NDJ:8 Marc A. Nemiroff, PhD.

My Henry Moore

The “case presentation” is due in two weeks. I’ve done nothing but wait. I dislike case presentations, because cases are not people but collections of facts. Too much is missing. Like Swiss cheese: I can slice the cheese any way I want and the holes will stay empty.

I have reviewed the chart too many times, trying to find the person in the progress notes. I have yet to find a person in progress notes but I foolishly keep looking, forgetting that the notes are the ground and not the figure.

“This is the case of a twelve year old boy….” No. Damn it. Empty again. He will sound like every other twelve-year-old boy except for some variations in the facts of his life. Open holes in Swiss cheese. No life. I want to turn the “case” into a human being. The specificity of his humanness doesn’t lie in his facts. Why do I persist in this beginning when I know I will discard it?

I put the facts back in my mental record and try to recall the imagery that recurred during this particular treatment of this particular twelve-year-old. What was his language? What was his and his family’s iconography? How did they speak? What was their manner of speech? What mattered to them? How did they express their prevailing images? What pictures did their moments consist of?

I am waiting to figure out those salient details that will lead me to the metaphor that turns this case into a boy’s pain. A person’s treatment can be a work of art. I need the cohering element that enhances everyday facts into something that approaches the vibrancy of a living person. I am a healer waiting for that moment when the person in my care coalesces so I can write him. Sometimes the metaphor comes during the day, when I am thinking of something else. Usually it awakens me at that dreaded three-in-the-morning period when bleakness of inner vision and emotional clarity are so often intertwined like substance and space.

Henry Moore. His sculptures combine solid and open space. His space is not empty: sometimes it is figure, sometimes, ground. My patient’s space is anything but empty. I need to find the magic road to a Henry Moore metal-and-space. This is what takes so much time.

Now I’ve got it. I’ve probably been constructing my memories of the twelve-year-old boy and his parents for days without knowing it. Mother felt like she was a bird in a cage. Father remembered as a child being violently thrown across the room “like a bird tossed out of the nest.” Their son felt like a “bird under lock and key.” His room was “blue, like a robin’s egg.” He had begun to shoot birds with his BB gun just as they reached the height of their trajectory. He enjoyed watching them plummet and hear them hit the earth. After months of work he figured out that he was one of those birds and that he was destroying his own growth.

There it is: the family metaphors are avian; the boy was making birds, self-objects, fall in flight. His father summarily terminated his son’s treatment once progress became apparent. The boy was indeed a fallen bird: a shooter of birds, with a caged mother, shot out of the sky by his father. These are not simply facts of the case. They are the way into the meaning of what it was like to feel my patient’s suffering.

Now that I can think, perhaps I can make this boy for an audience using words. The facts are the metal of my Henry Moore. The invisible filigree of metaphor fills the open space, as the sky and the people walking around a Henry Moore become part of the piece. There are no holes in a Henry Moore: the open spaces in a Henry Moore are always full.

My Henry Moore has a title: “Farewell, Fallen Bird.” The sculpture tells the story of a twelveyear- old boy psychologically brutalized by a compensating, inadequate father, identifying with the violence and at the same time afraid, Icarus-like, to fly too high and possibly surpass the father.

Now I can begin to write the story of the suffering of a young adolescent.