by Danielle Watkins
Notice that your cousin Amy is biting her nails and isn’t playing with the Barbies anymore. Ask her to move Ken into the car – Barbie and Kelly are waiting for him to drive them to the candy store. When she tells you she is nervous about Grammy, move Ken into the front seat of the hot pink convertible for her while subtly adding in the occasional “It’s ok” or “don’t worry.”
Acknowledge that Grammy will probably be with the angels soon, but don’t kiss her good-bye; anything but that. You can’t go around willy-nilly touching contagious people. Vaguely hear your mom say that you can’t catch what Grammy has, but ignore the remark. After much persuading, reluctantly bend down and notice the fine, white hairs on your Grammy’s cheeks. Kiss her. Then, wait for the explosion in your mind. Wait for the snap that will change your life forever.
Go to school and make friends; here you’ll meet Suzie and Emma and maybe a Mary or two, but notice that you’re not raising your hand in class as much. Notice that feeling in your gut, telling you something is wrong because it’s acting queasy and unsettled. Ask to go to the bathroom but actually go to the nurse. Tell Mrs. Wheeler that you feel like a big ball is in your stomach and you don’t know why. Feel the tears coming, the big, salty drops falling onto your flushed cheeks.
You get to go home, but your mom keeps glancing at you through the rearview mirror. Find out you have to go to the doctor’s office, but realize it isn’t Dr. Gulch’s building once your mom pulls up into the parking lot. Go slowly inside, clinging to you mom’s arm. Once there, sit on the poorly furnished chair in the waiting room and look for an American Girl magazine. Find none –not even anything else interesting – and wait. Look at the clock as it makes that ticking noise while wringing your hands until your mom tells you that the wait isn’t much longer. Realize for the first time you’re wringing your hands. Dr. Hayes calls your name in a quiet, but authoritative voice, so you rise and quickly glance back to make sure your mom is coming too. She puts the magazine she barely read on the magazine pile. Observe the magazine pile. Notice how unorganized the pile is and notice how much that worries you because you suddenly feel the urge to fix the pile but you can’t.
Dr. Hayes is a weird name. Imagine that his house is somewhere on the countryside with mooing cows and large bales of hay. He talks to your mom as you’re thinking this and then you also realize he has no tools that doctors usually have, like that thing that listens to your heartbeat. Then, Dr. Hayes addresses you, saying how are you and do you feel ok. Say you feel fine, noticing that your stomach doesn’t hurt anymore, but is gurgling and wants to be fed. Your mom is asked to leave. Don’t freak out; or, at least, tell yourself not to freak out but freak out anyways. Suddenly realize Dr. Hayes asked you a question, his gentle eyes peering at you in anticipation. Ask him to repeat it. He asks you if you worry. Don’t be mistaken by his question, though. It’s not the kind of worry where you think you forgot your homework at home but then realize it’s in your backpack; it’s the kind of worry that invades your mind and forces you to repeat pointless rituals, like washing your hands so much that they end up red and dry. Like having to change outfits after school because the clothing you wore there is contaminated. Like being unable to open the front door of your house because there are germs on the doorknob. Like having complete panic attacks if you are in danger of catching germs from a person or object.
After you tell him yes, you do worry, you play with the landscape puzzles in his office. Then, after the session, you leave with your mom, who you will later realize is your rock, your safe haven during these times. Once home, eat your family-friendly dinner consisting of dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and crispy tater tots. Go to your room and make sure there are no bugs hiding under the covers at the foot of your bed. Get on your Ariel pajamas. Check the bed one more time before calling your mom and asking her to examine the bed. She tucks you in while you ask her if you’re going to be ok. She smiles and says yes. You don’t realize her eyes are glassy as she walks out and turns off the light. Sleep, awaken, repeat. Always repeat at least twice. But don’t be surprised if you end up repeating more. Always repeat.