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The Therapist Is In

Gila Arnold

“Miriam,” he says at last. “I think you should be asking yourself why Hindy’s idealism is bothering you so much. I’m no therapist, but I’m married to one, and if something is getting under your skin to this extent, there must be a deeper reason for it.”

Thursday, October 13, 2016

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It doesn’t help that my husband is on her side. When I wonder aloud what I’m doing wrong with her, if there’s some kind of unfulfilled emotional need that’s expressing itself in these little defiances, David performs a perfect Hindy eye roll and says, “Well, you can be a bit of a fear monger, you know.”

I f I ever wrote a book, I would call it What the Therapist Who Knows Everything About You Wishes You Knew About Her. But the book, like the title, would be way too long. And besides, as my daughter Hindy likes to say, who has time to write books when they’re busy playing superhero to the frum world’s crises?

While I’m not exactly scaling walls or flying through the air (Hindy’s birthday present of a cape marked with a big red M notwithstanding), I will admit that her description hits the mark. And I say that with the fullest modesty. After all, if I have any talent to help others, it’s a blessing from Hashem.

It’s my blessing — and also my curse.

Today it’s Bayla sitting in the leather chair opposite me, clasping her fingers and swinging her legs for all the world as if she’s an excited two-year-old instead of a married woman dealing with crippling emotional issues. Only she doesn’t realize how crippling they are, and she refuses to acknowledge that her prolonged childhood abuse has had any impact on her life. She refuses to acknowledge that there was any abuse at all.

Sometimes I feel like wringing my clients’ necks.

Instead, I nod quietly as she talks in soft, lilting tones about little Yanky (named after her abusive father) and his adorable attempts to climb onto the counter and grab some cookies. She tells me all the little happenings in her quiet little world, as if that’s all she has to think about, as if by filling the silent office with these details of the life of a good, good mother, she can ignore the real reason she is here, at the demand of her husband, to try to save a dying marriage, a dead-from-the-start-marriage, and she, who doesn’t understand, who refuses to acknowledge, comes each week, dutifully, the good, good wife.

Ani hagever… As I sat in shul just a few days ago on Tishah B’Av, listening to Eichah, I related to Yirmiyahu’s cry. I am the man who has seen it all, the terrible things that were foretold.

And I am the person who has heard it all. All the tragedies and horror and shame. All your neighbor’s secrets, all the sordid goings-on in the dark underbelly of our community. I am the one who knows of the scandals before they hit the papers, who hears the details that even the blogs haven’t unearthed.

Have you ever stopped to think what that’s like?

My friends see me as privileged, cool, in-the-know; to be privy to it all, and not as a yenta, but as guidance, helping, working to make it right. Communal institutions see me as an expert, a sought-after speaker. But I know the truth. Knowledge is a burden, especially a certain type of knowledge, and there are secrets that I’d be far better off not knowing.

Tonight I’m scheduled to speak to a group of shidduch-aged girls and their mothers. The lecture is in honor of Tu B’Av, but the topic, “Warning signs to look out for in shidduchim,” is far from a light-footed dance in the fields. I look out at the audience, at innocent girls, naive mothers, and think, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but someone needs to tell you, to educate you about the real world, so that you too do not become a statistic, a person clasping her hands and hurling out her words in my office.

So I spend the next hour sharing my stories about the warning signs that went unheeded, the niggling concerns that were brushed aside, and the terrible, terrible outcomes. The mothers and daughters take notes, ask questions, their brows furrowed in fear, and by the end of the evening I go home satisfied that my message has been heard, that these girls are — ha, ha, ha, laughs the devil — no longer so innocent.

Ah, my job. It’s my mission in life, and I’ve come to accept that, but that sure doesn’t make it fun.

“Mrs. Korman,” I’m often asked, by well-meaning parents and mechanchos, “Are you sure it’s in our girls’ best interests to hear such things? To go through life seeing evil intent wherever they look, afraid of everything, suspicious of everything? Can there possibly be so much evil out there? In our own community?!”

In response, I sigh my world-weary sigh and shake my head at their naïveté, and talk about heads in the sand and our responsibilities, and if they heard the things that I heard day in and day out, and that I myself have always educated my children to be aware of what’s out there.

I return home from the lecture, and open the door to find Hindy prancing around the living room, music at full blast.

“Mommy!” Without losing the rhythm of the song, she skips over to me and pulls me into a dance. “How did the presentation go?”

“Fine, baruch Hashem. There was a nice turnout.” I soon get out of breath from her hyperenergetic whirling and sit down on the couch. She continues dancing, waving her arms and kicking out her legs in her unique way of exercising.

“Set them straight, those girls?” she says with a wink, in between leaps. “Opened their eyes to the big, bad world out there?”

I manage a small smile because I know she thinks she’s being funny.

 

Malkie, Faigie, Avi, Tirtza, they’ve always treated my advice and cautions with proper seriousness. Each one of my children, at the appropriate age and developmental stage, received a private Mommy chat about personal safety, updated periodically according to a new stage and need.

But Hindy, she’s always been the irreverent one. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” she’d say flippantly when heading over to a friend’s house. “I’ll make sure there are at least five adults in the house with us, all female and over the age of 70.”

When she was about to fly on her own for the first time, to seminary in Eretz Yisrael, she groaned loudly when I told her to take precautions if she found herself sitting next to a man.

“Mommeee! Please!” Major eye roll.

It doesn’t help that my husband is on her side. When I wonder aloud what I’m doing wrong with her, if there’s some kind of unfulfilled emotional need that’s expressing itself in these little defiances, David performs a perfect Hindy eye roll and says, “Well, you can be a bit of a fear monger, you know.”

Fear monger? Eyes narrowed, I rattle off the statistics, and the personal stories, of abuse, addiction, kids who are OTD, and all the other harrowing, irrefutable evidence.

David lets me go on, listening quietly, and at last says, “Listen, I’d be stupid to try arguing with an expert. But — and don’t take this the wrong way — your life perspective can get skewed by what you do all day. I mean, hey, I look up at the sky and see blank web pages waiting to be designed.”

He smiles, as if assuring me that’s a little joke to lighten the upcoming punch.

“Miriam, I think you tend to miss out on the bright, optimistic side of life.”

So here I have it. Everyone in the community takes me seriously except my own husband and daughter.

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