Therapy in the Holy City: The Drama of the Gifted Child

“Let’s not do anything impulsive,” Ronit said.  She had just told me she was moving, and in response I had told her that I didn’t want to come anymore, I didn’t want to keep my next appointment, I didn’t want to keep any appointment.

“I’m so upset,” I said. “I’m so upset I can’t see straight.”

“Listen,” she said, “we’re not going to knock this out in one shot.  What I did was bad.  Really bad.  It should not have happened.”

She seemed to think I was upset with her for forgetting our session.  I was.  But I was more upset about her moving.

Ordinarily I kept my relationship with Ronit private.  If one of my kids was around and asked me where I was going, I reverted to my 14-year-old self and concocted an alibi.  “Having coffee with Laura,” I’d say, hoping Laura didn’t call while I was at Ronit’s.  Or: “Just running errands; be back in an hour or so.”  I didn’t even like it when my husband said, “Shrink today?” as he was pulling on his socks in the morning.  The relationship was mine, only mine, and I didn’t want to share it with anyone.

But privacy took a back seat on that Tuesday night in May 2013.

“What’s the matter?” my husband said, walking in the door from work.

“I have nothing!” I cried.  “I have no one!”

It did not escape me that I was voicing these feelings to someone I did have.  Part of my pain stemmed from the fact that all of this passion was directed towards a person I didn’t even know – a complete stranger in many ways – while right in front of me stood this wonderful life-partner of mine, happy and willing to be my someone.  What was wrong with me?

At first I couldn’t say anything more.  How was I going to convey my misery without conveying everything else?  Besides, there was something unseemly about the whole picture.  There I was, a middle-aged woman flung across my bed, crying over the fact that a) my mommy had forgotten to pick me up from day-care, and b) she had essentially informed me that she was not in fact my mommy.  Mommies generally didn’t relocate without taking their young children with them.

“I want to spend more time in the States,” I said to my husband.  “I want to extend our summer trip.  Why are we only going for 10 days?  What am I running back to Israel for in the middle of August?”

“I thought you wanted to make it a short trip this summer,” he said.

I had, but mostly because of Ronit.  She didn’t take her vacation in August, the way New York therapists did.  Having googled her, I knew that she taught, and I also knew that the Israeli academic calendar, which started later than the American one, ended later as well.  But now that I was planning never to see her again, I didn’t have to worry about adapting my schedule to hers.  I realized that it was my relationship with Ronit that had converted Israel into home for me; it was now this same relationship that was converting it back into foreign territory.

“I have no life here,” I said to my husband.  “I have no reason for being here.”

“But you’ve seemed happier lately,” he said, a hint of desperation in his voice.  He obviously knew better than to rattle off the many reasons I had for being here:  him, our children, other family members, friends.  It seemed he recognized that he wasn’t working in the realm of the rational.

Finally, I came out with it. “Ronit is moving to Tel Aviv.”

Either my secret had never been much of a secret – and my husband had known all along how important she was to me – or else he was a quick study.  Without missing a beat he said, “So you’ll see her in Tel Aviv.”

“What?” I said, and only then realized that I’d left out a crucial part. “Oh, no, you misunderstand,” I said. “That’s not it.  She’ll still be coming to Jerusalem on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

Now he looked confused, and who could blame him?  Like any sensible person he couldn’t figure out where the problem lay.  And where did it lie?  Basically, nothing had changed:  I could still see her twice a week, in the same place, at generally the same hours, with some minor adjustments.  The only difference was that I would no longer spot her when she was out walking along the Park Hamesila on a Saturday morning, or standing in line at the Cinematheque on a random Monday night.

I thought about what Ronit had said to me – about my knowing that she was leaving before she told me.  It’s like a gift, she had said.  I remembered that the gifted child of Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child was not the one with the highest I.Q. or the ability to play a Beethoven concerto at the age of three.  Rather it was the child who learned how to read her parent, how to intuit the unconscious signals he was sending out.  I had done this with my father.  He could be a quite volatile person – something I had known as a child because of his behavior; something I knew now because of aspects of my own – but I had mastered the art of reading his volatility.  I had excelled at predicting what kind of mood he would be in, how to get him out of a bad one, how to coax him into a good one.  No one had been better at forecasting his emotional weather than I, and if grades had been awarded, I would have received an A+.  But the grade was secondary.  The important point for me was that this skill had been effective:  it had earned me his love, his loyalty, his affection.

But where had it gotten me with Ronit?  Nowhere.  She was moving to Tel Aviv no matter how well I read her.

The following Tuesday I was the one who didn’t show up.

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.