Therapy in the Holy City: The Power of the Unconscious Mind

I had been meeting with Ronit for a little more than six months when I suddenly had the feeling she was leaving me.  It was Passover 2013, I was hiking in Nahal Zavitan with my family, and the idea that hit me was this:  Ronit was going to return from vacation and say, “I so enjoyed my time away from work that I’ve decided to retire.”  I didn’t actually think she would utter these words, but often in my day-to-day life I came up with unbearable scenarios, as if by doing so I could prevent them from happening.  I figured that’s what I was doing this time too.

Obviously, a strong bond had sprung up between us.  Well, no – bond is too tame a word for what had sprung up.  Transference, the professionals called it, but in my opinion obsession came closer.  It was all-consuming.  At a certain point I began googling her, going to a Gali Atari concert because I thought she kind of looked like her, and watching Israeli talk shows.  I wanted so badly to know her:  her language, her culture, her history, her family, her people, how she knew English, where she grew up, where she had studied, who she was married to, what she ate for breakfast.  My list of questions was, as partially evidenced here, endless.  But she was pretty reticent, as therapists tended to be, and I realized that the closest I might ever get to knowing this quintessentially Israeli person was via Orly & Guy, or Hila & Aki.  A welcome consequence was getting to know Israel a little bit too.

It was a Thursday morning when we met for the first time after Passover, and when Ronit opened the door for me I was disappointed.  She didn’t seem nearly as glad to see me as I was to see her.  Then, when we went inside and I told her about the fear that had overtaken me at Nahal Zavitan, she hardly reacted.  I felt insecure and couldn’t understand why she wasn’t reassuring me.  At the next several sessions, however, I decided to let the matter drop and talk about my “real” issues instead, the ones that I was ostensibly there to address.  When at the beginning of May she asked me whether I’d be able to change our Monday appointments to Tuesdays, I aimed for maturity and said, Sure, that would be fine.  We would next meet on Tuesday morning at 8:30.

But when I arrived on Tuesday morning Ronit wasn’t there.  I rang the bell once, twice.  Finally, stunned that my fears were actually being borne out, I walked home and called her.  Other people might have called right then and there from their cell phones, but I didn’t yet have one; six months of therapy had only accomplished so much.

“I’m really sorry,” she said before I even opened my mouth.  Caller I.D., I guess.   “It was written down in my calendar,” she said, “but not in my head.”  She said she could get to the office in 10 minutes.

“How could this have happened?” I said, breathless, upon my re-arrival.  “You’re the one who changed the appointment in the first place!”

“You’re right,” she said.  “I did.  And I’m really sorry.”

“Why did you change the appointment?”

“I’m going to tell you,” she said.

“I can’t believe you forgot me,” I said.  “I could never forget you.”

Ronit nodded, and when she proceeded to use the word forgot, she used it in air quotation marks.  “I think I forgot,” she said, “because I knew I would have to tell you something today that I didn’t want to tell you.”

I resisted the impulse to cover my ears.

“Do you remember when you asked me if my children lived in Tel Aviv?” she said.

“No,” I said. “I never asked you that.”  I was so pained she had confused me with another patient that I tried to come up with some reasonable explanation.  “There was one time when I asked you if you had children living in the South,” I said.  “If that’s what you mean.  Back when all the missiles and rockets were being fired from Gaza.”

Apparently that wasn’t what she meant.  I sensed in an awful way that I had missed her point and that she would now go on to brutally illuminate me.

“Well,” she said, clasping her hands together. “What I have to tell you is that I am moving to Tel Aviv.”

First, the room went black.  Then, when I had recovered enough to talk again, I said:  “I knew it! I knew it!  I felt it!  I was right!  I knew you had one foot out the door!  I knew it!  I felt it!”

Ronit nodded. “You have very good intuitions,” she said, and then she gave me a quizzical look.  “What – you didn’t know that about yourself?  It’s like a gift.”

“Fuck my gift,” I said, tears welling in my eyes. “Fuck my good intuitions.”

“But you’re wrong about something,” she said.  “I don’t have one foot out the door.  I’ll still be coming to Jerusalem two days a week, and that’s why I asked if we could change Mondays to Tuesdays.”

“When?” I said.  “When are you moving?”

Ronit shrugged, as if this question were unimportant.  “A few months,” she said.

“For how long are you really going to be here?” I said.  “For how long are you really going to schlep to Jerusalem?”

“For as long as you need me,” she said.

During the months that we had been working together, I had run into Ronit several times on the street, and she knew how much comfort I took in the fact that we lived in the same neighborhood.   Crazily, I think I might even have imagined that she would adopt me one day – take me into her multigenerational Israeli family with its deep Israeli roots – and finally I’d belong!  I’d belong!  I’d belong!

But instead of adopting me, Ronit was adopting a new city.

She had forgotten the appointment because she didn’t want to tell me she was moving.  I had felt abandoned, because somehow I already knew.

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.