The Bipolar Lens

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To Cling, or Not

Can obsession be a good thing?

I've been known to be a tad obsessive at times. I don't like to admit it. I prefer to think that I'm highly focused. Driven. Single-minded. But every now and then, even I have to acknowledge that I've gone slightly overboard.

Like with spiders. I hate spiders. Nasty, creepy, primeval things, with the emphasis on "evil." They're out to get me, I just know it. So when I was driving my car this afternoon and saw an enormous spider climbing on my side view mirror, I swerved all the way into the other lane, narrowly missing a Fed Ex truck. 

My window was closed; I was in no immediate danger of being attacked. Or rather, the only real danger I faced was that I couldn't stop staring at the spider as he clung to the mirror, all eight hairy legs spread-eagled across the glass. Several horns honked at me as I lurched from side to side, trying to knock him off. No luck. Revulsion gradually gave way to wonder: How the hell was he managing to hold on, despite the wind shear? 

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I was driving thirty miles per hour. I ruthlessly increased the speed to thirty-five, then forty. He stayed put. That spider had found a home.

I knew of a back street where there was never any traffic, and cops would be unlikely to lurk. Even though I was late for a doctor's appointment, I veered off in that direction. When I reached the street, I floored it: forty-five, fifty, fifty-five. I made a wild U-turn in the middle of the road, and came screeching to a halt. I looked at the mirror, and hooray! No spider.

Feeling triumphant and clever, I resumed my trip to the doctor at a more leisurely speed.  Approaching Sunset Boulevard, I flicked on my left turn signal, dutifully glanced at my side view mirror—and there it was, a single crooked leg pawing at the glass, followed by another, then another, then another, until the damn thing had crawled its way back home.

I shuddered, but I had to admire its tenacity. It was obsessed with this particular mirror, and refused to be evicted. Maybe obsession wasn't as bad a character trait as I had always imagined. Maybe if I gave my own obsessions freer reign, I could accomplish marvelous things, like this spider had in the face of great odds.  

So I decided I would give myself an entire day to be as obsessed as I liked. My mind scrambled among the myriad of possibilities, and quickly settled on the least productive one: men. One man in particular, who had called me yesterday and vaguely mentioned something about dinner tonight. It was three-thirty and I still hadn't heard from him. Was dinner on or off? I was miffed that he hadn't considered me enough of a priority to give me a call in the morning. Should I go ahead and eat something? Should I make other plans? And what about getting ready? Getting dolled up for dinner—especially a dinner date—meant mascara and eyeliner and maybe even a dress. That took time; how much did I have? And how did I even know what to wear, if I didn't know where we were going?

Annoyance quickly morphed into angst. Why couldn't I find a man who cared enough about me to make a simple commitment? The truth was, I was nobody's primary object. I was an afterthought, a maybe if, a rung below essential. I seized the pain and wrung it dry. What was wrong with me, that at fifty-one, I still had to worry about dinner dates?

I pulled into the doctor's parking lot, my eyes obscured by tears. I quickly opened the door and jumped out. The spider was sitting there, obviously in love with its reflection in the mirror. I whacked it with my purse, and it fell to the pavement and scuttled off. Obsession can be a dangerous thing, I thought. Better not to indulge it.

 

Terri Cheney is the author of Manic: A Memoir and The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar.

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