Thin-Skinned and Thick-Skinned: A Story of a Relationship
By Edie Boxer (USA)
My presentation, “Thin-Skinned and Thick-Skinned: A Story of a Relationship,” will be one of many delivered at the 27th annual interdisciplinary conference of the International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education (IFPE) to be held in Pasadena, California, from October 27 to 29, 2016. This year’s conference theme is Skin, featuring papers that “reflect the intricacies of skin as they extend from the consulting room and into our relationships, intimacies, art, culture, politics, tribalism, race, and society” (IFPE conference brochure). My paper addresses the conference theme by considering the trauma of an unreciprocated bond with my only sibling. Through the use of literary, theoretical, and autobiographical narrative, I explore the impact of early relationship conflicts that may never find resolution.
Abstract: “Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some resolution which it may never find” (Anderson, “I Never Sang for My Father,” 1968).
“Don’t tell Mom!”
“OK, but get off me. You hit my eye!”
“I didn’t hurt you! I only sorta fell on you, and my elbow only touched your eye for a second.”
“You fell on top of me. Mom told you not to bother me. I was just lying here on my bed reading.”
“Uh-uh, it looks like the skin under your eye is turning colors. You look funny. Your eye looks pink too. “You’re not going to tell Mom, are you?”
“ No, but she’s going to know as soon as she comes home from the store. Is it getting worse?”
“ I think so. I’ll be right back.”
“Where you going?”
“To get a steak from the freezer. Maybe the cold will keep your skin from turning more colors.”
“Hurry! Mom is going to kill us for fooling around. Actually, she is going to kill YOU!”
My brother, Meyer, was about ten years old and I was about seven or eight when he panicked about almost giving me a purplish-black eye. I don’t remember if my skin actually turned colors or if my mother found out and “killed him” for not listening to her directive, “Don’t bother your sister!”
I think I can write about my brother and our relationship now, notwithstanding the risk of stirring up old, painful feelings. My “brubby,” as I called him when I was a little girl, and I shared an increasingly contentious existence that only superficially ended with his death at the age of 54, 23 years ago. I don’t think of him often, but when I do, I can locate a place deep inside my body that holds the melancholy knowledge of his actual death and memories of the torment I often felt as a result of his behavior toward me. Perhaps it was my undying wish for his attention and love that kept me in this intimate, skin-to-skin relationship well beyond the time when another, less familiar connection would have long been severed.
Edie Boxer, MSW, PsyD
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