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  • Karl Thunemann

Settling of the Saturnine Frontier

In the morning I changed my mind. The essay was complete. It just required a follow-up, a companion.

I thought of all my experiences with “inner children.” The most dramatic stemmed from my meetings back in 2003 with a woman who styled herself as a medical intuitive. She had me sit in an overstuffed recliner and held my feet. You’re very disjointed, she said. You have five split-off children, one for each year from two to six.  Most people, she said, would consolidate their traumatic experiences in a single entity. But not me. I had the makings of my own dysfunctional inner basketball team.

I made no protest. Agonizing dreams of suffering children had brought me to her. At the end of the session I volunteered that there must be one more, associated with age eight. She pursed her lips and said no. But in subsequent visits she agreed that there must be another.

As I worked on this idea, I matched it with another dream, circa 2003: In this one I was in a horrendous crash with a purple fastback 1948 Ford, skidding backwards as it bore down on me atop the river bridge leading to the town where I was born. There were no children in the crash, but later in the dream I found one on the riverbank, trying to fish. As I worked on the dream that summer, I decided to back the car out of the dream, and to envision it rebuilt. I could use it to take my inner children on tours.  My wife helped, making a collage of a purple Ford and images of kids who looked much like me. As the months passed, only one child seemed to remain an active presence. The others had grown to be grumpy old men, like me. My wife made another collage featuring images of older men gathered on the pedestrian causeway at my favorite marsh.

The remaining inner child bore no resemblance to a grieving, irate eight-year-old. Non-verbal, he seemed tied to the prenatal world and infancy. It dawned on me that … I had meant to dispatch the eight-year-old!

But the remaining inner child bore no resemblance to a grieving, irate eight-year-old. Non-verbal, he seemed tied to the prenatal world and infancy. It dawned on me that in trying to “complete” the first essay with a single sentence, I had meant to dispatch the eight-year-old! This would not do, for it violates the principles laid down by James Hillman in his classic book, Healing Fiction. Hillman contested the widespread assumption that therapists ought to help clients integrate split-off aspects of themselves into their dominant adult personalities. Instead, according to Hillman, these lost souls should be encouraged to pursue their own realization. How could I have forgotten this watchword?

collage illustration by Faith Thunneman

Now I am wondering how I can help this boy—still unnamed—fulfill himself. Even more than a name, he needs a new job. His father, mother and beleaguered sister are all gone, carried away by Alzheimer’s. Of course there are few jobs for the saturnine—most have been seized by professional comedians. The boy must find a new job that makes use of other qualities that bear his signature.  Let’s see … how about …vigilantpersistent … opposed to injustice … patient … creative… subtle … Yes, this is a good start.

When I started writing this epistle, I supposed it would conclude with some sort of job description and a naming ceremony. But now these seem premature—perhaps just a pre-emptive effort to fold him into my established adult identity. I need to be patient, too. Now the ball is in his court. (I presume he must have witnessed that horrid tennis match with my father—was it nearly sixty years ago? –so he won’t take umbrage at this image.)  So here is my setup shot: Go ahead, Kid, take your time. I know you are resilient and resourceful. May you let me know when you have settled on a job—and a name.


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