Wednesday, February 17, 2016

over and over and over again and again and . . .

She stood by the mail slot in the post office, twenty yards diagonally to my left. An old Italian lady, short, with a kerchief. Did I say "old"? She could be my age. She placed the envelope against the wall, near the slot, and rubbed where the envelope seals, pressing the sealed area, rubbing it like a grave rubber, transferring every particle of memory from a forgotten soul. She was a person whose life depended on the unbroken, secure fastening of this bill to be mailed. And she rubbed her fingers over the stamp too. And flipped the envelope over, to do it from that side, for good measure. The rubbing continued. It was now a ceaseless ritual. It was a compulsion and an obsession. Back in the Fifties, she might be called "neurotic." We now know better. We know something, perhaps only a tiny bit, about OCD. As I moved toward the counter, I continued spying on her. I did not mock her in my mind. I managed to quiet the voice in my head yearning to shout, "Enough already!" How am I different when I cannot stop from tweeting or reading tweets at 2 in the morning? How different was I in high school when, on the way home, I could not help stopping at every stationery store that carried every skin magazine allowed to the general public? ("That's not for you, son." It's not? If it's not for a teenage boy, then who is it for?) Another customer half-interrupted her, to insert his bills (does anyone mail anything else, thank you's, encouragements, condolences?) His disruption was not severe enough to break the chain, to challenge her rhythm. Having purchased my ten stamps, I exited the counter and entered the lobby. She was still there, now working on her Verizon bill. I was several feet away. I was not able to blurt it out. I was not able to voice it. It's okay now. You can stop. It's okay. It's all right. You can stop now. It's all right. Really. Trust me. Look at me. Come here.

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