page number. Work cited; page number of quotation, if applicable. See bibliography for full information on works cited.)

20. Raymond, Janice G. A Passion for Friends: Toward a Philosophy of Female Affection.
23. Weisman, Leslie Kanes. Discrimination by Design: A Feminist Critique of the Man-Made Environment; p. 69.
31. Betterton, Rosemary. Looking On: Images of Femininity in the Visual Arts and Media; p. 7.
31. Smith, Sidonie. Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body; pp.22-23.
31. Smith, Sidonie. Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body.
51. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution; p. 284.
52. Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects; p.80.
56. Buddhist chant quoted in Friedman, Lenore. Meetings with Remarkable Women: Buddhist Teachers in America; p. 82.
68. Bolen, Jean Shinoda. The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and the Self; pp. 15-18.
79. Walker, Barbara G. The Womans Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Paraphrased from pp.826-827.
90. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
95. Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.
133. John-Steiner, Vera. Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking; pp. 158,165. 137. Hirsch, Marianne. The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative Psychoanalysis Feminism; quoted in Daly, Brenda O., and Maureen T. Reddy, eds, Narrating Mothers: Theorizing Maternal Subjectivities; p.11.
137. Carlson, Kathie. In Her Image: The Unhealed Daughters Search for Her Mother; pp.49-50.
137. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution; p. 235.
Smith-Autard, Jacqueline M., Dance Composition
153. Smith, Sidonie. Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body; p. 131.

Photo Credits

The photo of Sidonie Smith was used with the express permission of the author.

Photo of Adrienne Rich was taken by Gypsy P. Ray and may be used for educational or promotional purposes only. 

The photo of Sedona was taken by the webmaster of and posted to promote the imaging services as well as the sales of used and new digital cameras. It may be used for promotional or educational purposes.

The photo of Toni Morrison (circa 1977) from the U.S. Library of Congress. Copyright by Helen Marcus. The image may be used in promotion of Morrsion’s book Song of Solomon. This is a copyrighted publicity photograph that may be used in context with her books.