Therapy in the Holy City: Losses

“This was our fourth Sukkot,” I said to Ronit when she returned from her vacation.

Then I deconstructed. “The first one was okay; I could still take you or leave you, so it didn’t matter whether you went to Rome or Paris or wherever. The next two were painful.  And this one was too, but in a different way.  I thought about you much less.  That should be good news, right? So why did it feel bad?  Do I want to suffer?  Can I only feel alive if I’m in pain?”

Then I mused, “Freud said that the most difficult thing about treating patients was that we don’t actually want to be cured. We’re very attached to our illnesses; we love them. We don’t want to give them up.  Not missing you felt like a loss.  It was . . . the loss of a loss.”

I told Ronit how I had never liked Sukkot. As a child whose father’s public persona required the family observation of all Jewish holidays, I had always had to explain to my public school teachers why I couldn’t attend school during the Feast of Booths.  As an adult married to an Orthodox Jew, Sukkot mostly meant – to me – inconvenience:  schlepping food out to the sukkah, sitting outside when I would have preferred sitting in, crowding into a too-small space when a perfect space existed right at the top of the steps.

Ronit let her wheels spin. “The sukkah,” she said.  “A temporary dwelling . . .”

Temporary. I hadn’t thought of that.  Yes. Temporary:  like my relationship with her. Maybe that was another reason I didn’t like it.

I had arrived late today, the first time ever in our long history together. There had been times in the past when I had actually tried to be late: had struggled against my inherent over-eagerness and tendency to be early.  But the Tel Aviv venue was a game-changer.  The appointment was for 9:30, the bus had left Jerusalem at 8, but the first rains of the season had also fallen: the slick roads were a challenge for Israeli drivers after five months of heat and sun.  I arrived at Arlozorov at 9:15 and texted Ronit from the bathroom.  “Will probably be a few invites late,” I typed. Invites? I quickly sent a correction:  “Minutes,” I wrote.  It was a sign of things to come, that error.  I never made mistakes where Ronit was concerned. I had to be perfect for her, didn’t I?  Everything was falling apart.  At 9:20, I was running down Derech Namir, trying to make the lights: clearly I was going to be more than a few invites late, and I was going to be sweating.  A small dead bird lay on the sidewalk.

“Here,” I said to her when I finally arrived and handed her a check for September. Could she write out a receipt for me while I caught my breath, I asked?  Could she also turn on the air conditioner?  She hastened to do so.

“It’s 9:40 on my watch,” she said, glancing down at her wrist. “But I have a free hour after this . . .”

She was a woman of few words. I guessed she meant that because she had a free hour after mine, we could make up the ten minutes then.

“You mean . . .?” I said, just to be sure.

“Yes,” she said, with a slightly annoyed tone. Not only had she been forced to reveal to me that she had an empty hour, I then made her repeat it.

“How did you feel about my offer to extend the session today?” she said later.

“I liked it,” I said. “I appreciated it.  I saw it as your way of acknowledging the effort I’m making to get here.  I saw it as your willingness to be flexible.”

But there was more to it, and she knew it, and I knew she knew it, and she knew I knew she knew it. Yes, it was not only her office location that had changed, but with the change in location there had been a shift in our roles too.  In Jerusalem, I had had to live with the fear that she would one day decide not to make the commute anymore, a decision she ultimately made.  But now I would be the decider. As my husband drove me to Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station that morning, he even said, “I wonder how long you’re going to keep this up.”  And I repeated this to her.  Put that together with the implications of her free hour – that she might she not have a full case load anymore; that her other Jerusalem patients might not be making the commute – and all of a sudden I was the one with power.  Suddenly I was showing up late, telling her to give me a minute so I could catch my breath, requesting the air conditioner.  I was the one putting forth the greater effort and expense to be there; therefore I got the say.

Towards the end of our session, I looked at my watch. We had ten minutes to go, but I had run out of things to talk about.  Now that we were only meeting once a week, rather than twice, we had agreed on 75 minutes instead of 50, but it felt like too much time.  I couldn’t fill it. She was suspicious, wondering aloud whether my lack of having anything left to talk about was a reflection of how I felt about her offer to give me the time.  Was it possible that I hadn’t liked it quite as much as I said I had?  In any event, I ended up not using it.

On my way back to the bus, I passed the dead bird again. I was struck by how it was still lying in the same spot on the sidewalk, how no one had kicked it aside, stepped on it, or removed it. How it had been left to rest in peace.

The next time I walked down Derech Namir, a week later, the bird was gone. It also happened to be the day after a Palestinian man had stabbed an Israeli woman right outside Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station.  Expecting heightened security checks that morning, I had arrived at the station very early.  But there were no security checks, and very few people.  I got to Tel Aviv an hour before my appointment, giving me plenty of time to leisurely amble down Derech Namir and think about what I’d told Ronit at the previous session: how not missing her over Sukkot had felt like the loss of a loss, how we clung to our illnesses even though they made us suffer, how we didn’t want to give them up.  Local current events made me realize that this was no less true for groups than it was for individuals.

It was hard to put away old claims, but pining for the old only stopped us from making way for the new.

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.