is it not better abort than be barrenSamuel Beckett, Cascando
Once a month, Dr Mother descends into Hades for her pro bono work with dead clients who, after all, no longer have the means to pay her. During one of her descents, Eurydice recognises Dr Mother, and approaches her.
“You’re Orpheus’s shrink,” she says, and Dr Mother nods.
“You must be Eurydice.”
They agree to meet a week later.
The next time Dr Mother enters Hades, she sits with Eurydice, whose feet are submerged in the waters of the Styx, and listens to her new client.
“He thinks I don’t see him when he comes down here, and sometimes, he’s right, I barely do. But he thinks I don’t know what he’s doing, and that’s wrong. I know he comes here to win me back. I’m not stupid.”
“And how,” asks Dr Mother, “does that make you feel?”
“Like it is Orpheus who reduces us to the types we end up being: I have become the thing he is not. Orpheus is so relentlessly open, so gaping, so wide, that I cannot be anything but the opposite, that which is closed. There is no room for me anymore in openness, because he has claimed all of it. All that’s left for me to be is that which closes. Orpheus is the open, yearning mouth, the chanted O to which I am the sealing M. Without me, Orpheus remains open in perpetuity, whereas I cannot open myself at all.”
“Why do you think you are doomed to be closed?”
“Not doomed, but every time I try to open to him, Orpheus pushes me back into retreat.”
“How does he do that?”
“He wants me to be something I cannot be, Dr Mother. He expects me to fix him, or care about him, or something.”
“Don’t you care about him?”
“Caring for him would mean losing my freedom.”
“What freedom, Eurydice? You have locked yourself inside an unapproachable death.”
“Unapproachable? He violates the laws of nature every time he walks down here, lyre in hand, with that stupid face of his, reaching his hand out to me as if I was supposed to want to take it, to want to return up there with him. Every time he gives me these pieces of himself I care less about him. He violates the rules of logic by waking up each day and thinking that my views have changed.”
“What are your views?” asks Dr Mother.
“That I am not in love with him.”
“Are you sure?”
“What I mean is, I don’t want to be with him.”
“What would it mean to be with Orpheus?”
“To be bound to him,” says Eurydice. “To lie to him, in a sense.”
“Isn’t he bound to you?”
“Yes, and he suffers for it.”
Dr Mother sighs.
“Orpheus is scared,” she says, “of your indifference. Are you indifferent towards him?”
“When I see him walk down that slope, my peace of mind is gone. When he stands in front of me, pleading, I wish I had lids to close over my eyes. When he tells me how much he wants me back, I want to scream at him, because I have told him before that I don’t care.”
Dr Mother smiles. “I hear your frustration, Eurydice.”
“You know,” says Eurydice, “sometimes I dream of Orpheus so vividly it scares me. I dream that my body has been mummified, a state in which it remains for weeks until it is carried up to a field in the sun where it lies in the tender grass, and in this field Orpheus leans over me. It takes me a while to recognise his face, which has horns like those of a cow. Then, against my hard, mummified skin, I feel Orpheus’s warm tongue lick every part of me until I soften. The tough leather melts away, and with every lick he reveals new, receptive skin, which he cares for with the enormous tenderness Orpheus carries inside him, and I feel open again in a way I haven’t for a long time. Orpheus kneels next to me and holds my shoulders in his hands, saying, ‘My heart is yours, Eurydice.’ But then, when I wake from this dream, I am furious, because the sadness I feel cannot be expressed down here in Hades. I am furious with Orpheus for unsettling my peace of mind, the thing I am down here for. Orpheus can be kept at a distance anywhere but in my dreams. At the same time, I know that the sadness I feel cannot possibly be because I am away from Orpheus, because being away from him is my choice. I don’t want Orpheus, I just want to feel like myself again, and Orpheus is keeping me from doing that.”
“You seem very sure of this,” says Dr Mother.
“Doesn’t your dream seem like the opposite of this? Doesn’t it seem like Orpheus is the sort of person who can take you beyond yourself, give you back your abilities for openness, caring, and freedom?”
“Orpheus is not someone with whom you feel a bond?”
“Eurydice, listen to me: regardless of what Orpheus’s feelings for you are, regardless of how loyal he is to you, you have your own version of things. But I want you to consider if this indifference you claim to feel towards Orpheus is a symptom of you protecting yourself, or if you’ve truly reached a stage in which Orpheus means nothing to you. I know you need better reasons than a common myth to open up to each other, but as things stand now, what I see is an imbalance. Orpheus is open wide, wanting you with an intensity you may resent; you, on the other hand, are closed to Orpheus, unwilling to open up to him again, and the more he tries the further into an emotive deadening you retreat from him. Do you know the Edward Hopper painting New York Movie?”
“The one with the usherette?”
“Do you know what Leonard Michaels says about the usherette in this painting?”
“That she is you, Eurydice. ‘Eurydice,’ Michaels says, ‘stands at the edge of Hades waiting for Orpheus.’”
“What’s your point? I’m famous of sorts. I’ve had articles written about me, and people care about my taste in shoes.”
“Indeed. So does Michaels. His Eurydice is submerged in thought while waiting for Orpheus, who doesn’t show up, and when she’s bored she gives up and goes to a party, where she meets a man. The man isn’t Orpheus, but unlike Orpheus the man speaks to her, and to Eurydice in her heels and tired condition, this is better than nothing. ‘No artist,’ says Michaels, ‘could save Eurydice Besides, if Orpheus saved her he’d make an end to desire, an end to art. His fate was to be torn to pieces by a horde of mythical women who then flung his head into the ocean.’ Is this what you think should happen, Eurydice?”
“Hey, it’s not my fault the myth goes as it goes. Besides, I don’t believe in fate.”
“When you met Orpheus for the first time, didn’t it feel like fate? Didn’t it feel like a gift from the world when you saw his face and his essence flooded your body and you thought of holding him against you until your heartbeats merged?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Eurydice says. “He failed me.”
“He was supposed to make me love him. He was supposed to be the sort of person I could make me feel safe, keep anxiety at bay.”
“Orpheus is only human, despite his beautiful face, and his talents. Is the fact that he wants you really such a turn-off?”
Eurydice rolls her eyes. “He is so desperate and intense.”
“I know,” says Dr Mother. “But suppose these things come with the territory of being Orpheus. Is he unlovable to you because his mind is set up in such a way that it causes him to suffer? Is he revolting to you because he feels the weight of the world too deeply?”
“I want someone fun, someone easy, someone stable, or, failing that, I want to be alone down here in Hades. The food is decent, and you get used to the smell.”
“Our time is almost up, Eurydice. I would like to see you once a week to start. There is a lot we should talk about.”
“You can’t change my mind, doc.”
“It’s not my intention to do so, Eurydice. All I’m here for is to help you understand why you run from love.”
“If you say so.”
Dr Mother packs her things and waves to Eurydice, who is still bathing her feet in the Styx, then turns to Hermes and lets him escort her back up into the land of the living.
Leonard Michaels, The Power of Silence, in: Vogue, June 1993