When Ronit returned from her two-week vacation (three actually, from the last appointment ’til this one, but who’s counting), I said to her, “Have you ever heard the expression, ‘I know it when I see it?'”
I didn’t give her a chance to answer. I told her it was a sentence that had been spoken by an American Supreme Court justice back in the 1960s when he was asked to define pornography.
I continued. “While you were gone, I found myself thinking about that quote. Your being away was like a taste of what it will be like for me when I’m not coming here anymore, and I wondered, how will l know when I’m finished? Will I know it when I see it? Will you? Will we both?”
As was her wont, Ronit didn’t answer directly. Instead, she said, “So what was the taste like?”
Now it was my turn not to answer. I didn’t like the question. I saw it as something that would take us down a bad path, a path towards my upsetness. For surely if I said, “I actually did pretty well without you; the taste was A-okay,” her eyes would light up with pleasure and I would be insulted. I could never hear in her expressions of pleasure that she was happy for me, or gratified by my progress — I could only hear her letting me go too easily. It was such a strong internal theme for me.
“The thing is,” I said, “ostensibly, I’m doing fine. My life is fine. I’m fine. But while you were gone, there were a few days when I was sick, and I noticed that I had these really swollen glands in my neck. And I thought, Oh, leukemia! Just like that, with the exclamation mark. Why would someone who’s doing fine want to have a fatal disease?”
Ronit was quiet for a second. Then she said, “As you said: ostensibly.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I guess.”
Then I told her something else. I told her that, as I’d mentioned once or twice in recent months, I was feeling ready to end the blog.
“I have so much editing work these days that I don’t have time to write,” I said. “Also, I think I’ve run out of things to say. Also, I think I used to use the blog as a way to spend more time with you, but now I don’t have that time.”
It made me kind of sad, the idea that all of life was really just one big substitution — that growing up meant replacing the primary figures in your life with all sorts of secondary ones. Were they mere distractions? Second-bests? Early on, Ronit had said something to me about my wanting to remain in the nursery rather than proceeding to kindergarten and first grade. Well, yes, right; didn’t everyone?
“I imagine you will be happy with my decision,” I said. “But I’m not doing it for you. Or at least not only for you.”
The qualifier seemed an honest addition. For how could I say for certain that I wasn’t doing it for her? After all, if she’d encouraged me to continue, I might have decided to continue.
“Anyway, it feels like the right time to stop,” I said. “But remember that dream I had? About being a student at the Open University and seeing all my papers with other people’s names written at the top? I think that’s because a lot of times I don’t just edit other people’s papers, I rewrite them. So in the dream I was telling myself that they’re mine, they’re my work, but I’m getting no credit for them. And now, when I stop the blog, my whole life will be doing other people’s work, and none of my own.”
“But it is your work,” Ronit said. “The work you do for your clients is your work.”
I smiled. I wasn’t angry at her, but who was she kidding? She had a stake in this; she wanted my work to be the work I did for my clients, and not the blog. She’d as much as said, if not actually said, “Cut it out.” The question was why.
There were so many things I liked about Ronit, including a comment she had made to me a long time ago, towards the very beginning of my treatment — a comment which still came back to me from time to time and made me laugh out loud. I had arrived at her office one day, bothered, disturbed, really troubled, and finally came up with what I thought was at the root of the problem: “I love you too much,” I’d said. After a short pause, during which she seemed to calmly weigh my confession, Ronit said, “What’s the ‘too much’ about?”
How fantastic! What’s the too much about? How fabulous! Because essentially what she was saying was that the love itself went without saying! It was entirely normal, it was to be expected, it was all in a day’s work! The only question was, What’s the too much about? It was a response that did nothing less than reassure me that I and the love I had to offer were acceptable, maybe even wanted.
But when it came to my writing, I found myself questioning Ronit and her motives. Did she represent the “resistance,” the thing that, in Janet Malcolm’s words, “can keep the writer from writing”? According to Malcolm, in her book The Silent Woman, the resistance “is the voice that whispers in your ear and tells you to put down your pen before she knocks it out of your hand.” Did Ronit want me to stop writing the blog for her sake, because she didn’t like my writing about her? Or did she want me to stop for my sake, as a way of protecting me from my own perhaps pathological need to expose my private thoughts and feelings? Or perhaps it was for both of our sakes, as a way to protect the privacy of our relationship? Or, as she had more recently indicated, perhaps she wanted me to stop using the blog as a way to say the things I didn’t want to say to her directly? The answers to these questions were not yet clear to me, but maybe someday they would be.
“I need to write one last column,” I said to her. “I wouldn’t terminate therapy without saying goodbye; I can’t terminate the column without saying goodbye either.”
Ronit neither agreed nor disagreed. But I knew what I had to do.
The idea for this blog was born in late 2013 out of a conversation I had with my then 14-year-old son, over breakfast at a restaurant on Emek Refaim during his Chanukah vacation.
“Well, what do you like to do?” he’d said sweetly — my ben zkunim, the child of my oldish age, trying to help me figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. “You say you like writing and you like psychology. So why don’t you write about psychology?”
And so that is what I have been doing — writing about psychology, the psychology of me. Perhaps it is testament to the success of my therapy that I’ve gradually moved away from the psychology of me and, via the editing work I do, towards the psychology of others: female Holocaust survivors with breast cancer, disabled IDF veterans, grieving parents, Israeli adolescents exposed to missile attacks. Slowly, the (cheery) world out there has begun to take up more and more space in my head, leaving less and less room for Ronit, crowding her out, making my profound need to write about her diminish. I guess this was how it was supposed to be.
Still, I’m sad to say goodbye to you, dear reader. Writing the blog has brought you into my life, made me feel less alone in the world, constituted a sort of therapy of its own, with you as the therapist.
So, naturally, I find myself wondering: Why are you letting me go so easily?