Chapter Seventeen I
When the Lord gets ready, you got to move.
Mississippi Fred McDowell
Dr. James Svensson has recently taken a job with Dr. Bernard Epstein, his former psychiatry professor, now Director of Psychiatry at a mid-size hospital on the edge of the West Village. Dr. Epstein had been after James to join him for years, but James didn’t want to be on the staff. Finally the hospital, needing James more than James needed them, agreed to a consulting arrangement.
James and Kara decide a home nearer the hospital makes more sense than their current upper east side condo. Janah’s school, the hospital and Kara’s art dealer are all in Greenwich Village or nearby Soho. Kara is looking for a place with room for his office, two regular bedrooms with baths, Kara’s studio, and kitchen and living area. Kara and James aren’t eight figures rich, they are mid seven’s, not counting the condo they currently own. While they couldn’t afford a tower penthouse, a roomier brownstone condo isn’t a problem, even in the pricey West Village.
If Kara’s art kept selling, who knew? Kara views her success as an accident. The market for contemporary art is fickle. It seems to suffer a kind of collective attention deficit disorder. Kara doesn’t crank out work with machine-like regularity, one piece she gave to James’ hospital, one hung at Janah’s school, half the rest had been sold, the other half are in storage.
One of the other Chapmans parents, Sarah Silverman, is a dealer in Soho; her daughter Morgan quite a budding artist herself. Two years earlier, Morgan told her mom about a piece hanging in the foyer of the school. Sarah went to see it. Kara suddenly had a dealer who knew what she was doing and quickly developed a small, knowledgeable following. Kara’s talent is Dali-like, surreal, and incredibly accurate. The precision of her work is, like Dali’s, unworldly.
The converging events, new job for James, Kara’s budding success and Janah being much closer to school, led to Kara’s casually looking at real estate one morning after she dropped Janah off at Chapmans.
On this spring day, nearing the end of Janah’s second year at Chapmans, Lacy and Janah are in Lacy’s apartment.
Lacy collects her thoughts, “Janah, can we talk something over before you go?”
Lacy studies the twelve year old seated on the floor across from her. She looks twelve and she doesn’t, Lacy thought. Janah doesn’t act twelve, she doesn’t speak twelve. Lacy knows several parents of Chapmans girls who had less sense than a twelve year old, and they are in their thirties or forties. Why couldn’t it work the other way?
Lacy, “I grew up in privilege, same as any girl from a wealthy, ambitious American family. I was diligent, mannered, well-bred as they say. I sailed through grammar school and became one of the girls in the popular clique, although we hypocritically hated that term. I wasn’t the leader, I was in ‘the group'. I participated in all the gossip, meanness and one-upmanship common to many adolescent girls.”
Lacy stops for a moment, clearly reflecting back, seeing herself then.
“We were superficially self assured, little Paris Hiltons all. Brainier maybe, which only made us intellectually snottier.”
She looks in the distance, her recollection forms, her mouth drops at the corners, her eyes tighten at the memory. It is clear she is remembering something ugly. Lacy’s gaze returns to Janah.
She takes a deep breath, as if gathering the resolve to continue, “We took sadistic pleasure in hazing girls who wanted in to our little pack of hyenas. One seemed to try extra hard. That just made mean more fun. We made her a target of gossip, an outcast. There was no reason. She did nothing. We did it because we could. I suppose to assure ourselves we were truly special.”
Hesitant to go on, she sighs, her head down, then looks at Janah. In the silence, Janah feels the weight of Lacy’s emotion, sees it in her eyes, her lips. Lacy’s shoulders sink, her hands restless.
Lacy says, almost in a whisper, “She killed herself.”
Looking into Janah’s eyes, Lacy begins to cry. Janah says nothing. Lacy does not want to be consoled.
“I didn’t want to face it. I would have been happy to bury it, ditch my friends, even change schools. It wasn’t easy to deny, we tried. We had done this kind of petty cruelty before. She left a journal describing our behavior and her feelings. There were the usual tears and recriminations, meetings with teachers where we all lied and cajoled, denying we had done anything. I almost believed it, teachers and parents went along whether they believed us or not. We came from privilege, the administrators were intimidated, just like the girls we hazed. Try as I might to bury my role, it’s stuck in me, stuck in my heart.”
Janah, “Prior to this, the other tormented girls seemed to live with their pain, find other friends. This one was overwhelmed.”
Lacy sobbing now, her shoulders shaking, tears streaming. Janah waits, feels the pain of her sad weeping friend.
Janah, “Lie down for a bit. On your back, here on the mat.”
Janah places a small pillow under Lacy’s head. She turns down the lights, the room now only in the soft glow of candles. Lacy is quietly sniffling. Janah brings a warm moist towel and a dry one, sits behind her cross legged, wipes her face, dries it. She puts the towels aside and places her hands under Lacy’s neck, slowly massaging. When she feels the shoulders relax, she begins to stroke her head and temples, very lightly, barely touching her. She places her hands on either side of Lacy’s head, her fingers just under the jaw line, warm hands relaxing tension. Janah tells her in a whisper to breathe slowly, to let any thoughts come. That she should observe them, not label them in any way.
They remain this way for the better part of an hour. There is complete stillness. Janah removes her hands and stands. Lacy lays quietly. Janah makes more tea and brings two cups over to the mat, they drink in silence.
After some minutes, “I don’t know what to say. All of it just spilled out of me, Janah.”
“You carry the girl’s pain as well as your own.”
“I’ve felt disgusted with myself for years.”
“You, like the girl, sought gratification by seeking status. It’s pleasurable to think we’re above the crowd. There’s even some pleasure in seeing others suffer, isn’t there?”
“What kind of people are we, what kind of person am I?”
“Children observe their parents’ fight to climb to the top, to gather power and prestige. What can they think but that’s how life is? You did, as did the girl who unfortunately took her life.”
“I should have helped her, or at least, not been one of the ones to hurt her.”
“You understand now what you could not understand then. You are not that person anymore. Everyone suffered a costly and painful lesson. Status seeking in any form is ultimately pain and misery, to ourselves and others. When we seek to gratify ourselves by paying any price for acceptance, or by lording it over others, it always brings grief.”
“A young girl killed herself.”
“Which, while painful and unfortunate, can’t be laid at the feet of some adolescent girls. Surely there was much more to this girl than mistreatment by classmates. You can’t know.”
They are quiet for a time.
“I’ve tried to push it away. Now that I’ve said it, I don’t know what to do. It sits there, staring at me.”
“No one wins these things, both the leaders and followers are ultimately miserable.”
“So, while there is no absolution for the part I played, there is also no way to say that anything I did or didn’t do would have changed the outcome?”
“None. You, the members of your group, the girl, all suffered. The families who promoted achievement at any cost paid a price, the teachers and administrators paid a price.”
“Yes, exactly. If I had left my friends and befriended her, would that have saved her life? Could I have prevented this?”
“We can’t know. Perhaps she would have wanted in the group even more, or, if not, then what? Start another group which only perpetuates the problem? No single hand struck her down. What is simple frustration or hurt feelings for one overwhelms another. Blame is pointless.”
Lacy doesn’t feel absolved, nor is she free of the burden. She feels clarity. The young girl had no magic wand. She had listened, not judged.
Lacy rests her jaw on her hands, thinking, then she folds them in her lap, “If I had done then what you helped me do now, it might have come out very differently. I could have stopped and looked at myself, my need to feel superior, the girl’s need to fit in. Adolescent children don’t stop and reflect, not deeply. Maybe they can’t.”
Janah, “Finding a place in the group seems the most important thing. We believe there’s security there. We don’t question our need for security, much less question the things we do to get it. Activity that starts in confusion only creates more confusion.”
Lacy sees it, they stand, she hugs Janah at the door. There is nothing further to be said. Revealing, then opening, the emotional wound had been painful. It would be the beginning of healing.
Chapter Eighteen I
Bringing down into the brain the content of
another brain requires special training.
There is nothing that cannot be achieved by training.
Nisargadatta, I Am That
Janah meditates every day. For the most part, she does not meditate about anything, nor is she seeking to achieve any so called higher state. She simply sits cross legged and whatever happens, happens. When she began to reach out, it was a different sort of mediation. She was searching for someone.
The experience of seeing a man violently strike a woman, nearly brutalizing a small child left a stain on her psyche. Her subsequent research on spousal and child abuse added to the impact. She had read her father’s books for years, had grasped it only intellectually then. Then she’d witnessed the ugly reality.
During one day-long effort, her mental probing yielded a presence, a separate energy emerging in her head. Unlike my early reception, Janah’s is clearer from the outset. She could see me from the start: long black hair, oriental eyes, even the slim angular body. She sees through my eyes. It took a while because I didn’t understand what was happening. That’s why Janah tuned in when I was brushing my hair in front of the mirror. When we are in harmony, I see through Janah’s eyes. Unlike Janah, I didn’t know it. It had taken over a year for the image to focus. Janah understood what was happening, and she partially understood why. The universe had given her extraordinary gifts. To allow them to come to fruition required even more than herself. A Daphne Sylk is essential. We didn’t know it then; we would be years in preparation.
Janah explains why I can only tell my moms things in general. Not to withhold, out of kindness. The process would be too much for them to absorb. It would take a long while to fully complete. It is not without risk. One mind in another is unknown territory. There is no way to plan, no way to predict what might go wrong.
The connections at first are tenuous, fragile, like cell phones too far from a tower. I refer to missing spaces in our mental conversations as dropped calls. It makes Janah giggle, to my sensitive hearing, that sound is creamier than Haagen-Dazs.
It is nearing the end of the school year, both of us twelve, three months apart in age, Janah the younger, my birthday in September, Janah’s in mid December.
In late April, Kara begins to look for a condo nearer to both Janah’s school and the gallery that handles her paintings.
Chapter Nineteen I
Since her revelation to Janah, there has been a release in Lacy. She is able to breathe fully around others. Until then, she only felt safe in the confines of her apartment and the school beneath it. First the friendship with Janah, now she and Kara have become close. It pleases Janah for her mother to have Lacy as a friend. Kara’s intensity tends to take her over for long stretches. It isn’t that her mother is cold. Rather so completely focused on work she has little left for friends. Lacy, an artist herself, even if a more casual one, knows the solitude required for creativity, a shy beast, to emerge. Both women, reticent and self contained, find simple comfort with each other. A lunch, tea or coffee, a walk to a gallery or a visit to Lacy’s apartment. There is no constant stream of conversation, often no conversation at all, a compatible silence.
One afternoon, over a glass of wine, Kara says, “Janah is excited about her part in the school. James and I appreciate your confidence in her.”
Lacy “Janah inspires confidence. She does it with me and she does it with the girls at school. She’s busier than the instructors. Very occasionally I see her alone for a few minutes in the language lab, earphones on, fiddling with the computer. I think it’s French, or Spanish. I hope she’s not getting burned out.”
Kara shakes her head, “It’s not a problem, really. Janah takes meditation breaks. She says it allows her to rest and recharge. Yoga is another source of renewal, even though she spends some of it on more athletic stuff, like the flips and tumbling.”
Lacy frowns slightly, “What flips?”
Kara, “She can do a standing back flip. That’s common enough, she can do a standing front flip as well, which I’m told is more difficult. I don’t know the physics of it, she says it’s harder because she can’t see the ground before landing. Then she does a series of handsprings…and walks around on her hands through the house. I turn to tell her something and I’m talking to her feet. It makes me laugh every time.”
Lacy, “No wonder she’s got all that muscle tone.”
Kara, “I thought she might go for gymnastics. We asked, she said no. She said she has plenty to do and she likes what she’s doing. That was that.”
It is just after the spring break. A week later, while Lacy is tied up a few extra minutes with a teacher’s questions, Janah waits in the music room. There was always someone practicing and Janah enjoyed whatever the students were working on. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t a completed piece, the starting and stopping as the girl learned her music. Janah thought it beautiful to watch. A technical skill turning into emotion, making the instrument come alive.
Lacy stops in and asks if Janah is ready. A few minutes later seated on the mat face to face, drinking tea, Lacy asks, “What’s going on? You look thoughtful.”
Janah, “Our minds find problems to chew on, always more to think about. It makes problems even as it grasps for solutions.”
Clearly Janah had been intrigued by something someone had confided to her earlier.
Lacy sensed Janah is reflecting on the human nature of the situation, not the humans involved, she is intrigued, “Tell me more.”
“When we have a problem, we look for a way out, so it won’t disturb us.”
“Isn’t that natural, Janah?”
“We’ve made it seem so. When we cast about for a solution, the search is just another problem, isn’t it?”
“Suppose we’re trying to pay attention to something, and we find our mind wandering. The solution for most of us is to try and force the mind to attend. Now, instead of paying attention we’re worrying about how to pay attention. About why we aren’t attending, about being bored, all the rest of it.”
Lacy reflects on Janah’s observation, “If we don’t go into the why or the whatever, how do we get back to paying attention?”
Janah, “Can we simply recognize that we’re not paying attention? Not drag in ‘whys,’ judgments about ourselves or the subject matter? If we can only be aware we’re not attending, we may find attention returns on its own.”
Lacy, “You are saying that many problems we carry around might resolve themselves with far less anxiety if we would simply be aware of the problem, not rush to find some solution?”
Janah, “Yes, or to demand an explanation, place blame.”
Lacy’s hands traced her jaw, “How like our minds. To make one problem into two. It must like problems.”
“I saw a New Yorker cartoon, a preacher was giving a sermon. The caption was, ‘and on the 8th day, God created problems’.”
Chapter Twenty I
James, “You talk to her mentally? How’s it really work?”
Janah, “Two tin cans and a really long piece of string.”
Janah is in her dad’s office at home, he has questions.
James, “You have been in contact with your friend?”
Janah, “Everyday, several times a day. It’s gotten quite clear. We still make some perception errors. I reached for a glass that wasn’t there during one conversation. She had it on her vanity, I was seeing through her eyes. It makes us laugh.”
James, “So you still have to go slowly when you are seeing through her eyes?”
Janah, “Yes. When we do visuals, we have to remember it’s not like just talking, there’s a bit of a delay while we sort out who is seeing what.”
James, “And it’s still painful?”
Janah, “Less so, but yes. It’s like studying something very intensely, if we go at it too long, our heads hurt. We press it a bit more, when it gets too sharp, we quit and just verbalize.”
James, “My head hurts when I think about it. This is mystifying. I can’t help but wonder….”
Janah, “If I’m making it up.”
James, “It crosses my mind.”
Janah, “I have a simple solution. I’ll contact her, right now. She’ll call here, put her on the speaker. Then do something, anything. She’ll tell you what you’re doing.”
James, “That would be a solution. Would it be okay for your mother to be here as well?”
Janah, “Sure. It’ll be fun.”
James goes to find Kara. When they return, he explains what Janah is going to do.
Kara, “What if it doesn’t work?”
Janah grins, “Then I’ll voluntarily admit myself to dad’s hospital.”
She is quiet, her eyes close. A few minutes pass, the phone rings. Kara and James look at each other, it rings again, James stares at the phone.
Janah, “Maybe you should answer.”
He hits the speaker button, “Hello.”
“Hi Dr. Svensson, hello Mrs. Svensson, it’s Daphne. Is this too cool, or what?”
James, “Hello, Daphne. If this is for real, yes, it’s very cool, and very, very strange.”
“Well, I can’t disagree. Janah’s explained her idea. Shall I tell you what you’re wearing?”
I describe both he and Kara, then Janah walks around the room and I tell them what she is looking at. Janah picks a book off the shelf, I read them the title, she opens it and I read the text.
Kara, “My God. How are you two doing this? This is impossible, isn’t it?”
Janah, “We don’t know. No one can explain consciousness either, but it’s there.”
James, “I hadn’t thought of it like that. It’s true. Daphne, I’m going to mute the speaker for a minute. Janah will ask you a question, then I’ll put it back on. You won’t hear me ask the question, Janah will have to mentally contact you. Do you understand?”
“Good idea. Do it.”
James hits the mute, then asks Janah, “My question is, what do her parents know about this?”
James un-mutes the phone, “Still there, Daphne?”
“Yes, the answer is, my parents know about the same thing you do. That I’ve been in touch with someone I’ve never met, and that we can talk, that we can see what the other is seeing, hear what the other is hearing.”
James asks Kara, “Heard enough?”
Kara nods slowly, still trying to process it.
James, “Okay, you’ve convinced us. The next step is obvious.”
“Yes, time to meet.”
James, “Will you guys set that up? I’m not sure I want to call your parents out of the blue.”
“I’m going to tell them we had this conversation. Janah and I will work it out. By the way, I understand you are looking for a place in the Village.”
Kara, “How did you…never mind. Yes. I haven’t found the right space yet.”
“The place above us is for sale. It’s a great building, on Perry St. I’ll get the agent’s number and give it to Janah.”
Kara, “How many rooms?”
“It’s pretty much like ours. The Bloomfield’s lived there, but the kids all grew up and the place was too big. There’s three bedrooms, actually four, my mom uses one as an office. Big kitchen opens to a living/dining area. Ours is open clean through, theirs has a wall between the dining room and living room. Chris knocked ours out a long time ago, makes it look bigger. Let’s see, there are three bathrooms and a laundry room. Closets in two bedrooms are huge, the others are adequate. They did a neat kitchen makeover a couple of years ago, and redid the bathrooms two years before that. They didn’t have pets.”
Kara, “Sounds right. James needs an office at home, I need a room to paint, with light.”
“Our building is on the corner.”
Kara, “Oh, good. Then there are windows along two walls.”
Kara, “Sounds interesting. I’ll make an appointment when I get the number.”
Janah, “I’ve got it.”
Kara, “How on earth did you get it?”
“Daphne has it in her head, it’s on the sign outside her place. She’s seen it every day for over a month.”
I chime in, “Janah does that all the time. She fishes around in my brain and finds stuff I don’t remember.”
James, “Uh, can we slow down for a bit? I’m beginning to feel like I’m living in a science fiction novel.”
“When you make the appointment, tell Janah and I’ll make sure my moms are here. I’m so pumped about actually meeting. My moms will be so relieved to find out I’m not insane.”