The Taboo Scarf and Other Tales

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9780312044343: The Taboo Scarf and Other Tales

Presenting nine interwoven true stories of psychological drama, a prominent psychotherapist elaborates on the frailties and fears that define the human condition

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About the Author:

Dr. George Weinberg is the author of numerous books and articles, including The Taboo Scarf and the best-selling Self-Creation. A nationally renowned psychotherapist, Dr. Weinberg lives in New York City, where his practice includes training other therapists as well as seeing private patients.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Taboo Scarf
THE BEACONI didn't know what I wanted of Susan, and the best defense against saying anything stupid was staying with the obvious.Her face was still beautiful, an arched nose and high cheekbones. She was tall and leggy, and in her flowered silk summer dress she was, if anything, thinner than when I knew her. Maybe I was still in love with her. But she was in my office for a consultation, and that was that."How have you been?" I asked insipidly."Fine. Doing a lot of things. I'm worried about Lisa. Really worried."We were both fumbling and vague--I because it mattered and she because she knew it had mattered to me."I understand. I'm sorry to hear that," I said."She lives alone, in an apartment so shabby that you wouldn't believe it. She has no friends, only cats. I don't know how many by now, four last count, I think.""No friends," I said."No. George, I'm afraid I haven't done a very good job. Marianne expected more of me, Lisa did too. I guess I don'teven know what it is to be a mother, but I certainly want to do what I can.""She was very little when your sister went to California and left her with you, wasn't she?""She was six. Oh, I forget it's been such a long time since we've talked.""That's okay.""Marianne took her two sons when she went off with that doctor. He didn't want any daughters, I guess. My sister's still out there, remarried again. But Lisa won't have anything to do with her, won't even talk to her.""And Lisa's father?""Dead. Oh, dead for many years. I guess I haven't done a very good job.""Look," I insisted, "you took her when her own mother didn't want her. You did your best. You stuck with her. You were the only one who did.""I know. I had a good apartment, enough money. But I obviously didn't give her what she needed."And Susan still had money, it would seem. She wore a black opal ring, surrounded by diamonds, a bit garish, like her gold bracelets. I could recognize the expensive shoes, though when I used to see her every day, I didn't know one pair of shoes from another.I had tuned out for a moment, but returned to hear her still berating herself. "My values were, maybe still are, shallow. You knew that, you always knew it, you tried to help me. I can look great on the outside, but there's very little inside. Lisa's the proof. I think she hates me.""There's got to be more to it than that," I said."You've always been so supportive, George. That's why I came here. It's gotten worse since she was in college. She was nearly an A student at Brandeis. But she didn't talk to anybody. Can you imagine it, an A student at Brandeis, and now she's working as an usherette, walking up and down inside the Beacon Theater with a flashlight, showing people to their seats. An usherette. Living alone. A college graduateliving in the dark, and rushing home. That's what I produced.""I'm really sorry to hear about that. But maybe she isn't so miserable. It's not what you want for her, I know.""Not what I want for her! Not what I want for her!"Perhaps my comment was a bit fatuous, but I was stunned at the celerity of her anger. It didn't go with that porcelain facial expression. I elected to say nothing."What I want for her is a full life. Friends, a husband, interests. A vacation now and then, to go somewhere else. I'm not saying she has to be a jet-setter. But I would like her to have a life, that's all, just a life."I looked at her directly for the first time. She was still ash blonde, with a deep, sexy voice. She still had fantastic hands with long fingers. "You understand what I mean, a life!" she was saying.But something was hollow about her, the years had done something to her. Her self-evaluation had not been totally wrong, perhaps even the implication that she had failed to convey some elixir of life, of hope, to Lisa." ... the way she dresses, the way she lives, the way she moves. I must have done something wrong. Terribly wrong.""You're still on good terms?""We talk. She knows I'm coming here to talk to you. If you could cut down on the number of stray cats she has in that apartment, I'd appreciate it."I said, "I don't know that she even wants therapy.""Doesn't want it. What are you talking about?"Now that I dared look at her more closely, I saw that it wasn't age itself that had changed her. Age can adorn if it brings complexity, if it replaces innocent love with another kind. Her face was pretty, but there was something vapid about it, as if a light had dimmed. Her eyes, which to me had connoted the ever-widening future, now gave a continual message of impatience, of joyless haste. I could imagine Lisa feeling discouraged by them.After a pause, Susan said, "I'm sorry, maybe I haven't been clear, but there's a lot you don't know about her." She tried to say that warmly.But I felt her apology was more manipulative than sincere."George, I've talked about you a lot, how bright and caring you are. I show her your articles sometimes, in Glamour. I've shown her your books. I have two of them, I don't remember the names.""But we don't even know if she'll go to a therapist. You think there's a lot wrong with her. But does she?""She agreed to go.""She's been in therapy before?""Never. You're the only person she'll see. If you agree. I promised her not to tell you anything about her. Maybe I said too much already."It crossed my mind that other people must have loved Susan over the years, and fallen by the wayside. I wondered if any of them still felt the way I did."Look, Susan, maybe you're right and she does need therapy. But I don't think I'm the person to see her.""Why not? I'll pay you whatever you want. Don't worry about that. I have money.""No. It isn't that," I protested."Well, why not then? You're the one she trusts.""Well, I know, but--" I started to say it was because of our relationship, but caught myself. What? A relationship twenty-five years ago stopping me from working with someone else! And I'd only seen Susan once between then and now. She would never understand. I wasn't even sure I did. How could I say, "Susan, I'd think about you too much, it wouldn't be fair."I said nothing."Please, you're very well known now," she said."Well known? Hardly.""Well, you're certainly doing well. And I don't trust anybody else. If I ever asked you anything, I'm asking you this. I've already spoken to her. I wouldn't know what to say if you said no."She saw me hesitating. She said, "I told her all about you. Really.""Susan, you know if I did work with Lisa, you and I couldn't talk anymore. It wouldn't be fair to her.""Of course," she said, as if it didn't matter. It obviously meant a lot more to me than to her."Okay," I said. "Have her call me.""I don't know if she will.""She'd have to. I can't chase her. It wouldn't do.""Of course. I understand."She would understand the value of being solicited, being a high-level call girl. At the idea, I stopped myself forcibly from thinking of her that way."I'll have her call you. I'm so glad you're willing to see her. We consider it a compliment.""Well, it's hardly that, Susan." I felt brokenhearted, and instantly regretted having consented.As if on cue, she softened. "Are you still reading poetry, George?""Yes, I do. Not as often as I'd like, but I watch a lot of Shakespeare videotapes. I have a whole library.""Oh, that's wonderful. How should I pay you?"Something told me to resist the impulse not to charge Susan for that session. I said, "I'll add it on to Lisa's bill if she calls. I have your address.""Well, I guess I'd better not take any more of your time."We rose simultaneously.At the door, I told her, "It was great to see you. I'll do my best."It was a stupid final statement, I thought to myself. 
 
The way Renoir must have touched his nearly finished paintings with hints of vermilion that gave them supernal life, the next day tinged my consciousness with memories of Susan when we were both seventeen. I could see her again, cool and fresh, her thick hair falling softly over the sides of her face, her white blouse contrasting with her deeply tanned neck.Both of us were poor, going to City College and working in the library after hours, but we found time for long walks down Riverside Drive. Feeling completely unworthy of her, I'd never dared make a sexual approach, which I felt might ruin everything. We shared the dream of becoming great writers, and I pictured our names etched in gold on adjacent black leather volumes of the Harvard Classics. Our two books would speak to lonely people as yet unborn, signaling them to awareness of the earth's magnificence.One summer day, Susan and I had paused to lean on the low railing and gaze at the Hudson River, not far from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. I recited Tennyson's line to her, "We dipped into the future, far as human eye could see." Her eyes sparkled as she looked unforgettably at me, and I will always think that she loved me in that moment.She said to me, "George, I really want to give something beautiful to the world."How could I have guessed that her willowy body and perfect oval face were to be her gift?Already she was being pursued by much older men. I pictured them as coarse, wrinkled people in fedora hats, the kind who gauge everything by money and what it can buy. They brought her to shows and restaurants, but none of them ever recited poetry to her or believed in her the way I did.One in particular offered to buy her a whole wardrobe if she would sleep with him. "I hardly know the man," she said to me, and seemed as repulsed by the offer as I was. I guess I imagined, What did she need money for? She could take out any book in the library, and that was what counted.Naturally, she didn't inform me when she started accepting payment for sex. Her earrings, her new dress, she explained by saying that she had found a wonderful discount store downtown. But the lines I discovered and memorized and recited to her began to mean less. And one day she surprised me by saying, "You really could be a very attractive man if you learned something about clothes." I felt confused and angry, not at what she said but at the distance from which she saw me.Then she broke an appointment to meet me after an English class, and I didn't see her for months. When I met her by accident on Broadway, she told me she'd quit college, and I saw her no more.I thought about her when I got into Columbia graduate school, when I got my doctor's degree, and in spot moments later on. It even crossed my mind that maybe I was betraying her by staying away and that if I had any integrity I would have shouted at her to come back, not to me but to life. However, I sensed I would be rebuffed, and so I didn't. 
 
Lisa arrived ten minutes late, looking somewhat as Susan had led me to picture her. In a worn cotton dress, she seemed roundish. She wasn't unattractive, but she had inherited none of the beauty of Susan or her sister, and she obviously wanted none of the life-style that Susan had paid so dearly for.She pointed at me as she said, "You're George Weinberg.""And you're Lisa."After sitting down, she asked, "So how do we start?"I told her I'd spoken to Susan briefly about her. "But you tell me why you came here.""My mother wants me to see you."I asked her what she thought her mother was concerned about."She wants me to dress beautifully, exercise, and be gorgeous. She doesn't like the way I live. She doesn't like anything about me. She doesn't like the way Henry, Olivia, Honey, or Marshall live either."I surmised that she meant her cats. "Why not?""They sleep too much, I guess. They don't go out and meet anybody, and they're satisfied with me.""You have four of them?""She's never seen Miss Prim.""Oh, I see. Why not?""When I found her, she was in an alley with her two deadkittens. Miss Prim is dying too. I don't want my mother to see her, do you understand?""You don't think your mother might help her? What exactly is wrong with her?""Her eyes look cloudy, and she has a big tumor near her tail. She can hardly move. She doesn't eat, except when I make her. That's enough about Miss Prim."Lisa wasn't looking at me, but at the wall."Meanwhile," she said, "my mother wants me to lose twenty pounds so she can give me some of her dresses. And she wants me to find a fancy place to go in them. She'd like me to marry a doctor, maybe an ugly doctor because I'm ugly, and give him plenty of sex.""She said that?""Not the sex part, but I know that's what's on her mind. But she knows I hate doctors, they're all ugly, really.""What do mean?""Well, they all experiment on animals in medical school, don't they? They kill dogs and cats and mice, at least a few, don't they? They'd kill Miss Prim if they found her."I guess you'd like me to get a better job and to get married and to give up my cats, wouldn't you? And not to work as an usher, wouldn't you? To do everything different.""Lisa, why do you say that?""I don't know."But here I felt it was important to push. If she truly assumed I was against her, our work, whatever it was to be, would be over before it began."Lisa," I repeated, "why do you think I want you to change your whole life?"At first she didn't answer. "Well, it would be the smart thing to do, wouldn't it?""Lisa, that's not my aim. Believe me, if you're happy, I'm happy. If you're not, if you're unhappy about something, if things aren't working for you, that's where I want to help, if I can. I don't tell people how to live.""Well, I have no desire to get married or to find the rightman or to leave my apartment. It would be more than enough for me if Miss Prim didn't die. Much more than enough, whether you believe that or not, it's true. Whether you believe that or not, it's true."With that, she tucked her feet under her, resting the soles of her badly cracked shoes squarely on my couch. She was making a statement, whose import I already knew was more sweeping than I could read at the time.I chose the route of expressing my own annoyance as a way of reassuring her. "Listen, Lisa, you can believe this or not, but it's true. I don't give a damn if you stay in your job and in your apartment forever. Or if you never get married. Or if you never lose weight or go out on a date. I'm not here to tell people how to live. There's a lot of ways to live. Millions, maybe billions. Some work for the person and some don't. Do you believe me?"Without bothering to look at me, she said simply, "No.""Why not?" I asked."Mother said Doctor Dubman would help me. I talked to him for three months, he didn't say much of anything, except that he was helping me. Then I found out he told mother everything I said. They used to ta...

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