Two months later
Most days when Matt comes to work rather than working from home, we eat lunch together. At 10:45 a.m., sharp. Well, it used to be 10:45 sharp. I used to be very strict about making sure we met in the break room at that exact time, but now if Matt shows up at 10:46 or even 10:47, it’s okay. One day he got caught in a meeting and didn’t show up until 10:49, but I was fine.
It’s 10:40 a.m. right now, and I’m in the ladies’ room, washing my hands in anticipation of lunch. I scrub them for the requisite eleven seconds, then dry them off with a piece of brown paper towel. As I’m tossing the paper towel into the trash, I notice a small, dark red smear on the paper.
I freeze, taking a closer look at the paper towel. I know what I’m looking at—it’s blood. I put down the paper towel and look down at my hands.
There’s a cut on my left hand, which is oozing blood. It’s the only open area I can see, but my hands are overall red and raw. I feel stinging pain on my palms where the soap made contact with the tiny cracks in the skin. I stare at them for a moment, a sick feeling coming over me. My hands haven’t looked this way in years—they haven’t bled in so long. A few months ago, Matt commented on how soft they were.
How much have I been washing my hands? I didn’t think it was that much, but perhaps it is.
I’m now off all my regular medication for my OCD. I’m on a different medication, one that is safe to consume during the first trimester of pregnancy, but one that has proven not to be as effective for me in the past as my previous regimen. It’s better than nothing, Dr. Hayward reasoned.
But it’s clearly not enough.
I drop my hands, my heart pounding. This is not a big deal. So I’m washing my hands somewhat more than I used to in the past. It doesn’t mean all my symptoms are coming back. It’s just washing my hands. Maybe my hands are more sensitive because of the weather changing.
In any case, this is all temporary. Just until we are able to successfully conceive a child. We’ve had one unsuccessful attempt, but this month I have timed our copulation perfectly. Perhaps I am with child as we speak.
Oh my God, it’s 10:43! I have to get to the breakroom!
I rush out of the bathroom and down the hallway to the breakroom, arriving at 10:44. Matt isn’t there yet, but I notice the room is quite dirty. There are coffee rings all over the table! Luckily, I’ve got a minute to get the table clean. I grab a paper towel and the bottle of Lysol I keep under the sink. And I start scrubbing, my hands stinging painfully where the chemicals make contact with the dozens of tiny cuts on my skin.
10:45. Where is Matt?
There’s one ring of coffee that seems embedded in the table. I scrub and scrub, but it’s not coming out. I don’t understand it. What is going on here? Was the employee drinking some superhuman brand of coffee that is impermeable to conventional cleaning products? And where’s Matt? It’s 10:46. 10:46!
The door to the breakroom swings open, and before Matt can even get his chair entirely in the room, I snap at him, “You’re late!”
Matt’s mouth falls open. He stares up at me, blinking his kind brown eyes. I instantly feel horrible for yelling at him that way. What came over me? He’s only seventy-two seconds late. I’m sure he has a very legitimate excuse.
“Sorry,” I murmur. I drop my shoulders. “I… I can’t seem to get this coffee ring out of the table.”
The hurt fades from Matt’s face and he manages a smile. “Out, damned spot?”
Ooh, I like it when he quotes Shakespeare, even when it’s something as pedestrian as MacBeth. “Something like that.”
He wheels over to examine the coffee table. He places his fingers on the table, and I bite my tongue to keep from asking him if he washed his hands prior to coming to the breakroom. He always washes his hands—I shouldn’t have to ask him. But lately, I’ve been noticing the pushrims on his chair are quite dirty. I gave them a good scrubbing yesterday, but a lot can happen in a day. I probably need to scrub them daily. I’ll do it while he showers in the morning.
His eyes narrow as he finally detects the stubborn ring I’ve been furiously scrubbing. “Anna,” he says, “that ring is always there.”
I frown. “What? No, it isn’t.”
He nods. “Yes. It is.”
I look at the faint ring again. I slide my fingers over it, noting it doesn’t feel sticky. Could Matt be correct? Is this ring a permanent fixture on the table? If so, how is it possible I’ve only become aware of it today? It seems impossible I might not have noticed such a thing. My powers of observation are quite keen.
His eyebrows knit together. “Are you okay, Anna?”
“Yes,” I say quickly. “I’m fine. Totally fine.”
Please let me be okay. I don’t want to go back to being the way I was. I knew there would be a setback going off the medications, but I’ve done years of psychotherapy. I’ve got Zoloft. How could I revert to becoming the same ball of anxiety I was before? I thought Crazy Anna was gone—dead. But now it seems like she was only lurking in the shadows, waiting to come back when the drugs cleared out of my bloodstream.
I take a deep breath, trying to calm myself. I recite my mantra to myself. I’ve been using it more and more now that I do not have access to my Xanax:
Most germs are not harmful.
My immune system is strong.
I have a husband who loves me very much, and I love him.
It works. At least, I’m able to drop the paper towel in the garbage and make peace with the fact that the coffee ring will not be coming out of the table.
“So what’s for lunch?” Matt asks me.
This time I do not have to force my smile. Whenever Matt and I are having lunch together, I make him a sandwich. I used to make myself the same kind of sandwich every single day, but I could see him growing weary of that, so I have expanded my lunch repertoire in order to please him. I love it when I present him with a sandwich that brings a smile to his face. I know he thinks I am a skilled chef—I take pride in cooking for my husband.
“You will love it,” I tell him. “It’s turkey and brie on honey wheat bread.”
“Brie.” Matt nods appreciatively. “Brie is the best cheese there is.”
“Sometimes I wonder,” he says thoughtfully, “why people bother to put other kinds of cheese on sandwiches when brie exists.”
I laugh. “Well, you are the one who always says variety is important.”
He grins at me. There is, in my opinion, nobody as handsome as Matt when he smiles like that. I will not be ovulating tonight, which means we can focus solely on pleasure. It will be very nice. So nice. I can hardly wait.
“Let me get the sandwiches from the refrigerator,” I say, slightly breathless in my anticipation of what we will do tonight.
For many years, I refused to put my lunch in the communal refrigerator. I used to bring it in a cooler with an icepack and keep it with me at my desk until it was time for consumption. Three years ago, Matt convinced me this was silly, and I’ve been keeping my food in the fridge since then.
Except now when I open the fridge, I notice it hasn’t been cleaned in a very long time. I can see brown material lining the edges of the shelves. There’s a white film—possibly mold—all over the shelves. Someone has left an overripe banana in there that is turning a sickening shade of brown. There’s a carton of milk in the fridge and I spy the expiration date—yesterday!
Oh my God, how did this fridge become so unacceptably dirty? I suspect it does not receive regular cleaning in spite of warning messages appearing on the freezer that it is emptied out on a weekly basis. And our lunches have been sitting in there for hours, absorbing all the dirt and germs, restricted to that tiny space.
We can’t eat this food.
“Anna?” Matt says.
I swallow. I can’t tell my husband I need to throw out our lunches. He’ll think I’ve totally lost my mind. But we can’t eat them! We’ll certainly get sick.
Most germs are not harmful.
My immune system is…
Oh, to hell with it. I’m not eating this food.
“I’m sorry,” I say to Matt as I pull the paper bag containing our sandwiches from the fridge. “These sandwiches are no good and I need to throw them away.”
“What?” He’s staring at me in a way I haven’t seen in years.
“I’m sorry,” I say again as I toss the sandwiches in the garbage. I shake them out of the bag first, just so Matt will not attempt to convince me to salvage them. As if I would ever consider eating food out of a garbage can.
“I don’t understand…” He shakes his head. “What was wrong with the sandwiches?”
I imagine myself explaining about the refrigerator to him and know what he’ll think. He’ll explain to me in that patient way of his that the sandwiches were wrapped in a bag and are therefore safe to eat. But I don’t want to hear his “logical” explanation. I can see with my own eyes that the fridge is contaminated.
“They’re just no good,” I say finally.
He scratches at his head. “So… what are we supposed to eat?”
Good question. There’s a café downstairs, but I don’t go near it ever since I actually witnessed one of the employees going to the bathroom without washing her hands. To my horror, Matt is still willing to eat there, even now that he is privy to that piece of information.
“I’m going to go home,” I say.
Why is that so shocking? We live only about twenty minutes away—perhaps half an hour in lunchtime traffic. “Yes. Do… do you want to come?”
I wish he would come. I love having lunch with Matt. I miss him on days when I eat alone.
But he shakes his head, a crease between his eyebrows. “No, I’ll just grab something in the café. I’ve got a lot of work to do today. And there’s a meeting at one.”
I didn’t expect him to say yes, but I’m still disappointed. There’s part of me that wants to throw caution to the wind and join him downstairs at the café. Or maybe at a nearby restaurant where I didn’t see an employee practicing unsanitary bathroom hygiene.
But I can’t do it. My brain won’t allow me to have a nice lunch with my husband today. My brain isn’t allowing me a choice.
I just hope I can hold back the tears until I’m inside my car. I don’t want the girls in reception to see me crying on my way out—they already make fun of me behind my back as is.
I’m worried about Anna.
Anna used to have a phobia of the work refrigerator. She use to be afraid to even touch it, much less put her food inside it. We used to talk about it all the time. Don’t laugh, but I even bought a petri dish with culture material and put it in a paper bag inside the fridge to show there was no growth in a twenty-four hour period. I thought it was the petri dish that convinced Anna the fridge was okay. But apparently not—it was her meds.
She’s off all her regular meds now, and I’ve been noticing changes in her. She washes her hands a lot more. She cleans more. She’s started calling me on the phone again from the bedroom so I can check to make sure all the doors are locked and the oven is off. Yesterday morning, I caught her scrubbing the pushrims of my wheelchair with bleach, and the fumes were making me dizzy the whole day.
And now she’s thrown out our lunches.
If she had just tossed the paper bag in the trash, I absolutely would have eaten the sandwich out of the trash. She must have guessed that. Instead, I have to eat at the stupid café with that cashier who doesn’t wash her hands after using the bathroom. Or maybe I can convince Cal to go somewhere with me, since Anna took the damn car home.
While I’m trying to figure out what to do next, a receptionist named Nicole breezes into the breakroom. When she sees me sitting there, her face breaks into a grin. “Hey, Matt!”
I return her smile. “Hey, Nicole.”
I’m not going to lie—Nicole is attractive. She’s got a great body with big but not too big tits and shiny blond hair. What can I say—I’m a sucker for blondes. Not that I would ever cheat on Anna in a million years. I’m not some kind of asshole who cheats on his wife—never. But it’s fun to look at Nicole. I’m only human.
I have no delusions that someone as attractive as Nicole would ever be interested in me, even if I weren’t married. I’m not one of those handsome, suave guys who’s dripping with charisma. That’s just not me. And let’s face it—the chair doesn’t do me any favors. I was dealing with my disability for a few years before Anna and I hooked up, and it didn’t make the dating scene more fun. In any case, it’s a relief to know that when Nicole flirts with me, it’s one-hundred percent harmless.
“Don’t you and Anna usually have lunch around now?” Nicole asks as she pours herself a cup of coffee. I can’t help but notice she doesn’t rinse out her coffee cup, even though it’s been sitting in the cabinet all weekend, probably collecting dust. I wouldn’t have noticed something like that years ago, before Anna, but now it actually bothers me a little bit. I think my wife may be rubbing off on me.
“She, um…” I don’t want to tell Nicole about how Anna threw out our lunches and ran off. That’s nobody’s business but ours. “She was busy, so… it’s just me.”
Nicole shrugs. “Well, a bunch of us are getting takeout from Chipotle. You interested?”
“Count me in,” I say. I haven’t eaten at Chipotle in a long time. Anna had some story about how a rat was spotted in a Chipotle, but it wasn’t our Chipotle. It was just a random Chipotle somewhere on the west coast.
Nicole takes a sip of her coffee, eying me above her cup. Shit, she’s wearing a lot of mascara. She’s very sexy—Calvin is always making comments about her. “Your collar is crooked,” she says.
I blink up at her. “Huh?”
“Here…” She takes a step toward me, and before I know what’s happening, her slender fingers are on my collar, straightening it out for me. Her dark purple fingernails brush against my neck as she does it. Then she adjusts my tie, running her fingers briefly over the fabric. She bends down just enough for me to inadvertently catch an eyeful of her cleavage before I quickly look away. “Much better.”
If I were single, this would have been very sexy—I might have wondered if maybe there was a chance she really was interested in me. I probably would have gone for it. Because… well, why not?
But I’m not single. I’m very married. So I wheel myself back a foot, safely away from her grasp, and mumble, “Thanks.”
“You know,” she says, “if you’re not into Chipotle, we could go together to the bar a few blocks away and grab burgers.”
She’s not hitting on me. I’m sure of it. Like I said, she knows I’m married, and second, she’s miles out of my league. Even before I had the wheels, she would have been out of my league. Still, even if it’s innocent, I don’t think Anna would like me having lunch alone with an attractive young receptionist. If situations were reversed, I’d go nuts if I found out Anna was having lunch alone with an attractive guy.
“No, Chipotle sounds great,” I say. “Let me look at the menu and I’ll tell you what I want.”
I just hope Anna’s okay.
To be continued....
P.S. I just put up new covers for Crazy in Love and Baby Crazy. Love? Hate? Indifferent?