It was late on Sunday night. Despite an overwhelming sense of lethargy, I knew I wouldn’t be heading to bed anytime soon. Actually, I was in bed, I had just awoken from a lengthy nap, but I meant I wouldn’t be sleeping for the night anytime soon. As in on a normal day-to-night schedule, like what normal people do…not stay in bed all day and stay up all night. While I was lying in bed, still extremely tired, I wasn’t planning on sleeping anymore. I had to be at work early the next morning, yes, but I also had designated this weekend, which meant this Sunday night since I’m an extreme procrastinator, to do my “garbage heap cleaning.”
It had grown too large, like a mini-mountain really. It was a large hill…of trash….in my apartment, just outside of my bedroom. And by trash I mean actual trash. Since the trash bin in my kitchen had been “contaminated” the night of my housewarming party, and since I hadn’t ever bought another trash bin, I would toss my trash just outside my bedroom. Initially this started innocently with a napkin, or piece of junk mail I wanted to discard and would take out to the dumpster “later on.” However, later on usually extended until the next day and the day after that, until about a week later, I had a small heap of trash outside my bedroom door that contained everything from napkins and junk mail, to empty pudding cup containers, empty milk containers, candy wrappers, drink bottles and to-go doggy bags. Essentially anything that one normally dumps into their trash can, I dumped on the floor outside my bedroom.
Soon the small heap would grow into a rather large heap. It’s amazing the amount of trash one creates on a daily basis. Perhaps mine also appeared to be more than the average amount, because unlike the average household trash that was squeezed to be contained within the volume of the trash-bin, mine was not compacted. It was loose trash and therefore took up much more space.
I usually would collect all this loose trash into garbage bags after a large mass had accumulated and started to smell badly. When the smell of garbage started to fill the air is when I felt most horribly guilty about what I was doing. I was living like a homeless person within an apartment. I didn’t ever allow anyone to come inside my apartment for fear of their seeing the state it was in and that I, a seemingly normal person to most, was actually living among a large heap of trash.
My bedroom was another trash collection area. Loose trash, just like the one outside of my bedroom. Since my bedroom space was much smaller than the space outside of my bedroom, often the trash in my bedroom would get under-toe and I sometimes would slip and slide on the loose papers that were littered about, which was very precarious because were I ever to fall and land atop any of that trash, I would curse myself, feel panicked, “contaminated” and need to shower and exhaustively and over-extensively wash every inch on my body with anti-bacterial soap. For a better sense of how long and thorough these washing sessions were, I will note that a new bar of soap would be nearly entirely consumed by a single “ritualized shower,” (if not get used up entirely) leaving merely a sliver of soap.
Thankfully, I don’t remember ever actually falling on top of the trash. The trash in my bedroom also included discarded clothes that had somehow become “contaminated.” It took me a while to throw out the clothes because well, they were relatively new and most were costly. I tried to appease the extent of my wastefulness by sincerely endeavoring to wait long enough that the idea of washing and wearing one of these contaminated items again was feasible. Sometimes I was successful, but by a far greater measure, I was not.
Anyway, tonight was a night I decided to muster the energy needed to clean up the trash heap. In addition to the growing smell, the intensifying self-loathing it yielded was also a strong motivator. To prepare for a night of trash heap removal, earlier I had bought a pair of heavy-duty latex gloves and a container of trash bags from the supermarket.
I also had designated the pair of underwear and the t-shirt I would wear to do the cleaning. The contemplation and assignment of a specific cleaning “outfit” was needed in advance, because whatever I wore while I did the trash heap cleaning would also have to be thrown out. Consequently, I went through underclothing like most people do with tissues.
After psyching myself up mentally, I pulled on the latex gloves, pulled out a thirty-ounce trash bag and started at the trash heap. I bent over it and made sure to avoid any contact with any part of my body that had bare skin exposed. As the heap was immense and extended far out onto the floor, I started with the very bottom. I scooped up trash with one of my gloved hands while holding the trash bag with the other and carefully started filling the bag with the accumulated trash. There were mostly discarded paper items, pages torn out of magazines and notebooks that were used as barriers for touching door handles and picking things up with. There was at least two or three rolls worth of paper-towels that were crumpled up into individual pieces, or more often folded over a few times to serve as a multi-layered fortified barrier.
There were empty bottles of Snapple and Gatorade. Empty containers of milk and empty individual-sized pudding cup containers. There were many empty plastic containers actually. There were empty medium-sized containers of rice pudding and cottage cheese. There was usually at least one empty peanut butter container and several empty plastic water bottles of varying sizes. I came across a ton of wrappers from protein bars. I consumed many high-protein items. Despite being very sick mentally, I tried to be physically fit as best as I could. I worked out and tried to gain some muscle. Oftentimes this felt like a futile endeavor, but I needed to do it. It afforded me an outlet for my pent up….everything.
Anyway, about three to four hours into scooping up trash and five filled thirty-ounce gallon trash bags later, I was almost done. There were just small items left such as loose change that was “contaminated” somehow and crumbs from hardened old food and such things that fall to the bottom of a trash heap. After collecting the last of the change and other scraps, it appeared I was done. The trash heap in my living room was now all piled into trash bags in my living room. And most of the trash from the floor of my bedroom was also collected and bagged up.
My lower back ached ferociously from the hours of bending over trash. I was drenched in sweat. I was almost in a zombie-like state due to my fuzzied mind and weary body that pined for a moment’s rest or even a brief pause in a horizontal position. Even sitting would be good. But I couldn’t sit. There was no way I could sit on the floor in my underwear. The only parts of my body that had touched the floor in two years were my shoed feet and gloved hands. There hadn’t been any bare skin contact in two years and one night of exhaustive trash collecting wouldn’t break that rule. I had to stand, bent over the entire time. Occasionally I would lower myself and rest in a tuck position of tuck-n-roll, but of course I wouldn’t roll. My legs and back could get some relief in the tuck position and still, only my feet were touching the floor. I had to be very cautious in the tuck position, because loss of balance (which was very feasible considering my weak state) could mean that some part of my uncovered body could touch the ground and that would result in even more ritualizing, including a lengthy and thorough cleansing in the shower.
So what led to ninety percent of my apartment being deemed contaminated in the first place? It was a house-warming party to celebrate my new apartment; the irony. Shortly after I had moved into my apartment and furnished and decorated it with carefully selected, tasteful and consequently often expensive furniture and décor, I decided to have my closest friends over for a night of wine, cheese, and other tasty and tasteful hors d’oevres. My apartment wasn’t completely done but sufficiently furnished to impress and give an indication of the living style it would cultivate.
I had my custom-made tan-toned sofa delivered from Pompeii (high-end furniture store, not ancient Roman city destroyed by a volcano) and it was banqueted by a pair of large club chairs from Pottery Barn. The coffee table and matching end table were dark wood in color and rustic, evoking a Tuscan sensibility. There was an antique Chinese, reddish side table my friend Aliza had already gifted to me as an early house-warming present. The lamp from Crate & Barrel on the end table was a large rounded, eggshell colored, crackled porcelain base and held a large cylindrical shade that was made of a woven taupe fabric. When the lamp was on, it emitted the perfect soft lighting to flatter all skin tones. The area rug under the coffee table was earth tones with some blue and evocative of an antique Persian rug, but was actually just a contemporary reproduction.
It would be a classy event. This was the first place I was living in all on my own; it was large and quaint at the same time with a great layout; it was bright and sunny; and it was located in a part of Beverly Hills that was a short walk to some great cafes and more importantly, my work. I was very excited about it and I wanted to christen it properly with friends.
Unfortunately, as is custom to my character, everything was left to the last minute, so on the day of my housewarming party, I was running around getting the items I needed. In addition to buying the wine and edibles, I realized I needed some aesthetically pleasing serving platters. I had planned to make a trip to Crate & Barrel to get some serving platters, but I had just bought some groceries from a market that was very close to a Pier 1 Imports, so decided to head there instead of trying to fight traffic to get back to Crate & Barrel. This inclination for efficiency proved to be a massive mistake.
After parking my car in Pier 1 Import’s lot, I briskly walked in and headed straight toward the dishware. My time was running out and my guests would be arriving in about an hour and a half. I had yet to change, set up the hors d’oevres, light candles and execute other elements needed to convey an elegant yet casual mood.
I quickly identified some bone white serving platters in various sizes, but all with clean lines and aesthetic, that weren’t excessively priced so I carefully selected a few to purchase. I always selected ones that were toward the middle or back of the pile as the first ones were usually the ones that were picked up and handled to be examined by the store customers. This rule applied to almost everything I purchased actually.
After I had all my platters, I walked up the checkout lines to pay for them. I identified the most acceptable cashier first. Then I examined the other customers in line ahead of me waiting for that cashier. Unfortunately, one of them didn’t pass my OCD’s acceptability criteria, so I had to look to the next best cashier. Her line contained even more OCD-restrictive patrons waiting to pay. After pacing back and forth a few times in search of acceptable cashiers and customers in their line, I noticed the strain in my left arm. I was holding all the platters up with my left hand and had them pressed against my chest for stability and support. My left hand was my “clean hand” since I didn’t use it to touch things and since I knew I would be serving food on these platters, I wanted to keep them as clean as possible.
After about twenty minutes of pacing back and forth, I decided I had wasted way too much time and knew my guests would arrive shortly, which only further exacerbated my stress about running out of time. Oh and my arm was really starting to hurt now from the weight of the platters. I decided to pick the second most acceptable cashier as she now had people in line who didn’t seem too bad. Granted she already had unacceptable people in her line before who she tended to, and was therefore already cross-contaminated with them, but I felt enough time and customers had passed between the time she helped those unacceptable customers and others who were in her line, so that gave me some reassurance. I was running out of time and arm strength, so I had to try to rationalize getting in her line. (The irrational rules of OCD were seemingly arbitrary yet highly complex. A taxing combo.) The other lines still had “unacceptable” patrons in them, so this was my best option at present.
I got in line and waited impatiently. After the checkout lady rang me up and wrapped and bagged my platters, I paid and grabbed the bag with my left hand. I quickly walked to my car and popped open the rear door. The trunk of my Ford Explorer had become a storage place for items I wanted to keep but didn’t have any other place to keep them. My apartment wasn’t an option as I was already using whatever small, uncontaminated space there was left in it. So my car’s trunk became a holding area. Of course, clean things couldn’t rattle around and accidentally come into contact with other items, so I kept a box in the trunk and all “clean” items were placed into the box. There was so much junk in my trunk now (literal junk) that the box was held securely in place by all the other debris stuffed in the trunk around it. Anyway, the platters were placed into the box along with the groceries I had just purchased. All “safe” items were placed in that box until I needed them.
Despite the fact that my car was a large Ford Explorer SUV, that box, intended for office files making it a relatively small one, was the only safe holding area in my car. Again, I was relegated to using a very small portion of ample space. This recurring logistical limitation was an apt metaphor for my life in general. After everything was packed in, I got in the driver’s seat and headed for home to prepare everything.
At home, I emptied the contents of the box in my car and placed everything onto the kitchen counters, which I had thoroughly cleaned with bleach when I first moved in, and then wiped with Clorox disinfecting wipes for extra good measure. I placed the groceries into the fridge shelves and drawers, which had all been taken apart and carefully cleaned with bleach as well, and also thoroughly wiped down with the disinfecting wipes. As these would hold food, I had rinsed them with water after the disinfection.
After all the food was stored away, I started on the task of preparing the appetizer platters. First, I took out the various cheeses and placed them onto a large white platter. Between the brie, goat and aged white cheddar cheeses, I placed various multigrain crackers, baguette slices, and grapes. I poured some Wasabi peas into a white bowl. On a large white platter, I placed vegetables around a bowl of hummus. Everything looked clean and serene. I starting to get excited for my guests but had to still get dressed! I would place some sliced fruit on another platter and then change into my pre-selected outfit for the night. I took out the last platter from the bag to wash, and as I unwrapped it from the protective paper the cashier had wrapped it in, my heart stopped and the world froze.
I knew this unexpected sensation. It was shock just before the onset of massive panic. At first I just stared at the platter. I had turned it over to inspect it and on the bottom of the platter was where I noticed it. A smear. A reddish-brownish smear. The color of dried blood on porcelain. I held the platter and stared at the stain. My grip tightening and weakening simultaneously. I looked at the stain closer, very close. I yearned for any indication that this was definitely not blood, but some other similarly colored substance. Smudged ink, a paint defect, anything. However, the more closely I inspected the stain, the more apparent it became that this could easily be a blood stain. I couldn’t rule that possibility out. As much as I tried desperately to find something, any minute trace of something, any possible indication or trace element in the pattern or hue of the smear that could assure beyond question that this stain was not of human blood. I tried to reverse roles and play tricks on my mind as it often did on me to convince myself that this wasn’t blood. It was fine. It was just from a marker the stock room guys at Pier 1 had used, or something, anything, else. But I was almost an expert in the various patterns and colors dried blood would assume on various surfaces. Being obsessed with avoidance of it meant I was very well versed with its appearance in different forms. And this stain could easily be dried blood. I was starting to feel dizzy and rage at the same time. Why was this happening now?! On this night?! In my pristine, new home?!
Time was passing. I had to act. My friends were coming. First, I dropped the platter into my kitchen trash bin. Then I went to wash my hands thoroughly. About fifteen minutes later, I tried to stabilize some of my thoughts so as to weigh my options. My initial thought was to cancel the housewarming. However, cancelling within thirty minutes of my guests’ arrival seemed too odd, even for me. My friends would be alarmed and annoyed by the last-minute maneuvering. My brother would assume that I was in the midst of an OCD trigger and understand that in such instances there was no swaying me toward reason, but my friends would try to question my sudden change of plans. I couldn’t cancel. I would have them over. I would force myself to be a good host and continue as if I hadn’t come upon a possibly blood-stained platter. I would pretend that it was an ink stain (it very well could be!) and carry on with the evening. I had to start moving. Staying frozen in thought wouldn’t work. I needed to move. The next thing I had to do was change clothes, so I walked into my bedroom.
I opened the closet door and looked inside my closet, which I had also thoroughly wiped down with bleach when I moved in, including the interior walls as my closet would hold clothes that would be on my bare skin. I looked at the shirt and good pair of jeans I had decided to wear for the housewarming. I undressed and threw my clothes into one of the pair of woven reed laundry baskets I ordered from Potterybarn.com. I grabbed the pair of jeans I planned to wear off the hanger and put them on and them grabbed the shirt off the hanger and put it on. I tidied up my room some more and went into the kitchen.
I took all the platters and placed them onto my coffee table. Then I grabbed some of the silverware I purchased with my sister in Portland, Oregon and placed those on the coffee table. I had a fondness for the silverware. The handles were in the shape of bamboo reeds. I placed some napkins on the coffee table as well and took a step back. All looked very nice.
I had purchased a bunch of tea candle glass votives along with tea candles and aligned them on the floor edge throughout my living room. I lit the candles and along with the light coming from my lamp, they emitted a warm glow throughout my apartment. Everything looked beautiful, I thought. Why did it have to get ruined? Why?!
I wouldn’t let myself think about the blood stain now. I had to concentrate on my housewarming and try to move on.
My doorbell rang. The first of the guests had arrived. I went to grab a paper-towel and folded it over two times to use as a barrier to use on the doorknob. I would pretend I was using the paper-towel to do some last-minute wiping down. I went to open my door with my paper-towel in hand. I had to not think about the stain. Just don’t think about the stain! I would ruminate later, not now. I needed to be a good host. A good, normal host. As I looked at the doorknob with my paper-towel protected hand, turning it slowly, so as to let the first of my guests in my new apartment, I felt desperately sad.