My black boots are still on while I wait in the foyer of his apartment with all his discarded shoes—that designated waiting area where his guests have to take off their sneakers, their heels, their sandals. Me and a bunch of other girls standing in this same spot at different times, untying laces and pulling off soles to appease his germ neuroses before having a drink, before dragging on lipstick-stained cigarettes in an open window overlooking a noisy street, before probably having sex with him.
It’s funny, because I understand the shoe anxiety, and funnier still, because the next thing out of his mouth is something to the effect of “You could do with some medication”—this coming from a person I’ve watched on multiple occasions remove himself in the middle of a conversation to compulsively pull dead leaves off of an indoor plant, walk across the room to close open kitchen cabinets, affectedly pull up the cuff of his tee-shirt and drag his fingers across the top of his exposed bicep. A host of compulsions I’ve made mental notes of over the last year without suggesting cognitive-behavioral therapy or pills. Because those compulsions were just who he was—just like my compulsions are just who I am. And mostly because you don’t do that. Unless you’re an asshole.
The interaction, for more than a few reasons, stuck with me over the following two days, playing on repeat like a really shitty song stuck on a station I couldn’t change. If I wanted to seek help from a medical professional, I’d make an appointment with a therapist and fork over the $250 for some sort of unbiased, sober judgment, instead of this free and unsolicited 2 a.m. consultation delivered after 2.5 martinis and a couple beers, provided by someone I can barely say I dated. Granted, just before this, I did feel a bubbling-up moment, a blanket anger I haven’t felt since 2011, when I grabbed a sweater, threw it at an ex-boyfriend and screamed “I hate everyone” before storming out of his first-floor apartment. Except tonight it was my jacket thrown aggressively on a cardboard box, and I said something like, “Ugh. I’m just so f’ing sick of everything.”
Which is true.
I’m an anxious person, he tells me. High strung, he says. He puts on a record that sounds like an unstable car wreck of noise, appropriate given the conversation and my apparent lack of calm. It’s something that haunts me all weekend and carries through all my social interactions, second-guesses my movements. I scan through a Rolodex of people I’ve dated for longer who have never said anything like that to me, as some sort of proof against whatever self-doubt this person has just infected me with. How easily someone can take you and send you off the rails, grab you by the shoulders and nudge you into a lane you don’t think you’re actually on. How hard it is to find your footing again and put yourself back on track.
There’s something particularly personal about someone telling you your brain chemistry is wrong, that your baseline needs an adjustment. “Other people are this way,” it says, “and you’re not there.” In that moment, I understood every parent who ever rejected the idea their kid go on meds for ADD, their resistance to someone telling them that what they built is broken. Am I broken? Right now, yeah. Do I want someone who helped me break a few more pieces off tell me I need fixing? Hardly.
People should be more careful with their words. And even more careful with their prescriptions.