About four months before Eyal Golan became a household name – in a bad way – I brought him up in a session with Ronit. I loved one of his songs, a song that reminded me of the time my kids had dropped my husband and me off at an Ein Kerem B&B for a surprise 25th wedding anniversary weekend. The car windows had been down, the radio pumped up. Pitom halacht mimeni, my kids sang at the tops of their lungs, laughing at themselves for their poor imitation of the singer with the Yemenite/Moroccan roots.
My session with Ronit had started out with one of those highly-charged and almost-impossible-to-explain-to-anyone-who-wasn’t-there incidents. In most other settings, or should I say with most other people, it might have gone unnoticed, uncommented upon, or un-grieved over. But it was this setting, and it was me, and so of course it was noticed, commented upon and grieved over. The date was August 1st, and I had given Ronit a check for the month of July. It was the first time I had paid her without any insurance copayment— since my 36 covered sessions were now a thing of the past – and due to a recent Israeli increase in value-added-tax, the amount I had written down was not exactly what it should have been. In a casual offhand manner, Ronit pointed out the discrepancy – a discrepancy of two shekels per session – and then proceeded to fill out a receipt. Meanwhile I sank into a depression.
“What?” she said after a significant silence.
I shook my head. “It’s too stupid,” I said.
She tilted her head, as if to say: Come on, nothing here is stupid. But I couldn’t tell her. When I wrote a check out to her, I did so with incredible care – sometimes I even ripped it up when I wasn’t pleased with my handwriting. I chalked this excessive care up to three possible causes.
One, I still had too much time on my hands: even with the editing, the friendly visits to Fania, the history class, the book club, not to mention the domestic duties that consumed hours each day. It occurred to me that perhaps if I were busier – and not just busy for the sake of being busy but busy with something that actually fulfilled me – I would have less time to obsess over the way I wrote Ronit’s name.
Two, I was like my father, who had also been fastidious about the things that he did, especially but not only because by late in his life he did so few of them. He was the opposite of a multi-tasker and one could see the painstaking, methodical way in which he attended to all matters, reading and rereading the dishwasher instructions before finally pressing “on,” checking his records against the ones kept by those slouches over at American Express, studying to the point of memorization a medical summary written up by his oncologist.
Three, despite my efforts not to make Ronit the star of my life, she still was, and I aimed to please her. Wasn’t perfection the way to a parental stand-in’s heart? Wouldn’t I be her favorite if I did everything exactly right and never did anything wrong?
When Ronit finally saw that I was not going to start talking, no matter how long she waited, she said, quietly, gently, “The state requires a certain amount of tax,” as if what had upset me was the measly two shekels per session that I would have to add to the next check to make up for the lack of them in this one.
“It’s not that!” I said. “It’s that . . . it’s that . . . it’s a lot of money, more than I’ve ever paid you before, and the only thing you say to me is that the amount is wrong. And anyway, you’re the one who told me what the total was supposed to be, so it’s your mistake, not mine.”
Flash forward to several minutes later, when Ronit and I were back on speaking terms, and I brought up Eyal Golan. Suddenly I found myself telling her about the time a few months before when I had been standing in my kitchen making lasagna with my post-army son. It had been a fun, light moment in my life, and perhaps by talking about it I wished to show Ronit that I didn’t always have to be so heavy and intense, sometimes I could also be light and fun. My son had asked me what kind of music I wanted to hear while we cooked – he said that he could bring up almost anything via YouTube – but I couldn’t remember the name of the song I recalled so fondly, and based on my description, he couldn’t place it either (Remember? We were in the car? The windows were open? The volume was on high? You guys were belting it out on the way to that little Ein Kerem inn?). So we called up my daughter to see if she could help. When the two of them realized what it was that I so longed to hear, they roared, my daughter running to tell everyone on her army base about her middle-aged American mom’s predilection for Mizrahi music.
Ronit listened to my story. She asked me what song it was, and I told her that it started out like this: Pitom halacht mimeni. It didn’t take long for her to make her first interpretation. The Hebrew words meant suddenly you’ve left me and the fact was, I would soon be leaving her, for my three-week trip to the States.
But then, out of nowhere – or so it seemed to me – she said, “You know, Eyal Golan is one of the most successful singers in Israel. He’s sold hundreds of thousands of albums. The children who came in to the clinic where I used to work insisted on playing his songs over and over again on the tape player. Young people love him; in fact, he played at my daughter’s wedding.”
Clinic where she used to work? Daughter’s wedding? Daughter? She had a daughter? In one minute, Ronit had revealed more information about herself than she had in the previous ten months, and not just any information either: a daughter! Why? Why had she revealed all this to me, and why now?
I never did get the answers to my questions. But at our next appointment I gave Ronit my interpretation: “I think you felt bad for how bad you made me feel, regarding the check, and so you were trying to make it up to me; you were giving me something by sharing pieces of your own life with me.”
Her facial expression didn’t rule my theory out. “Reciprocity,” she suggested. “Mutuality.”
But the truly odd thing? One day in late September we were talking about how I often had the sense that her role in my life was to strip me of my illusions. And how – sometimes – the way she went about doing so felt cruel to me. Then, for whatever reason, I made reference to her daughter.
After a pause she said to me, “I’m a little afraid to say this to you, in light of what you’ve said about my cruelty. But . . . I don’t have a daughter.”
She shook her head.
“Yes you do!” I said. “You absolutely do! You mentioned her! You mentioned her wedding! How Eyal Golan played at it!”
She shook her head again. “I only have sons,” she said. “It was at my son’s wedding.”
“Not possible!” I said, thinking about how I’d been carrying around this misinformation for two months already – misinformation which had at least temporarily informed my life. “Simply not possible!”
At that we both laughed; how could we not? It was pretty clear that she knew better than I whether or not she had a daughter. Was it a language thing? Had she translated the Hebrew word for son in her head but come out with the word daughter? It seemed unlikely. Had she misspoken? Had I misheard? Had it been a classic Freudian slip of the tongue? We would never know for sure, but on that day she didn’t seem cruel, because here was my interpretation: she didn’t have a daughter, but she wanted one, and maybe I would do.