This is an excerpt of my novel ONE OF US HAS TO GO to show how bad OCD can be, and what a real compulsion looks like.
Going through transformation
Mom waved goodbye to Sonja and me from the platform. We were sitting on a high speed train down south. My throat got tight again as I waved back through the window to Mom who I knew was suppressing her tears, too, despite the smile on her face.
The longer the journey and the closer we got to Munich, the more restless Sonja became. She continually fidgeted in her seat. All Goran-contamination had to be removed before entering the good world.
Throughout the train journey, I considered discussing the likelihood of her and me being half-cousins. But because of her getting more and more uptight, I gave up on it. Perhaps another day.
I started talking out of the blue, trying to distract both of us. “My dad let me dethatch his lawn yesterday afternoon. I loved doing that as a young kid.”
Sonja’s eyebrows went up. Her eyes wide open.
“What? You dethatched? That job people only do once a year?”
Huh, I heard worry. As if there was a problem.
“Yes. It was fun. I used a machine my dad got from a neighbor. He shares some machines that are only used rarely.”
“Goodness me, this is a catastrophe!”
So, yes, there was a problem… and what kind!
Sonja said it was her father with whom my dad shared that machine. I didn’t know that.
“It’s kept in my parents’ cellar, directly next to the bag with my father’s sports kit. The machine is highly contaminated. This is a nightmare!” Sonja’s face turned red.
And so I knew: I was also highly contaminated. As well as her. We both counted as Goran-dirty from top to toe, from the inside to the outside. Simply having touched the dethatcher was equal to shaking Goran’s hand – in Sonja’s world.
I was so angry. I didn’t know with whom, though. With Sonja, because of her made-up rules she imposed on me? Or with Dad since he hadn’t told me he shared that machine with Sonja’s father? I could hardly blame him for that, could I?
Was I angry with myself? I hadn’t anticipated the whole situation before taking over the garden job.
I didn’t know my anger. I couldn’t work it out. I just felt like … I didn’t know. Like a victim maybe. A victim of fate. Or like a victim of Sonja.
I felt it wasn’t fair. Nothing was fair. Because her OCD wasn’t even my problem, my business.
Sonja said we were now far too dirty for entering the good, clean world of Munich. We had to go through an even more extraordinarily strict cleaning process to get in. I defended myself for what I had done. Yes, DEFENDED – that was what I felt I did, because I wanted her not to regard me as being so very dirty. I had just behaved like a normal person, not permanently remembering her rules. I had spontaneously asked Dad to let me do the dethatching.
I didn’t want to have to do what she now wanted me to. She said I would need to wash myself in the same way she was going to, on returning to Munich. And that if I wouldn’t do it that way, she couldn’t deal with me anymore.
Deal with me?
I wasn’t sure what it meant exactly. But I was clear I didn’t want to lose her. I didn’t want to risk anything close to that and end up alone in Munich.
I gave in. I wasn’t able to withstand and made myself a slave to her rules.
We arrived in Munich, central train station, and made our way to the girls’ house by subway. Neither of us sat down, avoiding contaminating anything. And neither of us had any luggage. I was only wearing some clothes which I was supposed to throw away in the bin of the bathroom in the girls’ house. For the Silver Wedding party, I had worn some of Mom’s evening wear. Sonja was, of course, also going to get rid of the clothes she was wearing.
We arrived on the sixth floor of our house. It was late in the evening. As it was a Tuesday, most girls were in bed. We saw no-one. Not seeing anybody was the reason why Sonja wanted us to arrive back in Munich at such a late hour. She wanted to avoid bumping into anybody to make sure neither of us contaminated them.
The plastic bag – prepared with clothes and shower gel – on the handle of the door to my room was still there. So was the one on Sonja’s. We both took them to use in the bathroom in our wing. We locked it at the front door, leaving the middle door open, so we were able to see each other and communicate. Sonja was going to shower in the bath tub in the back room; me in the front. All the other girls of our wing were blocked from the facilities.
I copied Sonja – everything she did, undergoing hours of torture: I undressed and stuffed my northern-Germany-clothes in the bin. Then I cleaned all my nails – fingers and toes – by scratching dirt and Goran-contamination away from underneath them, using Sonja’s nail file once she had finished with it herself. She watched me. I was only allowed to stop when no skin came off anymore.
One hour must already have passed, at least, as we stepped into the showers to wash ourselves. In her way – very, very thoroughly. I rubbed shower gel all over – into my skin, into my hair. I followed all of her instructions. I rinsed my body assiduously. For minutes. Then I poured shower gel onto my flat hand, mixed it with water and sucked the froth up my nostrils. It was terrible.
I needed to cough and make awful noises. The gel was pinching and biting the insides of my nose. My inner tracts got affected up into my head. It felt as if my brain got attacked but couldn’t escape from my skull. I had so much pressure in there.
I rinsed my nostrils in the same way with water only.
Then I was supposed to clean my mouth. Sonja had already poured shower gel directly from the bottle into hers, caught some flowing water from the running shower and was about to gargle the whole mixture. She was bending her head backwards. Everything was going deep down into her throat, as far as possible.
I had to do the same – gargling shower gel right up until just before I would have swallowed it. I forced myself to open my mouth and had to once again when pressing the bottle with my fingers for the gel to flow onto my tongue. It tasted so bitter!
I gargled. And made all sorts of noises. I spat the whole stuff out into the shower. Soapy bubbles around my mouth. I retched for some seconds.
I needed to take a break. Thoughts about asking Sonja if I could please abandon the horrible routine popped up in my head. I wanted to beg her. I couldn’t go any further. I didn’t want to.
“And now the eyes,” she said.
There was no chance of abandoning.
How could she be so disciplined?
It was unbelievable how she was able to do all this against every natural reflex and reluctance. I had to force myself so very much to keep my eyes open, as I rubbed the shower gel into them. Once I felt the burning pain, I was allowed to rinse with water.
Then, everything needed to be repeated. Long and thorough soaping of my body and hair. Rinsing all over. For minutes. Then washing my nose. I was already disgusted by only the green look of the shower gel, pouring it onto my flat hand. I hated the smell, although I knew it was, objectively, nice. Shower gels normally aren’t horrible.
I sucked the froth I had made all the way up my nose. And I heard my own noises echoing off the tiled walls of the bathroom.
I rinsed my nose. Tears wanted to make their way into my eyes. I felt like crying, suffering badly. But Sonja pushed me for the next step. She was so demanding.
I pulled myself together and poured shower gel into my mouth, added water and gargled deep down into my throat, right until before swallowing. Again, I heard the echo of my noises when I was spitting the whole shit out into the shower around my feet, followed by some retching. Had I eaten not long before the decontamination session, I would have vomited. This way, I was only retching. It was murder!
I rinsed with water. The insides of my cheeks were extremely sore, burning from the alkaline shower gel.
We finished the second round of the procedure by washing our eyes, and then started the third one by soaping our bodies again. Washing of noses, throats and eyes followed. I was lucky Sonja didn’t invent a technique to wash deep inside her ears.
During all of this washing, I thought it would never end. I almost didn’t believe I would ever get to the point when Sonja could pronounce me, and herself, clean enough. But then, finally, we reached the finish line of this nightmare marathon. Thank goodness, the torture was over.
Sonja protected her fingers with a piece of tissue to open the door’s lock. The lock and handle of the door were far too contaminated since she had touched them with her dirty hand before washing herself. The tissue was the last item left from the prepared plastic bag from the handle of her room. I had none left in mine, since putting on the Munich-clothes. Sonja wanted me to leave my shower gel bottle behind. It was rather empty anyway.
“The cleaning lady will clear up our bottles,” she said.
I was allowed to enter my room, having successfully managed the switch. Welcome back to the clean Munich-world, me!
Sonja went into her room. She didn’t forget to thank me for my effort and then said goodnight. It was almost time to say good morning, though. My alarm clock showed “04:03.” I turned the heating on and brushed my wet, very matted hair. My skin was totally softened. My fingers were wrinkled. Like those of a washerwoman.
I looked into the mirror. My face was pale, and my eyes were red. The contrast between my eyes’ red and my face’s white made me think of Floppsie – the albino rabbit I used to have when I was a kid.
Since my eyes were really smarting, I decided to put myself straight into bed. The insides of my cheeks were still hurting badly, so I skipped brushing teeth. I wasn’t even bothered to change into my pajamas. I lay down with my clothes on, because I just wanted to close my eyes.
It was cozy in bed. Very cozy. I was happy to be back in Munich. Very happy.
After some hours of sleep, I woke up again. My eyes felt bizarre, and I could hardly open them. I got up to have a look in the mirror by my sink. It proved difficult, because I had to feel my way across the room to get there. My eyelids were stuck!
Once by the sink, I used a bit of water from the tap to soften them. Eventually, I was able to see myself in the mirror and looked closely into my sore eyes. I pulled some long threads of slime out of them.
I felt harmed. Harmed by Sonja’s routine. In fact, I didn’t just feel harmed, I was harmed. I went over to her room, wanting to tell her off for what she had done to me. For what I had let her do to me. For what I had done myself to me.
Well, and that was the point: I had given in to her damned demand and said yes to her routine. Voluntarily. I had allowed it on me.
So what could I now have accused her of? Blackmail, maybe? She had said she wouldn’t be able to deal with me anymore if I had said no to her routine.
The problem was that it was all too late for anything, because I had made the decision to suffer the torture. Because I didn’t want to risk losing my best friend.
I still knocked on Sonja’s door, without knowing exactly what to say to her. But when I looked into another two red Floppsie-eyes, I just turned around, went back into my room and banged my door.
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