(original post-date: November 18, 2009)
I appreciate that, for some people, obsessive compulsive disorder is no laughing matter. In one manifestation of OCD, an afflicted individual must constantly stop his car, get out of it, and check to make sure he didn’t just run over some formerly living thing. In another, the disordered person is compelled to wash her hands so frequently that the skin becomes raw and is rid of its capacity to stave off bad bacteria.
I feel for these people. I really do. A brain disorder can disrupt personal freedom in a big way. It can become the monster in the room that breaks deals and thwarts growth.
My manifestation of OCD, however, is downright comical, and my former husband (whom we’ll call Ben) knew how to make us both laugh at it. Once, when we were shopping at Ralphs together, I tossed a box of tampons in our cart. “Did you check the date?” he asked, with deadpan delivery.
An hour or so later, after we had returned home and put away the groceries, I went into the living room. Ben stayed behind in the kitchen to make a sandwich. We had just bought peanut butter, jelly, and bread, so how could he resist?
After a few minutes, Ben entered the living room. He was carrying the jar of peanut butter and wearing an expressionless face. He approached the couch, where I was sitting. And as he slowly opened the jar, he asked, with feigned concern, “Do you think this is okay?”
He then held out the opened jar. Written into the smooth top of the fresh peanut butter was the word, “DIE.”
Quite a card, that ex-husband o’ mine. With the tine of a fork, he could make me laugh at myself.
These days, I share OCD laughs with my neighbor and friend, Neil*. We are afflicted by similar manifestations of the disorder. Which is to say, we both tend to check things multiple times (particularly things that might catch on fire). And we share the concern that otherwise edible foods and beverages might be tainted.
One afternoon a few years ago, I was returning home, and Neil heard me approach the courtyard we share. Before I’d had a chance to head upstairs to my apartment, he flung open his door across the way. He had that deer-in-headlights look – clearly upset about something.
He then explained that his cat had just walked across his desk, and when she did so, her tail brushed against his teeth. He wondered if…
Neil didn’t need to explain. Adapting a comforting tone, I said, “I’ve got some Listerine upstairs. Do you wanna come up and have a quick gargle?”
He thought that was a good idea, and so we headed up my stairs together.
Once we were in the kitchen, I pulled a small glass out of the cabinet and filled it with about a quarter-inch of Listerine. I handed it to him. Then, like two athletes in some relay event, we crossed paths. He headed to the sink as I went in the other direction.
But my eyes widened in a big way when he reached for the cold-water knob and began, “I’ll just dilute—”
“Not THAT water!” I screamed, interrupting him.
With no further ado, we both doubled over laughing.
Neil’s concern for what his cat’s tail might have left on his teeth was trumped in that moment by my fear of unfiltered L.A. water.
Crazy advises crazy. Nuts is there to provide solace to nuts. Our fears are absurd, and we both know it. But they’re our fears. Our often humorous fears. We own them, and we’re there for each other.
We’re there to laugh together at the people we just can’t help but be.
*not his real name