Therapy in the Holy City: Cheat

So I stayed with Ronit, for now, and waited for experience to triumph over hope.  It didn’t take long, or at least it didn’t seem to.

It was about six in the evening when she called to tell me that the roads to Jerusalem would be closed the next day, due to strong predictions of snow, and so we wouldn’t be able to meet.  We could, however, have a session by phone or Skype if I wished. I didn’t.  In the best of circumstances I didn’t like talking on the phone, but phone therapy seemed downright awkward – all those silences!  And Skype would mean seeing her on a screen against the backdrop of her . . .  kitchen?  Living room? Bedroom?  No thanks.  I declined the offer, saying, “It’s okay; I’ll just see you next week.”  At the beginning of the call she had mentioned that she was reaching me on my home phone as she no longer had my cell phone number.

“Should I give it to you now?” I asked before hanging up.  No, she said, I should text it to her.

So I did.  And then didn’t hear back.  Which would have been okay except that once before I’d sent her a text she never received; we therefore had a history.  To be on the safe side, I emailed her, explaining why I had opted out of the phone/Skype session and typing out my cell phone number again.   It was true that she had successfully called me on my land line, but that had been a fluke – I almost never paid attention to it anymore.  And with another snowstorm purportedly brewing after this one, I was eager to know she could reach me if need be.

No response.  No acknowledgment of either text or email.

The questions began.  Could she be angry with me that I declined the phone/Skype session?  Could she be without electricity?  Due to the stormy weather, the whole country was being hit with power outages, Tel Aviv no less than Jerusalem.  It was a possibility.

But then, as the hours ticked by, the questions intensified and grew toxic.  Why couldn’t she have replied to me? I didn’t require anything fancy:  even just three words – “thanks, got it” – would have sufficed.  Was I being punished?  Was her silence supposed to teach me something? Was there some kind of principle she was standing on? What was going on?  There had been times in the past where Ronit had purposefully not answered an email or text – and later explained why – but I didn’t know whether this was one of them.  Her unpredictability was killing me.

The difference between asking these questions now as opposed to having asked them in the past was that I was now armed with a phone number:  of the therapist whose clinic was around the corner from me.  I thought about the interactions I’d had with Dr. S so far:  how my initial email to her had been responded to in a timely manner, and how my second one – in which I’d said, Thanks but I’m going to hold off for the moment – had also been responded to, quickly and politely.  Could it be that something as little as Ronit’s current silence would end up being the nail in the coffin of our relationship? The problem, I realized, was not so much that she wasn’t getting back to me as that her not getting back to me always led me to these same kinds of torturous thoughts.  Something in the nature of our relationship had brought me to this paranoid, suspicious place – a place I didn’t like being in.

I made the call.  In what sounded to me like a heavy European accent, Dr. S said, “Well, in this weather you would only be able to get here by foot – not by car.”  I explained that I lived very close by.  We set up an appointment for the next day.

I was cautiously optimistic.  Her accent had been a little difficult for me, but so what? I’d get used to it.  She’d answered her phone on the first ring, but so what? Just because she didn’t make me wait didn’t mean she was any less gainfully employed than Ronit.  She had sounded flustered when explaining to me how to get into her building, but at least she hadn’t sounded impatient.

I left my house the next morning without looking in the mirror; and for a 10:30 appointment I ran out the door at 10:28.   I had neither a stomachache nor a dry mouth.  I wondered if one day I would reflect back on this wonderfully carefree behavior of mine and long for the nonchalance I once felt, the not caring how I looked, the not caring if I was a few minutes late, the not caring.  How long, I wondered, before I started turning this new therapist into one – or both – of my parents?  How long before I started doing whatever I had to do to earn her love, approval, affection, admiration?

“It sounds like you feel there was a cheat,” Dr. S said to me after I told her the most relevant bits of my story.

“Yes,” I said. I did feel cheated.  I also, unsurprisingly, felt like a cheater.

“Your analysis in New York was cut short because of your husband’s wish to move here,” Dr. S said, “and now your time with Ronit is being cut short because of her move to Tel Aviv.”

“Yes,” I said. “She says we can work on separation, which makes me feel childish for not wanting to separate.  She says I can come to Tel Aviv, but how realistic is that? I wouldn’t be able to get there more than once a week.  What if I want more?  What if I want someone local, who doesn’t have to cancel a session because of snow on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway?  Do I have the right to want more?”

She made a gesture as if to say, Of course you have the right.   “And you also have a choice,” she said.

“But maybe I don’t even need therapy anymore,” I said.  “Or if I do, perhaps only to help me get over this therapy.  When I first went to Ronit, I was looking for advice about a parenting issue.  I thought I’d be in and out of there after one session.  Two years later, I’m still there and I’m angry that her time in Jerusalem is coming to an end.”

“So you found out that you were there to talk about you,” Dr. S said.  “And that maybe you want to be there for a long time.”

“A friend of mine in New York says that some women shop, some women go to the gym, and some women go to therapy,” I said. “If therapy is being in conversation with someone, then why can’t I be in it my whole life?”

Dr. S didn’t tell me I couldn’t.

“I have an ethical responsibility to ask you,” she said. “Does Ronit know you’re here?”

“No,” I said, “but she knows I’ve been unhappy with her, and that I’ve made inquiries. I went to a psychology conference back in October; I think I might have been starting to look for a new therapist even then.  Indirectly, that’s how I got your name.”

“So this has been on your mind for a while.”

I nodded.   “I’ve told Ronit that maybe she and I aren’t a good fit, and her response was:  ‘Maybe we’re not, but we do good work together.'”

“Do you?”

“Yes,” I said and elaborated.  “My relationships are better. I’m working more.  I’m volunteering. I’m writing.  I wake up in the morning without a feeling of dread.  Actually, I’m happier about everything in my life than I was two years ago.  Except her.”  I looked at Dr. S then and said, “Does good work have to feel bad?”

At the end of the hour Dr. S told me she had an open slot for me if I so desired, but that I shouldn’t feel I had to leave Ronit, or that if I did, I had to pick her.  She said I could call her for another meeting if I wanted to.  And then she said that actually she would really like to hear from me either way, to let her know what happened.  I thought that was nice.

When I got home from the appointment, I felt calm and good, and I went about my usual tasks with a little bounce in my step:  editing an abstract for a client, defrosting a chicken for dinner, throwing in a load of laundry.

And then I opened my email, and I gasped.  There suddenly, after two days, was Ronit’s name.

“Thanks,” her message said.  “Got it.”


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.