My husband Saul and I were powerless last Wednesday in our little town of Lambertville, NJ.
Not in the Alcoholics Anonymous sense of being powerless over alcohol or other substances although we are powerless over many things like that–Halo Top Ice Cream currently being at the top of that list. But that week we literally had no power in our house. A big snowstorm had blown out a transformer on the block behind us.
I have to admit that the previous week when a lot of our neighbors lost their power across the Delaware River from us in New Hope, Saul and I pretended to be concerned but were really a little smug. Better them than us we thought even if we didn’t exactly say it out loud.
But we go our comeuppance. And this power outage followed a tumultuous week. In fact, I still had the remnants of a black eye when it happened.
When you have a black eye no one really believes that you ran into a telephone pole. They think you were punched by your spouse or fell down stinking drunk.
I ran into the telephone pole because I was walking down the street from our house to pick up take-out sushi Saturday night and was doing an OCD thing that I have done for as long as I can remember. I was counting my steps by saying the alphabet to myself and assigning each letter a specific number according to how many straight and curved lines each letter had. “A” has three lines so it’s 3 steps. “0” is only one line so it’s one step. “T” is two lines so two steps.
It’s too easy. So sometimes when I am walking and counting I close my eyes except when I am counting the lines of a vowel. Eyes are open for the three steps of “A” then closed for the 6 steps from “B” to “D” then open again for the four steps of “E”.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t do this all the time. I’m not weird. I only do it when I am stressed or anxious which is only about 88% of the time. I was a nervous child and only a slightly less nervous adult.
So right when I got to the end of a long stretch of closed eye consonants (“J” through “N”—15 steps!) I ran smack into a telephone the pole. I ran back to the house where Saul was expecting me to walk in with delicious sushi, but instead I was empty-handed with my face covered in blood. After he helped clean me up, I was okay except for the black eye and the humiliation and the realization that my OCD issues aren’t as harmless as I thought.
The bruising around my eye was fading when I went to my office Monday morning. Our offices had been moved to a new floor over the weekend so I rushed into a room full of boxes as I quickly prepared for a meeting with the new head of my network. This was basically the first time I was meeting her so there was a lot of pressure to go in and prove that I was smart and competent even though it was Monday morning at 10AM and my office was in boxes and I didn’t know the new combination to men’s room and I looked like a black-eyed, drunk victim of spousal abuse.
Somehow, I got through the meeting and got my office in order and my bigfoot heads hung. OnTuesday, I was excited because I had writers group that evening and was sure I had finally cracked the ending chapter of my book. I couldn’t wait til everyone heard it and realized I was the next Hemingway or at least wouldn’t kick me out. Right before my group was about to begin, I got an email telling me that the buses to my hometown were going to to be cancelled the next day because of the coming snow storm.
This was a problem. I stayed all night in the city on Tuesday nights so if I stayed for writers group I would be stranded for two days. That was a lot of stressful counting and walking, and New York City is a very dangerous city to walk around with your eyes closed. Plus, I had to choose between my ego and my marriage. It would be rotten to leave Saul to deal with a bad storm on his own, and I supposed writers group could wait to hear my stunning final chapter masterpiece. So, I rushed home on the last bus out of the city.
The storm was pretty mild when Wednesday started, then it lived up to its predictions. Our town was blanketed in snow and it was actually quite beautiful.
But then the electricity went out.
“Let’s go for a walk!” I said to Saul, but he was anxious about living without electricity and certain we would be found dead before it came back on. Saul rolls his eyes at my letter-counting system, but I think it would help him in these types of situations.
He sort of agreed to come on a walk, but he didn’t have the romantic snowy walk in his head like I did. Instead was worried about going somewhere to charge our phones and download movies to watch in the dark. We bickered over everything in the first two blocks of the walk. Finally, in the middle of the bridge over the river, I stormed off in another direction to walk on my own. Maybe it was smashing into the telephone pole, or moving offices, or the big meeting with my new boss or missing a writers group , but I was pissed off.
A few minute later, Saul texted and asked if I was okay and if I wanted to join him again. This is the crossroads in a disagreement. If I were immature, I would continue the fight instead of taking the graceful exit he was offering. If I was mature, I would join him and laugh at our silly bickering.
I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN! I texted back.
This may tell you something about where I am in my emotional development.
I managed to continue this fight and extend it for several hours while our home was plunged in darkness. Saul tried valiantly. He even brought me home food from our neighbor but I just couldn’t let go of my bad mood. When I get onto something, I whip it around in my head and grouse and complain and yell about it repeatedly.
Granted, there may be some OCD issues there as well.
I tried to let it go but then I would get riled again
The thing is, I couldn’t even really tell you what I was upset about. Did I really care that much that Saul didn’t want to go on a romantic snowy walk as much as I did? The only semi-sane thing I did that evening was eat all the Halo Top ice cream before it melted in the freezer.
We got a text from our neighbor that evening. Hope you guys are enjoying the romance of the lights being out.
I can assure you we weren’t.
The lights eventually went on and Saul and I went to bed a little bruised like my eye but on the inside.
When I woke up Thursday morning I was mortified. I was clearly out of my mind the day before and had taken my insanity out on my husband. I wake up at 5:30 in the morning to catch the 6:30 bus and I always let Saul sleep in, but that morning I wanted so badly for him to wake up. And just like that, the bedroom door opened and he emerged with the cats trailing behind him.
“I am so sorry!”
“That’s okay,” he said smiling.
“I don’t know what was wrong with me. I love you so much but I was so mean!”
“It’s okay” He said. “I know you didn’t mean it.”
He gave me another graceful exit.
The next night when Saul had his own insane episode over a lid of Olay of Olay Night Regenerist cream getting stuck, I remembered how nice he had been to me, and and gave him his graceful exit when he apologized.
I often write in this blog about forgiveness. If anyone knows how to love without having to forgive, then my hat is off to you. I don’t believe people who say they never fight just like I didn’t believe my prim coworker years ago who told me she and her boyfriend had sex every single morning. Not forgiving and having daily morning sex both sound exhausting.
We smash into things sometimes in the dark and sometimes because we have our eyes closed. But if we are patient with ourselves and one another we seem to find our way eventually.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman’s name in OCD world is 34323 3133433