A story of eternal love

Dearest, I was telling our grandson, Andreas, just the other day, how he possesses the feeling function more strongly than I. He had just espied, while on our walk, a darling dead chaffinch on the ground, and was kneeling over its poor lifeless body.

The words, Nothing truly dies that escaped my mouth, seemed to come from another’s voice, perhaps that of the dead bird itself.

When we returned home, you were there waiting for us with your old man’s rheumy eyes, teary from nostalgic reveries, no doubt. I thought How wonderful this togetherness, this Liebe, after all this time.

You often told the story of seeing me on the stairs at Olberg, my second family house, when I was a mere teenager. My words, as I turned towards you, struck you as prophetic, and you knew at that moment that I would be your wife.

But it wasn’t always a bed of roses, as you well know, my dear one. During the early years, I rarely spoke to anyone, apart from my sister and my dear mama, about the state of my marriage. But in more mature years, it sometimes helped, if not myself, at least my analysands, if I talked openly about my own marital sufferings.

My comments, usually triggered by passionate exchanges, always arrived at the same point: There were three occasions when I tried to divorce my husband.

Sometimes the remarks had a ricochet effect, being passed on one time with delight to that great founder himself, Herr Professor Freud. He used to call me “the solver of riddles”.

 I was cognizant of the split looming on the horizon between you two; well before either of you were willing to acknowledge it.

Oh, how I would come to miss our intimacies, his fatherly attentions, my transferences. Our exchange of letters, if you care once more to read them, says it all. My sense of solitude was complete after the final break. We regretted it, all three, and mourned in our own unique ways. So geht das Destin.

Those words I spoke concerning my marriage, were often followed by a shocked silence.

Nothing much matters now, in any case. As you yourself never fail to suggest, we might even say that I won out in the end, by clutching onto the string, like Ariadne in the labyrinth, finding my way to this haven of peace.

Divorce was never an option. Was it, therefore, by a dark Fate that I was placed in such a cruel predicament by the one I loved? The intervention of what you called your ‘second personality’ deemed it so. Whenever I mentioned the possibility of a separation, your reaction was to fall ill or have a near-death accident.

I always gave in and administered therapeutic assistance until you recovered. How could I do otherwise? I loved you, you loved me, and there were five more of us before very long.

Having grown up in the Haus zum Rosengarten, in a mansion with a rose garden, on the banks of the Rhine River in Schaffhausen, my childhood, unlike yours, had been idyllic. I was ever cognizant of this fact and never lorded it over you. In 1903, after the grand spectacle of our wedding, you took me to a small flat in the Burgholzli Lunatic Asylum, where catatonic schizophrenics and hysteric patients wandered freely in the grounds. I was never bored, you made me laugh and learn. It was the early years of psychoanalysis. I found it fascinating.

The first three years of our marriage were idyllic. The births of our first two daughters, Agathe and Gretli, only added to the bliss.

Signs of angst arose during the days, nay weeks, leading up to that prophetic meeting between you and dearest Sigmund.

Waves of dread stirred within my breast then, a knowingness that I might have to leave you soon.

I had been growling about the time you spent on your work. Why did you need so many patients when I was supporting you with my inheritance? Actually, it was one particular patient, the Russian Spielrein, whose attachment to you would come to worry me most; as it turned out, Herr Freud, too, calling it ‘transference’. Yes, I acknowledge I was jealous; of the attentions women poured on you, and annoyed at your endless flirtations. Shocked, too, at my own dark emotions, about which I had been ignorant up until that time.

My outpourings of jealous rage frightened me, as well as you; but you were able to absent yourself, faithful always to your beloved body of work.

It is 1911 and I am seated, in my active imagination, among all the luminaries, male and female. I feel blessed indeed, especially being here with you, my dearest Carl, as part of The Weimar Congress. I feel you leaning towards me, your breath on my hair, as if protecting me from reservations about my own self worth.

Later on you tell me: ‘You have proven yourself as successful a psychoanalyst as I myself, and you will be known by future generations, to have been part of the establishment of this new field of psychoanalysis.’

‘It is all due to your efforts, my dear man,’ I reply, ‘by initiating me into this field of study and practice from the beginning of our relationship. For this I will be eternally grateful.’

Nor do I feel less worthy than any of the other women, neither those youthful ones to my right, the prudish looking Antonia Woolf, nor the more mature women, seated here alongside me. Herr Professor Freud, that elegant man, has spoken kindly of my accomplishments. For this photo shoot, he takes center stage, standing tall with the aid of a stool, and rightly so: A giant among men, on whose shoulders future generations of great men will stand.

And then I wake up and you are no longer here. Or is it I who have died and this is all a dream?

Many will ask how I could go on living with a man who left me with the full responsibility for rearing the family, while he spent time with another woman, invited her into the household. I will tell them of my small victories, like the one during your earliest transgressions with the Russian Spielrein, whom I have long ago forgiven. She was, after all, just one of the many female psychiatrists and analysands who threw themselves unwittingly, perhaps, at my husband. After the fourth child, Marianne, I’d had enough. That is when I at last gained the upper hand in our disputes over my rights as a wife, and you heard my pleas. I was ready to leave, you begged me to stay. You promptly fell into bed with a dreadful migraine and a high temperature that left you shaking and out of control.

Like a dutiful wife, I then cared for you and nursed you back to health. Do you still remember all of this, my dearest one?

You were, yes, I avow it, handsome and charismatic, with your Teutonic good looks and vibrant personality. You are that, still, for me. How could I not forgive them all, seeing that I could not stop myself from succumbing to your charms.

Mind you, it was not love at first sight on my part. On catching a first glimpse of you on the staircase of our house in Olberg. ‘I am Emma Rauschenberg,’ I said, in reply to your timorous query, and then the maid came and ushered you into the salon where Mama awaited you.

And so it was that I, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy industrialist, in 1899 fell in love with a penniless Irrenarzt, doctor of the insane. It was the talk of the town at the time: an attractive young woman engaged to this lowly man without finances, and lacking professional or social status. In the beginning, I saw only your arrogant side, your bulldozer personality and peasant-like manners. I rebuffed your first endeavors, which only made you more persuasive in your courtship of me. 

The more I became acquainted with the gargantuan man that you were, and your equally giant personality, the more I delighted in your attentions and was enthralled by your vast intelligence. Mama, it would seem, had found me an harmonious match. I was soon betrothed. You shared your learning freely with me, satisfying that side of me that aspired to greater knowledge, denied me by my gender and by convention.

If Father had had his way, I would now be the wife of that truly conventional man he had chosen for me, son of his business colleague. My future pathway would have been laid out before me, one of bourgeoisie and of boredom. How fortunate was I to have been chosen, instead, by an unconventional suitor, who cared not for rigid rules of behaviour and comportment, and who encouraged me to learn and to better myself. How I adored that in you. I was only seventeen, and you, several years my senior. Was it Fate that had deemed it so? I was besotted and surrendered to my destiny.

It wasn’t long before you, Carl, good-looking and famous, and a virgin like myself when we married, fell under the spell of female admiration. It took me years to realize that your personality masked a dark interior, fostered by an isolated childhood and sexual abuse you’d suffered as a boy. It would take me even longer to appreciate your personal depths and transformations, yea, that some would say were merely psychotic manifestations.

My sister, urged on by her husband, took it upon herself to rebuke me: ‘How can you allow yourself,’ she said, ‘to be dishonoured in this way by your husband?’ I was always mute, with nothing to say, in my defense. This was typical of my introverted sensation type. You always said that “still waters run deep” in reference to my personality. Pressed further by Marguerite, who charged me with bringing shame upon my family, I became more and more reserved and unwilling to associate with anyone outside the family.

Around the time of the birth of our first child, Agathe, I asked you to consider a move. You stood there glowering, peasant feet planted firmly apart on the ground: ‘No, no and no,’ you shouted, ‘my work at the Bulgholzli must take precedence.’

I was only just beginning to see this hidden side of you.

Papa died and I gave birth to Gretli. It was now my turn to shout and scream.

‘I want out of this marriage, I will not live here with a growing family. You keep me pregnant like a peasant woman, and you like it thus.’

‘Darling,’ you said, stunned into obeissance by my unlikely tirade, ‘just give me a little time, and we shall move. I’ll build a castle fit for a queen, you will see.’

We talked about our impending visit to meet the illustrious Freud in Vienna, and how I would be feted and welcomed into this new field of psychoanalysis by one and all.

Remember, dear one, you and I, seated on plush velvet underneath chandeliers, as we waited for your Herr Professor Freud, in the bar of the Grand Hotel near the famous Ringstrasse. You two had organized everything, so that nothing would interfere with this coming-together of two great minds, both intent on furthering the new science of psychoanalysis. We may have looked, to the outsider, like any young couple in love. Yes, we may have seemed happy together. Oh, how appearances can be mistaken!

You, my dear husband, had insisted on bringing along your assistant, Ludwig, from the Burgholzli Asylum, to act as chaperone and to guide me around the city. How I’d growled about that, too…. but I could not blame the impressive man I’d married, for taking control of every aspect of the event, so well equipped were to pursue your ambitions in the exciting field opening up before you.

As we walked along cobbled stones towards the apartment, you towering over your shorter yet dapper Dear Sigmund Freud, you talked loudly as you were wont to do.

We joined his family of nine around the luncheon table. You dominated, once again, while the family listened with interest and admiration, Sigmund, sucking on his pipe. You, only interested in discussing psychoanalysis, was unaware of your lack of etiquette in not bringing the children and women into the conversation.

I left with my chaperone soon after the meal. Museums, especially the natural history one, beckoned me. How I would have loved to share these trips to the opera and to the theater, or even to relax in the opulence of the Grand Hotel, with my beloved consort by my side.

That first night, you did not return to the hotel until late in the morning, having talked non-stop for thirteen hours straight with your newfound colleague in his rooms.

It was well known among the cohort that the unconscious was the key to everything, and the key to the unconscious was the dream.

But when Doktor Freud talked about ideas on sexual abuse being the cause of neuroses in later life, you, Carl, begged to differ. Working closely with the insane, you had discovered for yourself that sexuality and abuse were not the only variances at play in mental illness.

Despite this, you realized soon enough, that he, the wiser and older man, saw in you his legitimate heir. And you pulled back.  For a time…

It was around the birth of our last child in 1914, that Toni Woolf inserted herself into our lives. If it was humiliating for me, this ménage à trois was hardly fulfilling for her. You claimed it was foretold by a luminous dream of a white dove that turned into a golden-haired girl who put her arms around your neck. You set off with Toni for a “vacation” in Ravenna shortly after Helene’s birth. Of course, I was unhappy when you invited her into the household; I excluded her from all meal times with the family. Yet she became your “other wife”, and “the other woman”, in relation to me, your legal wife.

Yes, I tolerated it; I could no longer risk another pregnancy; like all mistresses, she tried to persuade you to divorce me; but nothing could come between us in the end.

Her sudden death after the relationship had waned, left the two of us in total shock, and as close as ever a couple could be thereafter.

I see her now as your beacon of light during those dangerous voyages along the River Styx. Yes, she served as a source of insight for you, while delving into the underworld. And I nurtured our brood of five, relieved that childbirth years were behind me now. Was this a great sacrifice on my part, or an example of what you call

Why did I not succeed in divorcing you? one well may ask. I begged God and prayed for delivery from my shame.

Yet you enabled me, it must be remembered, to eventually grow and become an analyst in my own right. It was quite something for the time.

None of it matters now that I am old. I have fulfilled the journey that I began with you, my husband, by my side. I have said this many times to you, my dearest love: We have arrived at this companionable state together. Love changed us both, as you never fail to point out, and Ours was a different kind of love.

Although our children refused to do so, I forgave the other who tried to come between us. Toni Woolf and I became friends in the end. It was I who attended her funeral, yourself being poorly at the time. She provided something that I could not offer you, n’est-ce pas? We can talk freely, and without rancor, about these subjects now. That is one of the benefits of growing old, my darling companion. The need for lust, for giving birth, for travel, even for your beloved active imagination, all is dead and gone, leaving only peace and serenity in its wake.

Still, last words are a thing of note, and those final ones from your dear mouth have brought me great pleasure, as they did so at the time of their being spoken.

Now I hear you tell Andreas to ask me not to visit him again. He’s having nightmares. I say to the child, I must return no more, though I shall mourn the times we spend together on our walks. I am, as my Lord has said, without a body, and you are of flesh and blood.

Nor can you join us, dear my Lord. You have unfinished work to do, but we are dead. How blessed I am to have paved the way for you.

I sense that I am talking directly to you, my darling Carl. Or are these words the ramblings to herself of an old woman, the one that I had become? I felt then that my time was nigh, yet I am young again. Ignore my words if they unsettle you, my dearest love.

Last words are indeed to be remembered, and I am eternally grateful for the ones you spake that day.

You said she’d been your perfume but that I was your Queen.

When you are ready, good my liege, you shall find your way home.

I await you here, meine Liebe, my dearest love. I am but a step away behind the veil.