The other day I was walking home from the grocery store with a knapsack on my back and a Rami Levy bag in each hand. It was a heavy load – fruits, vegetables, a chicken cut into eighths, a bottle of Barkan white wine – and I was eager to dump it. But as I approached my street, I saw someone who looked from the back very much like Ronit. Same color hair, same style of clothing, same type of shoes. My heart started to pound, and even though I couldn’t wait to relieve myself of my burden, I also couldn’t take a chance on having a casual social encounter with her. So I took a longer route home. I walked up to the next street and made the left-hand turn there. By the time I walked through my front door, my arms were ready to fall off.
“What were you trying to bypass?” Ronit said a few hours later, in her office, at my session. “What did you so much want to avoid that you inconvenienced yourself like that?”
I shrugged. “One of my neighbors always wonders why I schlep such heavy bags. Sometimes she asks me why I don’t get my groceries delivered.”
“So you thought I might be like your neighbor. That I might be critical of you for carrying your things instead of having them delivered.”
“Also, I was coming from Rami Levy. And there you were with your Steimatsky’s bag.”
Ronit was quiet.
“I had just received a text from my husband,” I said. “He had written that the hospital was divided into two groups: the doctors, who were wildly depressed over Netanyahu’s win, and everyone else – the transporters, the cleaning staff, the technicians – who were ecstatic. I suppose when I saw you standing there with your Steimatsky’s bag, you were the doctors, and I – with my Rami Levy bags – was the transporters.”
“So Steimatsky’s is the elite, the intellectuals, the book readers,” she said. “And Rami Levy is the masses.”
Ronit stood up and went over to the armchair by her desk. She lifted a bag from it.
“This was the bag I was holding,” she said. “Not Steimatsky’s.”
I looked at it.
“Bazaar Strauss,” Ronit said.
Like Rami Levy, Bazaar Strauss was the great equalizer. It was the place to shop if what you most wanted to do was spend the least amount of money. I was reminded of the time I had been blind to my New York analyst’s wedding ring. Why did my eyes play such tricks on me? How many other times had my eyes deceived me?
“Bazaar Strauss is great for babies,” Ronit continued, “because when they are very young they are growing out of their clothes every day.”
Baby clothes for her grandchildren, no doubt; she had made reference to a newborn grandson in a previous session. She had also once told me that she was a mother to sons only. I wondered what she was like as a mother-in-law to her daughters-in-law.
After a minute of quiet, Ronit said, “You know, what we do here in this room is look at the unconscious. And so usually the person in my position would spend more time exploring the fantasy: what it meant to you that you thought I was carrying a Steimatsky’s bag. But it seemed important, in this case, to tell you the reality.”
I understood what she was saying, and I appreciated it. We had had a similar incident not long ago. On that day I had come in without a watch on, and since I liked being able to keep track of the time, I asked her if she could give me a five-minute warning as we approached the end of the hour. Instead, she’d taken the little clock that sat on the table across from her – the one that ordinarily only she could see – and turned it in a way that made it visible to both of us. It was a gesture that meant she was willing to deviate from the code – a gesture that implied I was a specific person, with specific needs that might have differed from those of others, and that she was willing to adapt.
“You were talking on your cell phone when I saw you this morning,” I said. “Just like in that dream I had, the one I told you about.”
Ronit reflected. “If I recall correctly,” she said, “I was coming to see you in the dream, rather than you coming to see me . . .”
“Yes!” I said. “And now in real life too! I found myself wondering, What is she doing in my neighborhood? Why is she on my side of Emek Refaim?”
Ronit bypassed that.
“So you saw me,” she said, “but I didn’t see you. And you took the long way home to make sure that I wouldn’t see you. Why?”
“I guess I want you only ever to see me in the best possible light. And there I was, like a packhorse, carrying those heavy bags, perspiring, huffing and puffing, wearing my ugly sneakers. I remember as a teenager, if my bra strap was sticking out, my father would say, ‘What are you: a common washerwoman?’ This was in the days before it was fashionable to walk around with your underwear showing.”
Yes, this was it. I had turned Ronit into my father, and just as I had wanted his approval, love and praise, I wanted hers too. I didn’t want her to see me in a bad, unattractive, inelegant light; I didn’t want her to see me as a common washerwoman. What I wanted, actually, was for her to fall in love with me.
I thought about one of the great exchanges that takes place between Janet Malcolm and the pseudonymous psychoanalyst Aaron Green in Malcolm’s book Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession. In it, Green tells Malcolm that the most painful aspect for the psychoanalytic patient is to find out, definitively, that the analyst will never give her the “phallus-child.” Malcolm, unsurprisingly, objects to this “outlandish” suggestion. To which Green says: “Why not challenge the theory of natural selection? What you’re challenging, of course, is the centrality of infantile sexuality and of the Oedipus complex in adult psychic life. That’s what you’re challenging, and that’s what thinking, intelligent people challenge . . . You are an educated person living in the second half of the twentieth century, and you don’t know that the Oedipal period . . . is the most formative, significant, molding experience of human life, is the source of all subsequent adult behavior.”
Ronit and I were two adult women. But for all my unconscious knew, I was still a little girl between the ages of, say, three and a half and six, and she was the father who would never make me his wife. No matter what I did. Whether I carried my groceries home, or had them delivered.
On the other hand, why had she shown up there, right there, in that specific spot? How could it be that when I’d once ended up in front of her house, it had been purposeful, but now, when she did the same thing, it was accidental? It occurred to me that either she did not know where I lived – which was insulting, given the amount of time I’d been handing her monthly checks with my address on them – or, like me, she also had an unconscious, and it had planted her right there on my corner.
The little girl in me wanted to believe that she had come to bring me the phallus-child. The adult in me suspected she had simply come to a random stop in her day’s activities, in order to call her daughter-in-law, to make sure she had purchased the right size onesie for her grandson.