Therapy in the Holy City: Change

Strange things were happening.  One morning I found that the laundry I’d put in the washing machine the day before was still there. When I opened the fridge, I saw that the vegetable drawer – usually full – was stocked with two wilted cucumbers and a red pepper. On the floor next to the kitchen sink, where I was almost always on hands and knees wiping up spills, there were old dried tomato sauce stains. It was taking me days, rather than hours, to reply to people’s emails.

But strangest and most disturbing of all: one morning, while lathering up my hair in the shower, I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be meeting a friend for coffee at ten o’clock, downtown, at least a half hour’s walk away. It was 9:47.

“This has never happened to me before,” I said to Ronit.  “This is the kind of thing that happens to other people. To busy people. This is the kind of thing that happens to you.”

She smiled. The incident of her forgetting our appointment, something that had taken place almost two years before, was never far from our minds.

“I’m swamped with work,” I said. “At the age of 52 I’m finally discovering the career/domestic conflict. My husband says: Work is good. But I lie awake at night, fixing people’s sentences. I’m losing my mind.”

“People want you for your mind, so you’re losing it.”

“I think I liked my old life better. I could never have forgotten a coffee date; it was the only thing written down in my calendar. I don’t feel in control when wet wash sits in the machine overnight.”

I remembered how misunderstood I’d felt a while back, when a well-meaning friend had said, “Get a job,” in response to my various existential complaints, and how relieved I’d been when Ronit had let me off the hook. “Slowly, slowly,” she’d said, “it’s a process.” And yet here we were now, apparently far enough along in the process that without even realizing it, it seems I’d gotten myself a job.

I told Ronit about a dream I’d had the night before, in which a little girl approached me, begging for money. “Go buy yourself something,” I said to her, and I handed her a green Israeli bill. Then I said, “But bring me the change.” As the girl walked off, one of the two women who had been observing this interaction came over to me and said, “So you want to talk about psychotherapy, do you?” I quickly understood that she was contrasting my indulgence (in psychotherapy) with the little girl’s real need (for food). The woman’s mocking tone was accompanied by something else – something violent. I realized that she was about to kick me, between the legs. Just as she wound up to do so, I screamed, waking both myself and my husband.

Ronit and I talked about the dream. We talked about the fact that the green Israeli bill said “five,” when the only green Israeli bills in existence were twenties and fifties. We talked about being kicked between the legs – an expression most often used when making reference to hurting a man. We talked about the two women, and we talked about the little girl. I told Ronit that when I woke up from the dream, I felt stingy, having asked the girl to bring me change from a five. What could a person buy for less than five shekels?

Then I shook it all off and said I didn’t want to talk about the dream anymore. I had an actual problem and I needed an actual solution.  These days, when I saw something in my in-box with the paper-clip icon indicating an attachment, I panicked. Since I needed to be at my sharpest and most clear-eyed for the kind of content-editing I did, I could only work productively in the early morning hours, and there were only so many of those. I was having trouble keeping up with the rate of work I was suddenly receiving.

“Why do you think you’re suddenly receiving it?”

I shrugged. “Maybe I’m more self-confident? If I tell a client that something makes no sense, then it makes no sense. In the old days I would have thought: Well maybe it doesn’t make sense to me, but it would to someone smarter.”

“So you’re getting better at what you do.”

“But now I can’t be as loyal as I used to be. I don’t have time.  I used to pride myself on having only one or two clients who I could be really loyal to.  I was always really loyal to my father too.  One of my relatives used to call me “‘the only one in Stan’s defense.'”

Ronit listened.

“The other day I finished a project for someone. Then she asked me to do something else for her and when I said I couldn’t, I had this feeling she wouldn’t pay me for the first one.”

“But why?” Ronit said.

“She’d want to get back at me,” I said. “She’d want to take revenge on me.”

“She’d want to kick you between the legs,” Ronit said.

I thought about something I’d heard at the Self Psychology Conference back in October.  One of the therapists in attendance had made an offhand remark about psychotherapy being a potentially violent, destructive process.  I hadn’t understood her meaning, and even after she explained, I still had my doubts.  “You know,” she’d said — though I didn’t — “you have to break eggs to make an omelette.”  But now I understood.  There was something violent about psychotherapy:  it was violent to dabble in the re-making and re-forming of a personality, even in the hope of creating something healthier.  Perhaps it wasn’t so different from breaking a crooked nose in order to make a straighter one. Or, of course, breaking eggs to make an omelette.

Shortly after I left this session, I came up with an insight that I wanted to share with Ronit immediately. But tempting as it was, I refrained from calling, emailing or texting her. I made myself wait. I had discovered how annoying it could be when a client expected me to work for free, during off-hours; surely it was the same for Ronit  But as soon as I arrived for our next session, I said to her, “Remember the dream? The little girl? Remember how I asked her to bring me the change? I asked her to BRING ME THE CHANGE! Isn’t that brilliant?”

Ronit looked puzzled.

“Okay,” I said, “so in Hebrew there are two different words for the two different kinds of change. But in English, it’s the same word for both.  Get it? I asked the girl to bring me the change!!”

Ronit ‘s eyes suddenly lit up.  She smiled. She laughed. “Yes,” she said. “That is brilliant.”

About the Author
Eve Horowitz is a freelance editor and writer living in Jerusalem. Her novel Plain Jane was published by Random House, New York, in 1992.