OCD is like a hungry dog with a bone. It’s just not letting go. And people telling me to ignore it doesn’t help. Especially as it’s one of my f*cking bones.
“So what have you learned from all your travels, Yan?” I’ve been asked more than once.
‘That you can’t outrun a mental illness,’ is my instinctive answer.
“The world is getting smaller,” I say instead. Or something along those lines.
“You’ve been to Ecuador, haven’t you? How was it?”
And my mind’s eye looks back several years…
I was riding on the roof of a train in Ecuador. Although it sounds like something out of a Hollywood adventure film, it wasn’t. The locals rode in the carriages, the tourists, me and thirty other backpackers, took the opportunity to sit on top, just because we could. Besides, it was in the Lonely Planet, so…
The problem was that Crow was being a devil that morning. Heavy, dark stuff, claws in bone-deep, a rusty spike driven into my eyeball like a stake through a vampire’s heart. It had killed me on the spot.
We were packed onto the rooftop, nowhere for me to hide, sandwiched between four Irish girls sipping at plastic bottles from their day packs. We joked while they knocked back vodka and whiskey and aguardiente. It was early, Crow was swearing in my head, and I was looking down the barrel of a five-hour journey with my new friends. One of the girls offered me her canteen.
I can’t even remember what the intrusive thought was now, but Crow delivered his usual threats into my ear. I couldn’t face the day like this. But there was nowhere to run.
A well-used excuse flashed into my mind like an old friend showing up on my doorstep.
‘Long time no see,’ I thought, as a figure in a long black mac slipped past me with a wink and a nod of his head.
“Cheers,” I said, holding up my hand and rejecting the alcohol. “But I had a late one last night and I’m suffering for it.”
And there went my day, bounding over the horizon with a skip and a leap. It left behind a stinking present in a black plastic bag. I kicked it off the train roof.
I settled down, spread out on the metal roof, pretending to be hungover, closed my eyes and ruminated over a stupid thought as Ecuador sped past, whistling in my ears. I glimpsed the Dragon’s Nose, or whatever mountain it was the train was headed for, between heavy eyelids and over the shoulder of giggling Irish girls.
“Yeah, Ecuador was fine,” I say.
But don’t look back in anger.
In fact, just don’t look back at all.
For me, looking back is like peering into a witch’s cauldron. An old bony hand stirring the bubbling broth; disturbing the liquid until the memories and old thoughts, the rats’ tails and sheep’s eyes, bobble and turn on the surface – a renewed lease of life to haunt me all over again, a dead hand rising from the grave. A wooden spoon whips the gloop into a swirling mess, like when I’m watching a TV show and one of the actors reminds me of a former factory supervisor. A faint noise carries through the air, an almost inaudible squeaking of leather as a black-gloved finger applies pressure to a trigger – Crow the assassin on a grassy knoll.
I try to forget those bad days; it’s like tap-dancing in a minefield, limbs and shattered bones scattered on the grass as the Crimson Knight watches astride his braying horse, smoking a fat cigar and shouting, “‘tis but a flesh wound!” I stuffed my supervisor into a cupboard, wedging a chair in front of the door, but my thoughts are active now…I’m a young Yan Baskets and Oasis are on the radio. I remember all the time I wasted in bed, scratching the wallpaper, trying to squeeze giant crow-shaped thoughts into tiny square boxes, sweating beneath the bedsheets in the clothes that I was too lethargic to take off the previous night. An old chicken burger festers in its greasy box, balanced on a chair stacked to the ceiling with dirty jeans and t-shirts. Whenever I heard my brother’s key in the front door, I’d jump out of bed, shuffle downstairs and pretend everything was normal, no problem, I haven’t been curled up in the fetus position all day. I ruined days like this and now I’m angry at myself and that awful crow.
I peer deeper into the cauldron…
Another turn of the spoon and I’m further back in time, memories focusing on those confused school years, dark concepts, like mangy wolves, howling inside my head as the teacher explained photosynthesis, sinister ideas turning over and over like knives in a spin-dryer. Heart-pounding dilemmas that look silly now; why did I spend those lessons torturing myself over such ridiculous distortions of the truth?
I was told OCD sufferers rarely act on their ‘urges.’ But I remember as a child biting the hands off my toy soldiers, or nibbling on their plastic guns. I’d hold a tiny figurine between thumb and finger, and Crow (although I didn’t know him as that in those days), would encourage me to chew and mutilate the head, or the rifle, or the trailing leg. I’d do it too, and as my fears became more gruesome, I worried that I would carry out darker deeds that the crow whispered into my ear. I scribbled on drawings I was proud of, or scrunched up the paper into tiny balls, because my O C Demon said that I could, and when the fear or urges got violent I was terrified that I would act upon them, like I did the drawings, and I would remember biting the hands off my toy soldiers and think “what if I grabbed the knife and…”
Another peek into that stinking broth and a rotting fear resurfaces, hot liquid scalding my face. I had a month of trouble with this particular spike in the bad ol’ days – paranoia burned a hole and left a scar. But did I ever get it ‘sorted’ in my thoughts? Or did it slip through the net? Should I be worried again? Is it current in today’s market? I tic it away, and Little One asks me what I just said, quickly realising I was wrestling Crow and turning back to the TV. She’s good like that.
I rarely look back, even on the good times, because bad things are always lurking nearby. Writing this blog often nudges old fears to life, but in the long run, it helps. Or it feels like it does. It’s one of the only times I dare to reminisce.
Christmas is over and here we all are. I suppose I’ll be on a plane again soon. Of all the places I’ve been, because I tend not to look back, it sometimes feels like I’ve never been anywhere at all. It’s a return to the drawing board I guess, sticking a pin in a map and all the rest of the cliches I regurgitate when people ask me where I’m going next.
I recline on the sofa, ignoring the television, losing myself in the cosmos as I distance myself from the figure on the grassy knoll.
I don’t look back; I don’t look forward, only sideways into space.