My Dad’s OCD

An excerpt from a piece of creative nonfiction I wrote when I was 20, my own attempt at capturing something of what it was like to grow up with my dad and his OCD.


I thought of my parents’ eternal argument: dad’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My mom incessant: he must try to get a handle on it, the stress will give him a heart attack, it’s ruining our marriage, his life, our friendship, he’s becoming abusive, dysfunctional, he can’t even leave our house without us attending to him. And, of course, always the question, the question I knew my mother had asked herself because I had asked myself: Why, if he loves me, won’t he make the effort to control it?

I thought of past incidents, long after my dad had moved into his own house a few blocks down the street. I thought of his frequent visits to my house (which I think he still considered his home), and how the night would end.

Always the same ritual.

First, the hour-long stare at the stove, body poised at the head of the kitchen as far away as possible from the shiny black knobs that governed the gas flow to the burners. His arms held carefully away from his body, wrinkles forming just above his nose lifting the bridge of his glasses, he would watch the knobs like a goose watches a fox, ever ready for flight. This desperate vigilance to prevent the cooking gas asphyxiating me and my mother in our sleep.

Then, a long motionless listen to assure himself that the air-conditioning had, in fact, been turned off; the noise might keep awake the neighbors; who knows, one of them could be a surgeon and slaughter his patient on the table the next day due to lack of sleep.

Next, his caress of our sleek Apple airport, to certify that it was, indeed, free of printer paper; the damn thing got so hot it might just burst the 8 ½ by 11 kindle aflame, and then the whole house would go up.

Then either my mother or I would escort him under protest out the front door. Many nights I let him out (how proud I was to be Isaac, the compliant son). But on uncommon nights, often winter nights, I would say, “No mom, you do it. I’m tired. I always do it. You do it for once,” and alone in my bedroom I would shake my tie-dyed comforter, spread the feathers, clinging in a thick roll at one end, evenly beneath the cloth, hoist myself into my bed, wrap the feathers and sheets around me, and curl up righteously on my stomach. I would hear them hug, exchange a voiced “Love,” the hinges swing and the door thud. Then my dad would check that the door had been locked.

Clunk, clunk, clunk. Clunk, clunk, clunk. The unsatisfying waltz he tugged from the handle, the heavy oak door straining against its frame, and the vital winter air, which I knew remained in the foyer after his exit, amassing its chill across the slate tile floor.

Pull, pull, pull. Clunk, clunk, clunk. “I can’t take it anymore,” cutting it short, my mother shouting in exasperation, a little wild with concern, and a thimble of hostility prodding her voice into wavering. “OK OK I’ll go home,” he would say through the door and the cold. Dad would drift off the porch to linger in front of my bedroom window.

I could divine his bulk through the screen: wisps of hair waving from his head, his shoulders broad with worry, his pants tucked into his socks, and his stomach, his hemi, bulging taught and circular. He would stand alert and silent, a dark eminence against the pine trees, growing in our dark and silent soil.[1]  He hovered, against the spicy wood exhaust flowing from the next-door chimney, against the security light affixed to the garage across the street. Thumbing my iPod, I would pause the playback of All Creatures Great and Small (the British accent always a reliable anesthetic), and twisting my elbow into the sheets, resting my head on my palm, say, “Dad?”

A breath. 

“Yes?”

The situation, this fifty-year-old man lurking in the yard outside my bedroom, I would laugh.

           “What?” dad would say, and render a laugh.

           “Go home dad. You need to sleep.”

Then, after three and half heartbeats, “OK, OK”

           “Dad, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

           “I’m really busy tomorrow. I have a meeting with the lawyers in the afternoon.”

           “How about coffee in the morning?”

           “Yeah, yes that should be OK. Just don’t call me too early, I won’t be able to sleep if I think you might call and wake me up”

           “I won’t call. How’s ten sound?”

           “Ten’s good. Right. OK. Ten. At Starbucks.”

           “Yeah.”

           “OK. Good. Ten O’clock.”

           “Yeah.”

           “At Starbucks.”

           “Yes.”

           “Ten O’clock.”

           “Go home dad.”

           “OK OK OK. Front door locked?

           “Yes.”

           “Phone on the hook?”

           “Dad, you need to sleep.”

           “OK OK you’re right…It’s just I don’t want the cats lying next to it on couch and getting cancer.”

           “Good night.”

           “You’re right, you’re right. Good night…Love”

           “Love.”

I wouldn’t tap the play button again until I could hear his engine, see his taillights glow like a red a UFO through my window. Then I would turn my face to my pillow, the familiar smell of sweat in the heat of my blanket, and sleep.

Footnotes

[1] My mother, the lover of nature she is, had replicated California’s coniferous forests in our suburban front yard: wood chips, pine trees and granite rocks, obstinate in the face of the lawns and palms of our neighbors.


This post was written by Isaac Weil. Please send any questions or concerns to content@subconscious.org.

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