LoveLines
Author:S. Walden

LoveLines by S. Walden

 

 

 

 

“Thirty-One”

 

Thirty-one rocks.

 

I didn’t give a thought to those rocks until I turned thirty-one. My best friend, Erica, threw me a surprise birthday party (because she’s fun like that), and I remember sitting at one of the VIP tables she reserved at the club, staring at the ice in my glass of vodka. The cubes transformed into those rocks—the ones I lined up on the porch steps when I was six years old.

 

I collected them throughout the day, narrowing my search to the pebbly shore of the lake on our property. Since it was an all-day project, I could afford to be picky, and I inspected each rock carefully before placing it in my pail or tossing it out into the water. In the late afternoon, I lined them on the edge of the third step to the kitchen door. I embarked on Phase 2 of my project: organizing the rocks according to size and color and lining them up from smallest to largest and lightest to darkest.

 

My mother opened the door with the wire egg basket hanging from her forearm and asked what I was up to.

 

“Playing,” I replied, sitting back on my heels to study my work.

 

I didn’t see her expression as she observed my little rock wall. Years later, I learned from my father that Mom closed the door softly, dropped the basket on the floor, and ran to the bedroom to cry. She knew in that instant what the rocks meant—what was happening in my brain—and she couldn’t stop it. I was my father’s child, and my inheritance would prove to be the greatest obstacle to meaningful romance.

 

Thirty-one rocks. Thirty-one disastrous relationships. Thirty-one years lonely.

 

Yeah. Thirty-one was shaping up to be my least favorite number.

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 7:51 A.M.

 

Okay, Bailey. You can do this. Just remember Dr. Gordon’s words: “You are in control.”

 

I reached for the door handle—the tips of my fingers mere millimeters from the shiny metal—then froze at the sound of the other voice. Not the encouraging one. Nope. It was the trying-to-destroy-my-life one.

 

Bailey, get real. You aren’t opening that door until 7:58 A.M. sharp. You know it. I know it. The door knows it.

 

Shut up, I thought angrily.

 

Look it, the voice continued. You open that door early, and we all know what’ll happen. Your entire day will be ruined.

 

It won’t, I argued.

 

It will, the voice insisted. Ignore 7:58 A.M. and what’s next? Forgetting to count your steps to your cubicle? Not using your hand sanitizer at noon and 3:00 P.M.? Why don’t you just screw up your entire existence while you’re at it, huh? I mean, why do you do these things, Bailey?

 

I dropped my hand and shrugged—shrugged—like I didn’t know. It was complete bullshit. But I shrugged anyway, the way a child does when she knows very well why she’s in trouble but doesn’t want to give her parents the satisfaction of saying it out loud. Confessing is, well, admission, and who wants to admit she has a mental disorder?

 

Oh God. I have a mental disorder.

 

Don’t pretend you don’t know, the voice chided.

 

I didn’t answer. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.

 

Purpose, Bailey. They give you purpose, the voice said patiently. You need purpose. If you walk through that door early, you’ve got no purpose.

 

Will you stop saying “purpose”?

 

Hey, I’m just trying to drive it home. You rely on purpose.

 

That’s ridiculous, I snapped.

 

Is it? the voice asked. You’ve walked through that door every day at precisely 7:58 A.M. for the last five years, three months, and seven days.

 

I cringed.

 

Why are you cringing? Don’t be ashamed. How many people can operate with that much precision? That much control?

 

But Dr. Gordon said it isn’t control—that I’m really not in control of anything. That it’s compulsion driving me to do these things.

 

The voice snorted. Yes, she actually snorted in my brain.

 

I glanced at the time on my cell phone: 7:53 A.M. I made a bold move and grabbed the door handle. I’d never done that before! It felt amazing and strange and wonderful and scary as hell.

 

“Oh. My. God,” I whispered, a bright smile spreading slowly across my face.

 

I felt powerful in that moment. I was in control. I could hear the voice screaming in the background, begging me to remove my hand. You’d think it were on a hot plate for all the racket she made. I ignored her, though. I buried her voice under an electric feeling of authority. It buzzed inside my veins, traveling at high speeds through my arms, setting my skin on fire.

 

In that moment, I truly believed I could do anything. I could rip open that damn door and march in, rebelling against my very nature—my brain that constantly tricked me into believing my routines were essential to my existence.