by Joshua Trach
“I can’t help it, listen to me,” I tell her.
“Yes you can,” my mother spits. I wonder how she can always be so sure and yet still have no clue what I go through. What I endure. “You just have to want it, Nate,” she finishes in a self-satisfied succor. Walking away, she looks back at me over her shoulder to let me know that’s Finis. I am angry, but also wasting time. If I don’t start up the stairs right now I won’t reach my room before dinner, when I will have to come back down either way. So I do that. The stairs come in neat pairs, every second-step receiving my right foot softly.
The inner machine of my mind is unstoppable and relentless; tirelessly, without mercy it goes. It seems bent on destroying itself, imploding like a black hole, or the Earth opening its own fault lines. The San Andreas Fault lies underneath the Californian highways. The scientists (and geologists) say that when it opens up, or even considers opening up, the state is going down. All vanquished; nothing to be done except wonder why the Americans continued expanding the city, and marvel at the general courage of all the Californians.
What I’m trying to say is that I think of myself as being like California. —
I spent four hours writing that section. There had to be an even number of words (220). That’s a good, round number. My psychologist says that as my symptoms continue to progress, I’ll be trapped ruminating over the character count, as well; but I already do. I’m just avoiding the Mad House.
There were 1,200 characters in total, if you include the spaces. That’s a good number. Not the best, though: 220 goes into 1,200 five times, which is an odd number. Even so, five is not as bad as seven, so I don’t have to make some changes up there, yet. If my symptoms stop progressing, I might not have to ever.
If you haven’t realized, I have OCD. My name is Nathanial (like Hawthorne), and I just had a fleeting thought (what if I made every section 220 words?) that I’ll be forced to comply with, no matter how vehemently, how desperately I try not to.
My psychologist says that it’s an anxiety disorder, which makes sense I guess. Anxiety is how it starts, and I’d assume there’s some sort of deficiency in my brain that made me susceptible to thinking I need to step on the sidewalk crack every second step, and then actually having to. I can’t shake the feeling of impending catastrophe if I don’t.
980 characters not counting spaces, 1,200 with them, with 220 words. Good. It’s the same way with the first section, I’ve noticed, so all the rest will have to follow this established form. It can’t be helped, and since I have tons of time on my hands, I guess it’s not the worst I’ve ever done.
Returning to my mother and what I have or haven’t done: this is a sort of testimony. She scares me since she loathes me. The day I showed symptoms was the day she essentially gave up as a care giver, just like that. Describing that feeling, emotional whiplash is the term that comes to mind. She’s found the whole ‘charade’ inconceivable, like a foreign language. She isn’t improving, either; she doesn’t want to, maybe. I couldn’t say.
If anything happens to me, she’ll say it was my fault. I can hear her now in fact, waving it all away. My Nathanial should have minded himself better, he was not good at that. Mom will go on with her drawl, saying I could’ve saved myself. I always told him Mind over matter. What she doesn’t seem capable of considering is that my mind really is overcoming matter; it overcomes my body with oscillating waves of paranoia and panic.
She is on the phone, slighting me.
I feel complete finishing these sections like this, as if by not filling in my pre-formed template, the universe would be compelled to warp, wrapping around me and silencing my anomie. Without finishing one when it’s started, sleep is impossible. So I do one a day, taking my five whole hours of freedom (average) to get them done.
For this running testimony, I’d like to present some running dialogue overheard on the phone last night.
“What’d I do to deserve this? I was so loving… Yes… All that hard work though, for nothing. Life does that to you, I guess… Oh really? You’re sure? … I should tell him that. Maybe he’ll snap out of it.” Not likely. “You ask him… That’s what I thought… He’s like, oh, I dunno, an alien or something… No, neither do I.”
This happens regularly; I cry at night, only to be driven into the bathroom so I can soak my face with a hot towel for any length of time between a half hour to an hour so late that my eyelids shake with the effort it takes to keep them open. If I don’t, the tear-salt might cause my skin to decay. If I don’t, the universe might decide to silence me. I know that wouldn’t happen; I continue.
980: hippomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. Sandman.–
I can explain. Last night I passed out at my desk, woke up in a cold sweat and shaking. The universe was shaking. That previous section was three quarters finished. The dialogue made my already chosen ratio impossible if I was to stay true to my mom’s words. I fought against my self-imposed event horizon for another hour until the sun rose. Those hurried concluding scrawls feel wrong, yet acceptable enough to keep. Hopefully they stay like that.
Today I’ll stumble down the stairs with an even number of steps, right foot every second time in a hopefully short amount of time, avoiding my mom. When we do at last cross paths, she’ll cut me with a toxic comment and the letters will pierce my skin, bubbling underneath. I hope there’s an even number of them. Hah hah.
There is a chance that today will be the day she forces me to put my left foot down on the last even step and then drag me away. She’s been threatening for weeks now, I should have spent more time fortifying myself for the inevitable. It probably wouldn’t have helped. Passivity is now my normal state, I am a walking talking reaction; I put nothing into the world. I hate this, and I’m starting to hate myself, but I won’t cry.
My doctor advises “de-stressing,” because with “these stress levels,” I’m going to experience immune system “deficiencies.” Med School apparently taught him little about OCD. Nobody’s medication works; I just don’t know what to do. Isolating myself in my room would be a good idea if my staircase journeys hadn’t become rituals.
Today I stood at the top of the stairs until my mom left, just before noon; I made the trek in an almost-record of a half hour. On that positive note I made two pancakes, eating them both without incident. It took me 32 bites, which is 18 bites per pancake. An even number. As I stopped counting there, I have high hopes for today. Writing from the kitchen, my plate sits in front of me, and I’m scared to move it in case a compulsion strikes me. In any case, there might be time to sneak a nap today.
Update, two hours later: I fell asleep on the couch in the sunlight, feeling like a normal person – that was the best part. However, when she came home, my mother did not share my enthusiasm. She took my impromptu napping as evidence that I could break out of any cycle I chose by putting my mind to it. We shouted at each other until our voices were hoarse, naturally.
I’m booked for an appointment that I’ll do my best to keep with my psychologist soon; but things are changing and my mom won’t be willing to drive me there anymore, as during our recent screaming match she said: “I’m done enabling your stupid delusions.” Words wouldn’t paint the satisfaction scrawled over her features. I told her I couldn’t, which all of my comebacks can be boiled down to if you try. My mom and I both want the same thing, which makes her blindness the worst part of my debacle.
Her malice is not new to me, but that threat in particular is. Until now her goal has been to force me to rehabilitate, as clumsy as it sounds. I guess she’ll be moving on to some twisted silent treatment now. I know this new distance will only make me worse. Hopefully she’ll figure that out soon. Telling her would be impossible right now, but I could use her help; a little bit of support would go a long way. In reality I don’t hold any expectations; so, getting there is my biggest problem. I’ve never gotten my driver’s licence because I can’t trust myself; besides, it’s obvious my mom wouldn’t give me the car. Nobody knows what would happen, probably not even the man tasked with healing me.
I kept the appointment with my psychologist. I was surprised finding myself in his office, impressed I’d made it all the way here, where a Freudian couch was nestled under a window, and Dr. Lahr sat behind a handmade desk. He asked me how I was and got a running commentary of everything I’ve written down here. There were less constraint-related stylistic decisions, so it was an easy retelling. He seemed to think I wasn’t regressing and was maintaining my sanity, so I showed him this record. Unsurprisingly, he found it neither healthy nor encouraging. I don’t think he truly understood what was happening until he read this.
In his office, he asks me to stop writing for a little while, citing the stress my counting is causing. I tell him that I’ll always be counting; at least this way it’s pretty predictable. Dr. Lahr does not agree, and thinks that sort of resignation will do more harm than good; so I tell him it took me 14 steps to reach his desk, and that 2 goes into 14 seven times. Seven is the worst odd number; that’s why I had to pace the length of his desk before sitting down. 20 steps, cumulatively.
I should mention that I walked to his office from a bus stop 20 minutes away.
My mother is gloating that today will be the day: today she is going to forcefully rehabilitate me into normalcy. She lords this over me happily, watches me shake and quiver in solitude and fear. I hate the way she has such power to ruin my moods, and at the same time how her presence is so acutely missed.
On the subject of barricading myself in my room: that’s a solid option. Thinking that leaving won’t be possible without unthinkable consequences is the only thing stopping me. Leaving anything behind would be the end, Fin; and then what about food? Even so, there’re two dressers, one table, and one desk that I can, and probably will, drag in front of the door. That isn’t two-and-two identical pairs, but since it is two-and-two, it’s good enough. I can get food when Mom leaves the house.
Normalcy is a foreign impossibility: a distant spec seen in a telescopic view of the universe. Isolation has won out and I am destined to become an article in a journal somewhere, a caricature of what can go wrong: Mental Illness.
I’ll take one last cry before I seclude myself; and when I’m done cleaning my face I’ll run back to my room (From then on, The Room), and I’ll do what needs to be done.
My life has become rather cyclical in the past three days, even more so than it used to be, and I’m questioning why I bother with this record anymore. It’s unlikely anybody will read it. But for the sake of finishing things, this section will describe my days from now on.
Day One was a catastrophe, as its oddness suggests. Mom beat against the door for seven full minutes and then called me every name she could. Her despair almost convinced me to open the door. I didn’t eat, drink, or use the bathroom. Day 2 was better, since Mom left around noon. I careened down the stairs, ate a package of Pop Tarts with one apple and one banana, and filled up 2 thermoses with water. I used the bathroom and closed The Room’s door behind me just as she came home. Day Three, today, is fairly indistinguishable from Day One, and I find myself wishing I ate more yesterday. Tomorrow she’ll probably leave around noon and I’ll be ready.
Mother’s epithets are swelling in their hatred: “Nobody’s ever heard of such stupidity, you got that right. I should move out and leave him here for the next poor bastards.” Nothing different from the usual, I suppose, but it feels more focused now.
I have hope for Day 4.
Day 4 is turning out to be the worst day of my life, and it’s only one-thirty. Everything was going as expected; my mom had left and I was scavenging in the pantry like my life depended on it, which isn’t really a lie. Mom came back a half hour earlier than usual with Dr. Lahr, so I understood things were worse than previously thought. I instantly scurried up the stairs, thoughtless, knowing I still had a thermos of water that could get me through the day.
It was Dr. Lahr who tried calling me back, “Nate, hold on a sec,” but his voice diminished with every second that I ran, until it wasn’t real anymore. Somebody thundered up the stairs when I closed the door, and collided with it, shaking the doorknob violently. The dresser was too heavy to move in time; nothing else would have done the trick against the incoming rage – my door flew open. In walked my mother, followed by Dr. Lahr. Her hair was tousled madly and her shoulders rose trying to catch her breath. Dr. Lahr: “Collect your things, your mother wants to take you somewhere.” Asylum, I think. I’ve five minutes, and then departure. I’ll take this with me, finish it later.
A new cycle begins, and I feel my fault lines trembling.