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    Marianna was asleep when her mother came in her room to check on her, but at the sound of the creaky door opening she awoke. She quickly closed her eyes as her mother shut the door again, wondering what could provoke her mother to check up on her at a time like this. Her mother sat at the end of her bed and started to whisper something to herself, but Marianna was hardly even listening. She was imagining the germs that her mother was leaving on the blankets. She could almost see them spreading up the comforter and heading straight toward her. They were crawling up her skin, she could feel it! When Mari couldn’t take the disgusting little specks anymore she screamed, and her mother jumped and shrieked. “What is it Mari? What’s wrong?” Marianna couldn’t even answer, for she was now sobbing under her sheets. Her mother rushed over to her and hugged her, but that just made her cry harder. She could still see the miniscule bacteria crawling up her arms and legs, and her mothers arms around her were causing more of them to appear. Marianne knew that they would surely swallow her up or eat her or plague her in some other way if she didn’t do  something. So she did something to escape the little black dots. Mari tore the covers off of her body and ran straight for the bathroom across the hall to start scrubbing herself, leaving a very confused mother in the room next to her.
    “Marianna, Dr. Hartford is ready for you.” Marianna got up from the small waiting room chair and followed her mom into the superbly clean office where a man in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck was waiting for her. She walked with her bright white High-Tops and her crisp and clean shorts and favorite pink blouse on. Marianna didn’t know why she was here, but figured it had something to do with the way she had reacted to the germs. A ten year old girl isn’t supposed to be that obsessed with cleanliness like Mari was, and her poor mother didn’t know what to do about it except take her to this highly recommended doctor. There were things Mari’s mother didn’t know though- things that Marianna kept completely to herself. Mari was musing over this with a dazed look on her face when the doctor started to talk. “Hello, Marianna. I am Dr. Hartford and I am here to help you with how you feel when you see the germs and dirt and grime all over your body,” the doctor said with a kind smile. He had wrinkles around his eyes and mouth when he smiled, Marianna noticed, but was otherwise highly attractive. Her mother was sitting across from the doctor in a chair, and was staring forlornly, the way she always looked when she wanted something she couldn’t have. Mari didn’t understand why she looked like this right now but couldn’t dwell on it because the doctor was starting to talk again. “I would like for you to answer me this, Mari. Do you ever walk in a rhythm, with the right or left foot going first and progressing from there?” Marianna  was shocked that this man knew her habit, and glanced at her mother for a second before realizing that she was still looking at the doctor, though now in a hopeful sort of way. Then she glanced at the mans hand and the smile on her face quickly faded away, though Mari had no idea why. All that Marianna saw was a watch on his wrist and a gold ring on his finger. Her mother quickly looked up when she noticed Mari staring at her, and plastered on an encouraging smile. “Yes.” Mari answered in a shaky voice. “Yes, I do.”
    Marianna’s mothers pale blue eyes shot up at her, though she had no clue why. All it that the walking thing was was a habit. It couldn’t actually mean anything, could it? Marianna didn’t know and didn’t really want to. She was glancing around the room nervously before focusing on a highly interesting spot on her shoe. Her looks were not missed by the doctor, who quickly noted something on the clipboard in his hand. Mari thought about herself for a minute and decided that there had to be something wrong with her. Who else thought that germs were going to take her over, or that something or someone would come to kill her if she stepped with her right foot before her left? Apparently that wasn’t the only question the doctor had for Mari though, because he was talking again. “Mari, I think I know why you see the germs and why you walk this way. I only need you to answer me one more question. Do you ever see something out of order, like books on a bookcase or dishes in a cabinet that aren’t exactly right and want to fix them immediately?” Marianna didn’t  know how to say what she was feeling right now. She felt tired all of a sudden and wanted to go lay down, and her mom wasn’t being much help either. “Yes.” Marianna answered, “All the time. When I see that the dishwasher isn’t loaded correctly or the books on my moms shelf aren’t in alphabetical order I just want to scream, but instead I just fix it quietly. Is that bad? Is there something wrong with me.?” Marianna didn’t want to be different from her class, and certainly didn’t want to tell her friends all of this. Why wasn’t her mother saying something? Mari’s eyes filled to the brim with tears before spilling over. Then the doctor answered quietly, “No Marianna, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are just a little…different, but that’s a good thing. You’re special, and I’m going to tell you and your mother why. Mari, you have something called O.C.D. which is short for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It makes you obsess over little things like germs or books in alphabetical order. It makes you think that everything has to be perfect or something terrible is going to happen.” Dr. Hartford paused for a second and licked his lips, something Marianna found quite disgusting. She could see the tiny greenish black germs crawling out of his mouth toward her, and she started sobbing even harder. Mari had a “disorder” and that meant something was wrong with her. She was different and her mom didn’t care, all her mom cared about was men and those large bottles of red liquid that she thought Mari didn’t see in the fridge. Mari heard her getting up at night to get another after she had finished off half of the last bottle, and she would always stumble around the kitchen  before finally opening up the fridge. Mari would then here liquid being poured into a glass before her mother went back into her room, the T.V. blaring loudly on the Jerry Springer Show or something of that nature. Marianna had trained herself to go to sleep earlier so she wouldn’t here those sounds, but she was always awoken by the clinking of glasses being put in the sink or the fridge being opened loudly. Mari hadn’t gotten up the nerve to ask her mom what she was doing all those nights yet, and didn’t ever seem to have a chance to. Her mother was at work most of the time trying to scrounge up just enough money to pay rent on the house and to buy more bottles of red liquid. Mari was thinking over this with tears streaming down her face while her mother spoke to the doctor.
    Mari was contemplating all of her problems while her mother drove her  home from the doctor’s office. Then her mother spoke. “You know, baby, you don’t have anything wrong with you. You’re special, and nobody can take that away from you. You should try to make the best out of this O.C.D. thing and wear it like it’s a prize.” Marianna sighed, and tried to think of the best way to break the news to her mother. ‘Well, here goes nothing.’ Mari thought. She took a deep breath and began, “Mom, it’s called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder! The word disorder is right there in the name! I have something wrong with me that other people don’t and I am not going to wear it like it’s a prize!”  Mari’s face was red with anger and she had sweat trickling down her face from the hot and humid summer air. Her mother’s old red Ford pick-up didn’t have air conditioning and the cracked leather was always warm to the touch in summer. Mari’s mother turned to her looking older than she was, with crow’s feet around her eyes and yellow cracked teeth and frowned a desperately sad frown. Then she speaks. “Mari, I know this is hard for you to hear but there is nothing wrong with you. You don’t believe that now but I hope that someday you will realize this about yourself.” Mari’s mom pauses, gulping in air and looking sickly green. “I love you more than life itself but I need you to be strong for me. There is no doubt in my mind that this is harder for you than it is for me but we need to push through it together!” This is where Marianna’s mother stopped, her cornflower blue eyes that Mari had always found so intriguing welling up with tears and finally spilling over onto her face. Mari’s dark hair feel over into her face, but she didn’t bother to move it. She didn’t want her mother to see the tears falling down her face anyway.
    When they pulled into the gravel drive to their small but comfortable home, Marianna unlocked her door and jumped out before her mother could say anything else about her problem. The doctor had given her some pills that were supposed to help her with her issues, and Mari was anxious to take them. She hastily shoved her house key into the hole and turned. The house was muggy and warm from being locked up all day in the Missouri sun, and Marianna quickly decided to open up the old cracked windows to air the place out a bit. She pushed the frayed  blue curtains back and pushed the window open. The breeze was nice on her face, but she couldn’t help but think about how unclean it was to stand this close to the moldy old window screen. She tried to push these thoughts out of her head, but couldn’t do it. ‘What is wrong with me?’ she  silently wondered to herself. Then she pulled the pills from her handbag and stuffed two into her mouth dry. She didn’t feel any change but realized that they probably weren’t going to give her instantaneous relief. She ran outside to her mother who was walking around the yard puffing on a cigarette and looking very thoughtful. Mari almost ran up to her before realizing that she was on the phone with somebody. Mari ran back inside the house, crying for the third time that day. So much for being proud of herself and her problems and all those lies about love. Her mother didn’t care at all did she? Mari ran over the dirty tile of the kitchen and swung the door of the fridge open. She proceeded to rummage around in the disorganized fridge before pulling out two large bottles of the red liquid her mother was so fond of. She pulled the cork out and took a large swig of it, but quickly spat it back all over the ground. It was bitter and nasty, like rotten grape juice and she had no idea why anybody would like to drink it. So instead of drinking it Mari did the only thing she could think of. She picked the bottles up and smashed them on the hard tile simultaneously, causing the white tile to turn red and a bitter scent to fill the kitchen. Her mother came running into the house when  she heard this, and looked shocked at the sight of the liquid running all over the old cracked floor. She looked angry for a moment, but then her hard expression turned soft and she knelt down beside Marianna who was breathing hard and looking around wildly for something to turn to. Her mother buried her face in Marianna’s hair and whispered something to her. “I love you.” she whispered. “No matter what I love you.” Marianna knew that it was true this time, for the liquid that she knew her mother loved was gone and she wasn’t angry with her. “I’m sorry, Mama.” Mari whispered to her mother through her tears, looking thoroughly weary and beat. “Don’t be honey. Don’t  be. You helped me by doing this, and I love you for it. I hope I have such good luck next time.” Next time? Marianna thought. She glanced down at her mother’s waist and then back at her mothers face. Her mom beamed and started to laugh. “I’m four months along and am going to take some time off work to be with you and the new baby. It’s a good thing you smashed the alcohol because wine is not good for little babies. I need to stop smoking too, but it’s really hard. Will you help me like you did today with the wine baby? Go get rid  of these okay?” Marianna’s mother pulled out a package of cigarettes from her pocket. Mari took them wordlessly with a smile that reached from ear to ear. Then she asked the question that had been on her mind since her mom had announced the news- “Who is the baby’s daddy?” she asked. At this my mom frowned, but steeled herself to answer the question truthfully. “A man who I thought loved me. I met him at work and one night things got out of hand and… well it’s safe to say that he will not be part of the baby’s life. But who knows, maybe I will find someone someday,” she answered with a hopeful smile. Marianna realized then that her mother was hugging her and she wasn’t worrying about germs. Her mother did too apparently at the same time, because she squeezed even harder. “We have to change our lives baby, but maybe it’s for the better that we do it. I love you baby.” “I love you too, Mama.”

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