Question: “Does Ronit read your blog?”
I don’t know.
So I said to her: “Ronit, do you read my blog?”
She was quiet.
I thought about the time I’d asked her how old she was.
“How old would you like me to be?” she’d responded.
“I’d like you to be much older than me,” I said. “I’d like there to be a big cushion between us.”
“Cushion?” she said.
“Yeah . . .”
“C-u-s-h . . .?” she started spelling out.
“Yes,” I said. “Cushion.” Was it the Hebrew/English again? “You know, like pillow.”
“You’d like to put your head down on me,” she said triumphantly. “You’d like to rest.”
Oh! Wow! Not bad! I hadn’t thought of that at all! But she still hadn’t given me the answer. Instead, she said that if her age was something I actually wanted to know, there were doubtless other ways for me to find out. I understood what she was getting at. I had once told her about my efforts to get my New York analyst to tell me whether she was married. Then, many months into the analysis, I suddenly realized that she had a wedding band on her finger. How long had that been there?? Had it been there from the beginning? How had I not seen it? Had I not wanted to see it? Had I only been able to see it when I was ready to see it? I later found out that, yes, it had been there all along.
But in this case, I couldn’t imagine how I would discover Ronit’s age, short of her telling it to me. What were these “doubtless other ways” to find out? Whatever they were, I never did learn the secret number, though not for lack of trying. Me plus the internet plus the internet in Hebrew did not a good match make. But now I threw this back at her.
“If you wanted to read the blog,” I said, “you could. I’ve told you the name of it. I’ve told you where it appears. Just because I don’t send it to you doesn’t mean you couldn’t.”
She thought about this. “If you don’t send it to me,” she said, “then I imagine you’d rather I didn’t read it. I’m respecting your privacy.”
Answer: No. Ronit didn’t read the blog. And I was glad.
Question: “Don’t Ronit’s responses sometimes irritate/frustrate/hurt/infuriate you?”
Like a marriage, the therapist/patient relationship often seems unfathomable to the outsider. What makes it tick occurs on a level that neither of the two people in the room – let alone anyone outside of it – really understands. That said, whatever Ronit was doing was working. When in the aftermath of her announcement that she’d be moving to Tel Aviv I told her she didn’t seem to be around much anymore, I might have liked her to say, What does it feel like to you that I’m not here? Instead she said, But I’m here, I’m here, I’m right here, I’m very much here! and in the end it was good that she did. Given the fact that I was someone who tended to feel slighted – to perceive insults where there were none – it seemed more important that Ronit act as a corrective than as a detective. It was crucial for me to see where I was guilty of misinterpreting words and actions. It was more helpful for me to hear that in fact she was around than to look at why I felt she wasn’t.
But since other people’s marriages were in fact so often incomprehensible to the outsider (she’s so tall and he’s so short! he’s so boring and she’s so interesting!), the more relevant question might have been why I was writing about Ronit at all. By doing so, I was opening her up to scrutiny and criticism. And then, when the scrutiny and criticism came, I jumped to her defense. What did I want: for her to be beloved, or for her to be despised? It was a dynamic that felt familiar to me.
I had an image of myself as a child sitting on the couch with my father, his arm around me, while across from us sat my mother, gimlet-eyed, in a chair. I could tell that she disapproved of the way he behaved with me: by turns overly affectionate (too much kissing, hugging and smoothing of my “flaxen” hair), crazy-making (“it doesn’t matter what you want!” as he looped his fingers tightly around my wrist) and just plain mean (“do you have to laugh like that/ look like that/ talk like that/ be like that?”). But she never did or said much. And I suppose on the occasions when she tried, I defended him. I wanted her to intervene, but I also wanted her to leave him alone. Was I now, as an adult, asking my reader to do the same vis a vis Ronit?
Answer: Yes, sometimes Ronit’s responses irritated/frustrated/hurt/infuriated me. And then I told on her.
Question: Why do you write so much about your relationship with Ronit and so little about your therapy?
Answer: My relationship with Ronit is my therapy. As Irvin Yalom writes in The Gift of Therapy, “The here-and-now is the major source of therapeutic power, the pay dirt of therapy, the therapist’s (and hence the patient’s) best friend . . .The here and now refers to the immediate events of the therapeutic hour, to what is happening here (in this office, in this relationship, in the in-betweenness – the space between me and you) and now, in this immediate hour. It is basically an ahistoric approach and de-emphasizes (but does not negate the importance of) the patient’s historical past or events of his or her outside life.”
Question: How could you not have included the passages from the book that you refer to at the end of your last blog, the ones about termination, the ones that made you cry?
Answer: They can be found in Janet Malcolm’s Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, (First Vintage Books Edition, September 1982), pages 153-156. One passage, written by British analyst Harry Guntrip about the end of his analysis with W.R.D. Fairbairn, goes like this: “As I was finally leaving Fairbairn after the last session, I suddenly realized that in all that long period we had never once shaken hands, and he was letting me leave without that friendly gesture. I put out my hand and at once he took it, and I suddenly saw a few tears trickle down his face. I saw the warm heart of this man with a fine mind and a shy nature.”
Maybe you had to be there. But I didn’t. For me these words sounded the alarm, ringing in the sadness that Ronit and I would feel one day when, sooner or later, we said goodbye.
Question: What ever happened to that elderly Holocaust survivor, Fania, you used to visit?
Answer: Several months ago Fania fell off a chair and broke her leg. She endured a hospital stay followed by a six-week stint in a rehabilitation center followed by another hospital stay. On a recent visit, back at the old-age home, I told her I’d read an article about a 115-year-old Italian woman whose longevity was ascribed to her eating three raw eggs a day. “B’tay avon,” Fania said when I told her – “hearty appetite” – as she continued puffing away on her third or fourth cigarette. She had told me not long before about a dream she’d been having, in which she was traveling somewhere, with suitcases, but without knowing her destination. I gasped when she told me this, because I remembered that in the few days before my father’s death in 2008, he too had spoken of a feeling that he had to “get somewhere,” urgently, though he didn’t know where. I wondered whether Fania’s body knew something that Fania didn’t. On the other hand, I won’t be at all surprised if this indomitable Yugoslav partisan is still around to see her 93rd birthday in April.