“The writing that I’m doing in the journal,” I said to Ronit one day last year, “is the best writing I’ve done in a long time. Because it’s honest. And it’s not filled with rage. It’s actually filled with love. I wonder if I could turn it into something publishable. But I would worry about my family, my kids. They don’t need to know everything about me. And I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
This was something I said to her, in a variety of ways, on several occasions for a period of weeks and months. Finally one day she said to me, “Do you worry about me?”
I didn’t understand.
“The journal,” she said. “You’ve said it’s about your relationship with me. You’ve said that you address yourself to me in it. You worry about what your family and kids would think of it. Do you worry about what I would think of it?”
I still didn’t understand. “Why would I worry about you?” I said. “You already know everything in it; I’ve already told you all of this stuff.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Wait,” I said. “Do you mean: Do I worry about what you’d think of my portrayal of you?”
“Why worry?” I said. “I only portray you well. I portray you as the consummate professional.”
An expression came over her face that I recognized. She had good enough English, but occasionally there was terminology I used that she was not familiar with.
“Consummate professional is like . . . the top of the top,” I explained. “Like totally professional.”
She thought about that. “On Terrible Tuesday I was the consummate professional?”
“Even consummate professionals make mistakes,” I said. “Even consummate professionals are human.”
I kept the journal from April 2013 until January 2014. Three months later I started this blog.
“I have the feeling,” I said to Ronit after I’d posted the first few columns, “that one day I’m going to come in here and you’re going to say to me: That’s it. It’s either the relationship or the blog. You pick. You can’t have both.”
“Why would I do that?”
“I know you don’t approve of it,” I said, even though I was pretty sure she hadn’t actually read any of the installments. I had considered sending her the links, but then thought better of it.
“I don’t tell you what you can write, Eve,” she said. “I only object to it if it stops us from doing our work here.”
“But I know you wonder why I’m doing it. What motivates me. Why I’m taking a private relationship and making it public.”
“Why are you?”
Now I shrugged. Was I hoping that by sharing my private relationship with the public I could dilute the intensity of it? Was I hoping that by sharing it I might hear someone say back to me: You’re not alone, I’ve been there too?
Maybe it was also that I was in awe of it, of the relationship, of its almost supernatural quality. We would talk about the classic Israeli song uf gozal, and three weeks later I would learn that Arik Einstein had suddenly died. We would talk about the expression “had her in the palm of my hand,” and the following week Ronit would come in with a cast on: she had broken her fall on a weekend hike with the palm of her hand. I would have a dream about her stepping on my foot as I exited my apartment, and then at the next session she would step on the back of my foot as she was ushering me out of the door of her office.
And the piece de resistance? One day I would tell her that for the blog I had given her the name Ronit, and she would say to me, “Why Ronit?” and I would say, “I have absolutely no idea, I don’t actually know anyone by the name of Ronit, it just sounded very Israeli to me,” and eventually, towards the end of the session, she would pause, carefully consider what she was about to reveal, and then finally tell me: “My son’s name is Ron.”
Ron. Ronit. Sons. Daughters. Wow. My eyes popped out of my head at that one. I’d had no idea of her kids’ names. I’d chosen “Ronit” at random. At least I thought I had. Was there magic between two people when a deep bond formed? Was there some sort of unspoken undercurrent running through our every interaction? Or was I, once again, finding meaning where there was none?
“What I’m saying is that I didn’t pick this material,” I said to her. “It picked me. I wish I could write about something else but nothing else calls to me. The experiences I’ve had here with you beg for expression. So I’m expressing them. And anyway you’re the one who told me that life is meant to be lived out there – not in here. So I’m taking my experience with you out there. Actually I think it’s a pretty ingenious way for me to fly away from the nest.”
“You’re taking the nest with you.”
“The blog has brought other people into my life,” I said. “Readers. Responders. Isn’t that what you wanted me to do? Create relationships out there – with other people? You made me do it. You forced me to.”
I smiled. “Well maybe not forced, but you know what I mean. You’re like the mom who says, Go outside and play already, go make friends, and gives me a shove off your lap. By refusing to give me what I want, you force me out of here. Which, by the way, adds to your being a consummate professional. You shouldn’t give me what I want. I know that. On the other hand, I think that’s what writing is about for me. If I’d had the choice, I would rather have been The One Happy Child than the One Lonely Child. But I didn’t. So I wrote about it. Writing will always come in second place.”
“So it’s compensation.”
“Also,” I said, “forgive me if I sound arrogant, but maybe I thought I could start a revolution. Maybe I thought that my forthrightness would bring about other people’s forthrightness. Maybe I thought life could be an exercise in honesty. Instead of Hi, how are you, I’m great, how are you, I’m great too, the conversation could actually be about something real. And it has been, to some extent. I’ve bared my soul, and others have bared their souls to me. It’s kind of worked.”
I continued to think about additional motivations I might have had, perhaps less valiant ones. Was I looking for the world to tell me who I was? Was I looking for the world to diagnose me – for free? Was I looking for the world to tell me who Ronit was? Sometimes readers would comment on her conduct, either with compliment or criticism. Was I trying to get one “parent” in trouble with the other? Was I telling on her? Was writing about her an aggressive, hostile thing? I had always thought it was a loving thing.
Finally, last week, I said to Ronit, “I think I’m going to stop the blog. Or at least suspend it for a while.”
“Because, like you, I’m wondering why I started it in the first place,” I said. “Why I’m acting out, to put it in your lingo.”
“People act out when they can’t act in,” she said.
“I suppose,” I said. Then I said, “But mostly, right now, I think I want to stop because of the war. If I’m writing about anything, it should be about that. But I can’t. There are a billion writers out there who can write about the war a lot better than I can. I have nothing new to add. But writing about anything else except the war seems inappropriate. Insensitive. Tone-deaf. In poor taste. People are dying. People are suffering. Families are grieving. Israel is in trouble. Tunnels in the south might mean tunnels in the north. Who knows what dangers lurk? I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Israel is fighting for its life. Did you see those sickening pictures of the Hamas guys coming out of their holes? I heard they were planning a massive attack for Rosh Hashanah. Israel’s equivalent of 9/11. Kidnapping and murdering hundreds of civilians from kibbutzim down south.”
Ronit nodded. “Life in the Middle East,” she said.
There wasn’t much more to say after that. We sat in silence.
Sometimes silence is the only sensible response.