Sixteen Times or Twenty-Four Times

1 September 2013
11:22 PM


I’ve been meaning to share this poem with you for awhile now, but every time I write you a letter it doesn’t feel right. It just doesn’t fit with everything I had to say. Today though–everything was just so.

Neil Hilborn performed this at the 2013 Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam, and the video went ‘viral’ last month. (In an interview, he said that he does have OCD.) When I saw it, I was breathless, and by the time it ended I knew I had to watch it again. And again. And again.

My sister, who is currently studying to be a doctor and graduated with a degree in psychology, told me a couple of times over the years that I had all the symptoms of someone who has OCD. But for all her authority on the subject matter (I mean–undoubtedly she knows more than I do, yeah?), I am hesitant to believe it.

I think I’m about two steps closer towards it; otherwise I’m fine. Ha. I think I have managed to control my tics for the last twenty years or so. It was worse when I was much younger–I can’t step on cracks on the pavement, I can’t shake someone’s hand if it came from a pocket, I have to polish my school shoes forty times the night before, I had to comb my hair a hundred and five times before I go to sleep, I have to wash my feet twice before I go to bed, and every other damn cliche. (Of course there’s more to it than the usual stereotype, of course, of course.) It interferes with how I interact with people, to say the least.

I remember when I was in sixth grade, and my teacher wanted me to join the math club. I said there are one hundred and forty pages in our book and I’ve read every single one of them, and there are only nine pencils on her desk and none of them works for me. She told me I can use my own pencil as long as I keep solving every math problem she gives me. I remember when I was in fourth grade, and my physical education teacher is making us run around the school lawn as a form of punishment. Afterwards, when all of us have collapsed on the grass, our hands to our chest, fearing our lungs have exploded, she asked us what we have learned. I almost said, there are twenty-one doors per floor on the east wing of the grade school compound, plus seven on the social hall, and that the bushes on the south side of the lawn near the Mother Mary statue are not aligned. But I kept my mouth shut and trembled with the knowledge, and instead retied my shoelaces five times and kept my head bowed.

Today I can’t even subtract seven from thirteen without doubting if the answer is six. A voice inside my head says that that part of my brain has atrophied. Another voice says it’s only because I’m more focused with writing now, and that it’s natural. And then a part of me makes the subtraction a few more times to be sure. Then I pull out a calculator.

Today I try not to be conscious of the lines on the floor, and if I happen to avoid them, well, that’s just out of habit. When I inadvertently step on the cracks, I can force myself to move on and not have a do-over, and just endure the shiver that goes all the way down to my spine that I classify as discontent. Today I have a firm grip when it comes to handshakes, though I dislike sweaty palms (I die a little inside every time I encounter them). I haven’t touched shoe polish in years. I hardly ever comb my hair. I wash my feet sometimes before going to bed. Maybe twice a week. See? I’ve mastered my shit.

This morning I cleaned my office and rearranged my books, and it only took me five hours instead of the whole day. That’s an achievement, and I stuck my tongue out at my youngest sister, who predicted that my dust-gathering would end with me surrounded by stacks and in tears again, which was what happened last time because I couldn’t get all the spines to align, and the arrangement per genre is not working out because there are not enough shelves.

These days, I can leave my desk and almost everything in the space around me in disarray, and it would be fine, because I know where everything is. I call it organised chaos. These days, I only rearrange my clothes by color and not by cloth or occasion. I keep all my used up pens in a drawer where nobody is likely to look, and I can allow myself to change my mind about how many teaspoons of sugar and cream to put in my coffee without feeling guilty. I only reread the letters I send once or twice or thrice now, and I can go out of the house without bringing a wallet (the lack of money helps, if you ask me). I don’t think I have a fear of contamination, though sometimes I feel like I’ve caught something after using a public bathroom (but that’s normal, right?). These days, when I’m out with my friends and the waiter hands us the bill, I leave them to compute and just ask how much is my share. Also I don’t always bring my calculator (whom I’ve named Francis Bacon).

When I’m really angry, or when I’m suppressing my need to cry, or when I’ve been up for more than twenty-four hours, the muscle under my right eye visibly throbs. This is still true. When I want to say something but can’t, my left pinkie twitches. This rarely happens anymore. When we leave the house, I have to check four times if the oven is off, I have to lock the doors three times before I’m satisfied. These days, I try not to be the last one out so I can avoid pissing other people off.

(via Fuck Yeah Slam Poems!)

Neil Hilborn

The first time I saw her
Everything in my head went quiet.
All the tics, all the constantly refreshing images just disappeared.
When you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, you don’t really get quiet moments.
Even in bed, I’m thinking:
Did I lock the doors? Yes.
Did I wash my hands? Yes.
Did I lock the doors? Yes.
Did I wash my hands? Yes.

But when I saw her, the only thing I could think about was the hairpin curve of her lips…
Or the eyelash on her cheek—
the eyelash on her cheek—
the eyelash on her cheek.

I knew I had to talk to her. I asked her out six times in thirty seconds.
She said yes after the third one, but none of them felt right, so I had to keep going.
On our first date, I spent more time organizing my meal by color than I did eating it,
or talking to her — But she loved it.
She loved that I had to kiss her goodbye sixteen times or twenty-four times or if it was Wednesday.
She loved that it took me forever to walk home because there are lots of cracks on our sidewalk.
When we moved in together, she said she felt safe, like no one would ever rob us because
I definitely locked the door eighteen times.
I’d always watch her mouth when she talked—
when she talked—
when she talked—
when she talked
when she talked;

when she said she loved me, her mouth would curl up at the edges.
At night, she’d lay in bed and watch me turn all the lights off…
And on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off.
She’d close her eyes and imagine that the days and nights were passing in front of her.
Some mornings I’d start kissing her goodbye but she’d just leave because I was just making her late for work.
When I stopped in front of a crack in the sidewalk, she just kept walking.
When she said she loved me her mouth was a straight line.
She told me that I was taking up too much of her time.
Last week she started sleeping at her mother’s place.
She told me that she shouldn’t have let me get so attached to her; that this whole thing was a mistake, but…
How can it be a mistake that I don’t have to wash my hands after I touched her?
Love is not a mistake, and it’s killing me that she can run away from this and I just can’t.
I can’t – I can’t go out and find someone new because I always think of her.
Usually, when I obsess over things, I see germs sneaking into my skin.
I see myself crushed by an endless succession of cars…
And she was the first beautiful thing I ever got stuck on.
I want to wake up every morning thinking about the way she holds her steering wheel.
How she turns shower knobs like she’s opening a safe.
How she blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out—

Now, I just think about who else is kissing her.
I can’t breathe because he only kisses her once — he doesn’t care if it’s perfect!
I want her back so bad.
I leave the door unlocked.
I leave the lights on.

Apologies for the inaccuracy of line cuts, and the whole arrangement, really. I tried looking for the actual text as written by the poet but can’t find it. The above was taken from this Reddit thread and this Tumblr post.

There is so much about this that I still want to talk to you about: slam poetry, spoken word poetry, your experience of going to one, my experience about going to one, what do you think about it in general (cue discussions: is it a poem or not?), and so much more. But perhaps that’s for another letter.

As I’ve said, I think I have my tics under control. I’m wary of calling it a disorder, and consider myself just freakishly obsessive-compulsive. At least, a side of me is. Because how else can I explain how unbelievably messy I could get, too? (Which reminds me–I still have to send you that letter about the personality test.)

I think it’s more of a struggle of my left brain versus my right brain. Logic was more dominant when I was much younger, and lately it seems it has fled my life. (But that’s just me being a fuckup and failing to cope with being an adult, yes?)

Now, off to bed. I think I’ll watch him perform one last time. (Or maybe two times more.)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s