“Darkest Thoughts”

The mention of male clients’ “darkest thoughts & feelings” brought to mind an incident I hadn’t thought of in many years. A student came to see me during office hours. He was young, black and male, and wanted to share a dark fantasy that haunted him. I don’t recall whether he read me a description or just spoke it, but it involved a white girl he was murdering. There was a knife, some sex sadism, and — as the scene dragged on — it was acutely uncomfortable for me to sit quietly and listen, but I was careful not to show any shock.

My sincere response was this: what you are imagining is entirely normal. White girls have been held up for you as the most sexually desirable and as forbidden — unfairly. In those circumstances, to picture yourself taking such obvious revenge is as natural as wanting to step on the grass where there’s a sign prohibiting it. It does not mean there is anything wrong with you!

My student told me that this was life changing for him. He had been thinking of taking refuge in same-sex relations, not because he preferred them, but rather to keep himself from committing criminal acts. Now he felt released to be himself.

Years later, I ran into him on the north side of 89th Street, between Madison & Park, right by the little “country church” that’s set back from the street, nestled in a green alcove between the tall buildings. He was dressed in a well-cut, three-piece suit. I think he said he was a Manhattan lawyer (or occupied some such place on the map of comfortable life). It’s my recollection that he said he was married. With a warm and still-boyish sincerity, he thanked me again.


About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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3 Responses to “Darkest Thoughts”

  1. Abigail says:

    I much appreciate your response, Nilda. It’s deeply gratifying when one can help a conscientious person, who’s been unnecessarily self-tormented, to permit himself the well-deserved experience of peaceable self-acceptance.

  2. Bailey says:

    Great bblog I enjoyed reading

  3. NIlda says:

    Just had a conversation with a man today regarding his “normal” reactions to a very alarming situation. All these long years he beat himself up mentally for reacting normally! Good story!

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