The door to Peete’s Coffee had to be pulled open, so I waited there until another would-be-customer arrived to open it for me. Public door handles are almost septic. After one minute, twenty-nine seconds of standing idle a few feet away from the door and scanning the street for approaching customers, I noticed a man seemingly walking toward the Peete’s Coffee entrance. I took out my cell phone and pretended I was occupied reading something on it as I sauntered up to be right behind him. He was indeed entering Peete’s Coffee. He pulled open the door and I pretended to absently reach for the door as if I was about to open it myself and then looked up from my cell and pretended to be surprised that someone else had already opened it. Then I held the door open with my foot before it closed, as I was pretending to type a text or email on my cell and therefore couldn’t use my hands, and entered Peete’s Coffee. Thanks to the gentleman who just strode in for his morning coffee, I made it into Peete’s without having touched anything.
As soon as I was in, I scanned the café for an open area where I could stand that would be free of human traffic so that no one unexpected, such a homeless man, would brush by me while I was busy reading my coffee options on the overhead menu above the counter. The homeless often tended to use the bathrooms of cafes such as Peete’s or Starbucks as they offered them unrestricted access and wouldn’t draw protest or as much attention as if they tried to use the bathroom of a proper restaurant.
Fortunately this Peete’s Coffee was roomy inside and I didn’t have any trouble finding an area to stand in where I could be safe from people milling about. Before I read the coffee options off the menu, I placed my cell phone into my left pant pocket which was always designated as the “safe pocket.” I also couldn’t place it into my right pocket as that was the one in which I always kept a piece of Dial anti-bacterial soap. I learned the hard way that getting out soap scum that has rubbed onto a cell phone wasn’t an easy task and definitely not good for one’s phone. Anyway, after the cell was placed in the left pant pocket for later use, I read the menu and decided upon a medium mocha with non-fat milk, but with whip cream (I felt the non-fat milk balanced out having whipped cream).
Now that I had decided, I viewed the workers behind the counter to check if any of them were to be avoided. There was one. He was an excessively gaunt gentleman with graying hair, indicating he was older. His thin frame indicated he may be sick. Huge red flag. I hadn’t noticed him when I entered the coffee shop, otherwise I would have left immediately. I hated being anywhere near this guy. Why was this guy even hired as a barista, or whatever they called them at Peete’s?! He was way too old and couldn’t the hiring managers see that his unhealthy appearance could potentially make customers uncomfortable?! I was furious at the gross negligence of whoever was running this branch. My anxiety level was steadily rising and I could feel panic signals starting to emanate from my brain. My neck had already stiffened and the weakness in my legs was becoming noticeable.
I didn’t leave however. I stood my ground. Partially because I was frozen in fear, yes, but a small part of me was protesting, fighting the impulse to flee. I was panicked at the moment, but also very weary from all the seemingly incessant panicked moments of recent past. I was tired of fleeing. Running away from the voice inside of my head was futile and despite the immense triggers to run, I knew if I did run, it would just happen again in the very near future. The enemy lived in my skull. Wherever I ran to, it would be there. So I didn’t flee. I stayed. I waited. When I surmised that the college-aged female, who was a very healthy weight, was manning the counter, I decided that I would accept that compromise. I would stay in Peete’s coffee and order my mocha as planned, but would only interact with this seemingly healthy girl. It was valiant defiance to my OCD tyrant dictator, which actually gave me a sense of confidence, encouraging me to move forward. I walked up to the counter with my credit card in hand, ready to make my purchase.
“Hi. What would you like today?” asked the seemingly healthy girl behind the counter.
“Hi. A medium mocha with non-fat milk and whip. And also could you make that with less chocolate powder or pumps or whatever, than usual?” I asked.
My seemingly healthy, definitely super-chipper counter-girl whipped away to the espresso machine before I was able to hand her my credit card. Apparently she was very eager to start making my order or something. While I was grateful for her call to efficiency, what she stated next while concocting my order caused my warning synapses to suddenly shoot in rapid over-fire succession.
“Hey Jim, could you ring up this mocha?” she asked looking at the gaunt gentleman with graying hair.
“Sure,” replied overly slim Jim as he approached the cashier machine where I was waiting with credit card in hand. I froze in fear. I didn’t know what to do. Normally, I would be quick on my feet and know to just cancel the order and make up an excuse as to why I had to leave immediately. However I didn’t do that this time. I just watched slim Jim approach me.
“That’s four thirty-nine,” slim Jim said. I waited a few beats and then slowly handed him my credit card. I looked at where I was holding it with my fingers and watched to see if Jim’s fingers would come into contact with mine. I didn’t try to prevent them from not touching my fingers. I don’t know why I didn’t position my fingers cautiously to grab the very edge of the card as I usually do so as to reduce the possibility of finger to finger contact with slim Jim. After he rang up the order, he handed me back the card. I’m not sure why I took the now contaminated card back from him instead of asking him to just place it on the counter while I pretended to receive an urgent text message to which I had to reply immediately, thereby occupying my hands and preventing me from having to take the tainted card. Then when no one was looking, using a napkin as a barrier to pick up the card and take it home until I could wash it with anti-bacterial soap, or throw it out, depending on the kind and extent of “contamination” that would determine its future usability.
Instead he handed the card back to me and I accepted it. I took it from him with my bare hands. I don’t know why. I wasn’t following the usual, needed protocol. However my mind and body were reacting the way they usually do when encountering such a trigger; building of panic. My jaw was clenched. The voices in my head had started their shouts. My hands and tongue were tingling. The voices were now chanting in unison.
Drop the card!
“A medium non-fat mocha with whip,” called out my healthy female barista. While still holding my card in my right hand, I turned mechanically toward her and walked the few feet along the counter to where she had placed my coffee order. I took a coffee-sleeve and opened it up using only my left hand. My right hand still held the credit card. I picked up my coffee with my left hand and fitted it into the coffee-sleeve nimbly using the fingers on my right hand to do the whole task. Then I place the cup of coffee back onto the counter so that I could grab it again around the section of the cup that had been covered by the coffee-sleeve.
I turned toward the exit and started walking. My mind was racing a mile a minute, but I had to just get to the door. As I moved forward, I let my hand that was holding the credit card fall to my side, but held it out just enough to avoid contact with my pant leg. I didn’t want to also contaminate these pants directly. Of course they were contaminated by virtue of mental connection and would definitely have to be washed, but had the card actually touched the pants, they would have had to be thrown out. Without coming into contact with the credit card or my hand that held it, the pants still had a chance to be salvaged via rigorous cleansing. I realized that if I casually dropped my credit card on the floor while walking toward the door, someone was likely to see me do that, pick up the card and chase after me to give it back to me, thinking they were doing me a huge service. I didn’t want to leave the coffee shop with the card, dropping it on the ground would probably yield a good Samaritan to return it, so I had to throw it out in a more subversive fashion.
So instead of continuing to the door to exit, I walked up to the station where the sweeteners, cream, stirrers and napkins were located. After removing the lid and setting it on the counter with my left hand, I poured in two sugars and then poured in some cream, then still using only my left hand, stirred everything together. Then I placed the lid back on. After my coffee was ready to drink, I glanced around to ensure no one was looking at me and then I casually dropped my credit card that I was holding with my right hand into the circular opening for the trash, along with napkins that I crumpled to look like they needed to be thrown out. This way it would look like I was just discarding used napkins, which was a normal thing to do. Normal people threw out used napkins into the trash receptacle. I was just doing what any normal person would have done. I was discarding trash.
After my disguised deposit had been made, I started walking toward the exit. I needed to tend to the rest of my post contamination damage control. The sensation was too strong. I decided that everything I was then wearing would be thrown out. My cell and wallet needed to be wiped down with Clorox sanitation wipes. I needed to take a shower and wash thoroughly with Dial anti-bacterial soap. The main tedium of this last task was that I could only use my left hand since I had held the contaminated credit card with my right. Consequently my right hand would feel contaminated for a while yet. I had found that the part of my body that was “contaminated” started to feel less so after about two to three weeks, by which point it had been washed a sufficient number of times to restore its feeling safe to me again and able to handle things, literally. So I wouldn’t have much use of my right hand until some weeks had passed and that was always annoying, but there wasn’t any way I could have predicted that I would encounter a seemingly unhealthy Peete’s Coffee employee today.
There was always a danger of such encounters in leaving my apartment. Despite however cautious I endeavored to be, in stepping out my front door, I knew it may not have been enough to avoid an unexpected trigger. I couldn’t not leave my apartment. I had to work and eat and see people and participate in society. And anyway, I hated my apartment passionately. The compromise I made for continuing to brave making such excursions was that I would avoid already contaminated places and areas. I would stick to places I knew. Yet as my Peete’s Coffee encounter had just proved, even that safety measure was far from a failsafe.
I had planned to meet up with my dad for brunch, but had to now change those plans to lunch or dinner. My afternoon movie meet-up with Kelcy would have to be bumped as well, all on account of my thorough cleansing shower would take approximately an hour. I couldn’t engage in any social activity or see any person I interacted with regularly in a state of contamination as then they would become contaminated and off limits to me as well. For about four weeks anyway, but sometimes it was longer.
I had managed to avoid Cliff, one of my closest friends, for almost three months. All my excuses seemed legitimate to him, but not attending his birthday dinner had caused him some hurt, and surprised and confused our mutual friends. I managed to smooth it over with him the next day. Well, to a certain extent anyway. That kind of damage leaves scars despite verbal assurances to the contrary. I heard about Cliff’s birthday night quite a lot from my group of friends. Apparently it was a really fun night and many new inside jokes were created. I tried to laugh and seem entertained as my friends recounted this jovial occasion of friends bonding, but I was pretending. Again. I knew I made the choice to miss out, granted I made the choice literally against my will, but I made it nonetheless. Consequently I felt somewhat jealous of their fun. I had missed out. Again.
I had missed out and was missing out on so much. On all these small experiences that I, at one time, cherished and reflected happily upon in the many pictures my camera-happy friend, Molly, would take. I was in fewer and fewer of those pictures now. The snapshots of that vividly captured moments of happy living that turn into cherished memories. I was cheating myself out of the experiences those cherished moments are derived from. I was missing out on creating new memories ever more frequently. I was missing out on life. I was missing out. I was missing. I was. I needed to get back into present tense. I needed to be present. I now was and I needed to be.