Excerpt for Don't Mind Me, It's My OCD: Laughing My Way Back from the Edge of Reason by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



DON’T MIND ME,
IT’S MY OCD

Laughing My Way Back from the
Edge of Reason



Breana Ritchie



Published by Sweetgrass Publishing at Smashwords

Copyright © 2018 by Breana Ritchie

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Visit the author’s website at www.breanaritchie.com

First Edition 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-04554-1 (ebook)



This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.





For my mom, who made me believe I could soar.



Contents

Introduction

In the Beginning

School Daze

Friends and Family Matters

Love Is a Dangerous Thing

Home, Sweet Home

Doctors, Dentists, and Deadly Diseases

Workplace Woes

Unpopular Modes of Transportation

Discerning Tastes

No Rest(room) for the Weary

The Mean Streets

Driving Me Nuts!

Food for Thought

Social Unawareness

Surviving My Accommodations

Stop Bugging Me!

Misadventures in Shopping

Exercising My Demons

Hands Up!

Smell Ya Later!

The News Is Not My Friend

Weird(er) Bits and Pieces

Getting Dirty, Doggie-Style

Traveling Outside the Box

A Walking Contradiction

What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Pearls of Wisdom

Acknowledgments

About the Author



Introduction

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

Off, off, off, off, off, off, off.

Lock, lock, lock, lock, lock, lock, lock.

Sound familiar? Does it make you feel happy or sad? Anxious or relieved? Exhausted or invigorated? Calm or distressed? Confined or liberated? A bit of everything?

You are not alone. It is estimated that over two percent of the population suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in the United States, and it doesn’t discriminate. We are in good company with the likes of Howie Mandell, Cameron Diaz, Lena Dunham, Charlize Theron, Leonardo DiCaprio, and David Beckham who have all been candid about their OCD tendencies. I’m not keen on being a statistic of any kind, but I am definitely a woman with a lot of bizarre habits, rituals, and thoughts ranging from annoying to almost paralyzing. Believing catastrophe is imminent if I’m not on constant alert, and taking measures to prevent serious harm, is a challenging and exhausting way to live. I simply cannot move forward unless certain actions are performed, whether they make sense or not. These obsessions and compulsions showed up unannounced on my doorstep one day and decided they liked me enough to stay. They stick close by my side when I’m stressed or sad, which would make them awesome friends if they weren’t so insidious.

A lot of people use the term OCD loosely, announcing they are afflicted without understanding the disorder, but that doesn’t get under my skin. The term is bandied about so much it makes the disorder seem mainstream, rather than the dark, scary secret we are hesitant to discuss. It’s healthy to illuminate it and engage in thoughtful conversations, but I’ve realized even I laugh in certain situations and say, “I’m so OCD,” keeping a sense of humor whenever possible. That doesn’t mean the journey has been easy, to which I’m sure those with debilitating OCD symptoms can attest, and I would never make light of their pain in dealing with these challenges. However, I don’t need to stake my claim in this disorder so if others want to call dibs on it, I’m happy to share!

If some, or all, of my story resonates and offers you comfort, humor, and a sense of belonging, it will have served its purpose. If I offend your sensibilities with my “unique” behavior, remember—it’s not you, it’s me!



In the Beginning

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it all began, but I can evoke clear memories of my budding obsession with germs and order and feeling uncomfortable in my skin. Looking back with a proper perspective, I’ve realized my home life was stressful and scary at times, due to my alcoholic father who was the source of unrelenting tension and turmoil. He stumbled in late each evening—after knocking back untold beers with his drinking buddies to cap off a long workday—but those few hours in his presence felt like an eternity. It didn’t take long to conclude that the screamfests, flying dishes, and threats of divorce were jeopardizing my entire world and sense of security. Coming home one day to a police car in the driveway left me breathless and fearing the worst, but it was just another round in their endless bout of hurled obscenities, food, and accusations. It seemed necessary to create a sanitized environment for myself, which should have provided a semblance of control in an otherwise uncontrollable world, but instead spawned a neurotic child.

The fateful day my mother kicked my father out brought us welcome relief from the pandemonium, but a vivid memory of him stuck with me long afterward. He had turned to walk out the door for the final time and neglected to hug me goodbye or, at the bare minimum, acknowledge the sad little girl in the corner, eyes teary and wide as saucers, before his abrupt departure. This devastating sense of abandonment was confusing since I had no emotional connection to this man by any stretch of the imagination. His idea of bonding was encouraging me to pull his finger so he could grab my hand and fart on it with glee; tossing grapes into my mouth like a trained seal; and watching the odd episode of The Streets of San Francisco, Columbo, or Kojak together. I clung to these moments of frivolity, for soon his dominant alter ego would arrive on the scene and abscond with my homework. Why? Because his boorish demands to prepare him a late-night salad with a side shot of liquor did not line up with my goals for the evening.

Deception was second nature to this philanderer who consorted with floozies and discovered the meaning of life in the bottom of his whiskey bottle. My bedroom door sat lopsided on broken hinges after his clumsy kick to gain access to my mother who sought refuge in my room whenever he thundered through the house in a cloud of cheap perfume and cherry brandy. He knew nothing of her evacuation plan to leap out the ground-floor window and she was sipping coffee at our next-door neighbor’s house before his head poked through—Jack Nicholson-style.

“He’s a good provider,” my mother felt obliged to say, but her weary expression belied her attempts to defend his pathetic shortcomings as a father. He did supply funds for the necessities in life, but for a fun-filled day at the local fair he would hold a couple of bucks hostage until we wheedled him into releasing them into our eager, outstretched palms. Thanks, Dad. We’ll enjoy sharing our pint-sized cotton candy while everyone else is having a blast on the rides and playing silly games to win the crappy but coveted prizes. Our beloved mother always came to the rescue, which allowed us to have as normal a childhood as she could manage. All we had to do was stand guard while she slid a few crisp twenty-dollar bills out of his metal cash box and into her pocket, after he had counted it each evening. Timing was everything in our household. It didn’t work out so well for me after his ousting because I was sent to fetch the monthly child support checks. I was subjected to the spectacle of a grown man three sheets to the wind— blubbering into his booze-laced coffee—and wished I could twitch my nose like Samantha in Bewitched to magically disappear.

It took years to understand I wasn’t a freak—I merely handled situations in a different manner than other individuals. Once I realized there were others who counted, and triple-checked, and would rather die than touch something deemed unsanitary, the relief washed over me in soothing waves.

Not knowing that at the time, however, meant I was besieged with misery and spent an inordinate amount of my waking life sweeping away imaginary dirt, scrutinizing my surroundings, and protecting my belongings with unexpected ferocity. Doorknobs and light switches made me twitchy. Getting into bed at night was an ordeal because I knew unwanted things were in there, though I couldn’t see them. My hands attacked these invisible invaders, drowning my fear with fury as I swept them away. The minutes ticked by, keeping time with my methodical strokes until I became too tired to continue. I lined up my stuffed animals according to their sturdiness, tucking in stray legs, arms, or tails hanging over the edge of the bed. Exposed limbs aggravated me to the point of sleeplessness. I hated leaving this safe zone during the night—if I disturbed the hideous creature skulking under my bed, it would surely seize my ankles with its bony fingers and that would be a nightmare from which I’d never awake. Instead, I lay frozen in my toasty sheets, ignoring my own pep talk about surviving the few steps to the bathroom. I was a mama bear around my precious babies, but if I’m being honest, I might have sacrificed one to save myself. I’m glad I never had to learn what kind of person I would be in that situation.

My mother couldn’t resist the allure of auction sales where she went on the prowl for antique furniture, usually with me in tow. Wading through musty cast-offs from a dead person’s estate gave me the creeps. She was over the moon after finding an old-fashioned dresser with dark, knotted wood and a faded mirror for my room, but I despised it. I had grown tired of my prissy white furniture and frilly canopy bed, but this replacement was repulsive and depressing. I felt uneasy putting my clothes in the drawers, which had to contain the ghosts of ancient bugs. I should have embraced this dresser as it reflected my escalating dark moods, but my smile was irrepressible when I was able to pawn it off on someone else’s unfortunate child.

Our creepy, dirt-floor cellar was the harbinger of haunting dreams when our arachnophobic mother coerced us to take turns going down there to get potatoes for dinner. What did she have against rice? Our father’s contribution was to dig them up from the garden and fill the earthy, mud-caked box in the cellar, but he was off somewhere enjoying a libation or two whenever we needed to retrieve them. It was a slow descent into hell. She would stand at the top of the rickety wooden stairs whispering encouragement, but I knew, with each footfall, I was one step closer to death. The air was dank and suffocating and when I dared to peek through my fingers, I could see the soulless eyes of albino creatures watching me pass. They had nothing but time down there to spin their gossamer traps across my path, the delicate strands against my skin creating surging hysteria. That cellar door should have been cemented shut, trapping the demons forever, but instead we were offered up for habitual sacrifice—all for a lousy nightshade vegetable. I’m lucky to be telling the tale.

I became obsessed with avoiding spiders and bugs and worms and slugs. It didn’t help that I was watching far too many macabre B-movies featuring tarantulas, killer ants, bees, and snakes. Strolling barefoot through lush, dew-kissed grass had me on cloud nine until the day gelatinous slugs attached themselves to my feet. They sucked out my joy and I never indulged in that verdant oasis again. After heavy rains, long squiggly worms blanketed the sidewalks around our house in a carpet of slime. Our dog chose those times to whine for a potty break and my frantic efforts not to step on any were fruitless. I knew they had covert plans to leap off the pavement and slither up my legs, and I couldn’t wait to be back in the safety of my home. Spiders were everywhere and they terrified me. My entire family was deathly afraid and because no one wanted to get close enough to kill them, they roamed free, striking fear in our hearts. I flicked pinhead-sized ones off the window screen so they wouldn’t sneak inside and have a sudden growth spurt. I’ll never forget watching an episode of Night Gallery entitled “A Fear of Spiders” where a tiny spider in the sink grew to enormous proportions. One day, I found one lying in wait in the bathtub when I was preparing to take a shower. I grabbed a bottle of shampoo, let out an ear-piercing wail, and proceeded to savagely beat that poor harmless spider to death. My mother catapulted through the door, frightened I was being attacked, but dissolved into laughter upon witnessing the tail end of my murderous rampage. I read that spiders can crawl in your mouth while you’re sleeping and, after that tidbit, I’ve never been able to drift off without thoroughly checking the walls and ceilings. I would sleep with one eye open if I wasn’t petrified a spider would crawl in there too.

The glaring cracks in the sidewalk began to vie for my attention in a detrimental way so I avoided them whenever possible. It wasn’t that I worried about “breaking my mother’s back,” but I didn’t want to be struck down for shunning the rules of sidewalk etiquette.

My mother was fond of singing the praises of our neighbors with their spotless houses and color coordinated towels folded to perfection in the closet. Why she was privy to the contents of their closets was anyone’s guess, but keeping up with neighborhood standards was something she strived to achieve. The way we torpedoed through piles of towels in our house, she needn’t have worried so much since the linen closet was usually bare. Whenever we were expecting company, she went into a cleaning frenzy, though our house looked acceptable to me. Messy closets were low on my list of serious impediments. I was content as long as everyone removed their shoes and coats at the front door. It was quite a different story when something was amiss in my room. I didn’t need Sherlock Holmes to tell me an intruder had entered because I knew how I had left everything—down to the tiniest detail. I confronted my family after every perimeter breach and cross-examined them until someone came clean. My sister teased that I would notice if one piece of blank paper was missing from the stack. Damn right. I was incensed if my family dared to go through my things, but I was adept at snooping around in their things. Maybe I inherited that from my mother. I pawed through other people’s possessions on a regular basis but returned them to the same position with the exactness of an overzealous butler. The odd time when I wasn’t certain, I wigged out over my slipshod approach to the task at hand. I’d fret for days, waiting to be chastised, but luckily not everyone was like me—they didn’t give a hoot.

My mother was a worrywart, and she passed that trait on to her children. She let us have free rein but never let us forget she was on pins and needles whenever we were out of sight. This may have been a slight exaggeration on her part since I often disappeared after lunch and dawdled home only when the sky began to darken, but I took it to heart. I developed my worry habit early, imagining all sorts of horrible things if she didn’t come home from work or her frequent bingo nights at the expected time. I scolded her for upsetting me as I had come to the conclusion that either her car had rolled into a ditch, or she had been kidnapped by roving bandits. I worried about my parents divorcing; I worried about money; I worried about school and tests; I worried about dying. Not only me dying, but anyone close to me. When saying my prayers each night, I rattled off the names of everyone in my circle, willing death to go away and take someone I didn’t know. Sorry if the grim reaper came to your house because of me.

Through some miracle, I managed to dodge the triad of childhood maladies. Instead, I was plagued by vicious migraines, chronic stomach aches, and painful bouts of strep throat. I was happy not to suffer the itchy rashes and disfiguring blisters that raged through my school, but at least my classmates’ scabs healed and they moved on with their lives. I had to identify the root of my suffering before I could do the same.

My obsessions and compulsions did not go unnoticed by my family, and they pulled no punches when it came to teasing me. What they found hilarious played as a tragedy in my mind. They roared with laughter around the kitchen table, entertaining my favorite uncle with tales of my abnormal behaviors until I tore out of the room in tears. My grandfather, who was a man of few words, offered a comforting hug and encouraged me to ignore them. Buoyed by his compassion and advice, I resolved then and there to be resilient when faced with their mockery. We were, after all, a family known for its biting sarcasm and witty comebacks. Years later, I would realize finding the humor in everything was what got me through the tough times. I would also realize they had plenty of their own issues with germs, which gave me ample opportunities to throw my own zingers.



School Daze

Having to deal with my obsessive-compulsive behavior at school, while pretending I was a normal, happy-go-lucky child, was nerve-racking. I rode the bus to school every day and it was smooth sailing—until it wasn’t. A thought seeped into my brain that the bus was filled with unimaginable germs and unseen things ready to attach themselves to me and I couldn’t shake it loose. I never had an easy ride after that. We had assigned seating and I hated being sandwiched between two other students, their clothes touching mine in winter, their bare skin rubbing against mine in summer. Some years, I was fortunate to have only one seatmate and though there was more room to breathe, it became increasingly difficult to sit without checking the entire seat first—and wiping it with my hand to get rid of the germs. I would sit down gingerly, never leaning back, while continuing to wipe away at the seat under my legs. I knew if I touched my back to the seat, something unspeakable would crawl up into my hair. How odd it never occurred to me these germs would latch onto my hands while I was wiping them away. My seatmate watched me go through these rituals every day with a bemused expression on her face and finally asked me why I always perched on the edge. I didn’t give her the real answer, because even I knew it sounded crazy. I only knew it had to be done.

As an elementary school kid, I used part of my recess to bang the back of my noggin in a deliberate, repetitive motion against the brick wall. I don’t know what compelled me to do this—I was a cute girl, popular with the boys, and top of my class—but it brought me comfort and relief at the time. My future self would be horrified by the potential damage I was doing to my brain.

I became persnickety in the classroom, not wanting anyone to touch my books, pencils, or my Scooby-Doo lunchbox—and certainly not wanting to touch theirs. I wouldn’t dare submit a paper with a mistake. Most kids scribbled their way through mistakes, but I would start all over again until I had a perfect specimen. Coloring outside the lines was not an option. If there was a tiny tear or crease in my paper, I was despondent. Sometimes I made a spelling error on the last sentence of an essay, igniting disproportionate anger with myself—and the paper for daring to mock me. Once, I was about to hand in a paper when a classmate moseyed over eating a cookie and spit out a moist crumb while she was talking to me. I watched it fly through the air in slow motion and stick the landing dead center on my pristine paper. It would have scored a perfect ten at the Olympics. She nonchalantly wiped it away with her hand, which made it smear. I was livid but didn’t say anything. Instead, I waited for her to head out for recess and rewrote the whole paper. The thought of handing it in with that hideous stain was unbearable.

I developed a love of reading at a young age, and I could never be without a book. I brought them home from school but was troubled by how germy the outside covers must be, so I lined the kitchen table with paper towels before opening the book. Depending on the condition of the book, it was sometimes to prevent the book germs from contaminating my table, and other times it was to prevent unswept dinner crumbs from transferring to my book.

I was a rough-and-tumble kind of girl with scuffed shoes, grass stains, and leaves in my hair, always ready to best the boys on the playground. How surprising it was to everyone when, out of the blue, I couldn’t stand wearing the same clothes more than once—or for the whole day. My mother was thrilled with my desire to be clean until faced with the never-ending piles of laundry, but it was more exhausting trying to reason with me than to throw in an extra load or two. I had no use for tainted clothing, and I didn’t want it in my sight. I’d pick it up with my fingertips and throw it in the laundry room, getting it as far away from me as possible.

After gym class, or during recess, all the kids made a beeline for the drinking fountain. It was an exciting foot race to be first and we laughed and shouted at the person guzzling to hurry up. Before long, it fell out of favor with me, at first because I was terrified of chipping a tooth if someone bumped into me. The school bully displayed his with pride and I knew it wouldn’t be a good look for me. Then I noticed how many kids were putting their lips on the spout, instead of slurping from the arc of cascading water, and I could no longer subject myself to such a distasteful activity. Bobbing for apples at Halloween parties was definitely not in my future.

It was perplexing that other kids didn’t share my concerns, but in spite of my fears, I achieved good grades and participated in most normal childhood activities. Keeping busy and active was an effective remedy for the anxiousness. I joined a softball team, had school crushes, and went shopping and to the movies with family and friends. With reluctance, I babysat the neighborhood kids to earn pocket money. I was grateful when their houses were cleaner than my own so I could relax and not dwell on my surroundings. However, some appeared uninhabitable and I spent the evening cleaning because I couldn’t stand the chaos. When my housekeeping duties exhausted me and I needed a catnap, I inspected the couch with the same attention I gave my science experiments. If I deemed it too stained and germy for my liking, I spread my jacket out and lay on it for protection. I was a terrific babysitter because I watched the kids with razor-sharp focus, not letting them touch anything dirty or dangerous, and checked on them in twenty-minute intervals while they slept—to see if they were still breathing. I stared at them from above, like a predator in a slasher film, watching the rise and fall of their chests until I was convinced they were not dead.

I loved riding my bike for hours, my arms outstretched to take on the world and the wind turning my cheeks rosy—and my hair ratty. Allowing myself to get lost in the moment afforded me a respite from my churning thoughts. I rode with a neighborhood boy every day, and we had meaningful conversations about life as we pedaled in sync along the pasture-lined country roads. The trusting, soulful eyes of the grazing cows conveyed that our secrets were safe with them. It was an innocent and carefree bit of happiness until I was teased at school about my “boyfriend” and it ruined everything. I never rode with him again. Each day, he parked his bike outside my house like a lovesick puppy, but I hid until he went away. The loss of my sidekick was infused with melancholy, but soon I was having crazy adventures with my girlfriends and, while I was in their presence, I was immersed in the fun. But, left to my own devices, the thoughts crept back in and made my life a capricious mess again.

As I got older, random things infuriated me. When my mother hung the laundry outside, I had an apoplectic fit if black specks were on my clothes—I imagined it was fly poop or dead bugs—and heaven forbid if she dropped anything on the ground. We had a sweet, goofy dog who enjoyed lounging in the shade cast by the hanging clothes, and I knew there had to be pee and other revolting things on the ground waiting to defile my clean underwear. It didn’t make a difference if we used the indoor dryer. My clothes could touch nothing but the inside of the washer and dryer. Whenever an item of clothing landed on the floor, I burst into tears and struggled to rip the offending garment into shreds in aggrieved protest—and then I stuffed it back in the laundry basket.

One of my chores was to mow our lawn with the gas-powered push mower, and it filled me with grim anticipation of the blade flying out and cleanly slicing off a limb. It wasn’t that far-fetched—half the blade did break off while my sister’s boyfriend was cutting our lawn, whirling past the noses of our oddball neighbors sitting in their backyard and nearly decapitating them. The thought of mowing over a stray piece of gravel from the driveway was also petrifying because I was certain it would be sucked up, gather momentum, and be flung back out—taking my eye with it.

On nights when it was my turn to wash the dinner dishes, it took hours to finish the job. Everyone was halfway to dreamland and I was up to my elbows in suds. The water had to be scalding hot, the bubbles plentiful, and each dish required prolonged washing. I would go into a deep trance while scrubbing an already sparkling clean plate or glass. Upon emerging from this state, I began the vigorous rinsing process. After reading a tabloid article, my sister solemnly told us we could die from ingesting soap residue so that became a major concern. I’ve since researched this and don’t believe it to be true, but it doesn’t stop me from destroying any bubble in my path.

I also developed an irresistible hand washing habit that left my hands and wrists chapped, raw, and an unbecoming shade of red. Germs were everywhere and they had to be dealt with lickety-split. Public toilets were a menace and instead of lining the seat with toilet paper, I put my hands on the toilet seat and sat on them. This is impossible to comprehend, but at the time it made perfect sense to provide a solid barrier to the germs and then scrub my hands at the sink, as if prepping for surgery.

I took my first unchaperoned trip with a girlfriend to an annual fair, which was a two-hour train ride away, and we were so excited to be off on our own little adventure. We ended up meeting a couple of older boys on the train, and they invited us back to their car. As usual, I had no worries of stranger danger because I craved the excitement more. They had a bottle of booze and passed it around with a flourish. My friend and I stole a glance at each other and mouthed our agreement to go for it. We had a rollicking time until I whispered my fear of having caught a horrible disease from the shared bottle, which ground our hazy merriment to a halt. Her eyes bulged as my contagious anxiety took hold, but she forgot about it once we were squealing with delight on the roller coasters. However, these intrusive thoughts stayed with me for weeks and, to save myself the incessant torment, I vowed to never again share a bottle, glass, or straw with mysterious strangers.

Many times, the challenges of getting ready to go out were insurmountable. My eyeliner smudged, my panty hose ripped, my hair misbehaved, and I went ballistic. With demented eyes, I clenched my teeth so hard my jaw ached, and I grabbed handfuls of my hair and yanked it with all the strength I could muster. I ripped off my useless nylons and tore them to shreds in a wild frenzy. I screamed and cried and wouldn’t come out of my room. My vision turned black and my mind swirled with rage, leaving me frightened and disoriented. Was this normal behavior for a hormonal teenager or was my anxiety driving me insane?



Friends and Family Matters

My close friends and family are a wonderful bunch. They respect my limitations and are happy to indulge me without making a fuss. I’m not expected to do things I’m uncomfortable with and they know how to share food properly. Sometimes it takes a while to get to that place, but once we do, it’s comforting and easy, and I appreciate them so much for that. We keep things easygoing and fun and don’t let our individual quirks impact our relationship. Yet, calamities occur on occasion, causing my blood pressure and anxiety levels to spike.

Why is it necessary for people to snap a photo of every single moment in their lives? How about just living it? Here’s an interesting concept—the brain can be used to store our most precious memories unless, of course, it happens to be failing, in which case snap away to your heart’s content. What other people do is irrelevant—as long as it doesn’t impact me in a negative way. It’s destined that, right when I’m poised to dive into a visually stunning and optimum-temperature meal, my dining companion will shout, “Take a picture of me posing with my food!” and shove her phone in my face. Um, that’s a big fat no. I will not be touching your filthy phone, which is perhaps worse than licking a toilet seat and will necessitate a trip to the bathroom to wash my hands again. Besides leaving my food unattended—and vulnerable to an ill-timed cough or sneeze—it will be cold and unappealing upon my return. Find another sucker. Maybe that person won’t mind being invaded by an army of bacteria.

We all have friends or relatives who, without fail, have a blossoming cold sore on their lips, yet remain steadfast in their desire to plant a firm kiss on your face. Cold sores are a fact of life and quite common, but if you have one, please keep it to yourself. I don’t even want to be in the vicinity of an awkward air kiss. I’m addicted to watching old familiar game shows, but I still cringe when Family Feud’s Richard Dawson kisses every woman on the lips. He was the host for eleven years! What about the bride who has one festering—and pulsating in sync with the disco beat—yet proceeds to pucker up for everyone in the receiving line? I had a boss who was such a kind soul, but he greeted the women in our office each morning with a peck on the lips. Slack-jawed, I shrunk back in my chair in a bid to be invisible as I watched this spectacle unfold. Whenever he approached, I appeared busy or did a quick turn of the cheek if he caught me off guard. Unless we’re in a relationship, no kiss of yours shall land anywhere on my body. If anyone nabs me without my permission, I spend the next few agonizing minutes scrutinizing their lips for evidence of a cold sore. If I can’t be certain, my lips and cheeks prickle as if frostbitten, and I have an overwhelming desire to race to the bathroom and scrub them raw.

Hugging is a tough call. On the one hand, a well-timed warm and comforting hug can send my blues packing or cause my heart to swell with love. But one of my friends flings her arm around my neck in a stranglehold whenever we get together, flattening my coiffed hair in the process. I have to pry her fingers loose to extricate myself from her grasp and reclaim my safe space. After pulling away from an unforeseen hug, I scan the audacious trespasser from head to toe, looking for obvious signs of dangerous germs or particles. If the hugger is a smoker or is wearing perfume that will cling to me for hours, has visible dandruff, or looks scruffy, my body becomes so stiff the director of Weekend at Bernie’s would applaud.

Details are the backbone of my existence. If a story sounds fishy, my inquisitive nature will not let it go until I sniff out the truth. Most of my friends have learned not to tell me about an article they skimmed, or embellish a story, unless they are fully equipped to back it up with facts and figures. If they are going to tell me a tall tale, it had better not have holes in it, or I will pounce on it like a mouse on Swiss cheese. I don’t care about the story, or the truth, but rather that they think I’m not paying close enough attention to question their balderdash or deride them for their lack of information. They often regret telling me anything and begin backing toward the door, but I don’t let them get away that easily. To quote the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared!”

My sisters and I have shared many experiences, and we often have similar fanatical thoughts and reactions when it comes to cleanliness and germs and bugs and health issues. This proves to be a hindrance when we end up feeding off each other’s rampant fears. All I can say is one of us needs to be the voice of reason, and it probably isn’t going to be me.



Love Is a Dangerous Thing

Finding a balanced, healthy, and loving relationship is something to which I always aspire, but wanting to hose someone down before he touches me doesn’t make it easy. I suppose some men may enjoy that as a form of foreplay, but I suspect such a request would send most of them running for the hills. Instead, I choose my words with care, sprinkling the conversation with a subtle “Have you tried my expensive new soap yet?” or “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable if you slipped into these soft, freshly-laundered pajamas?” Getting in the mood is an arduous undertaking when I’m wondering where his hands have been. I can’t imagine how my grimace is mistaken for seduction. Guys, please pay attention to my signals. You’ll get a lot further.

If I like someone enough to invite him over, it’s borderline tolerable to let him sit on my couch in his street clothes. I’m usually able to quash my revulsion before it reveals itself on my face, though I’m cringing everywhere else. But, if he tries to be cute by sauntering into my room and flopping seductively on my bed in full outdoor clothing, the alarm bells go off in my head. This is guaranteed to set a mood-killing precedent unless I nip it in the bud, and that means stripping his clothes off before he makes it to my room. Sigh, so much extra work for me.


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