Joy wasn’t somebody who made things up. I know this because she had been coming to me for years, ever since her husband, a Rock Hudson kind of guy with no effeminate traits to give him away, had left her for the male nurse who had been given the task of shaving him before his appendectomy.
Totally shocked, like so many wives in these cases, Joy needed someone to help her process this. Her sister, whom I had helped after her experience with large-group hypnosis had resulted in a weight gain and craving for cigarettes, recommended me. And so Joy became a regular occupant of my couch—sitting on it, of course, not lying down. Only one of my clients has ever chosen to lie on it, and that only lasted until he suggested that I join him.
So here she was on an ordinary Tuesday morning, sun streaming in the window behind her, telling me something that with anyone else would surely sound made up. It began in a normal enough fashion.
“I want to talk about something I experienced last night,” she said.
“Did you go out?” I asked.
“No, no . . . this happened in bed.”
“You were with someone?” I asked, surprised.
“No!” she practically shouted. And then in a calmer voice, “No, just let me explain. I have to figure out how to say this.”
I sat there in the silence, hoping she wasn’t going to tell me she’d just discovered masturbation at age 42.
She began again. “I wasn’t asleep yet, but I wasn’t quite awake.”
I wondered if I was allowed to talk now. I took a chance. “The hypnagogic state,” I said.
“Right, that’s it,” she said. “I forgot the term.”
She was quiet for another moment.
“Okay,” she said, “so I was lying there listening to the summer night sounds, feeling close to sleep, when I started hearing things.”
She paused, and I figured she was waiting for the obvious question. So I asked it. “What kind of things?”
“People’s voices,” she said. “Little snatches of conversation. As though I’d overheard them during the day without realizing it, and now they were playing back to me.”
“Do you think you did overhear them?”
“If I did, it wasn’t yesterday,” she said. “I was home all day because the kids had off from school. Anyway, I just lay there, listening to these voices—male and female, none of them familiar to me—and then I saw something.”
I waited, and then asked the obvious again: “What did you see?”
“That’s my point,” she said without impatience. “I don’t know what I saw.”
“Were your eyes open?”
“No, my eyes were closed. It was a vision. Or a snapshot of a dream.”
“Okay. Well, what can you tell me about it? What did it look like?”
“That’s the problem, Vera,” Joy said. “I can’t tell you a thing. You know how people have near-death experiences and come back to life and say they have no words to describe what they saw? And you think, ‘Don’t be silly . . . we have all the words for shape and height and color and everything else.’ And still they say they have no words to describe their experience? Well, that’s what I’m telling you about last night. I saw something, something that scared me. But I have no words to describe it. No words at all.”