A brief tutorial before the fictional short story that follows:
Harm OCD takes various forms. An example is a person with OCD who feels it is their responsibility to protect people from items they think might cause others harm. No, I'm not talking about seeing a used syringe and taking the appropriate safety precautions to dispose of it. I'm talking about something like a small rock. Seeing a small rock on the pavement could lead to catastrophic thinking for someone with this form of OCD. Their mind might race to thoughts like, "Is that rock sharp? What if it has jagged edges? What if someone kicks it and it hits them in the eye? What if they go blind? I have to move the rock. It will be my fault if I don't move the rock." OCD doesn't care about logic. It wants you to worry and take action to keep it satisfied.
Waves and the stereotypical surfer are home to Venice Beach. Before you hit the boardwalk, I promise you'll spot the blonde locks and accompanying wet suit. At least that was my introduction to Venice. That, and a man in a parka, winter boots and fur hat--everything needed for a hike in Alaska. Or you might spot the vendor with his dog wearing a bikini with wads of dollar bills tucked under the strings. Just make sure you have bills of your own if you want a snapshot of the circus.
Walk a bit further and you'll be asked if you'd like a marijuana medical card, further still and you'll be offered a free copy of a rapper's demo. Say no to both. Keep walking, past the smell of sweat from muscle beach, and maybe you'll spot what I did: Demon Dream Catcher, sprawled across a dilapidated sign in chicken scratch.
When you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, anything that might rope it in and catch it in its netting was intriguing. Was this the spider web of Venice Beach? Was this where OCD would go to die?
An elderly woman dressed in a burgundy robe sat upright in a rocking chair with a tin of colourful yarn resting on her lap. If this was another photo op, she sure could have taken note from the Alaskan.
An abandoned sun hat embroidered with gemstones lay on the pathway separating the two of us. I kicked it onto the nearby grass, trying to be inconspicuous to avoid questioning of my motives.
After all, according to my therapist, I shouldn't have kicked the sun hat aside. I should have left it on the pathway and accepted the uncertainty of whether someone might trip on it and break a bone. Or worse, get concussed and die. It would be my fault. Rationally, I knew I couldn't protect everyone. Rationally, I knew I couldn't keep taking an extra hour walking home from work while I kicked aside a pebble here, a stone there. Let's not even get started on the day I found a shard of glass.
The woman peered at me with her eyes squinted, "Dream catcher for demon. Ten dollars. Cash only.”
Would her mess of yarn be enough to tangle OCD into oblivion? I was working diligently, or not so diligently, with a therapist.
Ten dollars it was.
She requested I close my eyes. Why? So she could pickpocket me?
She sensed my hesitation and peered deeper. I decided the table between us would protect me from theft. Closed eyes it was.
I listened to her shuffling around. I figured she must be grabbing an assembled dream catcher from under her table. I mentally prepared to act surprised when she presented it to me, knowing her tin can of yarn was all a ruse.
That was it? Shouldn't her ruse have taken enough time to be plausible?
Regardless, I did as I was told and saw the sun hat sitting in front of me on her table. The yarn, untouched. No dream catcher. Just the hat.
I swallowed the lump in my throat as she smiled, “you know what to do."
Funny thing was, I did. It was like she had embodied my therapist (if he wore a burgundy robe and sat in a rocking chair, that is.) He would tell me to undo the compulsion: put the hat back on the boardwalk.
But this wasn't my therapist. This wasn't even a dream catcher.
I studied the sun hat more carefully. The hustle and bustle of Venice would make it easy for an innocent tourist to trip over it among the sea of feet. The hat's gemstones had sharp edges. Someone could get cut and become infected. Maybe the sun hat itself was infected. Maybe it was infected with lice. I couldn't touch it. But I couldn’t let anyone else touch it. They would get lice. Tourists would spend their trip combing through their scalps, never to return to the home of stereotypical surfers.
The mysterious woman abruptly grabbed my hand and placed it on the hat and together we threw it into the swarming tourists.
And with that, she settled back into her rocker, placed the tin can onto her lap and nudged me to continue down the boardwalk.
So I walked, convinced I had heatstroke. Heatstroke could lead to hallucinations, right? I needed to find WiFi and learn the symptoms. I needed water. I didn't trust myself. I had discarded a dangerous sun hat onto a walkway with a stranger. I had to go back. I had to return and throw it out. I could stop and buy gloves. I knew I was giving in to the compulsion. I didn't care. Broken bones, concussions, infections and lice awaited the tourists. It was up to me to protect them.
Except the chicken scratch sign wasn't there when I returned. How much time had gone by? I asked the nearby busker when the woman had left.
"Who? What burgundy robe? Rocking chair? Sweetie, this space beside me is prime real estate. No one's snatched it up yet. I do my yoga there. It's just a matter of time before the space is taken. You're not interested, are you?"
I walked back home in a daze. I needed to get home. I would be able to make sense of what happened once I got home. Once I had a chance to sit down, I would be able to think and figure it out. I would research the symptoms of heatstroke and find an explanation.
Until I reached down to take off my shoes and saw the piece of yarn.