Back in my teaching days, when I was putting about 100 miles on my car daily, I hit a scary wall in my mind. Without going into the details, I ended up calling two therapists my insurance company recommended. I left messages and headed out for the hills with the dogs. When I got home, one had called me back. She spoke on my answering machine in a lovely French accent. I called her back. Why? Well, I was watching French films at the time and I figured it was a sign. Pourquoi pas?
Her name was France Santella, a dedicated behaviorist, about 12 years older than I. She was amazing. It’s not an exaggeration to say I owe her my life. After she understood who I was and what I was dealing with, she said the very wise thing, “We cannot change what has happened to you. We can only address your response to the triggers that appear now.” I loved the concrete practicality of her methods and made progress quickly. At first she gave me homework after every session and then she stopped.
“You don’t need ze homework any more, Martha. You are a hungry tiger. You see what there is to do and you do it. Like that.” She reached into the air with her hand representing a tiger’s jaw and growled then snapped the finger-teeth on imaginary prey. I realized she’d really seen me. I am a tiger. A Siberian tiger, BTW. You know, snow…
France’ father wanted her to be a nun, and she was educated in a convent. She wanted to be a Bee-bop singer and ran away from home — to Paris and then New York.
A few sessions in, she asked me why I had come to her and not someone else, and I told her the truth. “Well, I’ve been watching French films all summer, and when I heard your voice on my answering machine, I figured it was a sign.”
She laughed. “And what do you think of the French cinema?”
“I like it. I like it a lot, but there is a pattern.”
“Oh? What is zat?”
“Three things appear often, and you never see them in American films.”
“Oh, American films. All special effects and sex. What are zeez three things?”
“Cognac and cigarettes. That’s one.”
“Oh yes, but we don’t have the Gauloise we once had. What else?”
“Incest — real or imagined, and suicide — real or imagined.”
She was quiet for a moment then laughed. “I think you may be right, Martha.”