I Saw Her

Photo of handsaw held to woman's midriff

A Dream Interpreted. From my journal. This photograph and essay were first exhibited in 1991 at Concordia College in Austin, Texas.

3/31/91 - Easter Sunday - The Dream

Family, perhaps in-laws, certainly adults, are with Judy and me as we set up for the holiday feast. We move the table from the kitchen to the dining room and add a leaf to it.

Outside, in the sunlight, Judy wants me to cut her in half with a handsaw. It will be painless and she will remain whole afterwards. "Where are you thinnest?" I ask, and she shows me the place above her hips with her hand. I imagine the metal teeth cutting through her innards and I break down in tears, unable to go further, though I have the handsaw gripped and placed at her side. Her own fears show themselves, and she holds me tight against her for comfort. I tell her that hospitals can perform his operation. This reassures her. She desperately wants me to see her through it.

First Notes

  1. Sawing a woman in half is a standard magician's trick. My role in the dream - unable to give her what she wants, being intimate only in sadness, offering reassurances to her desperation - this role is sickeningly familiar to me. Does she expect the impossible of me? Magic? Or is that fear spontaneous in me, ungrounded in reality?
  2. Judy talked last night about Richard Bach's Illusions, in which a reluctant savior can walk on water and swim through land, as though all one needs is imagination. In that, the presence of imagination in the dream is what keeps me from sawing through.
  3. Hamlet knew a hawk from a handsaw.
  4. My father's favorite joke was about the blind carpenter who picked up the hammer and saw.
  5. I fear she has some severe changes to undergo, changes she fears to undergo alone. She wants a companion; in fat, wants a magician to see her through, to saw her through, and leave her whole.
  6. The dream is something like Abraham holding the knife above his son Isaac, ready to strike but hoping for deliverance.
  7. An essential point of the dream is that while she is to be sawn, she will remain whole at the end.
  8. Perhaps I could make a photograph, me holding a saw to her midriff. As I imagine that, a meaning suddenly becomes clear. The photo would be titled, "I Saw Her." That pun provides perhaps the most satisfying interpretation yet, that, in the dream, Judy asks to be seen through, clean through. That's how the dream ends, her wanting me to see her through.

4/23/91 - Tuesday - Two Seeings

At the moment I'm impressed with the very different meanings of two very similar phrases: "seeing someone through" and "seeing through someone." While the first implies steadfastness in the face of change, the second implies seeing behind the ruse, seeing the truth behind what is false. The magician is the expert at ruses, at tricks that look like magic but are not. The magician pretends to saw the woman in two yet leaves her whole; in fact, it's a joint effort. She's in on the trick.

Since the two seeings are so different, what does this tell me about my feelings toward romance? The one seeing - seeing someone through - is deathly serious, shakespearian. It is the sort of thing that characterized my first two marriages. There was much that I had to see those two women through (both of whom were graduate students in English literature); little, if anything, they had to see me through (but my ambitions were small, even hourly, minute. In that respect, both marriages were out of kilter; their struggles predominated, proved overwhelming, just as - in the dream - we are overwhelmed with seriousness, impossibilities, failures, and need.

There was not much humor in those marriages, little sense that I was on to their tricks or helping them perform. There was even less sense that I was performing tricks and they were helping me. As a result, we turned few tricks indeed and, in the end, were halved.

The idea of seeing through someone suggests a happier, mutual relationship in which a couple not only is onto each other's tricks but helps each other perform them, that the tricks are, in fact, good, playful, and fun rather than misleading or manipulating.

The halves of the dream are clear. In romance I fear I will be asked to be truly magical and hope that I'll be asked to play. On the one hand I fear romance will again demand too much, that I cannot even begin to see it through. On the other hand is a hope that romance can be playful and convincingly magical, that she'd no more seriously ask me to cut her in half than she would ask me to perform the illusion alone.

All this is suspiciously tidy. I've not thought about the family feast at the dream's beginning, the expanding table. Do I associate family and feasting with impossibly serious demands? My own family has little to do with family except at Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. I will say that, in the past, I've expected romance to somehow magically solve the problems of relationship, that I've expected God to somehow give me what so few people find. If I take more responsibility and less blame, can I learn to have serious fun and avoid the seriously ridiculous?


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