Therapy in the Holy City: End of an Era

One day a while back, I was telling Ronit about the time a boy gave me his I.D. bracelet. I was in the fifth grade, and by giving me the bracelet it was understood that I was now officially his girlfriend; we were going steady. I remember racing home from school to show my father, lifting my wrist up for him to see. He carefully examined it. “Very nice,” he murmured, “very nice,” running his thumb back and forth over the cool smooth metallic surface, engraved with the boy’s name. Then, before letting me go, he added: “Don’t wear that in front of your sister.” One year earlier, my family had moved from the middle-class Cleveland neighborhood of University Heights to the ritzier Pepper Pike, and my sister was having a tough time of it. Seventh grade is a terrible year to move.

Ronit’s eyes widened. “He told you to take off the bracelet?” she said.

“I think it was sweet of him,” I said. “His heart went out to the underdog, and back then, she was the underdog. In later years, when I was struggling and she had boyfriends, he probably told her to do the same.”

Ronit didn’t say anything. I got the sense that sweet was not the word she would use to describe my father’s childrearing approach.

“Why make a person feel bad if you don’t have to?” I said.

“Feel bad, meaning . . .?”

I shrugged. After a while, I said, “Jealous, I guess.”

“Ah-ha,” she said, “jealous!” as if she’d hit pay dirt. “Yes, jealousy between siblings can be a very frightening thing. A deadly thing.”

I nodded, but didn’t have much more to say on the subject.

“It’s one of the oldest stories in the Bible,” Ronit pursued. “Cain and Abel.”

I laughed. I loved it! I loved the fact that a secular Israeli therapist was invoking the biblical story of Cain and Abel in my individual psychotherapy session.  Something about the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern gave me a charge. Something about the fact that even without a religious sensibility she could bring in the religious. Only in Israel, I found myself thinking, though what I meant by this — i.e., that even the most secular Israelis knew their Bible stories – was probably no longer the case.

This exchange between the two of us most likely came back to me now because I’d done it — I’d gone ahead and opened my own Facebook account — and as a result found myself in touch both with childhood friends and childhood memories. One such memory was of a slumber party I’d gone to in junior high. Late into the night, we’d had a “bullshit session,” which meant that one by one all the girls in the circle confronted the girl in the center, saying what we didn’t like about her. Oh God, what a horrible thing to do!  Did we really do this? Yes, we did!  Sitting there, fearful, waiting for the blows to rain down on me — oh, please don’t let it be anything about my personal hygiene! — I ended up being pleasantly surprised. I got off easy! After a certain amount of thought, the other girls said that the most annoying thing about me was that I was always putting myself down. Really? That was all? Great!

But now, thinking about Ronit’s comment, I wondered if doing so had been strategic: could it be that putting myself down had been my way of taking my father’s advice? That putting myself down had been the equivalent of taking off the bracelet? He had warned me against keeping it on, after all. I probably hadn’t wanted anyone to kill me, had probably preferred doing the job myself. And thus a lifelong habit was born.

“I know I’m investing Facebook with a lot of power,” I said to Ronit now, “but it almost feels like . . . by joining . . . I’m putting the bracelet back on . . . I’m wearing it . . . in public . . . I’m coming out of hiding.”

Ronit nodded. “You’re maximizing,” she said.

“Right!” I said, marveling at Ronit’s memory. She seemed to be a big believer in the metaphorical power of words, and saw significance in the fact that the first item of clothing I’d been fitted with as I entered the world of womanhood had been a minimizer. Surely I wasn’t the only Jewish girl in Cleveland to have been forever marked by the Solomons experience. The “fitters” — who were no doubt great at their jobs, technically — filled me with a kind of murderous rage I can still tap into now, 40 years later.

“A minimizer!” Ronit had said when I first told her about it, and perhaps because her native language was not English, she could hardly believe her good fortune: here I’d introduced her to a word that was so wonderfully rich in meaning! In fact, it went a long way towards explaining why some girls’ self-esteem took such a dive at adolescence. We were point-blank told to minimize!

“So,” Ronit said, bringing us back to the present. “Why now? Why after all this time did you decide to finally go on Facebook? It’s been around for quite a long time, you know.”

I was tempted to say that joining Facebook at this moment — just as she was closing up shop in Jerusalem for good — was a coincidence. But I knew that she didn’t believe in coincidences, and I guess I didn’t either.

“Maybe now that you’re leaving,” I said, “really leaving, I realized that I’d better go outside and play, find some more friends my own age.”

Ronit smiled. “And?” she said. “Have you?”

“Yes!” I said. “My world has grown since the last time we met.”

What I didn’t say was that I could vaguely see, somewhere out there in the future, a time when my world might grow even larger: large enough that I would no longer need her to be in it. I thought of the passage from Janet Malcolm’s book Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, in which a patient talks about the end of his analysis. “‘For months I longed for the analyst and wished to tell him about whatever happened to me. Then slowly, without noticing how it happened, I forgot about him. About two years later, I happened to meet him at a party and thought he was just a nice elderly gentleman and in no way interesting.'”

Could this happen to me? Could Ronit one day be of no interest to me? Amazingly, it seemed in the realm of the possible.   Already entire hours sometimes went by when she didn’t cross my mind!

The two of us spent the last few minutes of the session with our calendars out open in front of us, building a schedule for after Rosh Hashanah, all future appointments to take place in her new Tel Aviv clinic.

“Shana tova,” I said to her as I walked out of the Jerusalem office for the last time.

“Shana tova,” she said to me.

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.