The grieving process is different for everyone. Some people cry for days on end and some people completely ignore the issue all together. I’ve even seen some people take up entirely new hobbies, exerting all of their energy into pottery or collecting Precious Moments figurines. It’s a mystery as to how the human brain works and how very different we are from each other in our coping mechanisms. Actually, some would even say that my love for writing come out of my own grieving process when my mamaw died. At five years old, I took to pen and paper trying to imitate my Aunt Wanda who wrote a poem about mamaw’s death. I started writing poetry, continued on to fiction writing, all the way up until today when I write about otherwise uneventful stories through an overzealous perspective. But when I think about what I took from mamaw’s death, it isn’t the writing. It’s something else entirely.
|Death was never explained to me… dying was more like being
chosen for a reality show and less about, you know, actually
being sick or old.
In thinking about my obsessive compulsive disorder which was initially loosely diagnosed by a doctor in eighth grade, I began wondering what were the first signals that I might have it. All of the weird impulses that I had growing up had seemed normal, so it took work to think about all of the oddities as anything other than a healthy habit. But, it had to be mamaw’s death. If you talk to someone with legitimate obsessive compulsive disorder (which means not someone who likes to have their pencils sharpened or the counter clean), you’ll find out that there’s this weird necessity in doing whatever action is being done. Because no one ever explained death to me any more complexly than “a time when God decided you are ready to join his army,” I automatically considered death like a lottery system. When your number is called, you’re up on the front lines; none of it had to do with being old or possibly having a debilitating disease… it was more about, you know, just the Lord being like Come on down, you’re the next contestant for Heaven and then you would run up toward Heaven clapping wearing an enthusiastic tee shirt saying “I Want to Be a Barker Beauty!”
So, as a naturally superstitious person, I decided that the best way to ward off death from my family was to wear the butterfly pin that my mamaw bought me before she died. Why did my mamaw buy me a butterfly pin? That’s an excellent question; I’ll be more than happy to answer it when I figure out why she always called me Lucy. (I’m inclined to think that maybe she wanted a granddaughter). I would wear it to first grade everyday, and then, when that wasn’t enough, I would spend the entire day imagining my mom was going to die on the way to work. Nothing could exhaust my worry that everyone in my life was going to die, so then, my mom made the error of turning the tables back on the entity that I was absolutely terrified of: God. She would start brining be bracelets home that she would buy at the gas station: WWJD bracelets. She told me to wear them, and when I got worried, I should look down at them and pray to God that He would take care of her, which seemed counterproductive because it was my understanding that God was the one grabbing up people like an arcade claw machine.
Eventually, the WWJD bracelets lost their charm, so I began some of the more obvious tics that come along with OCD. The first one I can remember was stretching my lips out, which included repeating an expression that one Jenna Marbles might have made famous. Something that I’m sure Jenna Marbles is not aware of is that if you do that face every four minutes (exactly) like I did as an 8 year old, you will acquire sores on the corners of your lips. When picture day came in second grade, I am one of what I’m assuming is probably twelve second graders in the entire world that could have convincingly made people believe he had oral herpes. There I was, skinny as a rail because I threw up all the time, sporting an oversized polo with seven WWJD bracelets on my arm, a purple butterfly fixed over my heart, and two giant sores on either side of my face. The first time I heard the f-bomb was when I took home the proofs from my pictures. My mom showed my dad, and I remember him saying “Oh f— this. This has got to stop.” But no matter how ridiculous I may have looked, I obviously had not accurately expressed the urgency of my bracelet wearing/pin adorning/lip stretching ways. I seemed to be the only one in the world that understood that if I didn’t do these things… someone would die.
Eventually, I would move on to bigger and better tics than the lip stretching, mostly because it took weeks for my lips to heal appropriately. If I had continued the lip stretching, I can only imagine I would have ended up looking like The Joker from The Dark Knight, which would have made my dating life even more difficult than it already is. For a while, I moved into blinking, but that seemed to make people uncomfortable, too. I would approach my teachers and blink upwards of fifteen or twenty times until they would just force me to spit out whatever question I had or just bluntly walk away, neither of which I could blame them for. As a naturally self-conscious person, I knew that I was kind of weirding people out with the odd things I did; I had to come up with a way to protect the lives of everyone I loved without it being so obvious; the whole thing became a secret mission for me.
However, that only lasted for so long. Eventually, I would start incorporating numbers and colors into the mix with every single digit numeral representing a color. And that’s become the basis for just about every compulsion that happens to this day. While talking to a friend, I said, You know, I think that my compulsions have gotten better since I’ve been older, and then immediately found myself leaning back in my chair, and counting the corners in the room. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something comforting about counting corners, and I always do it when I’m nervous. Sitting in job interviews, I count the corners waiting for the interviewer to come in, praying that there’s not some kind of camera detailing the pre-interviewee’s behavior. Then when they come in, I have to coach myself mentally Justin, keep eye contact. The last thing you need to do is lose it in the middle of your explanation of your skill set and pull an Exorcist and start glancing from corner to corner. It makes people uncomfortable, and then they just want to get away from me.
And that’s something I’ve had to learn from watching people’s reactions, because in my mind, what I do is perfectly logical. You obviously need to rub the entire corner of that cabinet to ensure that this entire building doesn’t blow up. God, if these people only understood how many times you save their lives daily. Psych! Now you need to rub it four times for good measure. It’s a complicated one because it’s something I’ve just come to know as a normal thing. As for the present, I’m not sure if the people in my life have just come to accept that the edges of objects need to be caressed or if I’ve just mastered the art of being subtle to an extraordinary level. Occasionally, I forget to keep myself in check when I’m in public, as I caught myself rubbing the back of someone’s chair while serving tonight. As the man finally turned around, I caught myself and said to him, Don’t know who put that weird scuff on the back of your chair, but we can’t have you sitting in that, can we? There was obviously no scuff, just some weird 22 year old massaging the back of his chair for sport. But if I don’t buff out the imaginary scuffs in his chair, then who will?
I have a weird feeling that these impulsions that started to try and save the people in my life could very well be the death of me. It would be ironic, wouldn’t it? One of my personal favorites is driving down the road and I feel it: Justin, the obviously solution to your roadside anxiety is to run your hand along the steering wheel ten times; oh, someone else is in the car? They’ll love it. And it’s very obvious they don’t, because they usually catch on around lap three or four, and by lap nine, I can see their eyes widen as if they’re trying to silently communicate If your hand catches the wheel one time, we’re going to fly off this overpass. And you know what? I can’t say I haven’t thought the same thing myself… four times, consecutively.