Commentary Magazine


Her Son, the Teen-Aged Ascetic

A man may remember his childhood with pleasure, but where is one who does not wince at the memory of his adolescence?

John A. Rice, I Came Out of the 18th Century

All that ninety-degree summer, Pete frantically pedaled his bicycle—in a frenzy of sexual tension, loneliness, and gastric upset. He rode eight miles, each way, to the pool in order to swim two miles every day. He rode out in the countryside for still more exercise, and on city streets at night. He rode downtown to the health-food store where he worked Saturdays and bought his supplies. He would not ride, for any reason, in a car. He lived on large doses of natural vitamins and protein supplements. All ordinary food posed some kind of threat: preservatives, dyes, refining processes, diethylstilbestrol, sugar, saturated fats, the paralyzing requirements of a well-balanced diet, or—merely—some digestive agony of his private experience.

He was sixteen. He was obsessed with guarding his health. Small for his age anyway, he had lost fifteen pounds. He was exhausting himself. One night, he rode off on his bike threatening to throw himself under a car.

They sought to distract him with a trip to the Cape. He pedaled while they motored to arranged meeting points. He consumed his pills and pastes at the motel while they ate at restaurants. The odor of his indigestion fouled their shared quarters at night.

His desperation had been growing, in spurts, since the start of high school, two years earlier. It began with the dropping of onerous courses and becoming too involved with athletics. He kept a notebook of Do’s and Don’t’s for avoiding heart disease and tried to adhere to all of them. He blamed his lost sense of well-being on lasting effects from that spring’s bout of mononucleosis and all his efforts were bent on physical restoration: strenuous weight lifting, wrestling team, endurance swimming, jogging, hard cycling, and—ever increasingly—restricted diet. Schoolwork strained his ability to concentrate and was detested. Other students, he complained, came to school with colds and smoked in the halls. He left resentful notes on the kitchen table: “School is hazardous to physical and mental health.”

“He’s trying to mortify the flesh!” his mother cried to their long-time pediatrician. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do when he threatens to kill himself on his bicycle!”

To the doctor, he seemed in good physical shape and they blundered on.

____________

 

Meeting the parents for the first time at his office in the Child Guidance Clinic, the psychiatrist reads the note they have brought with them. They had returned from an overnight trip to find it on the pillow of their bed:

. . . hope your trip was worthwhile . . . haven’t been able to sleep or eat for three days . . . can’t live through another year like this past one . . . wish I were dead. I can’t think of anyone better to tell this to than my parents.

Your son, Pete.

Yes, the doctor will make himself available, but will the boy agree to see him? There may be some difficulty, their son has already stated his objections: he does not think it will do any good, and it is too expensive. The doctor replies, “Like all medical treatment, there is no guarantee. But, I don’t think you know how expensive it is—my fee is seventy dollars a visit.” He pauses. “You should know, of course, you are eligible for county clinic services.”

The couple consult silently with their eyes. The husband nods in affirmation. “I don’t want to take any chances with my boy,” she says. “I’ve discovered that doctors are not interchangeable.”

It is agreed. Pete is to be seen by the doctor once a week; the parents are each to be seen, separately, on alternating weeks.

____________

 

It is October. Dr. K. is seeing Pete’s mother alone for the first time. “Tell me about yourself,” he begins. “I understand you’ve had a hard time personally.”

She was not expecting this direction. Her tears well and overflow. The doctor pushes a box of tissues toward her.

“Have you been very depressed?”

“It was an illness that changed things,” she said at last. “But I’ve tried not to impose it too much on the children; I really have.”

“Tell me about it.”

Her voice chokes. She is rendered inarticulate. Her major effort is bent on inhibiting tears. “It’s not that I don’t want to,” she says, ending the struggle, “it’s just that I can’t.”

“Tell me what sort of person you are, your background, what sort of ambience Pete lives in.”

On more comfortable terrain now, she recites highlights of her history and personality: born to a depressive mother who returned home to take care of her—by then—year-old baby to find herself emotionally deserted by her husband and who spent her life, thereafter, in and out of mental hospitals; anxious, studious child, adoring of her charming father; breakdown after the still-birth of her first baby and the sudden death of her father, followed by two years of analysis.

“It was an analysis in which nothing happened—except that I got better. When I said that at termination, the analyst said I got what I needed. By then I had two of my children and I guess life had to go on.”

Feeling her summary is concluded, she sits silently. The psychiatrist waits out the pause.

“In the hospital, when I was so sick a couple of years ago, I thought I was making up my mind not to abandon my children. I don’t believe you can really decide about such things, but I felt so strongly that I should see them through.” Again, she pauses. “I would say that the ambience in which Pete has been living for the past couple of years has been one of tremendous tension and strain.”

The doctor refers again to the boy’s disturbance.

“He’s only struggling with the age-old universal questions of right and wrong,” she says defensively.

“I should be surprised if a seventeen-year-old-boy had thought of anything new,” the doctor retorts.

“Well, some of them never wrestle at all.”

“That’s another way of coping. It’s the intensity of Pete’s struggle that is noteworthy.”

The doctor requests that, for their next meeting, she think about their methods of control—over the children’s behavior and their own, as well as how the children exercise control.

____________

 

Two weeks later, having construed the suggestion as an assigment, Pete’s mother produces a detailed, typed outline of each family member’s control devices: Other and Self, Verbal and non-Verbal, ranged from Most Frequent to Rare. Her own style of self-control, she reports, leans heavily on reflection, verging on obsessing. (“Can you keep from crying by considering things?” Alice asked. “That’s the way it’s done,” the Queen said with great decision.) The chart shows too that she and her husband do a lot of withdrawing, and verbal controls predominate. Bribes are out and penalties are rare. The children try persuasion and ingratiation but they fuss a lot, one way and another.

“This is for your information,” she says, handing the chart to Dr. K. ‘“You can see just from the formal pattern on the page that the children are relatively defenseless—they’re so undifferentiated.”

The doctor looks over the chart before adding it to the file. She feels the subject of controls has been disposed of and, as such, it never comes up for discussion again.

____________

 

In the meetings that followed, there seemed to be no cues from the doctor as to how she should proceed. The old rules of her own analysis certainly did not apply. She set about to describe Pete’s present behavior and past development, and to bring in appropriate accounts of other family members. She hoped to gather from the doctor some guides for parental conduct. But the specific question that soon came to occupy her thoughts was: What ails Pete?—what is at the bottom of his extreme behavior? What made him take to heart, so much more earnestly than his peers, some eighth-grade instruction in avoiding heart disease? The entire class was exposed to the information and the warnings; why was it so particular with Pete?

“He had always seemed a fey little boy,” she relates, “saying and doing amusing, unlikely things that made neighbors and teachers smile. From the beginning, he reacted to frustration with anguish. A low birth-weight baby, he cried continuously. and inconsolably for many months. Later, it seemed he went to pieces—on the playground or at home—if he couldn’t eat frequently. He was quite small, sweet-natured, and submissive in relation to his bigger, older sister and—usually—more aggressive playmates. Nursery-school attendance at three did not work out well—he was home being treated for infections at least half the time and was never reconciled to staying at nursery school without me. In first grade, too, he was frequently sick and perhaps he kept some exaggerated sense of being small and sickly and somehow at a disadvantage. He always admired, and took for his friends, the larger, rowdy boys. He was never in jeopardy from their roughness; they seemed to respect his vulnerability and, of course, he never threatened them. ‘Dee udder mudders’ always liked to have him visit because he was easy to have around and that gave me a break; otherwise, he tried to keep me within sight. He would call in at the back door, ‘mommy!’ and when I answered, say, ‘I just wanted to know where you were.’ If Daddy phoned from work and asked, ‘Where’s Mommy?’ Pete would tell him and hang up; he thought Daddy just wanted to know where I was.”

The doctor scribbles very quickly and copiously when she relates her toilet-training practices. She had believed the children would clearly indicate their readiness and had never thought of initiating any effort herself, until prodded to do so by assorted experts. (“They learn frustration tolerance by appropriate doses of frustration,” one such authority had instructed her.)

“As he grew older, his expressions of frustration continued to be vehement, even despairing. He used a little ritual chant—‘shit, fuckin’, dammit’—that he hoped would make things work (wasn’t that what Daddy did when the car wouldn’t go?). By pre-puberty, the chant had changed to, ‘It’s too complicated; I can’t do anything.’ Usually, having recited his magic and fussed impressively, he was ready after a time to try again. In self-defense, sometimes I removed the source of frustration: a car model or carpentry task. Shy, of our three children the most cuddly, the most willing to be held and kissed, as a little fellow, he was openly imitative of his dad. ‘When am I going to grow as big as Daddy?’ he wailed when he was measured the smallest in his fourth-grade class.” In order to console him, and because she had believed it, she had wagered him the time would come when he was about eighteen years old.

“Pete claims his Bar Mitzvah was the most memorable event of his life,” his mother continues. “It must have been a puzzling situation for him. To his father, it was a solemn religious occasion; to his mother, the main concern was the food. I don’t believe in printed invitations and catered affairs for thirteen-year-olds—for people of our modest means,” she explains. “So I did a lot of nervous fussing and trying things out on the family until I was satisfied and we were all sick of it!”

“And how did it go?” asks Dr. K.

“Everyone seemed pleased,” she says.

Almost up to the moment of the ceremony Pete had lamented, “I’m not may-ture enough!”—as if he took quite literally—as an injunction—the affirmation: Today you are a man.

____________

 

It was an unseasonably warm night for late fall and Pete was fed up with studying. He banged around furiously in his room for a while, then stomped noisily downstairs. In the kitchen, where the rest of the family was sitting, he began slamming drawers and utensils. His father, glowering, remained silent. His little brother, Andy, looked apprehensive. His mother confronted him.

“What’s wrong, Pete?”

“I can’t stand it any more. I’m going out on my bike to kill myself on Midtown Road.”

Midtown Road was ill-lit and heavily trafficked at this time of night. Pete had refused to add the weight of a light to his ten-speed bicycle.

“You’re not going out on your bike in that frame of mind,” she scolded.

“Oh yes, I am!”

His father said nothing. She felt helpless and furious. She wanted to move the bike from the basement to the attic, but that would take more than her physical strength. Instead, she followed Pete to the basement, threatening: “You’re not going to take the bike out.” Pete grasped the handlebars and wheeled the bike toward the door. She snatched a large hammer from the nearby workbench and hacked at the bike, striking three blows before Pete crumpled in tears.

“I don’t believe you would do that to my bike!” he cried. She had dented the crossbar.

“I had to stop you. You can’t go out on the bike tonight,” she said icily.

“I wouldn’t want to ride it now,” he cried. “I’ll never ride a bike that looks like that!”

____________

 

Discussing the incident with Dr. K., she remarks, “I’m rarely sure I’m right, but when I am sure, I’m capable of radical action.”

“I want you to think about that statement,” the doctor says.

But she can deduce nothing further from it, then or thereafter. It seems to stand as a complete account of the fact, without any ramifications. Instead she worries the question, “Was there some other way I could have stopped him? I don’t like to prevail in the way I did.”

After countless reproaches from Pete and angry demands for restitution, after sleepless nights and two weeks of brooding, she suggests to Dr. K.: “I could have grounded him, I suppose. He’s impressed when his friends are grounded. Once he asked me, ‘How come I’m never grounded?’ I said I guessed he never did anything wrong. I could have said, ‘You’re grounded’ and it would have stopped him dead in his tracks. It just wasn’t in my repertoire.”

Doctor K. makes notes and says nothing.

____________

 

At the bike repair shop where Pete sent his mother—the one farthest away and, he claimed, exclusively competent to judge safety and feasibility of repair—they recommended a bit of tape to hide the small, offending dent. Pete was outraged. He insisted there was a safety hazard, he would never ride the bike in that condition.

____________

 

“You know,” she continues with Dr. K., ‘You’re grounded’ is not an appropriate response to ‘I’m going out to kill myself on my bicycle.’ You know it isn’t!”

The doctor shakes his head without comment.

____________

 

“Why did you take me so seriously?” Pete later asked. “I didn’t mean it. Why did you believe me?”

“I always take you seriously,” she said.

Weeks later, he uttered the threat again.

“Uh huh,” she said, continuing to clean up the kitchen.

“Oh, you don’t believe me!” he accused, with narrowed eyes.

“I believe you,” she said. But she was no longer worried.

____________

 

Pete’s father believed that the origins of the boy’s turmoil were his reaction to his short stature, too much pampering in childhood, and—a few years earlier—a friendship with a much older boy that had led to paternal fury and adolescent embarrassment. His mother believed that, more likely, they had too suddenly shifted their expectations: after all that early childhood acceptance, they had rather suddenly become critical and intolerant of the fact that their adolescents did not seem scholarly, disciplined, and properly considerate—as, in memory, they had themselves been. She thought, too, that Pete may not have been adequately prepared, before onset, for the physical aspects of adolescence and that, from their silence, he perhaps deduced that all expression along that line was taboo. They aired these issues nightly during their strolls.

____________

 

She presents these conflicting views to Dr. K. He offers his formulation: in the effort to control strong sexual impulses, the repressive force is applied to other—if not all—aspects of Pete’s life. In this way, all pleasurable indulgence has become taboo; generalized phobia has set in. The preoccupation with food can be understood as a metaphor (“an equivalence”) for sexual concerns, a displacement from one sphere to another. Pete must be helped to loosen up a bit, indulge himself more freely. Be more sportive, in the manner of his peers.

The difficulty is, she perceives, the sportiveness of his peers runs to pot and booze and junk food, as well as TV and X-rated movies. All of this, along with sugar and tobacco, Pete heartily disdains. His complaint is that his friends are no longer interested in the outdoor life or vigorous activity. And he bores them beyond endurance with hysterical monologues on the subject of healthful diet.

“I suppose,” she remarks to the doctor, “sexual neurotics today run to vegetarianism the way they used to tend to tuberculosis.”

____________

 

All that winter, through snow and ice, Pete rode Andy’s small, rusty sting-ray to school, to the pool every day during lunch period, downtown to work, to any local destination. His face got red and swollen. Icicles dripped from his chin and nose. His father—concerned about safety and affronted by the obvious craziness—forbade riding when the roads were snowy. They quarreled, shouting angrily at each other, until—inevitably—Pete said something intolerable that provoked a show of physical force. (“Hit me, go ahead, why don’t you hit me? I deserve it! God wants to punish me!”)

He suffered from bouts of prostrating weakness, insomnia, and excruciating gastrointestinal pain. He couldn’t concentrate in school, was obsessed with deciding what to eat each day, each meal. He avoided interaction with his schoolmates. At home, every meal took hours to finish: each mouthful interminably masticated, long pauses between bites, longer interruptions between courses. His eating routine ruled out conversation: chewing required total effort. While the family sat at the table, he stood up at the counter to eat, discouraging others from speaking to him. Or he irritably carried some single foodstuff to his room for solitary consumption. His father was enraged by the nightly, noxious smell of steaming collards (the unadmired produce of Pete’s backyard garden) and by Pete’s occupation of kitchen territory until late every night. His mother was made irritable by Pete’s dinnertime preparations at her side each night.

“Well, there’s no use despairing,” her husband remarked; “it won’t work.”

____________

 

“Do you think Pete thought it unreasonable that you made an unpleasant scene over the garden hose?” Dr. K. asks.

“No,” she replies, “he knows I’m physically very limited. He just thought it unreasonable that I needed it that minute.” She fell silent for a moment.

“Part of the problem is, since I was sick we don’t have the same resources—for obvious reasons.”

“Why do you say, ‘For obvious reasons’?” Dr. K. pursues.

Her voice sticks again, as it had before on this track. Turning her face away from him toward the window, she notices the budding leaves of the trees. She concentrates on them, on their faint quivering in the soft spring breeze—trying to muster control, to keep back the tears. She wants to be able to continue coolly. After many minutes of struggle, she sighs, “Well, well,” feeling that now she is really up against it.

“Won’t you talk to me about it?” Dr. K. asks with pursed lips, coaxingly. Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he would seem to know her stops, would pluck the heart out of her mystery.

“I don’t see why I should. There’s no use harping on irremediable complaint.” She pauses again. Then, composed at last, she adds, “Anyway, I meant that since I was sick, so much more has fallen on Ben’s shoulders.”

____________

 

“We don’t laugh as much as we used to,” she said to her husband that night.

“Now that I know what it is, it doesn’t seem so funny!” he answered.

____________

 

“Pete has an extremely low pulse rate,” his mother remarks to Dr. K. “He seems to have put himself in a state that actually physically requires a high level of activity. You can’t keep a highly trained race horse in the paddock.”

“Horses have psychological needs too, you know,” Dr. K. replies. “Your family seems to have a physiological bias.”

(Once, she had brought a languishing pet rabbit to the vet. He had hesitated over his texts before giving the rabbit a shot of penicillin, muttering, “We don’t see many of these unless they’re brought in dead off the road.” When she phoned again a few days later, he had groaned: “Mrs. Brown, I hate to see you carry that heavy cage down here again. Rabbits have their ups and downs too, you know.” And once a pediatrician had chided her: “Babies do cry, you know.” But that time, the baby really had required an operation.)

She took it for granted that Dr. K. had a psychological bias. It was quid pro quo, she thought: a bias is still a bias, even when it is acknowledged and expected.

____________

 

When his own coping efforts collapsed, Pete called for help: “MOM!” At such times he wanted to talk, was more open to suggestions.

“I think your high activity level aggravates your tension,” she said. “More is not better than enough.”

Pete cut back somewhat on his lap swimming and found he felt better.

“Maybe your stomach is yelling for something yummy in the tummy instead of the stuff you put in it,” she said.

Pete tried to indulge in an ice-cream cone, but hours of riding around and around past the store ended in agonized conflict, tearful frustration.

“Pete,” she pounced on the opportunity, “a boy of your age simply cannot be experiencing this degree of anguish over an ice-cream cone. The ice-cream cone must stand for something else—maybe some other physical pleasure that you won’t permit yourself. Maybe sexual tension is at the bottom of it.”

“I don’t have any sexual tension.”

“Pete, if that’s true, you may be the only healthy seventeen-year-old boy extant who is free of it. How do you suppose the other boys your age manage it?”

“They take off after girls.”

“I suppose they do, or think about it,” she said. “But, even with the sexual revolution, I’d be surprised if there were enough available girls to go around for all the needy seventeen-year-old boys. I’m quite sure they masturbate.”

“Oh no,” said Pete, “my friends frown on that. It’s all right to make out with girls, but they make fun of ‘whacking off.’”

“That’s what they tell you, but it’s only a reflection of their uneasiness about themselves. Like Jimmy, teasing you in school about using pot when he knows it’s his habit, not yours. Your Catholic boyfriends may have a particularly hard time accepting this activity but, I can assure you, they all do it.”

Then she thought of all the empty cottage cheese and yogurt cartons, glass jars and paper bags that Pete stored in his closet and darkroom. “You know,” she said, “I’ve read that young boys often experience a tristesse, a sense of depletion in connection with their early sexual experience. Shakespeare even wrote about ‘the expense of spirit in a waste of shame.’”

“What’s it like for girls?” Pete asked.

“I think girls may be inclined to feel filled, and fulfilled.”

____________

 

Telling Dr. K. about this conversation, she says, with some resentment, “All along, I’ve wished some seasoned male would talk to Pete on this subject, but no one does. After all, I’ve never been a boy.” Now she has gone at least as far as it is appropriate for her to go; is not some word of empathy, even permission, from his father called for?

The doctor does not comment.

____________

 

“It sounds like a scene from a recent Broadway play,” her friend said. “The father yells from the shower to his nagging wife. ‘He’ll find out when he gets in the army!’ Pete will have to get his permission from someone else.”

____________

 

Pete’s mother felt imposed upon. Just as she was always carrying their father’s gripes and objections to the children instead of leaving it to him, so the doctor’s interpretation was being carried to Pete through her. She did not doubt that these messages were intended for delivery beyond her.

Talking with Pete, she returned to the idea of tackling his underlying problem head-on instead of focusing on the food issue. But the theory of displacement did not really make sense to him. “If that’s what Dr. K. thinks, why hasn’t he told me himself?” he asked. She had been precipitate to no purpose. Pete agreed, however, that it would be well for him to make advances to girls. He wanted to know how to attract them.

“I’ll give you some tips,” she said.

“For one thing,” she explained, “they like to feel they are pleasing. So, they like to hear what it is about them that you find pleasing.”

“What is it for them,” he asked, “an ego trip?”

“I don’t mean that you should develop a line,” she laughed, “but try to express your sincere feelings of appreciation. Like: ‘I like your smile,’ if that is the case; or: ‘I like your sense of humor.’ You can say that sort of thing even in the presence of other people. As you get to know someone better, you can go by stages to more intimate expressions: ‘Your freckles are cute.’ Or later on you might say: ‘I like the way your blue jeans hang on your hips.’ And so forth. Eventually, when it’s sincere, you’ll be whispering sweet nothings.”

“But my friends say that’s not the way to act; that’s not cool.”

“Don’t believe everything your friends tell you, Pete. You can’t trust everybody. For one thing, they don’t know; they’re inexperienced too. For another, they’re self-interested—unless you have a very close friend you can trust to be thinking of your best interest.”

Pete asked how you can know whom to trust. “Someone of intelligence, first of all,” she suggested. “And also maybe someone who has nothing to gain by your following his advice.” According to this criterion, she considered, received authority is not always benign; one must learn to be skeptical. But she did not pass the thought on to Pete.

____________

 

Pete was envious of his little brother’s buoyant spirits.

“I remember how it felt to be completely absorbed in the moment,” he said. “I’ll never be carefree and happy like that again.”

“He’s still in the Garden of Eden,” Pete’s mother said. “As you become more aware, you develop a sense of responsibility. But that doesn’t mean you have to be oppressed all the time; you can still play.”

Pete looked at Andy with narrowed eyes. “Some day you’ll be an adolescent,” he said menacingly.

“What’s that?” Andy asked with apprehension.

“That’s what I am!” Pete snarled.

____________

 

“You could teach the children to regulate rather than eliminate,” Dr. K. was saying.

Years before, despairing of winning the battle, she had disposed of the family TV. She had lived to hear the children thank her for it, but at the time it had been for them an uncomfortable shock.

“It is not necessary to keep threats out of the house,” Dr. K. goes on. “You could limit Andy’s cookies to two or three at a time—or whatever quantity you think reasonable.”

(As an antidote to Andy’s pudginess, their pediatrician had advised: If he’s really hungry between meals, he’ll be satisfied with an apple.)

On her way home she bought some cookies, the first in a long while. When he came home from school, Andy was surprised to see them. “We’re going to have these only two at a time,” she explained, decreeing the more modest portion in case of later pleadings. “Two after school and two after dinner.”

That evening, Andy solemnly explained the new regulation to his father. “She says you can have only two after dinner.”

In the days after that, Andy came home from school asking, “Where are my only twos?” A few hours later he would cajole, “Do you have any more two-at-a-times?”

Before her next appointment, she had abandoned the project.

“Andy seemed to be mocking me,” she apologizes to Dr. K. “I began to think it was silly. It is at such times that I feel I am really one of the children, only playing at being one of the grown-ups.”

Dr. K. looks stern and serious. “I don’t think he was mocking you. I think he was telling you he doesn’t feel comfortable with himself.”

____________

 

Making college applications and visiting campuses had been a travesty. At the end of long-distance trips to Maine and Vermont, Pete’s overriding concern was to get back in time for a swim. He allowed no time for looking around. He was adamant that he would not be pressured into going to school the next year.

“Just go through the motions of applying,” his mother said. “If you’re accepted, you can ask for deferred enrollment.” She considered it a triumph when three applications and interviews were completed by the deadline.

For the last term of high-school English, Pete signed up for a course in semantics. His teacher ignored the assigned text and gave a watered-down course in Silva Mind Control. Pete believed it would help his concentration problems and, even, help to keep him free of disease. He also took up Transcendental Meditation which he practiced for an hour daily, convinced that it lowered his tension level. As winter gave way to spring, his ability to do schoolwork, at least, did improve.

Pete and his parents were at odds, argued heatedly about the merits of his strict physical regimen. Irritating eccentricities aside, his father feared that Pete’s meager intake of food retarded his growth. The constant atmosphere of conflict that arose from this disagreement was disturbing to all of them.

His mother tried to impress Pete with a news item about a quadriplegic woman’s efforts to gain custody of her illegitimate baby by diapering, dressing, and washing the child—in a courtroom performance—with her tongue. “Anyone would have to admire such a testimony to ingenuity and the human spirit,” she said, “but if any woman with the normal use of her two hands decided to adopt this extreme mode, you would have to say she was crazy. For a seventeen-year-old boy to adopt so rigidly a recommended diet for a sixty-year-old man is pretty much the same thing.”

Pete had read that it is important to start young, but he conceded the point about inappropriate heroics.

____________

 

Dr. K. does not agree that Pete’s diet may be physically harmful; he believes that, while nutritional benefits are doubtful, the psychological cost is too great. He arranges, however, for advice from a gas-troenterologist on dealing with the digestive pain.

Except for a stricture against eating before retiring, Pete refused to follow any of the recommendations. He was philosophically opposed to, would not take antacids or submit to fluoroscopic X-rays. Distressed by his distress, his mother had a sympathetic attack and learned something helpful to Pete: warmth, kneading, a calm expectation that it would pass—would not last forever—made the pain manageable. Thereafter, Pete’s attacks were only occasional and he waited out the pain with a new equanimity.

Pete’s father grew increasingly irate as he convinced himself that the boy’s systematic undereating was stunting his physical growth. His mother promoted a solution: if Pete’s growth or well-being, as determined by bone-age studies and a professional nutritionist, seem impaired by his diet, Pete will follow recommended alterations; if his growth is unaffected and his diet seems nutritionally adequate, his father will get off his back.

On the way to the hospital for the bone X-rays, Pete knew he was being carried to his doom. He had read in a book from the Silva Mind Control course that cancer can be psychosomatic.

“I’m going to get cancer just because I think I’m going to get it!” They couldn’t print it in a book, could they, if it wasn’t true?

He and his mother argued unpleasantly throughout the drive until, exasperated, she denounced him for his lack of critical powers.

____________

 

According to the expert evaluations, Pete is fully grown at five feet, two inches. Moreover, his growth spurt occurred at the age of twelve—before he began the restricted diet, and was unaffected by it. The physician-nutritionist rates his diet adequate, if not superior. His father must bow to science. Pete must accustom himself to the finality of his height.

“It makes very little difference to a man of forty what his height is,” the endocrinologist said.

“True,” Pete’s mother replied, “but whatever compensations have been made are part of the personality by then nevertheless.”

“You mean,” the doctor considered, “like always owning a large dog.”

The possibility of such a benign adaptation was reassuring. Pete himself quickly put anguish away and settled down to the reality, it was not so bad as deformity, dysfunction, obesity, or even garden-variety ugliness; he had all his faculties, was well-built, and had a cute face. So much that is intolerable in life just requires getting used to unwelcome surprise.

____________

 

Pete’s sister, Dee, brought a friend home from college for part of their spring vacation. Pete had been disagreeable—silent and sullen—since their arrival in the midst of his dinner the night before. This evening, there was to be a special dinner in celebration of Dee’s birthday. Now, Pete was getting his lunch and aggressively interfering with his mother’s preparations in the kitchen.

“I hope you’re going to be pleasant during the birthday dinner tonight,” she said.

“I can’t be pleasant if I don’t feel that way,” he said. “I’m not going to fake.”

“Why not?” she asked. “Toni’s a lovely girl. You’re not apt to meet someone so interesting every day. I’ll make a serving of crabmeat without the sauce so you can eat it. And there will be salad. No one will notice you eat differently.”

“I’m mad, so I’m gonna show it,” Pete snarled.

“Well, if you can’t make up your mind to be amiable, I’d rather you stayed away. I’ll explain to Toni that you’re mentally unbalanced and we try not to hold it against you.”

Pete left on his bike after that. Later he phoned.

“Listen, Mom. I’ve been thinking. I’ll be there for dinner, but don’t fix anything different for me.”

“I don’t mind. It wouldn’t be a lot of trouble.”

“No. I’ll eat what everyone else eats.”

Pete was charming throughout dinner. He conversed for a while in French with Toni and asked surprising, informed questions about her native Greece. He seemed vivacious, cultivated, sparkling. The very flower of youth.

____________

 

Pete’s mother often advised him from her own experience: physical discomfort of a chronic nature is best dealt with by engaging in pleasurable, distracting activity—but not to the point of exhaustion. The difficulty is to learn moderation and realistic limits. There is merit in pretense, putting on a good act; letting it all hang out makes other people uncomfortable, unhappy to no purpose, and it does Pete himself no lasting good.

“But,” she said, “you can let it all hang out with Dr. K. and me; we can take it.”

“Pretending can get to be a habit, you know,” Pete protested. “You can get to just pretend with everyone.”

“Not in an unguarded relationship like yours,” Dr. K. later assures her.

____________

 

Waiting for Dr. K., Pete’s mother leafs through a book of color photographs of the Far West.

“That’s the sort of spectacle Pete will be seeing this summer,” the doctor remarks as he settles into his chair. “Will he take a camera on the bike trip?”

“Oh yes. But his main interest is to surmount the physical challenge,” she explains. “Also, to put himself in a situation—for a change—where what is required is congenial to him. Happiness is having to do what you want to do.”

Dr. K.’s expression becomes grave. “It is wanting to do what you have to do,” he corrects.

“Either way,” she defends, “it’s the point where desire and obligation coincide.”

“Finding romance in conquering nature seems to be a strictly male thing,” she goes on. “It’s hard for me to imagine wanting to cross the ocean in a rowboat or climb Mount Everest.”

“Women do that sort of thing too,” the doctor objects.

“Well, they accompany the men. And they don’t write adventure stories about the sea and the like as men do.”

Dr. K. points his index finger to the ceiling. “What about The Bobbsey Twins?” he asks brightly.

“It’s good to see you,” he says at departure this day. She thinks: he was happy to see me, I was happy to come; obligation and desire coincided.

____________

 

Pete’s maimed bicycle has been replaced with a superior model. While he is away on his summer odyssey, his parents continue their regular meetings with Dr. K. Pete’s father is beginning to chafe at the expense and inconvenience. He feels no need of his own to air concerns. Pete’s mother feels she has supplied enough information about Pete’s past.

“I seem to have run out of things to say. Is there anything you want to know?” she asks Dr. K. one day.

“Anything that has impact on you has impact on Pete,” he says. “How does it make you feel to find yourself in this weakened condition?”

“It makes me anxious.”

“Doesn’t it make you angry?”

“It did. More angry than ever before in my life,” she says. She thinks: the instant burst of clamor that she made would make milch the eyes of heaven and passion in the gods.

“But I had my ways of coping with it,” she continues. “You don’t go on living with such anger—you’d go crazy.”

A look of consternation passes over the doctor’s face, but he does not probe further. His passivity seems perplexing to her, but welcome. (Her lawyer has advised her: “Let me say this, I wouldn’t tell any doctor that you’re suing another. He might think you’re litigious, d’ya know what I mean?”)

____________

 

She said to her friend, “The analyst told me, sex isn’t the most important thing in life. I was in my twenties at the time and he was in his forties.”

“It’s only the second most important,” her friend said.

They strolled on in silence for a while.

“Jenny, what is the most important thing in life?” she then asked.

Turning first to face her full-on, Jenny answered solemnly, “Food.”

“I suppose,” Pete’s mother reflected, “if you cross a sensual woman with a rabbinical man you are very likely to get anorexic children.”

____________

 

Pete returned from his trip in high spirits. During the six weeks away, there were some hilarious, carefree moments and he had made a couple of friends. He survived, only mildly discontented, the constant use of pot, junk food, and—on the part of some—sexual license. He was still systematically undereating, overly tense.

“I don’t understand what my friends see in getting drunk in the back seats of cars,” Pete said to his mother one day.

“Maybe it gives them the courage to do what they wouldn’t do otherwise,” she suggested.

“What’s fun about getting sick?” he persisted.

“It’s not. But necking in the back seat of cars is fun.”

“Mom, the great authority!” Pete said.

“I’m no authority, but I’ve done it both ways and, in my experience, without booze is better,” she said.

____________

 

“Pete needs to be irreproachably good; he cannot be a bad boy,” Dr. K. reiterates. “He doesn’t need to do these things all the time, but he could be free to try them, to experiment. I think he treasures his conversations with you.”

Embarrassed by the tribute, she says, “He treasures his conversations with his dad, too.”

____________

 

On a golden Sunday in September, Pete planned to cycle the fifty miles to a popular county fair. His parents agreed to start out by car to meet him after he would phone to say he had arrived.

He left at eight in the morning, estimating five or six hours for the distance to be covered. At four o’clock, when he still had not called, they nervously started out anyway, thinking they would overtake Pete on the road or find him at the fairgrounds. If they waited longer, they would arrive too late for Andy to see the events.

Forty minutes of driving brought them to a small parking lot at the entrance to the fairgrounds. The walk would have been too long for Pete’s mother. Luckily, the attendant directed them to a bigger parking area close to the gate. She had not seen a young boy on a bicycle.

As they drove through the gates, Pete’s mother recognized their error. There was an ocean of parked cars and hundreds of thousands of people jamming the grounds. They should not have left home without a definite meeting place; they would never find Pete here in this mob.

A police guard directed them to the loudspeaker housing at the grandstand. Pete was paged three times but, after thirty minutes, the show was on and they couldn’t continue to page. Andy and his dad set off for the crowded Midway to look for Pete. “I can see this is going to be a worry day, not a fun day,” Andy complained.

Remaining at the grandstand, Pete’s mother kept her eyes fixed on the only entrance to the show. If Pete wasn’t on the Midway, maybe he would come to see the show. The sun was going down. She was chilled, and already almost exhausted.

In a half-hour, Ben and Andy returned. They decided to check again at the animal and farm exhibits while she was to stay posted at the Grange Hall, which had a broad view of the entrance area and was near a phone. She had called home three times already to see if Pete’s sister had heard from him. It was now past six o’clock. She was cold, tired, hungry, and frightened.

She caught sight of the top of his head, bobbing up and down as it moved along the spaces between the vertical forms of the milling crowd. She jumped up from the seat and ran out of the shelter, calling his name, catching him up. He fell into her outstretched hands—a small, frail, shivering, anxious little boy.

“Pete!”

“Mom! I’m freezing.”

Their relief was transcendent. They stowed his bike in the station wagon and she led him to the shelter, where she pressed her thin sweater on him and they waited for the others to return. Pete had known they were there somewhere—the attendant at the lower area had remembered their car, their asking about a boy with a bicycle. He had hesitated over the three-dollar entry charge, had decided to ride on into town to look for a phone. The extra cycling had used up an hour more. When at last he came to the gate and saw their car, he told the guards he was lost, his family was inside, he didn’t know where. He was directed to the police station on the grounds, where they had not thought to check. He did not hear his name paged, but he knew they wouldn’t leave without him.

On the ride home, Pete’s father sat at the driver’s wheel—silent with fury—while his mother fretted: were they not on the verge of leaving him, for want of knowing what else to do, in the hope of finding him on the road? What would have happened, as it grew dark, if Pete had not answered their paging? Would they have thought of appealing at the police station? She wasn’t sure. It seemed to her a wonder that in the midst of that roving horde, from such a distance, she had recognized the merest crest of an anonymous head—by the wiry hair, by the slight height—as it bobbed in and out of the spaces: a mother’s fierce, concentrated protectiveness. At the least, he would have caught pneumonia in his short-sleeved shirt, pedaling home for hours in the autumn dark. She was drained of every feeling except awe, and fear—because he took the marvel for granted, saying, “There’s no reason to worry; these things always come out all right.”

____________

 

“What does Dr. K. really do?” Pete asked. After the long summer break and with college classes soon to begin, he was no longer enthusiastic about meeting appointments.

“Well,” his mother answered, “it is rather mysterious. I think he helps us to sort things out, be more objective when we might go off half-cocked. And he’s soothing too, don’t you feel?”

“What do you think he’s like in real life?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea, except he does seem immensely intelligent. You can’t put that on and off. I should hate to talk to someone who doesn’t seem to get the point, wouldn’t you?”

“He makes me think about what I do and why I do it. I never used to pay any attention.”

“Well, that’s a lot!” Pete’s mother said.

Actually, she did have a few notions of Dr. K. in “real life.” She knew he had been a pediatrician, that he had practically an army of children; he was married to a practicing lawyer, and he was crazy about tennis. She had met him a few times in the small grocery store where she marketed daily. He shopped briskly, from a list, and paused to greet her with seeming delight, not sharing her sense of awkwardness. (If he was going to appear constantly on the commons, like any ordinary priest of the confessional, she would prefer that their tête-à-tête took place with eyes mutually averted: classical couch or curtained booth would serve equally well. For her, a disembodied mysteriousness facilitated therapeutic process.) He was slight and wiry with a very high forehead and, she thought, a somewhat birdlike appearance. His hands were small and fluttery. He attended solicitously to her small preferences and requirements for physical ease: was the room temperature comfortable, the musical background unintrusive, the coffee sweetened to her taste? He put her in mind of those gentle, nurturing Arapesh men who tend the children and the hearth while their more sturdy women go off to work the fields.

Early on, he had asked her where she went to graduate school, and she had answered evasively, “Philadelphia.” (She felt apologetic about her limited training, as if graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Ann Arbor obligated her to do better than she had.)

“Philadelphia,” he repeated, and let it pass.

“Our home town,” she said, as if to explain.

A year later he named a doctor she knew in another place where their family had lived for a while. “Did you train there?” she asked in surprise.

“No,” he answered. “Boston.”

He was paying her back in coin, but it seemed sufficient designation: she was sure he meant Harvard.

____________

 

Pete’s mother says to Dr. K., “Whether Pete’s aberration is a devious expression of thwarted instinct, as you conceive it, or a rational approach to disease prevention, as he sees it—he is not about to give it up. He is still obsessed with nourishing himself properly, though his diet has expanded and become more automatic.”

“But it is not a rational approach,” Dr. K. insists. “It is not worth the price in tension and isolation to try to insure a long, disease-free life. There is the old joke about a man who was told if he avoided women, drink, dietary excess, and so on he would live a long time and he replied, ‘What for?’”

“Well, it probably depends on your experience of disease. Most people would be willing to forgo white bread if they knew it would spare them cancer.”

“But heart disease and high blood pressure have always been diseases of old age; it is not rational to believe they can be avoided by diet and exercise.”

“But, isn’t it true, there used to be less of it? Of course, more people succumbed to polio and pneumonia, and maybe those who managed to survive the plague had hardier constitutions to begin with, were less apt to develop degenerative diseases too.”

“Or better luck,” Dr. K. amends. “When was the Black Plague, do you know—in the 16th century?”

“Not so late,” she replies, surprised by the question. Does he seek to verify that she herself is rational, oriented to the reality of time? “There were many plagues,” she recites, “but the so-called Black Death was in the 14th century.”

____________

 

Living at home, in order to avoid the compulsory freshman meal plan, Pete began attending classes, cycling each day to the college campus. Still worrying the existential questions, he encountered—for the first time—formal philosophy. He was enchanted. In a few weeks, he was anxious to quit Dr. K. He was no longer last week’s disciple of Socrates, seeking knowledge of the Good; he was now a Determinist—unable to affect the outcome of things: it is all fixed ahead of time, he can have control over no part of his fate.

“You can’t have absolute control,” his mother conceded. “Chance or luck will always enter in, in spite of all one’s planning for contingencies. But the more you know of causes and possible effects, the more you can choose wisely.”

“I don’t believe in superstition any more,” Pete said scornfully; “all that stuff about operating according to Murphy’s Law.”

“But that was mostly a joke,” his mother said. “It was a joke to pretend that we should act as if an unwanted outcome was bound to occur: that sort of pessimism is determinism. But it’s sensible to act as if an unwanted possibility may occur and to plan for that “contingency.”

“Well, anyway, I don’t want to waste my time seeing the doctor any more. Lately, when I get in there, I can’t even remember what my problem is!”

Pete met his next appointments with growing reluctance. He asked, for the first time, about the amount of expense involved. “I can’t believe you would do this!” he shrieked, when he had gained an approximate knowledge. Since returning from his trip, he had been reading to Dr. K. from his travel diary, displaying his new schoolbooks, avoiding any talk of “problems.” In a recent session, he had begun a discussion of the medical malpractice issue.

“It is almost never justified,” the doctor told him.

“What about in a case like Dr. Nork?” Pete had countered, but Dr. K. knew nothing of it. Pete gave an account of the news story he had read about the mass mutilations.

“Oh well, that’s a scandal!” Dr. K. had exclaimed.

How lacking in the daintier sense, Pete’s mother thought: if only one patient was wantonly butchered, it wasn’t a scandal? En masse, do people experience more pain and anguish than individually? The multiple instances serve to draw attention; if no one notices, is there nothing scandalous? Her mind ranted.

“I wouldn’t want you to talk to Dr. K. about what happened to me,” she said to Pete.

“No, I wouldn’t,” he said. “But I’m going to pursue the general question with him. I want to see what he has to say.”

She thought it was a tricky matter and felt relief when Pete said nothing more about it.

____________

 

At last, Pete grows adamant: he needs to concentrate on schoolwork; contemplating his “problem” is a distraction, he will not continue his appointments.

Dr. K. is stern. He will accept Pete’s “autonomous decision”; he can accept that Pete does not want, at this point, the discomfort and consequent distraction from his studies that therapy entails, but he cannot accept that Pete cannot spare the hour a week that appointments require.

Pete thinks this is begging the question: it is the brooding between visits that distracts him, not the appointment itself. Perhaps he will brood anyway—and spin his wheels without the doctor. In that case, he is assured, the door will be open to his resuming.

____________

 

“How do you feel about continuing?” Dr. K. asks Pete’s mother. Ben has already been dismissed, unless Pete should return to therapy.

“Do you think it would be helpful?” she asks.

“I don’t think I’ve seen the last of Pete. You’re a very special kind of observer; you can keep me informed.”

“Yeah, I’m his mother.”

“I mean, you think about these things.”

“I have the time.”

“Whatever the apology is . . .” says Dr. K. “Is every other week all right?”

“You’re the doctor.”

“I think it will be all right.”

____________

 

She usually declined the cup of coffee he solicitously offered, but this seems a special occasion—one worthy of festivity: their meeting is at a different time and place than usual and she knows (although Dr. K. does not) that it will be their last.

While they await the water’s bubbling boil, the doctor concerns himself with her comfort. “Would you like something for your feet? Do you like to put your feet up?” At last he carries from the adjoining room two cups steaming with instant coffee.

“Oh,” she exclaims, “where did you get that mug? It’s just like the one I drink my coffee from every morning! Except yours is pink inside; mine is white.”

“You noticed that. Did you really notice that! How observant you are.”

“I used to have four, but now I only have one. I’m very put out if anyone else takes it in the morning.”

“I’ve had this a long time. See where the handle was broken and I’ve patched it, not well. Let me give you this one.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t do that. But it is exactly the same. I think it is just the right size for a morning cup of coffee.”

“Yes, it does have a nice heft to it.”

“Yes, well. . . .” She begins to feel discomfited: she is embarrassed by the exaltation of her unremarkable observations, and this is expensive chitchat.

Dr. K. has been crooning to her about the cup, wooing her as he would a child (“What do you have in your schoolbag today?”), offering her, since the opportunity arose, a tangible token of himself to take away with her—preferably something that can be touched and handled, a point of closeness and contact, a physical bond. On his first visit to the doctor, Pete had picked up a piece of modeling clay that lay at hand for the susceptible. He and Dr. K. had talked about the clay and Pete was invited to take it home. How many little pieces of himself there must be scattered around the county, she thinks. But she has come today not to begin but to terminate.

Now she comes swiftly to the point: she hopes that Pete will not need to return to treatment, since they could not support the financial strain indefinitely. (It is education of a sort, she thinks, but—dollar for dollar—not equivalent to a year at Harvard.) Continuing her visits might cast doubt on her confidence in Pete or he might feel, unhappily, that they talked about him.

Dr. K. agrees. “The focus of tension was Pete. It does not seem reasonable to continue without him. Of course, if necessity should arise, I will be available.”

“I feel optimistic about Pete,” she says. “The children are in flux, Doctor. Feelings come and go; nothing is fixed—except the residue of neurologic illness.”

None of them had pressed for scrutiny of this delicate issue: what had been the impact on the vulnerable, ambivalent adolescent of his mother’s sudden, extreme—and then protracted—disarray? What net of narcissistic blow, protective repudiation, guilty attribution of cause and effect had caught and held him as he already flailed in a new, dark turbulence of emotion? The inexorable demon of little Andy’s imagination that—for years—had lurked in wait for him in empty rooms was suddenly, surprisingly, routed in her many weeks of illness: merely because the actual separation proved not so awful as the feared? Or was it as much that the omnipotent (“He has magic powers!”), tireless menace (“He wants to get me!”) had transcended his fearsome wishes and, in her absence, taken very good care of Andy indeed? For Pete, there had been a lifetime of lenient sympathy before, at this crisis point, an open expression of paternal wrath. But these were hard, deep mysteries and the need to consider them not even clear.

“Ben and I haven’t moved much from our original positions,” she confesses to Dr. K. “He still thinks I’m overly indulgent and I think he’s hypercritical. I wish we had some guideline for our behavior toward Pete in the future.”

“It’s good to be close, but not too close. Not too anything,” Dr. K. responds. “Pete’s a nice boy,” he says, rising. “I like him.”

“Oh, I like him too!” she replies with enthusiasm.

Dr. K. laughs.

“Well, Doctor,” she says, “you leave us a bit stronger than you found us. That’s not nothing.”

“It’s nice to hear that.”

“Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

____________

 

It was good to see the end of the enormous monthly bills for psychiatric consultations. To Ben and Pete, it was also a relief not to have to go.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Ben had said, the instant he was set free.

“He’s very nice, but he does it for money,” Pete observed. “His interest in me lasts as long as he’s paid. That’s not the case with my parents.” To Pete, now, Dr. K. did not seem an object of love, trust, and intimacy but—like a prostitute—a transient object of reciprocal exploitation.

Although hardly anything could seem to her worth such sums, Pete’s mother had enjoyed—would even miss—her visits to Dr. K. The lessons, however, remained obscure: It is no good to be too good (it spoils the fun?). It is no good to be too anything (not too intimate or too virtuous—not too talented or too competent, either?). Moderation in all things (Golden Mediocrity is what we should strive for—the goal of the mental-health movement as well as the media?) Never mind, Dr. K. was very sweet and would do anything he could to help—as long as he was paid $1.40 a minute. What friends and relatives once did for each other now required a professional. For that one year, when it had seemed an absolute necessity, they had been able to buy a friend. (Friend, counselor, fellow man—sell me your ear!) Each time, she had met with him joyfully; now they all parted from him in the same spirit.

One evening near the end of the fall college term, Ben and Andy went to the basement for a game of ping-pong. As was often the case, crumbs from Pete’s meal preparations littered one corner of the table. To Ben, it was not just an inconvenient mess; it was an intolerable residue of relentless, aberrant behavior. In a nasty tone, he demanded of Pete, “Clean up this mess right now!” Something rude and defiant in Pete’s reply further provoked his father to deliver a heavy blow that landed on the side of his head. They were both shocked by the violence of the reaction; both felt that the provocation would not be readily forgiven.

“Things will never be the same between me and Dad,” Pete said to his mother.

We all harm each other willy-nilly, she knew, and more often than not the wounds healed; but parents pay heavily for (even small) inadvertencies. “You made Dad mad at himself,” she said. “That’s harder to bear and get over than anger at another person.”

Pete made arrangements to move onto campus at the start of the new term. He said it would be hard to bike to classes on snowy mornings, and the travel time could be better used for studying and making new friends. Living in the dormitory would make socializing easier too. “I’ve been living like a monk,” he said.

(“It is not simply self-denial,” Dr. K. had said to her. “You called it mortifying the flesh—there is in it some monkish attitude of devotion.”)

His monkishness would go intact—along with all his gear—to a new cell, but it was time for Pete to move on, and he was ready.

____________

 

The sense of obligation to be happy can be one of the heaviest—and needless—burdens of youth. Parents seem so displeased, so discouraged by their child’s discontent that it is—to the child—as if un-happiness is not allowed. (Everyone has heard, a good child is a happy child, or the other way around.) Assessing the authentic state of being can become a moral evaluation. And so, in youth, the question is regarded with great seriousness: Am I happy? By middle age, when it is not so much bad form to be unhappy as to show it, we more readily accept the right to go on living although unhappy and discharge our obligation to others by trying to seem cheerful. With practice, we learn to live with depression.

In another, more innocent, era Pete might not have been so crazily unhappy. There would have been plenty of red-cheeked boys of about his own age to join in building igloos of snow or, in summer, sleeping out under the stars. Buttered popcorn and candied apples would have nearly defined the limits of junk food; there would have been no concern for additives to spoil the simple pleasure. But, in that other time, he might have feared promiscuous contact with uncombatable organisms, borne about on ordinary household currents, almost visible to the imagination in the slanting beams of dust in a sunny parlor. It was true that Pete was conscientious, disdainful of “goof-offs” and hedonists; it was not equally true that he was not playful. His notions of frolic were anachronistic and, for that reason, idiosyncratic. It could be said, the times were out of joint and he was a casualty of the culture.

____________

 

Pete’s mother enclosed a magazine cartoon with her note to Dr. K. It showed a young boy standing, with an expression of diabolic satisfaction, behind the chair of his seated mother who wore an air of wounded disappointment. The caption read, simply: Bad Boy. Her note said:

The enclosed cartoon makes the point rather neatly, don’t you agree? Here is also a report on recent developments: Pete’s study of philosophy seemed to be good for his metaphysical unrest. His new driver’s license stands for age-adequacy, I suppose, but is otherwise useless since he moved onto campus for the winter term. There, he is able to work very hard, with great enthusiasm for all his subjects. He is doing something called “taking forfeit points” for the wrestling team but, apart from swimming, does not feel free to pursue other activities of interest to him. He wishes academic competence came more easily to him and that he had time to cultivate more intimate friendships. Our expectation is: all in good time. Ben, who makes all necessary deliveries to the dorm, says he has put on weight and looks great. He has even grown an inch. My long-range hope is for some interesting project—away from home—this summer.

At summer recess, longer intimacy would disclose some whitewashing in that account. The signs of misery had thoroughly faded, but the inflexible routine of feeding and exercise consumed Pete’s hours inordinately. Who was to say if isolation from the age group was cause or effect, motive or consequence? At least they would all settle in, absorb the shock of the initially intolerable, so that the strange and restrictive began to seem natural and comfortable. Cheerfulness was again possible. Adaptation was achieved: a combination of recovery and getting used to hanging.

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