Amen, Amen, Amen

An exploration of how obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a gift

All I Really Want

It's not a dozen roses, but it does smell sweet.

I asked for lingerie. I’ve never done that before. And given my history of eating disorders, it’s kind of the last thing I’d ever wear even if I was on a deserted island and the bra cups were made of protein bars. But I thought after giving birth to our third kid, if we ever found time to have sex again, I should make it special. So I threw out the idea in passing maybe a week before.

“So, for Valentine’s Day, you need to get me something sexy.”

My husband Jay wiped some baby poop off his shorts before answering, “We celebrate Valentine’s Day now?”

Honestly, the only reason I knew it was coming up was because our daughter was furiously scribbling bubbly hearts for all her kindergarten friends. Also, Jay runs a martial arts school and on Valentine’s Day they were hosting a big karate pizza party. He asked if I wanted to come with the kids that night.

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“Yes please oh yay!” I yelped.

Jay works weeknights at his school and he knows I start panicking as soon as the sun starts melting into sunset. It’s illogical and obsessive of course. What starts as a simple “Mama, I have to poop” turns into a cataclysmic outbreak of diphtheria in my brain faster than I can count to ten. Jay has come home many nights to me practicing my deep breathing, hovered over an exposure video of people throwing up, or blaring the TV and the radio at the same time while I circle the apartment with incense.

So on Valentine’s Day this year, we all went to Jay’s school for karate, pizza, and a movie. I challenged myself not to wash the kids’ fingers or pull out my hand sanitizer. When we came home, we got the kids in bed and popped some popcorn. Jay found some documentary about mountain climbers almost losing their noses from frostbite and I started dozing with the baby. Really romantic, right?

It wasn’t actually until I climbed into bed a few hours later that I remembered

a) I never got my protein bar bra, and

b) The real gift was sitting on Jay’s nighttable.

Unwrapped. Well worn. I didn’t need to even touch it to feel its smooth cover. It was a book he’d ordered a few months ago and had been reading slowly, thoughtfully. A little bit each day. It’s called Loving Someone with OCD: Help for You and Your Family by Karen J. Landsman, Kathleen M. Rupertus and Cherry Pedrick.

I rolled over and whispered, “Thank you.” To which Jay snored.

And that, for me, is true love.

 

Abby Sher is a writer and performer in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying.

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