Due to a scheduling conflict that prevented me from keeping my regular Jerusalem appointment, and wanting to get my first time over with anyway, I decided to make the trek out to Ronit’s Tel Aviv clinic. Previously, when I’d tried to imagine what it would feel like to be there, I’d pictured myself entering the door and bursting into tears. I’d imagined myself so full of emotion that I’d only be able to cry. Her move to Tel Aviv and everything surrounding it – her forgetting to show up on the day she was supposed to tell me, my purposely not showing up the following week, the ensuing drama – had been with us almost from the start. It was, as they said, a loaded subject.
But I had also been able to picture myself joking around, saying something like: “So. This is where it all happens.”
In the event, I neither cried nor joked. I rang the bell, she answered the door, she let me in. “Hi,” we both said. It was a little surreal: a topic that had been discussed ad nauseam, and here it was, actually taking place. We smiled at each other in acknowledgment of that.
“I’m over there,” she said as we stood in the entranceway to the suite of offices. She pointed to the room furthest down the hall.
“To the left?” I said.
She nodded. At our previous session, when she had been giving me directions, I had confessed to a slight learning disability. I didn’t know north from south or west from east, so it didn’t help when she used those terms to explain which direction I should walk in on my way from the bus station. I also had trouble with left and right, and almost always had to air-write to remind myself. I was pleased with how quickly I’d come up with the word “left” now, and with the fact that I’d used it correctly.
I stood in the doorway and waited for her to indicate where in the office she sat, and where, therefore, I should sit. These were all first-time issues, virgin issues, issues we hadn’t had to deal with since our first beginning.
It was a smaller room than the one in Jerusalem, and the construction workers outside were making even more noise. I sat down in the appointed chair but I felt scattered, unfocused. In Jerusalem, Ronit was five minutes away, so when I left the house I didn’t need to bring much with me. But here I’d brought a whole knapsack full of supplies: sun hat, water bottle, reading material, iPod shuffle, wallet. Several minutes into the session, I looked down and saw that I was still clutching my phone in my hand; it took me a while to find the zipper of my knapsack and toss it in. And I was chewing gum! I had forgotten to spit it out, the way I usually did before I came in.
“My friend met me at the station and helped me find your address,” I said. “Then we sat at that little coffee shop across the street and talked for an hour.”
Ronit seemed pleased. “So instead of therapy being your life, you’ve made it a part of your life.”
I shrugged. That was debatable. I was, after all, devoting an entire day to the process.
“Have you been in this location a long time?” I said.
Ronit didn’t answer right away. Then she made reference to the drilling and banging outside. Then she made her own confession.
“I should tell you that I’m actually looking for different office space,” she said. “A place where I can put my own things.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“I want to bring Jerusalem here,” she said with a smile. Then, no doubt seeing the confusion on my face, she added, “The things in this office aren’t mine. I want to find an empty room where I can put my own furniture. From the Jerusalem clinic.”
“Ah, I see,” I said.
I was trying to greet her news with equanimity, but the truth was that the ground didn’t feel all that secure beneath my feet. Another temporary location. Why did she even bother giving me directions when soon she’d have to change them again? Why all the north, south, east, west? Would she ever just stay put?
On the other hand, her familiar belongings would eventually be here. Slowly but surely she was transplanting her Jerusalem life, including me, to Tel Aviv.
“Will the new place be in this general area?” I pursued.
She didn’t say. Given our history, I suspected she didn’t want to make any promises she couldn’t keep, especially as it was clear that things were still in process.
“In Tel Aviv,” was all that she was finally willing to reveal.
After that I was quiet. I took another look around and wondered if I were dreaming: could this really be? She was here? I was here? Where were we? It occurred to me that until this moment I hadn’t truly believed that this other part of her life existed. Like a child who had not yet achieved object permanence, I must have thought she vanished into thin air when I couldn’t see her. I had invested her with magical properties, but I saw now that there was no magic, there was just reality: Sometimes she was here, sometimes she was there. I had always wondered how she could be in two places at once, but now I had my answer. She couldn’t be. She hadn’t been.
Eventually I said, “Do you have anything you want to say?”
She shrugged. “Is there something you’d like me to say?”
“Yes, I would like you to say something,” I said. “But I don’t know what. Something to make me feel more secure, maybe. There are all these changes – I mean, not just today either. Last time I noticed that you changed your hair. The color. The cut.”
Then I told her about an incident from my long-ago pre-Israel days, when I had been in Cleveland for a weekend visiting my sister. The two of us, looking for a way to entertain our small kids, had taken all five of them to a local school fair where we found a karaoke event in full swing. Getting up on the stage to sing “Ticket To Ride,” my sister and I did our best imitation of the Beatles, but when I looked out into the audience, I could see that my three-year-old son was losing it. I quickly understood that he didn’t recognize me: my transformation into Paul McCartney was freaking him out. What had happened to his mother? Where had she gone? Soon enough he approached the stage, in tears, and begged me to stop. So I did.
“You were still you, though,” Ronit said now.
And Ronit was still Ronit. Maybe better. Earlier in the session, which seemed for some reason to be devoted to Cleveland, I had brought up the Cavaliers basketball team and their Israeli-American coach David Blatt – the connection between my country and hers – and now I kept seeing the words home court advantage before my eyes. Soon Ronit would not have to commute anymore. Soon her relocation to Tel Aviv would be complete. She would inevitably feel more relaxed, more patient – she would inevitably have more to give. I had the distinct feeling that her home court advantage would serve us both well.
As the hour drew to a close, Ronit told me she was glad I’d come, glad that my journey had been smooth. There was nothing earthshaking about her words, but I appreciated them. I had traveled all this way to see her, and in return I was happy to have some kind of takeaway: something to sustain me during the long trip back home. It was a schlep, but the schlep had brought me further into her life – the part of her life I hadn’t even believed existed – and that felt like a gift.