Love, Logic, and Bacteria

Allen fears his new girlfriend Shawn will discover he has OCD.

OCD Hand Washing
Illustration by Katherine Habshey © SEPS 2014

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She did not just take her hand off the railing and put it on your face, the OCD voice said. Now you’re gonna get a disease. How could she do that?

But all she’s doing is showing you affection, the intellectual voice said. There’s nothing there. Can’t you see that? You’ll be fine. You won’t get sick. Your skin won’t get infected. There’s—nothing—on—the—railing. Look! There’s nothing there.

I took Shawn’s hand off of my cheek, ran off of the fire escape and into the bathroom. Washed my hands and cheek until I heard Shawn yell for me to shut the door when I was done. When I finished, I found her standing at the elevator; the down arrow button lit up. Not a smile, a kiss, or even an attempt to hold my hand when I approached. The whole walk to dinner was in silence. She wore this face, this slightly miffed face, and I knew for the first time she knew about my obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The setting sun was reflecting off of the tall Boston buildings. The quarter moon was lucid and rising through the reds, purples, oranges, and peachy colors in the sky. The relaxed air was filled with the scent of budding trees. But as we walked through Harvard Yard to the restaurant, I couldn’t stop wondering if perhaps I didn’t do as good a job hiding my OCD as I thought I did. Perhaps Shawn noticed my frequent hand washing, and how I kept my hands in my pockets when we walked in public. Maybe she saw how freaked out I got whenever someone sniffled, sneezed, or coughed near me. Maybe what I thought I hid she saw, and she just let it ride instead of bringing it up. Maybe all my obsessions were too much for her, and she hid that from me. My mind was reeling. The intellectual voice was buzzing around inside my head like a bumblebee, but all I could hear was the OCD voice hissing like a snake underneath, saying over and over, Shawn knows you have OCD.

OCD Hand Washing
Illustration by Katherine Habshey © SEPS 2014

We got to the restaurant, and sat at the table in silence. I was terrified to tell her about my OCD. The thought caused an overwhelming sense of fear to rise up and rush my head. I couldn’t quell the fear no matter how tight I tried to hold to reality. It kept coming with each step the waitress made toward the table. Shawn smiled at me with her stop-you-dead smile, leaned forward, and kissed me. Right then I was reminded of our first night together, five months ago. Me curled up against her as we lay staring out at the night sky, falling asleep in her arms, her falling asleep in my arms. An experience I hadn’t had with anyone before. Until Shawn I wasn’t able to fall asleep in the same bed with anyone. Until Shawn I hadn’t any idea how to fall asleep in a woman’s arms. Until Shawn I didn’t even know it was possible to wake up holding hands. But when her alarm clock woke me up and I felt her fingers still folded in mine and then turned over and saw that she was sound asleep, I knew right then, right there that she was here to be more than just my fiancée, more than my friend, or even the mother of my unborn child. She was a sacred gift from heaven that came to stop the crying in my soul.

You have to tell her, the intellectual voice said, because if you don’t you are going to lose her. I lowered my head to the table, and my eyes locked on to the waitress’s hands as she sat our plates down. Do it, Allen, just do it, the intellectual voice kept saying, but all I could do was stare at the raised red bumps all over the waitress’s hands.

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