One of the highlights of a young teenager’s life: eighth-grade graduation. My youngest nephew had that experience this week. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. What does that mean for a germophobe aunt?
For one, it means standing in the sweltering heat (I chose to stand rather than sit in the crowded, uncomfortable bleachers). It would seem that standing would be safer than bumping elbows in the packed stands, but I found myself constantly dodging the people coming down off the steps. Why do they have to get so close? There was plenty of room for them to go around me. It was a long wait in the heat listening to long, boring speeches, and my nephew was one of the last graduates to walk across the stage. Finally, it ended. Then we family members had to find him in the sea of people streaming out. Dodge here, dodge there – at last a clearing to stand and look. We found him after a few minutes.
My precious nephew looking half-grownup – how well I remember the countless hours I spent walking and consoling that colicky baby with that sweet, irresistible face. Tears welled up as I watched him there. He hugged his mother, he hugged another aunt, and then he looked at me. He started to put his arms out but then he stepped back realizing that this was the aunt that hadn’t hugged him in two or three years. I looked back at him, struggling with my conflicting feelings, and I said, “Why not!” My nephew replied, “Oh, because it’s a special occasion,” and I hugged him.
What a simple thing to do, a thing that billions of people do every day without a second thought. I did it, but afterwards there was a flood of thoughts. Was my hair touched? My left hand clutching my purse was still clean, but what should I do about the right hand and arm that I put around him? Should I just do a spritz with alcohol when I got back in my car, or should I go through the full cleaning ritual of seven or eight sprays and wipes? On and on the deluge came, and all the while I stood there looking as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
When I got to my car, I decided that I would start with one spray and see how I felt. If one is good, two is better, and I kept going. But now I was on my way to his house for the party. What if I hugged him again? I would have to start spraying all over again. I did a few sprays and then stopped and held my right hand up in the air. A few seconds passed, and I glanced at my hand. It had the stiff appearance of a manikin. I was afraid to move it. Then I realized that I at least had to clean my hand even if my arm was not finished because I needed it to function at the party. I finally completed the ritual while parked in front of their house.
I didn’t hug him again that evening, but that was not the last of my OCD events. There were relatives present from the other side of my nephew’s family that I had not seen in quite some time. We chatted and caught up on life happenings. Everything seemed to be going reasonably well when someone asked, “What’s with the plastic?” I had been standing there leaning against a counter with a sandwich baggie on one hand. Five years ago I would have gone to great lengths to hide it or not use one at all but keep my hands closely folded against my body. At this point in my life, I feel that enough relatives and friends know about my OCD that I don’t care that much if they see some of my eccentricities. Then something like this occurs where it’s someone I haven’t seen in a long time, I am suddenly quite self-conscious again. It was an uncle from the other side of the family that saw it, and then his wife became curious and wanted to know what he was talking about. There was really nothing to do but roll with the situation, so I held my baggie-covered hand high in the air and said, “In case you didn’t see it.” I didn’t explain it; I just laughed and assumed that they would figure it out later.
So, was it worth it? Yes, I am glad that I hugged my nephew on his special occasion. Sometimes all the extra work and discomfort involved with having OCD is worth a moment like that.