I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m, to use a popular euphemism, quirky. I am a person of odd rituals and comforting routines, bordering on OCD. A lot of these habits revolve around food, because I have a history of eating disorders. It’s not always easy, but I’ve learned to live with it, and a lot of the time, I forget just how odd I might seem to others. Until someone points it out.
On Wednesdays, I take a class at a branch of my gym that is right near a mall. So every couple of Wednesdays or so, I stop by this mall, which has a Sweet Factory, and get a supply of chocolate malt balls. Now, when most people go into a self-serve candy shop, they go to their chosen bin, stick the scoop into the gumballs or chocolate-covered gummy bears or what have you, and fill their bag. Not me. I take one bag, open the bin of dark chocolate malt balls, and carefully count out 20 of them. I shuffle through and make sure I choose the biggest ones. Then I take another bag, open the bin of milk chocolate malt balls, and do the exact same thing. Twenty each.
I’ve been doing this for a long time, and didn’t think much of it. Until last Wednesday, when the perky young thing behind the counter recognized me. “You’re always here on Wednesdays, aren’t you!” she chirped. OK, she remembered me; no biggie there. But after I got my candy and came to the counter, she cocked her head and asked, “Do you always count them?”
I was so taken aback, all I could do was stammer, “Um, yeah.” She added, “I see you doing that and I was just wondering!” I mumbled something about portion control and she burbled, “Well, that’s great, you’re keeping your weight down!” No, Miss Bubbles, it’s not about that. It’s about control, period. It’s about knowing exactly how much I’m eating, because I have to keep track of it. When I left, I felt like I never wanted to go back, I was so embarrassed at being caught at my ritualizing by a stranger.
It’s not just about the food, though. I’ve always been this way, as far back as I can remember. My mother said when I was very small, I’d get upset and cry if she changed the furniture or the knick-knacks around. “It doesn’t go there,” I’d sob. Where does that come from? Also when I was little, the housekeeper/nanny used to bring me a cup of warm milk every night just before I went to sleep. Except when she had the night off; then my mother would bring it. And inevitably, she’d put the milk in a glass. Warm milk is warm milk, right? Tastes the same, despite its vessel? Not for me. I was thrown by this. After all, everyone knows that only cold beverages go in drinking glasses, and hot ones go in cups. Why couldn’t she see that?
I love The Big Bang Theory. Talk about quirkiness! And yes, I relate to Sheldon. Certain foods that go with the days of the week? Check. Scheduling everything? Check. Hating change? Check. Fortunately, I don’t share his disdain for all things affectionate and intimate. And I don’t schedule my bowel movements like he does. Although I probably would, if I were physically capable of doing so.
I have annoyed and baffled people most of my life. Referring to any one of my “quirks,” my mother would say, “Don’t do that. People will think you’re weird.” Guess what, Ma? I am.
Friends/family/co-workers didn’t get me at all. I gave up on being understood long ago, because I didn’t even understand myself. One man, many years ago, said something so unkind, I never forgot it. “People say you’re difficult, but they’re wrong. You’re not difficult; you’re impossible.”
Then I met John.
John, too, is quirky in his own way. But one oddball doesn’t always necessarily accept another. Accept. That was a word I didn’t become familiar with until the past 20 years or so. I wanted so badly to be understood. Screw understanding. You don’t have to understand me; just accept me. John was the first man in my life to give me this.
Not quite at first. I remember the first time, very early in the relationship, that we went for Chinese food. This restaurant provided calorie info, and I ordered deliberately, choosing a half-order of a main dish and a half-order of broccoli and mushrooms, knowing the total calorie count of both. When the food arrived, John did what people do at Chinese restaurants: he picked up my dish of vegetables and started spooning them onto his plate. Then he looked at me and his hand froze.
He said I had a stricken look on my face; I’d literally gone white. “Is this not OK?” he asked.
I was mortified. “Well,” I stammered, feeling like an idiot, “it’s just that I know exactly how many calories I’m eating, and if you take some of it, then I won’t know…” My voice trailed off as I realized how insane I sounded.
The look on his face was puzzled, to say the least. But all he did was scrape the vegetables off his plate and back onto the serving dish, and hand it over to me. That was the beginning of acceptance.
We get each other. We share some of the same quirks; in others, we differ. He doesn’t have all my food weirdness. But he, too, is highly ritualized, has his own routines and must-dos. And while he can tease me affectionately about my oddities, he will not allow others to do so. If someone in his family, for example, makes a comment about my food issues, he will firmly say, “You don’t get to give her a hard time about that. That’s just the way she is.”
Same thing goes for him. He’ll be doing something or another in his routine fashion and ask, “Am I OCD, sweetie?” I’ll answer, “Yes, honey. You are. But it’s OK, so am I.” There is affection and acceptance in our teasing, not ridicule.
We go for the same brunch every Sunday. We always request the same server, and she never brings us menus. In fact, she puts in our order as soon as she sees us come in. Because it never changes. And we both have our oddities around it. I cannot stand to have my pancakes on the same plate as my eggs and other stuff, because I don’t like the syrup getting into the other food. Our server knows this. But a couple of weeks ago, another server brought the food, and there were my pancakes, crammed onto the same plate. I managed to take a breath and then quietly say, “May I have another plate, please?” When she walked away, John said my face was, once again, horror-struck. But he wasn’t judging. He has his own shtick. Sometimes, the server will bring his omelet and say, “English muffin’s coming, John.” He_will_not start eating his other food until the muffin arrives. He just won’t. And I get it.
Sometimes I wonder — how many people are like me? Somewhat, at least. Are there others out there with routines and rituals, with the need for sameness? Is spontaneity, which is anathema to me, something that everyone else is capable of embracing?
I never thought I’d meet someone who would so thoroughly get me, like John does. And sometimes, I think he’s the only one who does, because he’s just as much an oddball as I am. But that’s ridiculous. Still, after nearly 17 years, he’s seen a whole hell of a lot of oddball behavior from me, more than any other person has. And he’s still here.
He is not well. I know this. He hasn’t been well for some time now; ever since that incident a couple of years ago, his malfunctioning heart valve has weakened further. The time is approaching when he’s going to have to seriously consider surgery. Ironically, he’s in the best physical condition he’s been in since I’ve known him. He works out every day and is fit and strong; his blood pressure, pulse and cholesterol are low. But he is tired all the time. His heart has to work so much harder to compensate for the defective valve, and it’s exhausting.
Next month, he’s going for an angiogram. It’s a lengthy test and he won’t be able to drive himself home, so he’s going to take a cab to the hospital early in the morning and I will pick him up sometime that afternoon. Last night, we were discussing it on the phone, and he started talking about advance directives and power of attorney, and what I should do in case there’s some sort of emergency, and asked me if I’d research about documents regarding this stuff. And I burst into tears. I don’t want to have to think about this. I don’t. I don’t. But sooner or later, I will have to. More changes and disruptions, and more things to fear.
John, bless his heart, even apologized to me, saying he knows that having to pick him up at the hospital next month will “disrupt my routine.” Who else would do that, but someone who completely accepts me and knows I can’t help the way I am? Does anyone else like this exist, really?
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, kids. Maybe I’m just trying to figure out if I’m as alone in my oddness as I think, or if others get it too. Because sometimes, I am so very afraid. Especially when I consider that I will, more than likely, outlive the person who knows me better than I know myself.
Thanks for reading, if you managed to get this far. On a positive note, I got Chrossed today. It’s the weekend and I’m heading for John’s later. And Monday, I get to see Mr. D, who feeds my soul in special and needed ways, too.
Have a great weekend, y’all.