Letters to the Doctor
Bedsheets become a surface for writing by a fictional patient: excavating reality and fantasy, sexuality and symbolism of the unconscious
I bring here the notes that I found while I was working as an artist in a participatory project in the psychiatric clinic near the U. metro station. The notes were written by Tanya, a girl who was hospitalized there.
Tanya is no longer with us, so I can publish them.
Yet, when she was still alive, she said that she’d be glad if I were to publish her notes accompanied by my illustrations.
Tanya wrote letters to a mysterious doctor. I have tried to find him, but failed. I might have a proposition that she probably made him up to survive in our world.
The letters saved her in the darkest of times, and she used to say repeatedly that they drive the pain away from life.
A doctor came to my house to treat pneumonia I was about six years old so it seems I remember only the color of his being — golden beige His hair was glowing I loved him To astonish the doctor I began drawing inner bodily organs But they turned out strange — I did not know what they were supposed to look like Sometimes I write letters to the doctor to remain open to a gentle, careful dialogue and to be able to reinvent, while preserving a healthy vulnerability
It becomes harder and harder to remain a child, doctor Yesterday two nurses came and informed me that it is time to grow up Time to get up on my feet And what color of feet do you mean? I asked They did not answer (possibly my question embarrassed them) they just shook their heads and left confused Yellow peonies and golden globes came swaying above me I became terribly joyous for some reason and imagined them swinging around me like snowflakes I began catching them with my hands and couldn’t stop They were everywhere and I jumped about the room catching them joyfully with my hands NV came and took me away to the reality room I spent the night there till dawn until the door was finally unlocked as I needed to visit the toilet In the toilet I saw the water that someone before me forgot to flush — it was deep blue I could hardly hold back screaming But I did hold back because children are always positive unless it’s war or their parents are sadists Instead of screaming I began singing my childhood song I heard from my favorite aunt Maria It was Aleksandr Vertinsky’s song “I am a little ballerina”
I’ve been thinking lately why I love Aunt Maria more than my other relatives Possibly it is because when speaking to me she touched on what really mattered? She managed all the orphan houses in Tambovsky region and has always delivered speeches on inaugurations Aunt Maria was an orator — she loved delivering speeches — her loud voice had a well-trained soprano quality Maria was never to become a mother herself (because of her childbearing organ position it was attached just right to her back instead of serving the reproductive need normally) Maria’s story is as follows: I remember her — a beautiful tall woman with blue eyes (without a tincture of grayish-green — just a deep blue color) Which was a breathtaking contrast with her absolute black hair An austere somewhat even severe face capped by this dry pitch black hair that never turned gray She used to meet dad and me at the airport with a bouquet of peonies, wearing high heels and a red coat. There was a black car with a driver in the background (she had a personal driver) When we arrived — the table had already been set How much I loved her apartment — all covered with carpets in rusty red and brown! How soft they were to lie upon! To lie down on my belly and browse through the album with famous women — Aunt Maria used to cut them out of magazines The Woman Worker and Flame and leisurely paste them on the album’s pages
It was my mother who told me her secret They’ve dispatched Maria to Dagestan She studied well in school — was an achiever — graduated with all As Just such achievers were sent to conquer the wilderness — teaching ignorant children in the mountain auls of the Soviet republics They’ve sent Maria to Dagestan village at the high mountains She had to get married there since after spending a night with a man — a woman ought to marry A teacher in the school where she worked — raped her — thus she had to marry straight away She lived over two years in a house with her husband and his parents and melted away — just like a candle Maria turned into a ghost Once when the whole family went into the town bazaar she asked to visit the restroom But when done she jumped into a train that was headed for Russia She had no money — nothing at all — still she begged the conductor to take her in He agreed — she slept all the way When she got off in Tambov and reached out to her father he did not recognize her She never told this story to anyone — only before she died did she tell my mother
Dear Doctor! I’ve dreamt about an unusual tree I encountered in the forest where I had gone for a walk after lunch Its blooming flowers were like hybrid hand palms I really wanted to smell them and kept stretching myself up to reach a branch But the wood was moist as if it had rained (even though drought has continued for two months already) — I slipped and fell into blood When I turned my head I saw that blood streamed from between the tree’s trunks at the roots Strangely — I was not afraid at all As if this blood — it was what the tree needed and what I needed
I nevertheless decided that it would be way more truthful were I to scream and dart off as if I got frightened — which I did — laying my hands on the additional dose of tranquilizers—those that NV always gives me when I am scared — those that I love so much Together with them — my little friends — the tranqees — one can spend the night on fire, have fun like in a movie First one can speak with the Rabbit — as he can enter this particular rhythm-space easily, while I can attain it only by taking the pills He though — my dear friend the Rabbit — seems to dwell in this rhythm-space permanently
Dear Doctor! I must share with you the scariest dream of this week: The Black Panthers have temporarily left me Temporarily indeed — as the phrase “and then he will never come back again” infuriates me I am scared of this fury godalmightygods am I turning into a man? Since when did fundamental human emotions begin scaring me? By god — how very strange it is But today the wonderful M came to visit and comforted me hitting the point just like she knows For instance she said: They just cannot share the power This is damn right!!!!! My communication with P proceeded quite so poetically He turned with his best side to me saying that my diary can be displayed in a room — a separate room where there is only one book — Two Diaries: My Diary and the Rabbit’s Because I consider it silly to publish a diary of only one person as we are never alone if we are good and healthy — we are always with somebody and some people calling it — God... He then wrote me that because of writing he can neither continually keep in touch nor answer the phone I understood that he contracted my obsession to write a diary on behalf of two protagonists simultaneously But maybe he got scared of himself — as during our last Skype call he could not contain himself And began to devour his dinner right in front of me without excusing himself, blaming the lack of time I got so agitated because of this that right after the call ended I rushed to the restroom to vomit my indignation out Vomiting sounds woke up the black cats — they ran in and surrounded me — bristling and meowing like real bells
Dear Doctor! I remembered suddenly that I have never told you why I ended up here — every time you see me in your dazzlingly white room I am taken by such rapture that I fail to say even a third of what I had needed and wanted to say to you So it all happened one July evening last year I thought that… My parents wheeled off to the summerhouse — finally I can draw a breath and continue working on my book They fucking came to water the flowers by my window My father beat me up Hit me in the face twice Because I sleep with men on mother’s bed, said he But the thing is that I got nobody and I haven’t been sleeping with any men for a long time now Father often provokes me in this way so that enraged I’d call the police and then they can dispatch me to the clinic because I have a record I don’t even think that anyone could ever get close to me in this life anymore And if this miracle ever happened I wouldn’t have a place to invite him in — because I don’t have a place to live I cannot pay for it because I’ve lost a job at the University when the management leaned to the right I was so happy today after meeting a friend who treated me in a café. I was returning home in a good mood, even singing a little — In the flat I discovered my parents who came to water the flowers — damn those stinky marigolds strife pansies violets sluts! Don’t tell anyone about this That my parents are downright antisemites They got violets in place of hearts My father beat me up Hit me in the face twice They fucking came to water the fucking flowers Now the violets they came to water flower all over my face Because I sleep with men on mother’s bed, said he But the thing is that I’ll never have anyone ever Flower-loving fascists
Dear Doctor! Today they let us out for a little walk Hug me The inscription I saw on the advertising column How many people wish for that hug Why hidе it? I wish for it too So when I saw this silly poster I went there — to a shop belonging to my friend an actor who got this warehouse for pennies and put together a performative vintage shop where clothes hang between soft porn primitive-style paintings The Asian young man kindly showed me all the latest additions pointing my attention to the lace gloves You see I realized that I wish to reflect the spirit of a detective novel in my story For me the detective is Lady Marple, meaning she is probably the ideal mother figure, fulfilled in her becoming every day by every blessed dandelion This mother seeks the truth
I think I’ve already told you dear Doctor that I began drawing on bed sheets Today’s sheets can be titled no other than am I a trembling creature or do I have the right Or just a trembling creature Or trembling saliva Or just a crushed mosquito Today’s sheet is dyed with the spilt stains of cacao Evidences of my extreme clumsiness spilling the costliest cacao as if it were a performance In fact it is just a mistake of a mosquito A mosquito that made a mistake entering a dead end
I’ve been stuck with the letter to Rabbit Senior for half a day, striving to fold a tempestuous thought into a maximally digestible shape But universal language does not give in easily — thus some agony was necessary Probably this is why my unconsciousness produced this pattern But I’ll be most delighted to learn of your interpretation dear Doctor — what could be the meaning of all that? What signal of my tattered soul could you extract from that painting?
Dear Doctor! Today we watched a movie, me and the rabbits. It was about mother’s truth that keeps slipping away as the wind carries her off every time I want to touch and hold her My mother dear doctor keeps a terrible secret from me which doesn’t leave me at peace It is a secret of a crime that one of the rabbits has committed (but even I cannot reveal his name to you) Even to you dear doctor I cannot tell what exactly this rabbit did, why was his foot torn off and half of his body and his head pricked all over with needles. It seems to him since that Mother-rabbit slips ashes into his coffee every time he intends to fly east. What to do, doctor? How to save them?
Dear Doctor! I have to thank you with all the strength of my tattered heart that has almost already turned into a dress. The one I was wearing when I was about to learn the truth and was taken here straight away. On your advice, dear doctor. Thank you for saving me from a certain undoing. I got better after walking with you at the park. I didn’t even ask for tranqees. Thank you for saving me from unearthly humiliation, when I had to suck the male nurse — the junior rabbit — so that he would give me the sedative that is necessary to reach the blessed Truth. Truth and Verity they are one, aren’t they? Do YOU agree? So after your visit I’ve been speaking to the bindweed regularly. It’s been a week already that I reason with it to stop tormenting the poor tree. The noble blameless maple is taken prisoner entirely by the bindweed that keeps draining it, preventing the tree from growing as it wants. I hasten to remind that in the history of art bindweed symbolizes love. However surely this is known to you perfectly well.
Dear Doctor! My friend Valya, nicknamed Moss, informed me that mattresses disturb her. When she walks the street and sees a discarded mattress she gets an erection (moistening of vagina.) I suggested to her writing sentences on the mattresses — told her about Doctor Freud who reflected on the question of sublimation. Valya was admitted here because she kept throwing herself on young men. She was traumatized significantly by her father, then husband and as a result she opted for the free life of a divorced woman. Having no children she decided to embrace her desires and get free on account of pulling the trigger on her impulses. She got loose to such an extent that she’d directly proposition young men to make love in the alley by exposing her genitals. Just like the maniac dude from my childhood who stood guard by our kindergarten. One young man denounced her and so it is her fourth year here since. Together we’ve come up with and realized several actions, for which they threw us without fail into the reality room. You surely are well-acquainted with this space. I’ve heard that you tried to convince the management to cancel this room altogether or at least to bring some plants in there. The most terrible thing is that I cannot sleep there. If I do fall asleep for half an hour I dream the same unimaginably dreadful dream. A bindweed begins to grow out of my mouth first and then out of all my other orifices — first it entwines me like a straitjacket and then it climbs onto walls and ceiling until the entire room turns into a green mash. When I had an abortion and they gave me some drug so that I wouldn’t feel anything I remember falling into a black tunnel — breathing was so very difficult and it felt so scary such abandonment — that is you’re all completely alone in this world but writing this I understand that words cannot convey this horror of abandonment. Anyway together with Valya Moss we wrote on the mattress: Patients of all countries and skins unite! We wrote this with our menstrual blood since we couldn’t have paints. Valya collected this blood from several women in the hospital so that there would be enough for such a long sentence. A mattress’s surface always contains some synthetics so it absorbs liquids fast. For that reason we needed no less than half a liter. We felt such joy after the fact that we forgot that the world is divided into friends and enemies. Joyfully we dragged the mattress into our garden and leaned it on a tree next to the director’s window. After that we were beaten up badly and thrown into the reality room for the whole week. Tomorrow I’ll slice my veins open doctor — while Valya Moss will write my last word for you on my bed sheet. What word — you’ll discover later. Forever yours — Tanya
Translated from Russian by Katya Oicherman