CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER CHILD: A THERAPIST'S MEMOIR, by Daniel J. Tomasulo, Graywolf Press, 190 pages, $16

Daniel Tomasulo is a psychologist and therapist on faculty at New Jersey City University. With surprising insight into his own life, he has written a memoir that examines his childhood, adolescence and middle age.

He is a charming and witty writer who seems like the therapist we would all choose to go to for our own problems.

Tomasulo tells of continuing dreams he had as a child in which "a brilliant light radiated from the center of an unsolved jigsaw puzzle. I had the solution piece in my hand, but each time I tried to fit it in place," he writes, "the light was blocked and I was left in an unbearable empty darkness."

He kept having the dream and he kept trying to fit in the piece but always lost the light before he could. The dream left him frustrated and exhausted. For a child to be concentrating so fully on "the light," a recurring symbol in adult life as well, shows that Tomasulo, even as a child, had exceptional insight.

He recalls that his dad was "a spy, a double agent for the CIA and the FBI. To conceal his identity from foreign agents, he worked as an electrician for Lever Brothers Co. He had all kinds of neat tools and gadgets that he said were electrician gear, but I knew they were for defusing bombs, hotwiring cars, and planting wire taps."

"This was an excellent disguise for a man of his skill and talent. He never talked about it. We never spoke about this, but I am sure he was in demand all over the world. When he was on an assignment, the secret code he would give to Mom was that he was working a double. That meant that he would go into work at eight o'clock in the morning, work eight hours, then stay there for another eight hours and come home at midnight."

It really meant that he was a double agent — or so thought young Tomasulo.

Tomasulo describes how he "controlled the traffic and streetlights in New York City and northern New Jersey from 1956 through 1961. He was 5 years old. His identity and mission were "top secret." He doesn't remember how he got the gig. He just knows that he had the power if he was somewhere else, too. "I had a job forever. I was important. I was powerful. I was King of the Streetlights."

As an adult he describes building a pond, a difficult task for him because he's not "handy." Then he stocked it with goldfish, koi and tadpoles. Because the goldfish lived the longest, he meditates while watching them swim.

He talks about the rigors of moving to a new house and "it was time to jettison all things unused," like the numerous sneakers he had accrued over the years of running marathons. Throwing away the sneakers reminded him of his running buddy. They used to talk about what would happen when "they hit the wall" — and he had recently died of cancer.

Tomasulo also talks about his father suffering from a myocardial infarction, "when a blood clot hit his heart," meaning he would only live about five more years. His smoking and his excessive weight had contributed to his problem. After he got sick he confessed to his wife about a sexual incident that occurred about 15 years ago. He was suffering guilt — and it infuriated his wife.

The author weaves all these stories through the book, mixing the childish anecdotes with those that occurred in his adulthood. The stories give him an entirely human aura, as if he knows what he's talking about. It shows he is a "good listener" — just the kind of guy you need for a therapist.


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