I tug mercilessly on my short auburn hair, watching the bright, thin strands fall onto the clean, white tiles. Carpet’s were too much for me, I tore them up from distress, cursing every speck of lint, every molecule of dust, every bacterium that had dare land on the fluffy sheet of white.
Tiles were much better.
Easier to clean, easier to spot straying hairs, dust, lint, anything.
I quickly swoop down to snatch up the strand of hair, accidently brushing my hand against the cool surface of the ground, I recoil in shock,
“No, no, no. No. Breath. Relax. No. No Ella. No.” I forcefully open my hand, watching the reddish strands float onto the white surface, I shake my head quickly and force myself to look at something else, the white ceiling.
Then, like a pair of cold hands grabbing my head and forcing it around, my eyes snap to the strands of hair, I shake with effort not to grab it. I bit my lip and stuff my hand in the pocket, where it hits a piece of stray string.
Why haven’t I noticed it was there?
Or how it could be coated with the strep throat virus?
Close your eyes.
I fidget with the trim of my white shirt.
The waistband of my white pants.
Adjust my white headband.
I can’t help it anymore.
I bend down to pick up the strands of hair, biting harshly on my lip. The sharp metallic taste of of blood fills my mouth and I force myself to swallow it. I immediately regret it. A sharp, stinging sensation pierced my lip and dulls into a painful throb. Why did I pick that up?
I shuffle forwards, harshly scolding myself.
“No. Bad Ella. You know you shouldn’t have.” I let loose a shuddering sigh as I pull open the lid to the white trash can and toss the strands in. I shudder as it falls into the bottom of the clear plastic bag, trembling with effort not to take it out. I slam the lid back on and rush towards the sink.
I dial in the code, hesitating for a second,
As my therapist taught me, ask the question.
Is this truly necessary? The words rang through my head,
Yes. You touched the ground, the trash.
I raise my hand to the numbers,
A small sound clicks and I turn on the faucet, careful not to touch anything else.
The sound of running water calms my nerves, I sigh with relief as I scrub my hands under the cool, clean water for about one minute before I carefully put my hand under the soap dispenser.
I then scrub my hands, wash them, scrub more, wash them. Suddenly, another click sounds and the water shuts. I growl, I know I should wash my hands more, think of all the germs that I hadn’t scrubbed off!
I glance at my hands, thin, red from constant washing, with peeling skin and short nails, just in case I start scratching myself. Then, I also won’t constantly fear the bacteria lurking under my fingernails.
I wobble over to my bed, straightening the sheets for the hundredth time this morning, running my hand over every crease until it’s perfect. Then I sanitize my hands with a rubbing alcohol wipe.
I collapsed onto my bed.
I had failed. Again. The hundredth time this morning. Controlled by the endless compulsions I have. I curl into a small ball.
I know I shouldn’t. I really do. Yet I have no control. Sometimes, I wished I didn’t realize, that way it wouldn’t hurt me so much.
What if i get skin cancer from washing my hands so much, or from that ray of sunlight? I rush forwards, shutting the curtains, then I race over to the sink again.
By the time I was finished, my hands were raw and red. I stifled a scream.
Why? Why? Why? I scream inside of my head. I quickly hurry back to my bed before any more germs can get on me. I peel off my socks and set them on the far side of the bed, fearing if I touch them again I’ll catch yellow fever. Or worse, Ebola.
I quickly grab another wipe and wipe my hands three times with it, making sure to get every single bit. There’s only one left, and I get 50 wipes each day. Normally I can leave one or two unused, when mother comes to replace them.
I know I should resist, the more I accept my compulsions because of my impulsions, the worst it gets. I know very well that the temporary relief is nothing compared to the cost of my constant actions.
I sniffle softly, knowing that I had failed again.
But I feel like there’s no way of helping myself, I force myself to run my fingers against the bumpy surface of the walls.
I try to resist. I really do.
I can’t though.
I curled into a small ball, shaking violently. Finally, I can no longer hold the scream building in my throat. I unleash a blood curdling screech.
“Why? Why? WHY?” I scream, hot tears pouring over the rim of my eyes, down my cheeks, and splattering against my white pillow. I gasp in terror and quickly wipe it off. I then close my eyes and try to calm down.
I finally wipe my cheeks, warm tears still rolling down my chin one by one. I catch them and wipe my hands against my white shirt. I let loose another sob, hiccupping and shivering. I pull the covers over my head. Suddenly in fear of all the airborne viruses, under my covers is where I hide for what seems like days. Finally, I hear the door creak open.
My heart stops. My breathing rapidly increases, is it an intruder? Terrorist? I will myself not to breath as the footsteps come closer.
A warm hand pulls back the cover, now wet, and reveals me, drenched in sweat and tears and blood where I had started digging my nails into my palms. Luckily my nails are short. I whimper as the hand pushes the hair from my forehead back, and takes me in her arms.
I bite my lip again and the dams break loose, spilling another river of tears,
“I’m so sorry….I did it again.” I whisper, burying my face into my mother’s clean white pants, inhaling the sweet scent of her.
“Oh sweet. It’s never your fault, you're getting better!” Mother cries, cradling my head, stroking my hair. But I can hear her voice shaking and I see her glance over at the box of wipes.
“It won’t ever get better, will it?” I ask softly, Mom froze,
“Oh sweetie, I hate to lie to you, but I really think it will though.” Mom soothingly said, brushing a tear from my cheek. I sigh and get up, my head spinning from a sudden burst of vertigo.
I hug my mother,
“I’m going to go take a shower. I’m filthy. I should go before the blood dries” or I get a blood infection, I add quietly in my mind,
I said filthy like someone else might say “Dead”, blood like someone else might say “water”.
I grasp her warm hand and walk over slowly, punching in the numbers,
Mom nods, “Be quick, I’ll set the timer for 40 minutes, I’ll go grab your clothes.”
I smile at her, but it hurts my bleeding, swollen lips, “When I’m done. Will you be here for me?”
Mom smiles, but I can see her eyes growing moist,
“Oh Ella, I will always be here for you.”
I hug her one last time and step inside, careful only to step on the middle of the tiles. I bit my lip. For my mother.
To repay every tear I cost her. Every minute she gave up her work to help me and my sisters. I take a deep breath.
I lift my chin and walk over, flinching at each edge I trod on. Ignoring the millions of bacterium clinging to the soles of my bare feet.