BY JORDAN ABBRUZZESE
Over spring break, my mother decided on a whim to drive to Kentucky and stay with a family friend. I decided to go with her, eager for something to do, for a crazy “what happens on such-and-such beach stays on such-and-such beach” kind of week was not really on my radar. Upon arriving, we excitedly connected with this friend, animated and reunited. While catching us up on her life, sitting cross legged on the full sized bed in her guest room, she eventually told us about all of her niece’s recent mental health problems, which the doctors were trying to link to her gluten intolerance. At the time, I was being tested for Celiac Disease (which came back negative), but was struggling with some stomach issues of my own. She concluded the conversation with telling me that her niece had been diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, and was, at a young adult age, already struggling with paranoia. I was taken aback, the finely tuned cogs in my brain turning, for they were conditioned to spin quickly and often. I thought of my stomach, and my anxieties, and quietly bit the insides of my cheeks and rubbed my fingertips across my pants.
A list of things that I am extremely terrified of:
- loud noises
- being held at gunpoint without being able to move or save myself
- a close family member or friend dying unexpectedly
- the dark
A series of conversations between my peers and myself:
Random Person 1: So, do you not brush your teeth?
Me: Of course I do.
Random Person 1: But how, if you don’t like toothpaste?
Me: There are specific rules. The squirted toothpaste can only roughly be the size of a pea, and has to land directly on my toothbrush. None of it can be around the top, the sides, or the cap of the toothpaste tube or else it’ll crust. When brushing, I have a distinct pattern (back left top of molars, back right top of molars, back left bottom of upper molars, back right bottom of upper molars, back left upper sides then around to the front then back right upper sides, repeat on bottom starting at the back right, insides of teeth starting at the top bottom jaw, brush tongue). When I spit out the foam, I have to splash water over it completely until it is out of the sink and then fully rinse my toothbrush. Sometimes I turn the faucet so that the water is steaming hot, in an attempt to kill anything that is left over. I never wipe my mouth on my towel because it will leave an eternal, minty residue. I have to finish with washing my hands, just to make sure that they don’t smell like toothpaste.
Random Person 1: Oh… (look of concern).
Random Person Two: So, do you not brush your teeth?
Me: Of course I do.
Random Person Two: But how, if you don’t like toothpaste?
Me: Very carefully.
Random Person Three: So, do you not brush your teeth?
Me: What am I, disgusting?
I pray for my sanity. For my head to be quiet, to stop the insistent buzzing and pushing that only talks in silence, that makes any audible voices from those around me fade and echo. My conscience is fucked. Is it all right that I just said “fucked” in a prayer? Well, you’re God, right? Like, you invented “fuck.” So I guess it’s fine. Help me breathe without realizing that I’m breathing, to dress without feeling the fabric on my skin or the weight of my hair on my head. To not analyze and be aware of every movement, like I am watching my body through a camera lens. Aid to end the suffocating from my mental compressing my physical that leaves me unable to do anything but lie on my butterfly-printed sheets and pick at the chip in my dusty, periwinkle-painted wall.
I have a really hard time sitting in movie theaters. I like to get to the movie early, so I can sit all the way in the back row. In pit-styled theaters, I can pull this off as wanting to have a better view. Hey guys, I bet we’d have a good experience all the way in the back! Let’s go! I casually lie to my fellow movie-goers while practically sprinting to the farthest seat possible from the screen. When my boyfriend goes with me, he knows it’s because I am afraid of getting shot by someone behind me. It has always been an irrational fear of mine. I do not like not knowing what is around me in the dark. My neck cramping, my goose-bumps standing at attention, trying to sense each crinkling of a popcorn bag or squeak of a seat, and searching for potential danger over a duration of two hours is just not worth the ten dollars I pay for my ticket.
If I am in the back row, I only have to worry about the person changing the reel in the projector. I give this employee the benefit of my doubt, and all of my trust to (A) Keep the movie going and (B) Not harm me. I feel that it is a safe bet. My mother always told me that I was being silly, like when I told her I was afraid that my bathtub was going to fall through the floor while I was in it.
In high school, my friends used to put their old gum-wrappers in my bag because they thought it was hilarious when I would find them and start to cry. I could not bring myself to throw the trash away, because I knew that my fingertips would smell exceedingly minty, even after washing them. When I was younger, my mom would ask me to dig out her checkbook or cell phone from her bottomless purse while waiting in a drive through line. I would wince (and still do), knowing that her bag and all of its contents were contaminated by the stench of her faithful pack of Trident that would inevitably be thrown into a side pocket. The same anxiety would seize me whenever I would give her a hug while she was chewing gum. I would tighten my lips and hold my breath while leaning in, not breathing again until I was a couple of feet away from her.
My boyfriend used to try to touch me with toothpaste because he thought it was funny. He eventually stopped a couple of years ago when I had a mild panic attack after he took gum out of his mouth in front of me.
Clarification: It’s not that I do not like minty things. I eat candy canes. And I always take full advantage of the free mints at the Chinese Garden Buffet.
I have told my mother that I might be on the path to a serious mental disorder. She told me to “stop saying things like that,” and changed the conversation to whether or not I liked the wallpaper in the living room, or if I thought that she should change it. Her alarmed expression and hint of recognition at my self-proclaimed diagnoses did not go unnoticed. She hides my problems behind her crème and maroon fleur de lis-ed walls.
My boyfriend listens and understands that he in fact, does not understand. He tells me that only I am in charge of my own head and thoughts. I think I’d rather someone else be in charge of them. Preferably a person who likes toothpaste, or can maybe even enjoy eating it by the tube.
What can you do when your thoughts control you? Sometimes you can evaporate the words nuzzling into your head and make them disappear. You can send them to the alienated planet of thoughts forgotten or wished away, but these thoughts are developed and smarter than you and can probably find transportation back to where they came from. And they do.
By the way, Marissa. Our sink? I know it was you.
|Jordan Abbruzzese recently graduated from Otterbein University with a B.A. in Creative Writing and a minor in music. She is an aspiring blogger and currently working as a Content & Communications Coordinator for a nonprofit organization. Jordan aims to watch as many cult television series as possible, actually make hiking a hobby instead of just saying it is a hobby to sound interesting, and keep the bamboo on her desk alive.|