Typically, when people think of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) they think of someone who obsessively washes his hands or checks the stove—any repetitive action that consumes a person so entirely, he sacrifices his relationships, his career, his happiness, for the sake of his obsession.
At the root of OCD lies uncertainty… unwanted thoughts that make the sufferer doubt…well, everything. I imagine it’s difficult enough to live with someone who constantly doubts whether or not the toaster is unplugged, but when that person constantly doubts you…the person who loves him…it’s unbearable.
When it wasn’t directed at me, I found Nightingale’s OCD oddly adorable. It went something like this:
Nightingale buys an IPhone. He goes with AT&T as his carrier. He spends the next couple of days walking around the apartment testing the signal. He switches to Verizon. He walks around the apartment. He switches back to AT&T. He walks around the apartment. He switches back to Verizon….this indecision would have continued, but after a month and $500 in fees, they wouldn’t let him switch anymore.
Shopping for shoes takes around 3 hours. Which pair, which color? Am I making the right decision? Upon leaving the store with Nikes in hand he says, “I’m really happy with my choice. I’m glad I got the gray.”
20 minutes later… “I don’t like the shoes. I’m going to return them and get the blue.”
This indecision extends to the people in his life…
We separated our move into two days. Day 1 was his move-in. We packed up all his belongings from his closet-sized home. He was chipper and loving and expressed no doubt—a welcome reprieve after a month of vacillation. Day 2 was another story.
As we sit in the U-haul parking lot, I try not to notice that he won’t look at me, that his tone is short, that he has a scowl across his brow…but my need to know gets the better of me.
“You okay?” I ask.
“It’s not too late,” he says. “We can call our landlords, let them know we aren’t moving out.”
“But,” I start, swallowing bile, “we’ve signed a rental agreement. We’ve deposited $6000. We aren’t going to get our money back.”
“Who cares? It’s just money. This is a mistake. I don’t think we should do this.”
“My landlady has probably already leased my apartment—“
“I’ll call her,” he interrupts. “What’s her number?”
“No…I’m not going back. I’ve made the decision to move forward with my life. I understand if you don’t want to live with me, but I’m moving in to that apartment today.”
The day was tense. Moving in with the person you love should be a celebration…moving in with Nightingale was like being buried alive.
And it didn’t get any better. Nightingale was unhappy and his discontent was suffocating. There was something in the air, he said. Something he was allergic to…something in the bedroom. We got a new comforter, new couches, new curtains. But still, there was something about the place.
The bird was well behaved. But her feathers bothered him. She left behind flecks of dander and I couldn’t clean them fast enough. The rabbits…well, they were angels…but he just couldn’t tolerate animals of any kind.
But mainly…mainly it was me. The things I said and the things I didn’t. Apparently I didn’t answer him fast enough, loud enough…or at all. Answering with a smile or a nod of the head wasn’t good enough…that didn’t count. I was constantly saying the wrong thing, so sometimes my words left me. The expressions on my face hurt his feelings; my toenails were never cut short enough…
The bird started to chirp. She would land on his shoulders when he came home, obviously falling a little in love with him, but he would gruffly shoo her away and tell me to put her in her cage. Then he would stare at her angrily as she paced back and forth (she wasn’t used to being caged and didn’t take to it well). His hatred was palpable.
Leaning against the office door, listening to him play a tune would ease my sadness for a moment…until he’d stop playing and the OCD overture would chime in.
“How come you’ve never asked me to cover a song?” he asks with an accusing tone.
“Oh. I didn’t realize you wanted me to, my love.”
“My other girlfriends would always tell me what songs they thought I should cover without me having to ask.”
“Okay,” I say slowly, trying to organize my words carefully. “But a couple weeks ago you told me that you weren’t going to cover any more songs. That you only wanted to work on originals from now on.”
“It’s like you don’t believe in my talent.” His voice is so full of malice. His eyes are so dark. So frightening. “If you believed in me, you’d want me to sing your favorite songs.”
“I didn’t know you were open to that, honey. I will think of some.” My smile is weak and I have to pry the words out. “Just so you know…I believe in you more than I believe in myself.” And I do…I did.
Then he starts obsessing over children. He doesn’t know if he wants any, and the 60/40 in favor of no turns into an inflexible 99%. I tell him that I don’t want children unless we can afford children. Can’t we just see how it goes?
He panics: What if he doesn’t want children in the future? Will I hate him and leave him?
No, I say. All I’ve ever wanted is a loving relationship with the man of my dreams…that’s enough.
But not for him. He needs me to say, “I will never want children in the future no matter what.” That’s Nightingale’s thing. You have to word things just right. And the just right changes every few minutes.
All I can give him is my truth. “I do not want children now. I do not want children unless I’m able to provide for them. And I never, ever want either of us to sacrifice our talents or our dreams in order to start a family.”
This issue doesn’t subside. The conversation replays almost every day. And future uncertainty morphs into present obsession.
What if I get pregnant? Will I get an abortion?
It doesn’t matter what I say; he does not believe me. And so he stops sleeping with me. Condom, diaphragm, condom and diaphragm together…no precaution is safe enough. His panic over pregnancy consumes him. This is not the first time, he tells me. This happens with all his girlfriends.
And then there’s the day I walk into the office to give him a kiss on the cheek and say I love you.
“I called my old landlord,” he says in response. “I told him that I’m thinking of moving back in and he says that they haven’t rented the place and that it’s mine if I still want it.”
My mind is spinning. I cannot understand why he wants to leave our beautiful, spacious home and go back to his closet. Perhaps he feels safer there. It is more manageable…he can control every last element.
I am calm. Reasonable. I do not try to talk him into staying. But after an agonizing hour I am back on my knees in the familiar posture—pleading for logic…crying…and he tells me he loves me and doesn’t really want to leave. It’s just his OCD.
Two weeks after we’ve moved in we go to Lake Shrine to ring in the New Year with meditation. After a beautiful half hour of peace, we are driving home. He asks which direction to go.
I am having trouble articulating; perhaps my mind is groggy from the meditation and the Chautauqua Pass is always a bit tricky, so I speak slowly…too slowly.
And he snaps. “Jesus, Amy. Why do you have to talk to me like that? I’m not a child!”
“I’m so sorry,” I say, my voice crashing on a sob. “I was having a hard time formulating my thoughts.”
Shame. It had been such a beautiful night…
The next day we go on a hike. He runs ahead of me…miles ahead and I can’t keep up.
That evening he tells me he will be moving out in the morning. Because of the bird…he says.
He spends the night on the couch, but at 4AM I guide him back to our bed.
Perhaps he will change his mind in the morning, and we lay, entangled.
But when morning finally dawns, my angels will have none of it. My bird, covered with her night blanket, starts screaming in the other room. In the six years I’ve had her, she’s never, not once, started screaming like that. It is as though my angels are working through her and saying, “No, Amy. This man is not good for you. This man cannot stay.”
“I have to go,” Nightingale says.
But I cannot live without him. I love him too much. This is our home. And so I say the unthinkable. Something I never thought I was capable of. “I’ll find the bird a new home,” I say. “I will make a call right now.” I reach for my phone.
“No, Amy.” Nightingale confesses. “It’s not the bird. It’s everything. I’m overwhelmed. I’m not ready for this kind of commitment.”
Of course. I know this. This is truth. He has finally given me truth.
“You don’t have to go,” I say, breathing him in.
“Yes,” he says. “I do.” The front door closes, and after a breath, I grab my bird and leave. I cannot watch him move out…I cannot be here when he gets back.
I spend the day with my friend. Call another to come and spend the night with me. I cannot sleep in that bed alone. I cannot face his empty closets, the echo of the office without his guitars, his keyboard, his amps.
Eventually, I come home to a note. It reads, “If you think of a solution, please let me know.”
But there is no solution because there is no real problem. And how do you transmute delusion?