Therapy in the Holy City: Combat

“Can I ask you a question?” I said.  “Why did it take you two days to respond to my email?”

After a pause, Ronit said, “That doesn’t sound like a question.”

She was right, but I shrugged her off.

“I just wish you had gotten back to me sooner,” I said. “First you didn’t answer the text; then you didn’t answer the email.  You caused me to do something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

Ronit seemed mystified.  “But aren’t these things understood?” she said. “Isn’t there a sort of unspoken agreement between us that if you send me something I’ll get it?”

“No,” I said.  “There isn’t; that’s exactly the point,” and I reminded her about the text that had disappeared into thin air several months before – the text that still appeared on my phone but had never appeared on hers.  I could see from the expression on her face that she had forgotten about that whole incident; I could see that what had taken up so much space in my brain had taken up no space in hers. Despite my irritation – did I mention that this was not the first time she’d lost my cell phone number? – I felt sorry for her.  For me there was only one of her, but for her there were many of me; how could she be expected to remember everything about everyone?  Also, she was older than me, by at least ten years; memory went.  Couldn’t I cut her some slack?

“But what really is the problem?” she said, cutting herself some slack.  “What would have happened if I hadn’t received it?  I would have found another way to reach you. I would have called you on your home phone.”

“But I never answer my home phone anymore; I just happened to be walking by it that night you called.”


“And so if you had needed to cancel today’s session, how would you have let me know?”

“Ahhhh,” she said.  “So it would have been Terrible Tuesday again.  You would have shown up here, on a Tuesday, rang the bell, and gotten no answer, just like the other time.”

Perhaps.  I reflected back on how I’d felt that day, more than a year and a half ago, when she had been so afraid to tell me she was moving that she had forgotten our appointment.  Still, I couldn’t help thinking that in this case the simplest, easiest, most sensible thing for her to have done was to have acknowledged my text when she got it.

These words, and the way they sounded in my head, reminded me of something.  It took me a second, but then it came to me:  the scene in Philip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus when Neil Klugman admonishes Brenda Patimkin for having left her diaphragm in a dresser drawer at her parents’ house back in New Jersey. I went to look up the passage.

“Brenda, sweetheart,” Neil says to her, “wouldn’t the safest, smartest, easiest, simplest thing been to have taken it with you?  Wouldn’t it?”

And of course the fact that Brenda hadn’t was the beginning of the end of their relationship.

“I was so fed up when I didn’t hear back from you,” I said to Ronit, “that I went ahead and called that other therapist for a consultation.  The one I told you I’d been thinking of calling.  And I went to see her.”

An odd thing happened then.  Ronit became unreasonable.  The things she said didn’t make sense, had almost an air of desperation about them.  She claimed that I was terrified of closeness because, at our previous session, she had divulged a personal anecdote about herself, and now I was running away.  But she couldn’t have been more wrong! Fear of closeness was not the reason I was running away!  If I was running away, it was only because she was walking away, and I had to get out of there before she did; I had to make my exit first.  Her dead-on-wrongness could have been maddening, but instead it endeared her to me.  She didn’t want to lose me!

But was it just my money she didn’t want to lose?

On the other hand, she didn’t charge me as much as she could have.

On the other hand, was she really going to start looking for a new patient to fill my hours? 

On the other hand, maybe she really did want to keep me in her life.

Calm inner dialogue notwithstanding, the remainder of our session was combative, and I found myself wondering whether the combat in and of itself was worthwhile: was Ronit teaching me how to fight?  How to have a relationship with an imperfect other?  Ordinarily I was not a fighter.  Ordinarily, my relations with people were peaceful; if they weren’t, they ceased to exist.

But what were we fighting about?  Ironically, it seemed we were fighting about the very thing I had always thought I wanted from her:  her wanting me to stay.  I still wanted her to want me to stay, but now it seemed I wanted more too.  Practical things:  someone local, someone who wasn’t closing her Jerusalem practice in eight months, someone who was an analyst and happy to work with people more than once or twice a week, and – though I couldn’t know this for sure yet – someone whose approach did not seem characterized by the hermeneutic of suspicion. I had gone out into the world and what had I discovered? That Ronit was not the only game in town, and perhaps not even the best game for me.  Ever since my meeting with Dr. S, the clichés had been floating around in my mind, clichés I thought I’d be trotting out at this very session:  sorry but that ship has sailed; sorry but that train has left the station; sorry but there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle.  But I didn’t. It was very confusing.  Ronit had been the one to say, “We can use this time to work on separation,” but now she seemed to be the one who didn’t want to separate.

Of all things I felt guilty, as if it were I who was abandoning her.  Our situation was beginning to resemble one of those comedy/dramas that had always made me anxious: the kind whose plot revolves around a misunderstanding or a just-miss.  We were becoming the Rachel and Ross of psychotherapy.

Was it all a simple matter of bad timing? Would things have been different had I met Ronit earlier in my Israeli life?  Perhaps I’d never even known the “real” her:  the her who hadn’t been getting closer to realizing her far-off plans to move to Tel Aviv, the her who hadn’t increasingly been operating out of a sense of guilt, the her who hadn’t known that at some point she would have to abandon her Jerusalem patients.  Would that Ronit have been different from this Ronit?  Would we have gotten along better, without the mutual distrust, suspicion and defensiveness?

Finally I said, “I want someone objective. I just want someone objective already.”

Ronit looked at me and said, “There is no such thing as objectivity.  How about let’s be brave and work with our subjectivity?”

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.