With the end of Ronit’s Jerusalem practice before me, and the feelings with which I had greeted her news behind me, I started to wonder whether I might actually be ready to say good-bye to her come September. And with thoughts of good-bye in mind, memories of hello returned.
“Remember how I got here before you did that first time?” I said. “From the beginning there were certain themes between us.”
“Such as . . .”
I smiled. I suspected she would hear what I was about to say as the words of a neurotic head-case.
“That I was more committed than you were,” I said. “That I was going to take this process more seriously.”
“Taking something seriously means arriving early?” she said, right on cue. “Arriving on time means not taking it seriously?”
I shrugged off her reasonable response and moved on. “You hadn’t told me on the phone that there was no waiting room. You hadn’t told me that if I got here early I’d be standing in the building’s lobby until you arrived. Actually I’ve always wondered if I threw you off your game that day. Maybe you have some kind of regular protocol you follow when you meet a new patient.”
“Maybe you shake their hand.”
“Did you want me to shake your hand?”
“No!” I said. “My analyst in New York – she shook my hand the first time we met. And I was afraid she would do it again the last time we met. So I told her that I really didn’t want her to. A handshake is such a formal thing. To me, it signifies a business relationship. ”
“And what kind of relationship should this be?”
I thought about it. “An emotional one? A loving one? A personal one? Our kablan shook my hand the day we started our apartment renovations; now that’s a business relationship.”
Ronit and I had been working together long enough for me to know that she would see certain similarities between apartment renovations and personality renovations. But I was already done with that subject and on to the next.
“Sending me away was another theme,'” I said. “I remember thinking: Why doesn’t she want to keep me? First you asked if I’d like you to help me find an analyst. Then you asked if I had plans to move back to the States.”
Ronit said, “But you said you had been in analysis –”
“I know,” I said. “I’m not saying I don’t understand why you asked the question. I’m sure I also said I wasn’t happy living here, so it makes sense that you asked if I planned to go back. Still, I interpreted both things as sending me away. Or at least as not dying to keep me.”
“Like your parents?” she said.
I had once told Ronit how great my parents had been about my move to Israel, how they had never guilt-tripped me, never made me feel I couldn’t live my life as I needed to live it. At the same time, I guess a part of me must have wanted them to tell me not to go. In fact I sometimes thought the reason I entered psychoanalysis two years before departure date was to find someone who would say, Stay.
“When my kids were little,” I said, “it was always much easier for them to separate from me when I didn’t need for them to separate from me.”
Ronit nodded. I suppose I had only stated the obvious, but what I had said was also relevant to me and my ability to contemplate separating from her. Her comments of late had made me realize that she wasn’t trying to get rid of me, wasn’t kicking me out, didn’t need me to separate from her. Maybe it was for that reason that I could imagine doing so.
But was this wishful thinking? Was I deceiving myself? Ronit, and my relationship with her, did appear to be taking up less space in my head than they used to, but appear was the operative word. I certainly wasn’t at the point where “life was calling:” an expression a friend had used when telling me how she knew she was ready to end therapy. She said her sessions had begun to seem more trouble than they were worth, that getting to them had become an inconvenience; she said she had other things she preferred doing with her time. But it wasn’t this way for me. Life might have been calling me more than it used to, but my hours with Ronit were still a high point. Even when I thought of all the things I could do with the money I would save – including saving it – I wasn’t cheered.
Why? What did I get from these sessions, from Ronit? What was the pull? The literature abounded with metaphors comparing therapy to feeding and holding, but then why didn’t everybody go? Didn’t everyone want to be fed and held? In Diary of a Mad Housewife, one of my all-time favorite novels, the protagonist’s physician recommends good old-fashioned housework as a cure for the blues (“. . . just stay home and get down on your knees and scrub some floors”). And it was true that hauling out the vacuum cleaner and dust rags sometimes got me up and moving in a way that the best psychotherapy session didn’t. Then again, Sue Kaufman – Diary‘s author – eventually jumped to her death. So there was that. Housework would probably not be a completely satisfying substitute for therapy if I decided to terminate.
I consulted with my bible on the subject, Janet Malcolm’s Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession.
“For many patients,” she writes, “termination is an iatrogenic illness for which the only cure is the home remedy of time. As Reich’s patient finally stopped grieving for his analyst, so do most patients eventually recover from their loss of an important beloved (or, in some cases, hated) object.”
Was it a bad prognostic indication that reading Reich’s patient’s description of the ending of his analysis had me in tears? Or that I became similarly choked up when reading about analyst Hartvig Dahl’s final words to his patient of six years? And ditto when reading about Harry Guntrip’s parting from W.R.D. Fairbairn?
I closed Malcolm’s book as I had many times before, with the understanding that there would be no way of getting around the sadness that came with goodbye, whenever it came. But also that the sadness wouldn’t last forever.