“The other day I asked my mother why she thinks I keep ending up in this chair,” I said to Ronit. “I asked her if something happened to me during my childhood, other than my finger, and she said, That wasn’t enough?”
Ronit nodded. “Good question.”
“Really?” I said. I wasn’t feigning innocence. It was hard for me to believe that an accident I’d had when I was 16 months old could account for anything, much less the fact that all these years later I was back in treatment again. That said, maybe it could – and did – at least partially. My three siblings had all of their 10 fingers intact, and they didn’t keep going to therapists.
“So what do you remember about it?” Ronit said.
“My sister remembers that she and my brother were fighting over a door. She remembers that there was bright red blood gushing down my pink dress. She remembers that my mother wouldn’t let her wear her favorite shoes to the hospital.” I smiled. “She was four.”
“But what do you remember?”
I shrugged. “Nothing.”
Ronit disappeared in thought. She did that sometimes. In earlier sessions, she had talked about how the body remembered things that the mind didn’t, and I wondered if that was what she was thinking about now. She struck me as an eminently reasonable person, so when she talked about things like the “felt sense,” a phrase coined by psychologist Eugene Gendlin, I didn’t do what I would ordinarily have done, which was figuratively if not literally roll my eyes. It was hard for me to understand what it even meant – the body remembering something the mind didn’t.
“You know, you never show your finger,” Ronit said.
I tightened my fist. Without consciously making an effort to do so, I almost always kept my right hand closed, my fingers turned inward. Only one digit was missing, the top digit of my pinky finger, but it was ugly-looking – a small stump I didn’t wish the world to see. Often I gave it no thought at all, but when I did, it would start to bother me, and I would have to grab the whole hand with my other hand and cradle it. Or I’d have to press it hard against something, as if stanching a nonexistent flow.
“Anyway,” I said, “it’s difficult for me to imagine how the loss of such a little thing could lead to a lifetime of . . . unease. It wasn’t a leg. Or an arm. Or even a whole finger.”
“But it was a trauma,” Ronit said. “An amputation.”
“I guess so,” I said. “Although according to my sister it was still hanging by a thread when we left the house. Nowadays they probably could have saved it. Back then they couldn’t.”
I winced at a memory I didn’t even have. Just the idea of it – doctors and nurses handling my finger – made me incredibly queasy.
“A few years ago I went for a Swedish massage. The masseuse scolded me when I told her not to touch it; she told me I’d never be complete until I let someone, I’d never be whole.” I reflected back on the conversation. “At least I think that’s what she said. She said it in Russian-accented Hebrew.”
“Did you let her?”
“No. I got a head and neck massage instead.”
“I wonder . . .” Ronit said, and I could see her thinking again. “I wonder if the guilt your mother felt about the accident caused her to distance herself from you.”
“Guilt?” I said. My mother was a light, carefree soul; she wasn’t one to get bogged down in heavy emotions like guilt. But Ronit gave me a look that said: Come on, wouldn’t any mother feel guilty if her child lost a piece of finger on her watch?
“Well, if she did feel guilty,” I said, “then I doubt she was aware of it.”
“But I am,” Ronit said. Then we started talking about a few minor incidents that had transpired between us during the months we had been working together, and my reactions to them. The times she had forgotten to turn off her phone and it rang during a session. The times she had needed to cancel or reschedule an appointment. I didn’t do well with these slight irregularities. I didn’t take them in stride. I became angry or hurt, even if only a little, but in response she apparently felt guilty.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“You don’t have to be sorry,” she said.
“But you just said guilt can cause people to distance themselves. And the last thing I want is for you to distance yourself from me. That’s the very last thing I want, and the very thing I cause to happen.”
Ronit just looked at me. She didn’t say anything about how prophetic my words would turn out to be. But then again she didn’t yet know.