“It’s awkward,” I said to Ronit. “Sitting out there, waiting for the exact moment when I should ring the bell. And anyway, how do I know that my watch is perfectly synchronized with yours? How do I know that I’m not ringing too early and cutting into your break? Maybe my watch says 9:30 and yours says 9:28. I don’t see why you can’t just open the door when you’re ready for me. That’s what my analyst in New York did.”
“Hmm,” she said, with a genuinely interested tone in her voice, as if she wanted to hear more. So I continued.
“Like, if my appointment was at 11:00, I’d arrive at 10:55. Then, when it was time, she’d open the door and stick her head out, and I’d get up from my chair and go in.”
“And you’d be sitting out there alone?”
“Sometimes alone. Sometimes with the patient who was waiting for the other analyst. One time there were these two little girls who came running out of my analyst’s office. The younger one said to the older one, I’m not going back in there. You go! Years later I realized that those girls had probably been her daughters. In an argument with their mother!”
Ronit didn’t comment.
“I’m just saying,” I said. “Wouldn’t it be better for you? This way, you can determine when we start.”
Ronit reflected. “This reminds me of something,” she said, rubbing her fingers together as if to say there were a certain texture — a certain tactile something — to the comments I had just made. “When you first started writing the blog, you suggested that it would be good for me . . . that you were doing it for me. That it would be good publicity for me.”
A smile slowly spread across my face. I had only recently been thinking of that very exchange. “Yes,” I said. “Here I’d thought I was giving you something, a gift, by writing about you, about us, and you responded by saying: I don’t want it, I don’t need it, I didn’t ask for it. You rejected that gift, and now you’re rejecting this one.”
“So my opening the door when I’m ready is a gift to me,” Ronit said. “And your opening the door — on our relationship — is also a gift to me. Even if I feel that this is a door that should remain closed.”
Wow. I got it. In her opinion, neither of these two gifts were gifts.
“Fine,” I said, poutily. “I’ll ring the damn bell. It’s just stupid, is all I’m saying. I’m sitting out there knowing you’re in here waiting for me to ring the bell and you’re in here knowing I’m sitting out there wondering if it’s the right time for me to ring it. And anyway, why does this keep happening? Why do we waste all this time talking about the door? The last few times I’ve come here, I’ve had no intention of talking about the door, and yet we spend the first ten minutes of each session talking about it.”
Ronit shrugged. “That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?” she said. “To open doors?”
I changed the subject, or so I thought. “I don’t like the longer session,” I said. “There’s too much time. You get tired. I get tired. I can feel us both running out of steam. I don’t like that. I don’t want to wilt, and I don’t want to see you wilt. I’d like to walk out of here at a peak moment, not a valley moment.”
“So we’re talking about transitions,” Ronit said. “Arriving. Departing.”
“The longer sessions feel . . . flabby,” I said. “No, not flabby. Flaccid. Yeah, flaccid. They don’t feel . . . tight enough. We’re trying to compensate for the lack of a second weekly session, but I don’t think it works that way; longer isn’t necessarily better. Longer doesn’t make up for less frequent.”
Suddenly I looked at her and blushed. All that sexual terminology! But maybe she hadn’t noticed. Or maybe she had noticed but chose not to mention it. In any event, it wasn’t something I cared to pursue right now. Maybe another time.
“I think the longer session has enabled you to open doors you wouldn’t have had time to open otherwise,” she said, and then she referred to a “door” I had opened during the previous session. I sighed. I understood she wasn’t going to let me give up so fast on the 75-minute-session. She had a quiet but formidable strength, a kind of below-sea-level tug.
The door remained an issue. The next time I came, I plopped myself down in the waiting area and checked my watch. I was fully prepared to ring the bell at 9:30, but at 9:29 the door opened and there she was.
“Oh!” I said, both pleasantly surprised (wow, she’s gonna change the rules — for me!) and flustered (wow, she’s gonna change the rules — for me!).
The subsequent session, the same thing happened — she opened the door spontaneously — but this time she seemed put out. She wanted to know how the situation in Tel Aviv was any different from the one in Jerusalem: why did I have no problem ringing the bell there but I did here?
“Because now you have a waiting room,” I said.
“Yes . . .”
“Because now I can’t time my arrival as precisely as I could then,” I said.
“Yes . . . ”
“Because, because . . .”
But the truth was: I didn’t know why the bell had become a problem. I didn’t have an answer for her question.
“It’s the same watch,” she finally said. “You’re telling time on the same watch.”
After that, for a week or so, I found a certain Hebrew word repeating itself over and over again in my head. The word was pitzuim. I mentioned this to Ronit. I told her that I wasn’t even sure of the exact translation in English. Was it “benefits?” No, that wasn’t it. It was the thing that people received when they were fired from their jobs. And then, just as I came up with it — “Damages” — she announced, “Compensation.”
“Oh right!” I said. “That’s it! Compensation! Not damages!”
She smiled. “Well, I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe it is damages. It’s your dictionary, not mine.”
One thing was clear. It seemed that I still thought she owed me something, and I would take payment in the form of getting her to do things my way. Or in the way of my old analyst: the good one, the one who hadn’t moved to Tel Aviv.