Therapy in the Holy City: Separation Anxiety

Early on in my relationship with Ronit I provided a cautionary tale.  I told her how I still had a vivid memory of the time my parents went out – for an entire Sunday! – and left me in the care of my older brother and sister.  I didn’t like it when my parents went out; I worried like crazy.  Even when they only left for a few hours, just for an evening, I’d find myself standing at the living room window, peering through the opening in the curtains, willing the return of their car, longing to see those headlights approach.  But on that Sunday, perhaps because I didn’t feel well – and threw up after they left – I was particularly panicked.  It probably didn’t help that my designated babysitters were the same people who’d been playing with that fateful door some years before: the door that took off half my finger.  I flung myself down on the floor, wrapped my hands around my father’s ankle and begged them not to go.  They went.

I cited this tale as a way of letting Ronit know what she was in for, that I might be similarly badly-behaved if she went:  for a whole Sunday, for a whole any day.  I told her this at a time when I was trying to explain my reluctance about starting psychotherapy again (I had only come in to discuss a simple little parenting issue! how had it turned into this?). I guess what I wanted her to know was that if she took me on, she wouldn’t be able to do things like come down with the flu or go on vacation.  Apparently she hadn’t read the memo.

One time, alerting me to the fact that she would have to miss a session the following week, she said, “I waited a while to tell you this.  Do you know why?”

“Yes,” I said, blushing. “You didn’t want to give me too much time to worry about it.”

But that didn’t mean she didn’t take the day.  She did.  She took it.

And she took vacations too.

Every year.  In the late fall.  Two or three full weeks.  Four or six missed sessions.

Not that I was counting.  Not that I noticed.  Not that my awareness of her imminent vacation played into what happened between us next.  It was now our first session after the psychoanalytic conference I’d attended.  I told her about the paper I had heard delivered, the one about a 36-year-relationship between therapist and patient.

“Thirty-six years!” Ronit said, with a laugh.

It was the laugh that did it. It seemed so cruel to me, embodying in such a stark way the message she always seemed to be sending me, about just how long she would allow our relationship to go on, about just how temporary it was.  Well, I was having none of that; if one of us was leaving, it was going to be me. I went home and sent her a good-bye email.

The next morning when I saw her name illuminate my phone screen, I let it ring.  That evening she called a second time, and she also sent a text message, but my phone was off; I only discovered the two missed communications after I exited the Cinematheque, where an Assi Dayan retrospective was taking place. There, in the small lower-level movie theatre, I had been watching Dr. Pomerantz, a black comedy in which the late Israeli actor plays a therapist who encourages his patients to jump off the balcony.  Frankly, given the way I was feeling, that option didn’t look so unattractive.

“Human contact is far too precious to let it go without talking about it face to face,” said Ronit’s text message, which I read as I walked up the steps of the Cinematheque.  “Hope to see you on Tuesday.”

No, I texted back to her, I wasn’t coming on Tuesday; if I came, then I wouldn’t be able to leave.

She didn’t text me back and I wondered if I had made a mistake. It seemed so sad to me, to just walk away from her, to let go of this “far too precious human contact,” but the alternative felt worse.   Was this the way a therapeutic relationship was supposed to be?  If not, why did I stay in it?  Then again, wasn’t the therapeutic relationship just a mirror image of all of our relationships, and if I gave up on this one then I’d be giving up on all the other ones in my life as well?  I had an almost superstitious feeling about it:  if I surrendered to my hurt and anger here, I might do the same elsewhere.  Nevertheless, I left things as they were.  Though Ronit and I had had bad moments before, this was the closest I had come to ending the relationship.  This time I might really do it.

But she didn’t let me.  A few days later, she gave me another chance to come back, via an email she sent, and I took it.  I even allowed myself to believe that she had pursued me because she cared about me, despite the voice in my head saying, She has a salary to earn.

“But why did you have to laugh?” I said to her when I went in.  “Why did you have to make it seem so absurd and laughable to have a 36-year relationship with a patient?”

Ronit shrugged and said in a perfectly matter-of-fact way, “I’m not going to be here in 36 years.”

I groaned with exasperation. “I’m not going to be here either!”  I said. “Why must you be so literal?”

We were silent for a while, and I thought about how sad that was:  our mortality.  There would come a time when both of us were gone, regardless of who left first.

Eventually she said, “Do you think this might have something to do with my upcoming vacation?”

“Maybe,” I said.

“And the workshop I will be away for after that?” she said.

Oh yes, the workshop.  Did I neglect to mention?  Four more missed sessions, looming weightily before me.

But I was back.  Another crisis overcome, another split repaired.   How many more of these could we take?  Did each one chip away at us, little by little, or did each one make us stronger?  The verdict was still out.

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.