At the family therapy session with Dr. Bachman, some surprising revelations emerge.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Tzippy snapped at Miriam. “Ima didn’t hurt anyone.”
Dr. Bachman looked intrigued. “Can you elaborate on that?” he said.
“I could talk about it for days!” Miriam bristled. “Ever since I was little, I was like a little machine. ‘Do it this way, Miriam.’ ‘Wash the dishes.’ ‘Watch Sruli and Tzippy.’ I never had my own life. The only one who took me seriously in this family was Zaidy. He listens to me and always encourages me. I’m … surprised that he raised you and you turned out the way you did.”
“I’m not going to tolerate you talking to Ima like that,” interrupted Asher.
“I thought we were supposed to be honest here,” she said.
“There’s a difference between honesty and disrespect,” Dr. Bachman explained. “In order for each of us to really hear what each has to say, it has to be that everyone feels safe here. Those are the rules. Do you agree to abide by them?”
Miriam tapped her foot and put her head slightly down, glancing sideways at her mother with an expression that spoke volumes, even if her words were still.
“You feel that your mother didn’t take you seriously,” he continued. “You felt taken advantage of.”
“I still feel that way, but that wasn’t it. All I wanted to do was please my mother and make her happy, so that maybe she would like me more.”
Miriam’s voice began to quaver. “No matter what I did, I could never get there. I could never get your approval. I felt like a mouse on a wheel, turning and spinning and running and never ever getting anywhere. That’s why I got into that accident. It was like you’d planted a chip in my brain from the time I was little, even though I’m a grown woman, that I have to please you. I must please you. And now it’s the way I am with everyone.” She angrily grabbed two tissues from the box on Dr. Bachman’s desk, blew her nose and wiped at her eyes.
All Hindy could think was, “Guilty as charged.” She had no idea that something she gave so little thought to had affected Miriam so deeply. She had always spoken to Miriam in a practical way that a child could perceive as harsh, and due to her status as older daughter, Hindy often urged Miriam to do things that were at the limits of her capability. One day, when Asher took her gently to task over it, it had been a particularly difficult day for Hindy, and she had no patience for the problem. Instead she replied, “It won’t hurt her. She has to learn that this isn’t a hotel.” Now she cringed at the memory, realizing that Miriam was in earshot and had probably heard her.
“Mrs. Fishman?” Dr. Bachman prompted.
“I – I don’t know what to say. It’s a lot to take in.”
“I think you know exactly what you want to say. You’re just not ready to say it.”
“I think this is all too much for me,” she said, holding her hand against her heart.
“Stay in the room, please, Mrs. Fishman,” said Dr. Bachman.
“I thought the session was only 45 minutes,” said Hindy.
“Family sessions go longer.”
“How much longer?” said Hindy.
“Until they’re finished. Now, what do you have to say to your daughter?” he asked.
Hindy turned to face Miriam. “I had no idea you felt this way,” she said. “I wish you could have told me.”
“I didn’t have the words for it,” said Miriam. “I saw you with Sruli and Tzippy, that you treated them so differently, but I couldn’t figure it out until Zalman explained it to me.”
“How can I fix it?” said Hindy. “How can we move on from here?”
Miriam shook her head sorrowfully. “It can’t be fixed. After the car accident I knew I had to make a change, and one of the things we decided was that we were going to spend as little time around you as possible. It’s too toxic for me.”
“You can’t be serious,” said Asher. “How can you let Zalman make that kind of decision?”
“It was my idea, actually, Abba. Zalman didn’t disagree, but it was my idea. If I’m ever going to grow up I need to do it on my own.” She looked at her watch. “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. Good-bye, Ima. I wish you all the best.” Before anyone could stop her, she stood up from her chair and let herself out of the office.
Everyone sat silently then, trying to process what had just happened. For years, Hindy had taken Miriam’s compliance for granted, with no thought of how she really felt inside. Now, Hindy felt a mixture of loss and regret. It wasn’t necessary for Miriam to detach altogether, she insisted to herself, followed by the nagging doubt, Or was it?
“I think we will end here,” said Dr. Bachman. “This has been a very intense session. You all had a lot on your minds.”
They all nodded, more to themselves than to Dr. Bachman.
“You’re doing great, Ima,” said Sruli. “I’m glad I could see you.”
“Thank you zeeskeit,” said Hindy, smiling sadly, giving him a pat on the cheek.
Tzippy embraced Hindy warmly, and Aharon placed his hand gently on her shoulder. “You guys need a ride?” he asked his sister and brother.
“No,” said Tzippy. “We’ll go with Abba.” And then, with a new softness she added, “Thank you, though.”
“No problem. See you later.”
Asher took her off to the side. “Are you okay, Hindy? That was rough.”